A Deeper Look at Renew Hope and Human Trafficking

Published 10:00 am Saturday, March 9, 2024

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Yesterday we ran an article talking about the Fair trade Coffee event that will be put on by the Renew Hope Initiative. Here is a deeper dive into the anti-trafficking program and how locals can get involved in the effort to end human trafficking.

The originator of the program, Adrian Carpenter, has been asked to be on committees and give training across the state since the program started in 2016. He is currently the chairman of the education subcommittee for the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force and of the Alabama Anti-Human Trafficking Alliance. 

Renew Hope Initiative is a program within the Circle of Care Center in Chambers County. The group works on outreach and training of citizens and law enforcement on the issue of human trafficking in Alabama. 

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“Everything the Circle of Care does is for the purpose of child abuse prevention, even if it’s a GED class, we’re wondering about ways to become more economically secure so that there’s less stress at home, less child abuse,” Carpenter said.

Many of the individuals trafficked are children, with the 15 to 17-year-old age group being one of the most vulnerable populations.

“When we learned that fact it became, this is much of child abuse prevention issue as it is anything else,” Carpenter said.

In the past, these groups have focused on sex trafficking, which is still a huge issue in Alabama and across the country. However, as the need has increased, trafficking organizations like Renew Hope have also started tackling labor trafficking.

Labor trafficking is a type of slavery where individuals are forced to work through the use of force, fraud or coercion.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the most common industries vulnerable to labor trafficking are agriculture or forestry, construction, domestic work, factories and manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, and landscaping. 

“What we’re dealing with for labor trafficking in our community now is that we have a growing foreign national population. And they are that much more vulnerable,” Carpenter explained.

He said that foreign nationals that come here both legally and illegally are especially targeted.  

“A lot of our victims that labor trafficking, especially our foreign nationals, come here legally, but they’re trafficker holds their paperwork,” Carpenter said. “So when paperwork lapses or deadlines lapse, their only contact with their legal representation is their trafficker … So it’s about manipulation and control. 

Carpenter adds that holding legal documents is a sign of trafficking, as is living with an employer. 

“You’re that much more vulnerable if this person is not only responsible for my food, paycheck but also my shelter,” Carpenter said. 

With the proximity to transportation hubs like the Atlanta Airport and highways I-20 and I-85, East Alabama and West Georgia are hotspots for both sex and labor trafficking. Carpenter said that between Atlanta and Birmingham, there are around 300 people being trafficked on I-20 at any given time.

While waiting for a green card, foreign nationals can only work if they get a work permit, which is petitioned by a lawyer and can take several months to obtain. This often leads legal immigrants to find other ways of working.

“So if not labor trafficking, they’re very vulnerable to labor exploitation. This is a $400 job and I’ll pay $50 under the table,” Carpenter said.

For children that are used for labor or sex, the trafficker will often not enroll them in school, so no one asks questions if warning signs are noticed. In Alabama 47 percent of trafficking is familial trafficking, meaning one family member is selling another.

“They’re not going to want to have those eyes on them. But then you have to ask, for everyone that’s been enrolled in school, how many are not. those are the ones totally off the radar,” Carpenter stated. 

As for sex trafficking in Alabama, they are often U.S. citizens, young runaways contribute to a significant number of those trafficked. 

Carpenter related the story of a friend who was sexually trafficked. 

“They would go from Birmingham to Nashville, from Nashville over to Chattanooga back down to Atlanta, and they would do a circle. This is it may take three weeks to drive that circle because you’re stopping at every exit to be sold,” he said. 

The program offers some resources for people who are trafficked, as well as the public to spot and report possible trafficking.

Some warning signs the Renew Hope asks people to look out for:

  • Accompanied by a controlling person or boss
  • A lack or absence of control over their schedule, money or Identification documents
  • Transported to and from work or lives in the same place they work
  • Are unable to leave their job or owe a debt to their employee
  • Scars, bruises, depression, fear, or overly submissive 
  • Safety or deportation is threatened
  • Denied food, sleep or medical care

There is a national hotline to report suspicious activity, the number is 888-373-7888 or you can text 233733 (BeFree). 

“What’s cool about the national hotline is if someone sees something, even if they’re not sure is this sex trafficking or labor trafficking but they are not sure if this warrants a phone call to the police They can call the hotline,” Carpenter said. “They can talk through what they’re seeing. And then the hotline will also notify the police but encourage them to do so as well, the more reports the better. Or they will say, ‘I think this is a legitimate thing, but thank you for being so vigilant’.”