In-depth Story: Human Trafficking Victim Advocate Jomel A. Sheds Light on Trafficking Epidemic, Prevention and Myths About the Crime

The following article was compiled with the help of Jomel A.

For six-and-a-half years, Jomel A. worked in the Office of the State Attorney in South Florida advocating for victims of domestic violence and other offenses, and loved what she did.

One of the requirements of her advocacy work was to attend various training sessions to make sure she stayed up to date with laws and regulations. One of the sessions she attended was on human trafficking.

“That changed everything for me,” Jomel told The Weight She Carries. “It opened me up to a population of people that are the most voiceless of all victims.”

Unlike other victims, Jomel explained, people who are trafficked often don’t have anyone who can speak for them.

“Most victims of other crimes have family or people they can turn to for help, but that’s not the case with victims of human trafficking,” she said. “When I realized how vast human trafficking is, I just felt a tug on my heart. I knew I wanted to work with this population.”

According to a report, roughly 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, cementing the fact that human trafficking is a larger problem than many realize.

In fact, human trafficking ranks third when it comes to largest international crime industries, and reportedly rakes in a profit of $32 billion every year.

In the U.S., an estimated 60,000 people are trapped in modern-day slavery.

Once she learned how prevalent human trafficking is, Jomel, who had lived in Florida since she was six years old, decided she would go wherever necessary to work with victims and survivors.

Shortly after, she came across two job postings for a human trafficking victim advocate. One was in Washington, the other was in Ohio. She applied to both and the one in Ohio opened up.

“It was a God thing,” Jomel said of the job opening. “When God is involved in something, things will just fall into place. It was effortless.”

Ohio ranks 4th in the U.S. for human trafficking cases.

While she had enjoyed her advocacy work in Florida, working with victims and survivors of human trafficking brought about an increased level of fulfillment.

“I LOVE my job; I love it,” she said. “Even on really hard days, I love my job. And not many people get to say that.”

In her current role, Jomel works tirelessly with law enforcement and various agencies to rescue victims, support survivors, raise awareness and advocate for victims and survivors before lawmakers.

Jomel spoke with The Weight She Carries and shared her wealth of knowledge on the topic.

Facts on Labor Trafficking

An estimated 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery, according to a September 2017 report by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Of this number:

  • 16 million (64%) were forced into labor
  • 4.8 million (19%) were sexually exploited
  • 4.1 million (17%) were trapped in state-imposed forced labor.

Numbers by industry:

  • construction, manufacturing, mining, or hospitality – 7.5 million (47%)
  • domestic workers – 3.8 million (24%)
  • agriculture – 1.7 million (11%)


States with larger agriculture industry may have a higher number of labor trafficking cases

Victims are often forced to work extremely long hours and are paid little to nothing in return.

“If you are born and raised in America, you know that $5 per hour is far below minimum wage. So traffickers find it easier to take advantage of someone who does not understand or know what the labor laws are in this country,” Jomel said.

There are over 150 migrant labor camps that employ numerous individuals, a majority of whom are from the Hispanic migrant labor pool.

“Because of this market, among others such as restaurants, textile industry,  landscaping, and small factories, Ohio attracts many foreign born immigrant groups looking for work,” she added. “We also have a lot of agriculture here, so agriculture businesses in need of cheap labor and intentionally choose not to adhere to laws and basic human rights may engage in labor trafficking.

Some victims travel into the country with a family as live-in help and end up trapped in domestic servitude

Traffickers often control victims by holding onto their passports, so they cannot leave.

“When you are in a foreign country, all you really have is who you are, and documents that say who you are. If somebody takes that away from you, they have a lot of control over you,” Jomel said. “Because if you want to go to the police or leave, there’s nothing you have that says who you are.”

Facts on Sex Trafficking

Location plays a role

“Ohio has the most truck stops in the nation, and a very extensive highway system. You can access many major metropolitan cities within a few hours. Also proximity to Canada – Canada is a frequent port-of-entry for international victims,” she said.

Opioid addiction is very prevalent in Ohio, Jomel explained, which is something traffickers take advantage of

“There are a lot of people addicted to meth, addicted to heroin. And that creates another pool, if you will, that a trafficker can go and pull from,” she said. “Sex traffickers may often target women who struggle with addiction because it is easier to control them with drugs and addiction is a vulnerability that they can see and target.”

Individuals exposed to sexual abuse and homelessness are often targeted

Most victims of sex trafficking have been exposed or experienced sexual abuse during their childhood.

“The Coalition for the Homeless in Ohio estimated that over 60,000 children experience homelessness each year,” Jomel said. “In 2015, over 1.6 million Ohioans lived below the poverty level.”

With victims and survivors of trafficking, there is a vulnerability that is present. Everybody has been vulnerable at one point or another in their life. But there is something about a vulnerability that is left unmet that a trafficker can tap into and say, ‘This person is searching for love; this person is coming from a broken home; this person needs a place to stay and food to eat…so I can step in and provide that, while I groom them for what I want them to do.” Predators find a way to capitalize on those vulnerabilities.” – Jomel A.

Jomel said the average age for someone to get involved in prostitution is 13. But grooming can begin as early as 10 or 11.

Children who are exposed to domestic violence or sexual abuse in the home are particularly vulnerable to traffickers.

Common Myths About Trafficking

Traffickers are strangers

Jomel said a common misconception people have is that traffickers are people that appear out of the blue and snatch their victims. While this does happen, Jomel said most victims and survivors are familiar with their traffickers.

“It can often happen through somebody the victim actually knows or is acquainted with,” she said. “It is not uncommon to meet victims who are trafficked by their parents, or the parent(s) or peers connect the victim with the trafficker.”

Sometimes the lured into trafficking by people who they are in romantic relationships with.

“It may start up as a girlfriend/boyfriend situation – a young girl with a much older guy who is saying all the right things this girl is in need of. That starts the conditioning and the grooming,” she said.

When the victim is in a sexual relationship with someone who is grooming them, the trafficker may begin suggesting an open relationship or threesomes, so as to expose the victim to the idea of sleeping with multiple people, Jomel added.

“After a time, things may change, and the perpetrator will say things like, ‘I love you, and I’m relying on you to do this so we can pay our bills.’

Traffickers are all men

The ILO reported that 71% of trafficking victims around the world are women and girls, while 29% are men and boys. Many female victims turn into traffickers.

Trafficking is a foreign problem

Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year. And according to a UN Global Report on Human Trafficking report, domestic trafficking accounted for more than 25 per cent of the total number of victims detected globally.

“Here in the US, domestic victims are a large number of the victims and survivors of sex trafficking. People who were born and raised in America who look like your neighbor next door or someone you went to school with. A lot of people don’t know that sex trafficking is something that’s real, and it’s not someone driving down the street and snatching you.” – Jomel A.


Victims are all young people

“My first week at work, I met a 56-year-old victim of trafficking that was still on street corners working. I met a 72-year-old who recently left the prostitution game and had been involved prostitution since she was 14 years old,” Jomel said.

In Part 2 of our human trafficking series, Jomel will explain more about how to recognize a trafficking victim and what precautions to you can take to avoid becoming a victim.

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