“Human trafficking could be happening right around you, so it is important to know what to look out for.”
That was the key message from attorney Juanita Headley, who has been travelling around the world actively campaigning to end human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
T&T is just one of the 26 countries to which she has travelled so far on her mission.
“Exploitation, abuse and trafficking is happening here,” she said on Wednesday night during a presentation hosted by City Women’s Dialogue and the Human Equity Value Institute at Colm Hall in Belmont.
“Right now, somewhere in the world, a boy or girl is being raped, sexually abused or murdered.”
Headley, who describes herself as a human trafficking abolitionist, is founder and CEO of Changing Cases, an international organisation dedicated to the eradication of sexual exploitation through educating and empowering the public on human trafficking, creating safeguarding tools for children, researching legal issues, and assisting in investigations and rescue planning.
Projects by Changing Cases are currently taking in the Philippines, India, New York, Washington DC, T&T and London, England.
Underscoring the severity of the human trafficking problem, she said: “Once you have men, women and sex, it is happening.”
According to Headley, children as young as five are being trafficked, most of the time to be made sex slaves and by age ten that child could repeatedly be exposed to sexual abuse. For this reason, she said, it is important to get to the root of highly sexualised behaviour.
“By age 13-14 childhood had been stolen. They start acting out, perhaps displaying promiscuous behaviour. Instead of judging, find out why. Get to the root,” Headley urged.
“Any person in your world could be a victim. It could be someone in your neighbourhood.”
Headley said she has encountered girls in T&T under the age of 16 who have already been victims of domestic violence. Without serious intervention, those girls are more susceptible to trafficking and sexual exploitation, she warned.
All is not lost, however, as there is “scientifically proven hope” of healing for victims and survivors.
Headley, who is in T&T until February 9, is hosting screenings of the movie Sold, a vivid portrayal of human trafficking at the MovieTowne multiplexes in Port-of-Spain, San Fernando and Tobago. At the screenings, she will be sharing information on the issue.
Headley, who was raised in London, England, by her Jamaican-born mother, is currently based in New York. Since 2012, she has been doing volunteer work in the United States in the indigent community in matters of crime, immigration, family, employment, and housing law. She has volunteered with ECPAT-USA on an anti-child pornography project and assisted at the National Centre on Sexual Exploitation’s 2016 Coalition to end Sexual Exploitation Summit.
She has also used Facebook to create gender-specific anti-trafficking groups and an education and empowerment group.
- Human trafficking is often a crime that is hidden in plain sight. Some indications that a person may be a victim of human trafficking are:
- Appearing malnourished
- Showing signs of physical injuries and abuse
- Avoiding eye contact, social interaction, and authority figures/law enforcement
- Seeming to adhere to scripted or rehearsed responses in social interaction
- Lacking official identification documents
- Appearing destitute/lacking personal possessions
- Working excessively long hours
- Living in place of employment
- Checking into hotels/motels with older males
- Poor physical or dental health
- Tattoos/ branding on the neck and/or lower back
- Untreated sexually transmitted diseases
- Security measures that appear to keep people inside an establishment—barbed wire inside of a fence, bars covering the insides of windows.
Hotline numbers that can be contacted to report suspicious activity or to get help:
Counter-Trafficking Unit (CTU) Hotline: 800-4288
For further information on Juanita Headley and her organisation, visit the website: