AWWA Articles

Water utility field staff can help fight human trafficking

Water utility field staff who regularly pass through local streets and neighborhoods offer a unique ability to be the eyes and ears of their communities. Colton Janes, director of operations with Aqua Illinois in Kankakee, a subsidiary of Aqua America, hopes to leverage this ability to help stop local human trafficking.

Colton JanesJanes, a member of AWWA and an Illinois Section director, partnered with Jordan Mitchell, founder of Illinois-based nonprofit Provision Lab, to develop an awareness training program for field staff and supervisors at some of Aqua America’s utilities. (Pictured at left, Colton Janes)

“The awareness training is powerful,” Janes said. “As we’ve educated people and gotten more involved with local communities, we’ve learned that human trafficking is in our towns, even in the affluent neighborhoods. We’re encouraging our personnel to say something if they see something. We want to be part of the solution."

Mitchell, who works with law enforcement, other nonprofits, communities, businesses and prosecutors, provides awareness training for organizations wanting to help. He described human trafficking as “an act, means and purpose through which a person is sold or forced to do something for the good or service of another.”

Most commonly, he added, this involves someone being kidnapped and forced into sexual exploitation for money. It also can involve labor trafficking, such as when someone is forced to work in a restaurant for no pay. Shockingly, the average age of victims entering trafficking is 13 and their average lifespan after that is just seven more years, Mitchell said.

Some common “risk indicators” he described included in-home video surveillance and locks on the outside of internal doors, boarded-up windows, and signs of extraTrafficking awareness training at Aqua Illinois security. “If someone sees many of these indicators, or if they drive past something that doesn’t seem quite right and then something else pops up, we encourage them to make a phone call,” Mitchell said. (Pictured at right, Jordan Mitchell provides awareness training to Aqua Illinois staff)

The call goes to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) and can be made anonymously. The case is given a number and passed along to professionals for follow-up. “It’s not a guarantee that something is wrong, but it is better to make the call than not,” Mitchell said. “There is no backlash if a tip doesn’t pan out.”

Mitchell, a U.S. Army veteran and the father of a six-year-old daughter, became an advocate against human trafficking while serving in Korea and seeing 8- and 10-year-old girls propositioning passers-by. “I wasn’t able to help save those kids, but then I found out it happens here in our own backyards and founded Provision Lab to raise awareness about the issue,” he said. 

“Human trafficking doesn’t only involve people who are impoverished or from a foreign country,” he said. “In the U.S., the number of domestically-trafficked victims is in the millions, substantially higher than foreign-born. One in every six run-away suburban teens become a victim of human trafficking. Others get caught up through social media and peer-to-peer recruitment in schools.”