Why is trafficking a Jewish issue

At a panel discussion Feb. 3 in San Francisco, sponsored by the Jewish Coalition to End Human Trafficking Nancy Goldberg began the evening with a question to the approximately 70 people in attendance: Why is human trafficking an issue that should concern the Jewish community?

There to help answer were representatives from Bay Area Jewish organizations, including Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe from Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco; Rivka Greenberg from Shalom Bayit, a local nonprofit that works with battered Jewish women; and Lisa Caper, director of Dream House Domestic Violence Services at Jewish Family and Children’s Services, where the panel was held.

Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe

Jaffe called human trafficking a “slam dunk issue” for the Jewish community to get involved with, adding that Jews have to look no further than the Torah for reasons why.

“Nearly every commandment in the Torah is prefaced or followed by a reminder of our time in Egypt,” Jaffe said. “More than 80 percent of Jews have a seder because of this internal value of human freedom that Jews have dedicated themselves to.”

He acknowledged that although the Torah “promulgates” human slavery, it’s similar to indentured servitude, not trafficking. In the Mishneh Torah, for example, non-Jewish servants are not to be overburdened or oppressed, should be given food and drink at every meal and get to rest on Shabbat.

Today, human trafficking affects all ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic groups and regions.

Anita Friedman

Caper helps women and children of all faiths and backgrounds regain their freedom after domestic violence through Dream House, a transitional housing program sponsored by JFCS.

Dream House provides supportive services and helps victims create a plan to move forward with their lives. “We have the resources to give them the help they need, if they come forward,” said JFCS Executive Director Anita Friedman.

At the panel discussion, Caper recalled one client from Eastern Europe who started an online relationship with a Northern California man. He promised her and her daughter financial stability, a nice home and a better life if they left everything behind and moved in with him. 

Upon their arrival, the man hid their passports. He didn’t allow the woman to leave the house and refused to give her money. He controlled her friends and sexually molested her daughter. The man’s older son also was abusive. The women were virtually held captive in their home.

“When I speak with this mother, she’s naïve,” Caper told the group. “She’s not stupid, but naïve about America because she bought into this Hollywood image. To me it’s unfathomable because I grew up here.

“She believed she could come here, start a business and that her daughter would have opportunities. But the reality was very different. Luckily, she was able to get out and find shelter. And now she’s starting from nothing.”

There is a heavy intersection between human trafficking and domestic violence, according to Greenberg, who noted they both share an abusive pattern of power and control through intimidation, sexual coercion, isolation and physical violence.

Human trafficking adds exploitation of prostitutes, forced labor, slavery and similar practices.

While domestic violence happens in Jewish households at the same rate (20 to 30 percent) as non-Jewish ones, Greenberg said it is often more difficult for a woman in the Jewish community to come forward, either because of shame or disbelief.

The same is true for human trafficking.

“It is our obligation to not remain silent when others are in danger,” Greenberg said. “The women involved in human trafficking are part of the greater family in which we all live.”

How to recognize it, where to get help

Visible indicators of trafficking may include:

• Heavy security at the commercial establishment including barred windows, locked doors, isolated location, electronic surveillance. Women are never seen leaving the premises unless escorted.

• Victims live at the same premises as the brothel or work site or are driven between quarters and “work” by a guard. For labor trafficking, victims are often prohibited from leaving the work site, which may look like a guarded compound from the outside.

• Victims are kept under surveillance when taken to a doctor, hospital or clinic for treatment; trafficker may act as a translator.

• High foot traffic, especially for brothels where there may be trafficked women-indicated often by a stream of men arriving and leaving the premises.

• Victims of sex trafficking are often found in the streets or working in establishments that offer commercial sex acts, including brothels and strip clubs. Such establishments may operate under the guise of massage parlors, escort services, adult bookstores, modeling studios and bar/strip clubs.

Resources for prevention or assistance

• Contact Lisa Caper, director of Dream House Domestic Violence Services at JFCS, at (415) 359-2442 or [email protected]

• Call the Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 373-7888. Anyone can report suspected trafficking cases.

• Research and know what products you buy to ensure you do not unintentionally support human trafficking, at www.chainstorereaction.com, www.freetowork.com and www.transfairusa.org.