10 Questions: Aaron Rippenkroeger

Posted By on December 29, 2020
Aaron Rippenkroeger, executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Phoenix

1. January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Can you explain what human trafficking is?

Human trafficking occurs when someone engages in commercial sex or labor due to force, fraud or coercion. Having at least one of those three elements is essential for it to be considered trafficking. Most people tend to think of sex trafficking when we talk about human trafficking, so it’s important to highlight that labor trafficking is also a major issue. Both types of trafficking are crimes under state and federal law and traffickers can be prosecuted for different types of involvement in the crime.

2. How widespread a problem is it?

Human trafficking is widely underreported in the U.S. and across the world. We do know that trafficking takes place virtually everywhere. It happens here in Arizona, across the country and abroad too.

3. Who are the most frequent victims of trafficking?

People of all ages, all races, and from different types of backgrounds experience trafficking. Some risk factors, though, are having experienced abuse in the past, low self-esteem, poverty and substance abuse. Statistics indicate that victims generally know their trafficker or have had some type of contact or communication with them previously. A trafficker will usually identify and exploit a vulnerability, like lack of emotional support or financial resources.

4. Aside from prostitution, what types of human trafficking can be found in the United States?

Human trafficking is much broader than just sex trafficking and occurs in a wide array of industries across the U.S. Some common ones are agricultural work, restaurants, massage parlors, construction work and cleaning services. It’s also important to note that not all prostitution is related to trafficking.

5. Does physical violence have to be involved in human trafficking cases?

Not necessarily. Although physical violence can be an aspect of trafficking, traffickers might use any number of control tactics. In some cases, physical violence is not involved at all. Lies, threats, or emotional or psychological abuse are other examples.

6. Is Arizona a hot spot for trafficking?

Both labor and sex trafficking occur in Arizona at significant rates, with many crimes going underreported. This indicates there is much work to be done in providing services to victims, in increased investigation and prosecution, as well as policy changes.

7. Tell us about the IRC’s efforts to address trafficking locally, nationally and internationally.

The IRC Phoenix office provides services for foreign-born survivors through case management, legal support and counseling. We also coordinate a task force of service providers and law enforcement partners across the state. Nationally, 11 IRC offices across the U.S. have anti-trafficking programming and provide similar services to those we provide here in Phoenix. Internationally, we have a capacity-building project in Serbia and a project focused on child trafficking launching in Sicily, Italy, in Jan. 2021.

8. What are some “red flags” that signify the possibility of human trafficking?

This is challenging because signs of trafficking vary by industry, but some of the situations we can watch for are: a person that feels they cannot leave a work situation; a person who cannot contact friends and family; a person who is working to pay off a debt and the employer is the debt holder; a person accompanied by another person who seems to be controlling the situation. For the clients we serve at the IRC, a sign we may look out for is if the person is in possession of their travel documents or if they have been threatened with deportation. These signs could be something else too, so it’s best to learn more about trafficking in the industries with which you work or are most familiar.

9. In what ways can service providers and community members assist with a human trafficking case?

Our biggest ask of the community is to be informed, for service providers to get training, and discuss trafficking with family and friends. Look for accurate information and remember to think critically about sensationalized stories in the news and on social media. If you want to get involved, find out what organizations are providing services and donate or offer to volunteer. Our Facebook page, IRC ALERT – Arizona League to End Regional Trafficking, is a good place to find information about trafficking as well as donation and volunteer opportunities.

10. What can readers do to prevent human trafficking?

Become aware and educated. It’s all about learning. Remember that trafficking does occur in your community and across a variety of industries. Keep the red flags in mind and if you see something that you think might be trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline: (888) 373-7888.

To learn more, visit rescue.org/united-states/phoenix-az.

About Karen Werner

Karen Werner is the editor of Frontdoors Media. She is a writer, editor and media consultant. She has interned at The New Yorker, worked at Parents Magazine, edited five books and founded several local magazines. Her work has appeared in Sunset, Mental Floss and the Saturday Evening Post.