Traffickers range from opportunistic individuals to criminal organizations to employment recruiting companies, experts say. Victims don't fit a single profile, varying in gender, age, education level, origin and other factors. The control exercised over a victim by a trafficker is sometimes physical and always psychological. "Many times the trafficker is keeping them in a state of limbo and hope, that this will somehow get better if they just comply with a set of demands or requirements or obligations," says Gary Haugen, a former Justice Department official and founder of International Justice Mission, a U.S.-based nonprofit that rescues victims of trafficking and violence overseas. "And so the victim is frequently trying to calculate, 'Okay, am I going to get out of this situation by maybe just doing the next thing that's asked of me—pay a little more money, do this thing I tell you, don't make me mad—or do I really try to go against my trafficker and seek outside help?"
Service providers are rooting for immigration reforms that might make the choice of seeking help more viable. Removing the trafficker's ability to hold a victim's immigration status over their head would arm them with the ability to complain about working conditions, to change employers, or come to a social service agency without fear of being arrested, Williams says.
Ima now works as a survivor organizer for CAST, the Los Angeles organization that rescued her. She has met President Obama and testified before Congress on human trafficking.
Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center to report a tip or request information or assistance: 1-888-373-7888.