Case Study

Case Study from the United States: Lock Me Up*

Jason had run away from home at the age of 17 because his step-father regularly abused him. He had made a life for himself, moving from homeless shelter to homeless shelter, but he was always hungry and often cold. He regularly got beaten up and raped on the street or in the shelters. When Jason was 18, an older man befriended him and offered him some heroin. Quickly, Jason retreated into heroin as a refuge from the sharp edges of life. But with no income, Jason became desperate and couldn’t support his habit. His friend then came to Jason with an offer: “I’ll send you with this guy I know – he can get you work in Detroit, and you’ll have all the money you need.”

Jason agreed, and soon he was in Detroit. When he got there he quickly realized that he was to be simply begging on the streets. The first few days he made good money, but he was forced to turn over all his money to his “agent.” On the third day, his agent made him shoplift from several electronic stores. On the fourth day, Jason protested: “What’s going on here? I could have been doing this back home and kept all the chump change I got! I’m outta here.”

“Oh no you’re not, boy! I paid good money for you and you haven’t even started to pay me back.”

At that moment, Jason realized that his “friend” had literally sold him, and that, as far as everyone was concerned, he was a slave. That night, three men grabbed him and gave him a sound beating, “just so you know your place, boy.”

He decided to try to get help. The next day, on the street, he whispered to a few people who stopped, “Please help me, I’m a slave!” but they kept on walking. A police officer came up to move him on. Again, Jason asked for help. “Please help me, they’re forcing me to do this.”

“Yeah, right, son. Move along now before I decide to lock you up.”

“Fine, then,” Jason said, grasping at this one opening, “Lock me up.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Jason is a U.S. American citizen, and a young man who has been involved in many illegal activities. What are the obstacles to identifying Jason as a trafficking victim?
  2. What screening questions should the police officer ask in order to determine Jason’s situation?
  3. What services are available for Jason?

Key Issues – Case Study: Lock Me Up

  1. While people who have been trafficked across international borders face multiple challenges of culture and language, Americans who are trafficked face particular difficulties as well. They are often not thought of as the “typical trafficking victim” and therefore are often criminalized quickly. In this case, the police officer’s response will have a major impact on whether Jason is helped, or whether he is penalized.
  2. The process of stereotyping – or seeing one or two characteristics above the surface and making assumptions about character, value systems and motivation – is at play in this case. Because of how Jason looks and sounds, many passers-by disbelieve that he is a trafficking victim. (See Appendix 1 for more information about stereotyping.)
  3. Answers to a series of simple screening questions can provide clues as to whether a case is a trafficking case or not.

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