HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - It’s called modern-day slavery, and experts say it is happening in Hampton Roads.
You may be witnessing forced labor and not know it.
When you think of human trafficking, sex trafficking, which has gotten a lot of attention in recent years, may come to mind.
But there are other forms of human trafficking that may be right in front of you in restaurants, on farms and on construction sites.
Forced labor happens when someone is compelled against their will to provide work or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion.
Like many others, Manuel Gago fled his home country of Venezuela nine years ago to find a safer place to live.
“It’s sad because a lot of immigrants that come to this country came for this American Dream, and like me are escaping our nightmare in our country,” said Gago.
But he says for some, it’s even worse when they get here.
He works for the Legal Aid Justice Center, a non-profit that provides legal services and help to low-income people.
According to their website, “The Legal Aid Justice Center partners with communities and clients to achieve justice by dismantling systems that create and perpetuate poverty. Justice means racial justice, social justice, and economic justice.”
One group they help are victims of human trafficking, and they have gone out to the Eastern Shore to help people.
This is an area with many migrant workers - some that could be isolated, are being trafficked and may be in need of help.
Gago says poor living conditions, confiscation of passports and documentation and little to no compensation are just a few problems seen across the entire state of Virginia.
He said victims come with the promise of an amazing opportunity, but when they arrive, they are forced to work hard and are not paid properly.
He said certain perpetrators will force them to live in crowded, unsanitary living conditions.
Experts say that many people think those involved in forced labor are in the country illegally, but the National Institute of Justice found that 71% were here with a working visa.
Experts say the top risk factors of someone becoming a victim are that they experienced recent migration or relocation, economic hardship, unstable housing, a criminal record or a substance use concern.
Gago and his group go out to try and reach trafficked victims, working to get them help and make the public more aware of this issue.
If you are a human trafficking victim or have information about a potential trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733.
Click here for more information on labor trafficking.