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The Intersection of Employment and Crime: Abuse of Power, Privilege, & People

Published on Jun 27, 2019 at 2:18 pm in Employment Law.

To better understand how an employer or high profile individual could commit illegal crimes of abuse such as in situations involving forced labor and/or human trafficking, it’s important to note that these individuals have a skewed perception of reality. Harassing behavior of any kind is a way to establish dominance, maintain or gain power, and intimidate others. Common characteristics of the mentality in which a person may justify his or her abusive actions include:

Entitlement – the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.

Narcissism – people with this personality disorder have a lack of empathy for other people and crave admiration. These people are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding. They may also have grandiose fantasies and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment.

Low to No Moral Principles – having little to no understanding or awareness of what is right and wrong. This is also considered lacking integrity or the honesty and truthfulness of one’s actions.

Displacement of Responsibility – unwillingness to see his or her own shortcomings and uses everything in his or her power to avoid being held accountable for them. This is also known as projection; a defense mechanism used to displace responsibility of one’s negative behavior and traits by attributing them to someone else.

Objectification – when one views others with whom they are in a working or personal relationship with as objects or possessions.

It’s a common assumption that violators of workplace harassment, forced labor, and human trafficking are always men. While men make up a majority of those who engage in these unlawful and depraved acts, females may also be at fault. Regardless of gender, the perpetrators of abusive behavior prey on marginalized groups and use psychology to distort the thinking of victims. Positions of power give individuals an opportunity to act as predators because it greatly reduces the risk of consequences from what might otherwise deter the bad acts. The ability to leverage one’s personal power and institutional support to cover up abuse or misconduct of any sort is exactly what empowers people to engage in abuse. The more prominent the position of the abuser, the farther removed he or she may feel from the laws that bind the rest of society.

You may wonder how a victim could be so intimidated by another individual that they refuse to make a complaint or leave the unhealthy situation. Within the workplace, victims of harassment are concerned about swift and exacting retaliation that could result in loss of employment and the only means of financial support or an irreparably damaged reputation both within and outside the workplace.

In the case of migrant workers at Sarbanand Farms and parent company Munger Brothers of California discussed in part 1 of this series, what seemed like a normal work opportunity for H-2A program participants ended up being the very opposite. Although the employer offered a job, the employees were held hostage to the employer. In most cases of forced labor, this is accomplished through threats to withhold food or water, harm family members, call the immigration authorities, or make it impossible for the worker to be rehired in the future. Understandably, victims become intimidated by what might happen if they take action against their abuser.

Over the past decade, high profile prostitution cases like that of Robert Kraft, investigative media reports, and the movie industry have revealed the reality and severity of these issues. Until 2000, the laws surrounding forced labor and human trafficking in the United States were fairly weak and inadequate. It is just as important to know how to identify someone who is trapped in a situation of forced labor or trafficking, as it is to identify an abuser. Now, more programs are available and more resources are accessible to help identify victims. In addition to the abject living or working conditions themselves, other signs of abuse, forced labor, or trafficking may include poor physical health, low self-esteem, poor mental health, and a lack of personal responsibility or control.

Individuals who may be trapped in an abusive situation are typically not free to come and go at will, and may work excessively long and/or unusual hours. There also may be high security measures in place in their work or living areas, such as tinted, barred, or boarded-up windows, barbed wire, or numerous security cameras. These individuals typically do not get paid directly and are forced to meet quotas. Anxiety about meeting their quota or paying a debt of some sort might also be apparent.

An individual being forced into labor or trafficked may be fearful, anxious, seem depressed, or act abnormally submissive. Paranoia or an unhealthy fear of law enforcement is also common. These individuals may exhibit a lack of self-responsibility or self-control, such as not having many or any of their own possessions, or not being in control of their own money, bank account, or their own identification.

These situations can only be stopped if our society becomes increasingly more educated on the issue of and various types of abuse and the many forms of human trafficking.  We must maintain a heightened awareness of how to identify abusive behaviors and identify victims of abuse. By reporting a possible violator or victim, you may prevent several or even hundreds of other violations from occurring. If you are a victim of workplace abuse, contact an attorney who will help you regain your independence, as well as navigate the legal procedures to bring your abuser to justice. Making a claim against an employer can be a scary, emotional step. Our attorneys at McMath Woods P.A. understand the sensitivity of these matters.

If you have identified a victim or an abuser, there are many ways to file a report. Below are links to organizations that offer an avenue to report and programs to support abuse victims through classes, guidance in filing reports, and/or legal advice.

Polaris Project – https://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/recognize-signs

National Human Trafficking Hotline – https://humantraffickinghotline.org/

MeToo – https://metoomvmt.org/

Our government, society, and business sectors play equally important roles in combating this increasingly alarming issue. An effective partnership of these roles can lead to vital and sustainable change. In part 3 of this series, we will discuss the roles of the EEOC and US Department of Labor and their jurisdiction over employers’ exploitation of workers.

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