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Couple sounds alarm on human trafficking

Fran and Bob German work to stop human trafficking. Fran and Bob German work to stop human trafficking.

Like a lot of people, Bob and Fran German have always enjoyed travel. Unlike most travelers, they didn't settle for sightseeing.

 "We never were typical travelers, not good in museums or monuments," Bob says. "It was our natural tendency to interact with people, especially in towns and villages away from big cities."
In 52 years of marriage, they have traveled to 65 countries, many of them third-world countries. The couple began their work abroad by teaching at a school for young human rights activists in Chiang Mai, Thailand. During their travels they learned how pervasive modern-day slavery is — from hard labor construction to children toiling in factories to prostitution ¬— then volunteered for anti-trafficking organizations, such as Children's Organization of Southeast Asia and Thai Freedom House.
The Germans, who retired to Hendersonville 10 years ago from careers in real estate sales in Florida, created a local chapter of ACT — Abolish Child Trafficking. The organization is dedicated to ending human trafficking from North Carolina to Northern Thailand.
"For the last few years we've connected with what we call heroes who are out there doing things through prevention and educating to stop the trafficking," Bob says. "We decided we've got to do something when we come back to little ol' Hendersonville."
Though there are many organizations in the U.S. dedicated to combating Human Trafficking, the German's ACT organization is different.
"Our experience is there are nice presentations with no call to action," Bob says. "We wanted to make sure that our presentation has a definite call to action so people know what they can do to be part of the solution."
The Germans' call to action is simple: be aware that you can change human trafficking, even in America. A common misconception is that the average citizen has no control over human trafficking, both locally and worldwide.

One thing the average person can do to combat human trafficking is what the couple calls "Mindful Shopping" — becoming aware of brand-name companies that use slave labor and child labor to make their products. (The website Free2Work rates brands on their use of trafficking and other abuses.)
The FBI had 459 pending human trafficking cases at the end of fiscal year 2012. While it is often thought of as an epidemic in other countries, human trafficking occurs everywhere, including the United States. Human trafficking is defined as when a person is forced against their will to work as prostitutes or to take grueling jobs as migrant, domestic, restaurant or factory workers with little or no pay, according to the FBI.

To combat human trafficking in America, the FBI recommends that people report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement agencies or the FBI, Shelly Lynch, Public Affairs Specialist for the FBI Charlotte Division, said in an email to the Lightning.

Signs of human trafficking to watch for are: individuals who have no contact with friends or family and no access to identification documents, bank accounts, or cash; workplaces where psychological manipulation and control are used; homes or apartments with inhumane living conditions; people whose communications and movements are always monitored or who have moved or rotated through multiple locations in a short amount of time; places where locks and fences are positioned to confine occupants; workers who have excessively long and unusual hours, are unpaid or paid very little, are unable take breaks or days off and have unusual work restrictions, and/or have unexplained work injuries or signs of untreated illness or disease, according to the FBI.
"Human trafficking victims can be found in many job locations and industries," Lynch says, "including factories, restaurants, elder care facilities, hotels, housekeeping, child-rearing, agriculture, construction and landscaping, food processing, meat-packing, cleaning well as the commercial sex industry."
The Germans chose not to ignore it.
"It exists, it's huge and something can be done to stop it," Fran says. "It takes an effort on everybody's part. We need to get government, businesses and ourselves involved. One of the most common things we hear is 'I didn't know.' People think slavery ended in 1864, but there are more slaves now than ever before."

The Germans will present a program on human trafficking at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 23, at the Namaste Center at 419 S. King St. For more information about ACT, contact the couple at