Would you Know What to Look For?

I wanted a pedicure before I left on my trip, but had forgotten to make an appointment at my regular nail salon.  I decided to try a walk-in nail salon instead. 
The storeowner looked up as I entered and asked me how he could help.  I responded I would like to get a pedicure.  He invited me to take a seat; I would only have to wait a few minutes.  He was right, about five minutes later he escorted me to the back of the salon and pointed to the technician’s station.
The woman smiled at me, motioning with her hand that I should take a sit and then lowered her head, intent on my pedicure.  I tried to be friendly and with little success attempted to carry on a conversation.  She seemed to speak minimal English and never made much eye contact.
I started thinking to myself:  “Is this lady all right—she is very quiet?  Does she want to be here?  Oh, I hope I am not getting a pedicure from someone who is being trafficked!  What are the signs I should be looking for?  I am not even for sure!”
While getting my pedicure, I vowed to myself that I was going to learn the signs that someone might be a victim of labor trafficking.
I did some research online and found that reading the tips on the websites raised a lot of questions.  Who would be able to remember all of this information?  Would the average person have the expertise to observe or address some of the points shared? Would someone like myself be seen as suspicious and overly aggressive if I asked some of the recommended questions—scaring the person into silence?

A bit frustrated I decided to take parts of what the experts had said and blend the information together to create a checklist of observations or simple questions that were usable for me—an average citizen – to identify instances of possible labor trafficking.
  • Does this person and/or other employees seem fearful, anxious, depressed or tense?
  • Is s/he avoiding eye contact? Are others?
  • Is someone else in the store closely watching this person and other employees?
  • Is there freedom of movement for employees?
  • Is the price for the service much lower than normally would be expected?
  • Is the person not allowed to personally receive a tip?
  • Does the establishment have opaque windows, bars on the windows, or does there seem to be an unusually high level of security?

I decided that if I was concerned I could ask the following questions:

  • Where do you live?
  • Did you grow up around here?
  • What other salons have you worked at?
  • How long have you worked here?
  • You seem very busy: do you have time to take breaks throughout the day?
  • Do you even have time for lunch?
  • If I want to come back, what are your working hours?

One website instructed readers to trust their instincts.  While I somewhat agree a person’s perspective is not always correct.  What I do agree with is if you are uneasy about what you have observed contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 and discuss your concern with them.  Ask them what you should do next.
When I reflected back on my experience at the walk-in salon, the only possible concerns were the lack of direct eye contact and the technician’s minimal use of the English language.  But she did not seem tense or nervous. The other nail technicians in the salon were very friendly and appeared to enjoy what they were doing.  When they finished doing someone’s nails, and no customers were waiting, the technicians would freely go from and come back to the salon.  As I was receiving my pedicure, other technicians stopped by and spoke good-naturedly to my technician.  She would nod her head and smile in response. 
The store owners also were giving manicures and pedicures and were concentrating on their own customers or a new customer who walked in to the salon.   There didn’t appear to be any special security.  My charge for the pedicure was an average price, and I was directed to give the tip directly to the technician that did my pedicure.
By doing some research I learned that my concerns were unfounded and I now feel better prepared for the future, plus I received a great pedicure!

Vicki Kloosterhouse is a concerned citizen who serves on the MHTTF and lives in Oakland County.