(Refiles with Thomson Reuters Foundation dateline)
By Christine Murray
MEXICO CITY, March 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An online comic strip released on Tuesday tells the story of a Mexican girl working 17-hour days cleaning an American office building until a woman working late sees her and speaks out, leading the girl to freedom from human trafficking.
The comic is the second in a series called “Wolves in the Street”, aimed at users of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and condensing the true story of a trafficked undocumented migrant into 20 illustrations.
The comic, authored by Dan Goldman, was released by anti-trafficking group UNITAS and presents two different endings, depending on whether a bystander takes action or not.
In the story, the parents of a girl named Lucinda from Ciudad Juarez in northern Mexico arrange for her to go to the United States to escape threats of violence at home.
A people smuggler takes her across the border to the home of a neighbor’s aunt, but instead of being sent to school, she is made to work long hours cleaning office buildings and told she owes the aunt more than $6,000.
In the first version of the comic, a woman working late who notices Lucinda thinks something might be wrong but gets distracted by work and does nothing.
In the second version, the same employee calls a trafficking hotline and Lucinda is helped to freedom, and granted a special visa allowing her to stay in the United States.
“Any time that there are individuals who are brought to this country and then subsequently exploited, it’s all of our responsibility to see them,” Andrea Powell, a UNITAS board member, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“To treat them as real survivors and not individuals who just need to be picked up and deported.”
Lucinda’s story is based on the experience of a survivor who went through a similar ordeal in 2016 and was rescued, according to Powell.
Though Lucinda was able to stay legally in the United States, since last year anyone whose application for the special “T visa” is denied must appear at immigration court for a hearing that can begin the deportation process.
The policy change was ordered by President Donald Trump in a crackdown on anyone in the country illegally.
There are thought to be hundreds of thousands of victims of human trafficking in the United States, according to Polaris, which runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Globally, some 40 million people are believed to be victims of labor or sex trafficking, according to the International Labor Organization and other leading groups. (Reporting by Christine Murray; Editing by Jason Fields; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)