Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Former Trafficking Officer Gets 7 Years [Cambodia]

Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced a former anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection chief and three Cambodian-Vietnamese nationals to jail terms of between seven and eight years for running a prostitution racket in Phnom Penh. Three of the four, including 41-year-old Eam Rattana, the former anti-human trafficking chief, were sentenced in absentia. "The court had found that Eam Rattana was guilty of being an accomplice to an illegal prostitution operation. So it is decided to sentence him to seven years in jail and order for his arrest," presiding judge Duch Kimsorn said.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Traffic Stop Leads To Sex Trafficking Charges

A routine traffic stop by a state trooper assigned to the West Tennessee Drug Task Force's Interstate Interdiction Unit led to the arrest of a Texas man on sex crimes charge. Trooper Brad Simpson stopped a 2005 Escalade headed eastbound on Interstate-40 at the 43 mile marker in Haywood County for traffic violations. … Further investigation revealed the 16-year-old juvenile passenger was reported as a runaway from the Dallas area. Trooper Simpson contacted the Memphis Police Department Sex Crimes Unit when further investigation indicated possible criminal activity occurred in the Memphis area earlier that day. Steven Geer, age 40, of Dallas was arrested and transported to Memphis. He was charged with especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor…aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor…sexual exploitation of a minor…aggravated statutory rape…and criminal exposure to HIV. … "This is an example of how our interstate interdiction officers are not only on the lookout for drug trafficking, but also human sex trafficking, which is a serious problem in our state," said Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons. Earlier this year, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released a study on human sex trafficking in Tennessee and its impact on children and youth. The study showed that simply because of its geographical position and the large number of interstates that cross the state, Tennessee is conducive to sex trafficking.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wage Theft in Florida: an important issue oft linked to trafficking


The Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University will release a groundbreaking analysis of reported wage theft cases throughout the state of Florida. The report entitled: “Wage Theft: An Economic Drain to Florida. How Millions of Dollars are Stolen from Florida’s Workforce”, estimates that nearly 60-90 million dollars are stolen from Florida’s workforce, impacting communities, law abiding employers and local and state economies.

The report finds that many of Florida’s workforce fall outside of federal labor laws; thus, other enforcement mechanisms such as Miami Dade’s Wage Theft Ordinance are needed to ensure that employees, communities, and local governments will not miss out on millions of stolen wages that are owed to them, and that unscrupulous employers will be penalized for breaking labor laws.

Some findings from this report are:

· Over $28 million of unpaid wages have been recovered by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division in Florida, Miami-Dade’s Wage Theft Ordinance and community groups throughout Florida

· The primary pillars of Florida’s economy are undermined by widespread theft of employees’ wages. Florida’s key industries have the highest numbers of reported wage violations—tourism, retail trade and construction.

· In spite of ample evidence of widespread wage theft among low income workers, as of December 2011, the Florida Attorney General had not brought one single civil action to enforce the state’s minimum wage law enacted in 2004.

· Since the full implementation of the Miami-Dade County Wage Theft Ordinance in September 2010, the Miami-Dade County’s Small Business Development agency has recovered nearly $400,000 in unpaid wages for 313 employees who unlawfully had their wages withheld from them.

· Out of the six counties we analyzed, the largest number of wage theft cases were in Miami-Dade County followed by Hillsborough, Broward, Pinellas, Palm Beach and Orange counties in that order.

The release of the report comes at a time when the Florida legislature is debating a House and Senate bill that would eliminate the Miami-Dade Wage Theft Ordinance, which has collected nearly $400,000 in stolen wages from employees--and pre-empt any other local governments trying to find solutions to wage theft in their communities.

“The negative effects of shortchanging workers’ wages ripple across communities and our state economy. Families suffer when earnings are too low to meet basic needs. Much more can be done by simply enforcing existing wage and hour laws and by creating a statewide process that addresses the problem,” said report author Cynthia Hernandez. “The evidence accumulating of a spreading illegal and ultimately an anti-business practice raises serious questions for a state economy and local economies hoping to attract businesses and employees in order to grow.”

The report will be released on Thursday, January 26. To receive a copy under embargo or for questions, please contact Cynthia S Hernandez at:

chern032@fiu.edu or 786-301-6665

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How Pimps Use the Web to Sell Girls

Kristof highlights the dark side of connectivity...
In November, a terrified 13-year-old girl pounded on an apartment door in Brooklyn. When a surprised woman answered, the girl pleaded for a phone. She called her mother, and then dialed 911.

The girl, whom I’ll call Baby Face because of her looks, frantically told police that a violent pimp was selling her for sex. He had taken her to the building and ordered her to go to an apartment where a customer was waiting, she said, and now he was waiting downstairs to make sure she did not escape. She had followed the pimp’s directions and gone upstairs, but then had pounded randomly on this door in hopes of getting help.

Baby Face said she hurt too much to endure yet another rape by a john. She told prosecutors later that she was bleeding vaginally and that her pimp had recently kicked her down a stairwell for trying to flee.

That 911 call set in motion the arrest of Kendale Judge, then 21. Judge has pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking, kidnapping, rape and compelling prostitution. He is in jail, and we haven’t heard his side of the events yet.

The episode also shines a spotlight on how the girl was marketed — in ads on Backpage.com, a major national Web site where people place ads to sell all kinds of things, including sex. It is a godsend to pimps, allowing customers to order a girl online as if she were a pizza.

Lauren Hersh, the ace prosecutor in Brooklyn who leads the sex-trafficking unit there, says that of the 32 people she and her team have prosecuted in the last year and a half — typically involving victims aged 12 to 25 — a vast majority of the cases included girls marketed through Backpage ads.

“Pimps are turning to the Internet,” said Hersh. “They’re not putting the girls on the street so much. Backpage is a great vehicle for pimps trying to sell girls.”

Craigslist backed out of this sector after public protests. Pimps then moved to Backpage.com, which is owned by Village Voice Media, owners of The Village Voice weekly newspaper.

Attorneys general from 48 states wrote a joint letter to Backpage, warning that it had become “a hub” for sex trafficking and calling on it to stop running adult services ads. The attorneys general said that they had identified cases in 22 different states in which pimps peddled underage girls through Backpage.

The attorneys general cited a 15-year-old girl who was being forced to have sex with men last year in Dorchester, Mass. The pimp marketed the girl through Backpage.

But Backpage isn’t budging. Indeed, it has fought back with personal attacks on those, such as Ashton Kutcher, who have linked it to human trafficking.

Steve Suskin, legal counsel to Village Voice Media, gave me a lengthy statement in which he argued that the company is already cooperating closely with law-enforcement authorities. He cited a 16-year-old girl in Seattle who was rescued as a result of a tip the company had made.

“Censorship will not rid the world of exploitation,” Suskin asserted.

It’s true that there’s some risk that pimps will migrate to new Web sites, possibly based overseas, that are less cooperative. But, on balance, that’s a risk worth taking. The present system is failing. Pimps aren’t the shrewdest marketers, and eliminating a hub for trafficking should at least chip away at the problem.

Backpage suggests that it is battling censors and prudes. In fact, what drives it seems to be greed. In their letter, the attorneys general said that Backpage earns more than $22 million annually from prostitution advertising.

On Backpage, the pimps claim adult ages for the girls they market, but Hersh scoffs. “I see 19,” she said, “and I immediately think 13.”

“I’m not seeing a lot of cases where there’s not coercion,” she added. “The average age where a girl is forced into prostitution is 12 to 14. And most of these 16- or 17 year-olds are being run by pretty vicious pimps.”

While there are no reliable figures for human trafficking, the more we look, the more we find. The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, says that in the year before he set up a sex-trafficking unit in June 2010, his office prosecuted no trafficking cases. Since then, the office has become a national model, indicting 32 people, with 10 convictions and no acquittals so far.

Among those rescued was Baby Face, who had run away from home in September. Judge allegedly found her on the street, bought food for her and told her that she was beautiful. Within a few days, he had posted her photo on Backpage and was selling her five to nine times a day, prosecutors say. When she didn’t earn enough money, he beat her with a belt, they add.

When Baby Face ran away from her pimp and desperately knocked on that apartment door in Brooklyn, she was also in effect pounding on the door of the executive suites of Backpage and Village Voice Media. Those executives should listen to her pleas.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Missouri Man Pleads Guilty to Holding Sex Slave

A Kirkwood man has pleaded guilty to being part of a group that kept a mentally disabled woman as a sex slave in rural southwestern Missouri. Bradley Cook, 33, entered his plea this morning in U.S. District Court in Kansas City to one count of sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion. In exchange, federal prosecutors dropped six other charges including tampering with a victim, use of an interstate facility in commission of murder for hire and attempted witness retaliation — each of which carried potential 10- to 30-year sentences. The binding plea agreement recommends a 20-year prison sentence without parole for Cook.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Portland Gang Sweep Finds Traffickers

Portland gang members and associates after a federal grand jury indicted some of the city's most violent elements, authorities said Tuesday. Federal and local officers fanned out in the past week to arrest 13 people on charges that included sex trafficking and distribution of cocaine. The majority of the charges involved felons in possession of weapons. Some of the 31 suspects who were arrested are facing state charges. Oregon U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said it was necessary to bring federal charges as the city grapples with gang violence. … So far in 2011, 402 gang members have been arrested on charges that carry mandatory minimum sentences under Oregon's Measure 11 law, which specifies the most serious violent and sexual assaults, police said. The probe yielded the names of 68 people with alleged gang ties. The city's most violent gang is now the Rolling 60s Crips, an offshoot of a street gang that originated in Los Angeles, Police Chief Mike Reese said.

Monday, January 23, 2012

OK Woman's Body Found Stuffed In Duffel Bag Linked To Human Trafficking

Police in Bethany, Oklahoma, are investigating a murder they believe is linked to a local drug and prostitution ring. Police arrested Jimmy Lee Massey, Jr., suspected of taking part in the murder of Carina Saunders, 19, whose dismembered body was found stuffed in a duffel bag behind a store. Bethany Chief of Police Phil Cole said they believe Massey kidnapped another woman and forced her to watch the torture and murder of Saunders. "We believe the murder of Saunders was to send a message to the kidnapping victim and others they needed to take part in the human trafficking side of this criminal organization," Cole said.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Case To Be Heard Under Human Trafficking Law

The Southern Poverty Law Center and a large firm, Covington & Burling, are representing survivors. Great example of private attorneys stepping up and of how educated, English speakers are also vulnerable:

A Los Angeles federal judge has ruled that the conditions that Filipino teachers were subjected to when brought to Louisiana qualifies their case to be heard under the federal human trafficking law. … An official in the EBRSB superintendent's office facilitated the importation of teachers and conducted interviews in Manila. … Starting in 2007, more than 350 Filipino teachers were brought to Louisiana to fill vacancies in several school districts across the state. Filipino teachers also were brought into the U.S for positions in other states but only the Louisiana teachers filed suit over their treatment. They had to pay exorbitant fees, by Filipino standards, to get here and were required to relinquish a portion of their salaries to companies that recruited them and arranged transportation and work visas. They paid high interest rates to the lender the company required them to use. … They also could not leave the U.S. because the companies confiscated their passports until they paid the assessments.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Overlooked: Sexual Violence in Labor Trafficking

Great new organization and interesting article on how sexual violence is often overlooked in the labor trafficking context.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Four Women Held in Mexican Child Trafficking Case

Investigators say four women are being held in the western Mexican city of Guadalajara in connection with an apparent child-trafficking ring that aimed to supply babies to childless Irish couples.

The Jalisco state prosecutor's office says a 21-year-old woman has been arrested after a relative reported that she was "renting out" one of her children.

The woman said she had been paid to give the child to a group of three women who needed baby pictures for legitimate advertising purposes.

Investigators found the other three women were taking the child and several others to a hotel where Irish couples believed they were going to adopt them.

Officials are investigating whether the Irish couples and Mexican mothers were tricked.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Empowering Women: Why It’s a Key to Ending Human Trafficking

A great post to share:

Women are disproportionately victimized by traffickers. A disproportionate number live in poverty and lack education and health care. (Check out this post from last week about the size and scope of human trafficking.)

This year at STF, we’re going to take a closer look at what it means to empower women, and how to promote opportunities for women’s health, education, business, and life choice.

While it might seem that focusing on women perpetuates inequality and leaves impoverished men and boys without resources, empowered women empower communities.

When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man.

(Chris Fortson, “Women’s Rights Vital for Developing World,” Yale News Daily 2003.)

In the info graphic at the end of this post, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) explains why empowering women is so important.

And The Girl Effect shows the power of 12-year-old girls in this video.

It’s no secret that STF is already in the business of empowering women. All our products are made by women who’ve previously been exploited. They’ve been given extensive job skills training and health care, and they’re paid a fair (often generous) wage.

Around the world people are taking action for women:

Throughout the year, we’ll be pointing you in the direction of different ways you can help empower women; but don’t doubt your own creative abilities. Look around you community: Are there women who need literacy training or rides to the doctor? Are there girls who are falling behind in school because they have to care for their siblings during homework time? Are there organizations focused on women who need volunteers?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A little bit of justice...

Yesterday, in Orlando Immigration Court, my client (a hardworking single mother of four U.S. citizen children) received the right to stay in the United States (a country to which she was trafficked at age 12) and to keep her family together. It was a fantastic day for all of us, and a fitting victory on National Anti-Trafficking Day.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A video to commemorate national human trafficking day

Hear from Polaris Project staff members about what shocked them when they first learned of human trafficking and some ideas of how you can help us end it!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It's January 11th Somewhere!

Excerpt from President Obama’s speech proclaiming January 2011 to be Human Trafficking Prevention Month:

We cannot strengthen global efforts to end modern slavery without first accepting the responsibility to prevent, identify, and aggressively combat this crime at home. No country can claim immunity from the scourge of human rights abuses, or from the responsibility to confront them. As evidence of our dedication to a universal struggle against this heinous practice, the Department of State’s “Trafficking in Persons Report 2010″ included America in its rankings for the first time, measuring our efforts by the same standards to which we hold other nations. Looking ahead, we must continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases within our own borders.

Prostituted Child or Victim of Trafficking?

I wanted to pass along a recent decision issued in New York City Criminal Court (The State of NY v. Samantha R.) in which the Court dismissed a charge of Loitering for the Purposes of Prostitution against a 16 year old defendant on its own motion in the interest of justice. The Court points out the various inconsistencies in the way the law addresses the minor, noting: "the law alternately regards [the defendant] as a child and an adult or quasi-adult. . .an 'exploited child' and possibly a 'victim.'” Happy to share the case with anyone interested.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Child Trafficking or International Adoption?

International Adoption or Child Trafficking? (Book review of Finding Fernanda)

From The American Prospect:

Between 1998 and 2008, nearly 30,000 Guatemalan-born children (mostly infants and toddlers) were adopted by U.S. parents. In some years, that meant that an astonishing 1 out of 100 children born in Guatemala was adopted by an American family. For most of that time, everyone but the prospective adoptive parents knew—or in some cases actively chose to “unknow”—that the country’s international adoption system was a cesspool of corruption and crime, and motivated by money. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and news organizations reported in detail, repeatedly, that the country’s babies were systematically being bought, coerced, or even kidnapped away from families that wanted to raise them. But because healthy babies and toddlers kept on coming at a regular pace that kept up with demand in America, and because powerful Guatemalans were getting enormously rich off the baby trade, the system did not shut down until January 1, 2008.

Finding Fernanda is a true-crime page-turner about two mothers—Betsy Emanuel, an American, and Mildred Alvarado, a Guatemalan—accidentally united by a horrible adoption kidnapping. First-time author Erin Siegal uses the moving story to deliver investigative reportage at its finest, examining in tremendous detail exactly what happened to Betsy, to Mildred, and to the daughter that both of them lost. In doing so, Siegal writes the definitive book on the Guatemalan international adoption system’s endemic difficulties. In documenting exactly how Mildred Alvarado’s two youngest children were stolen, and by tracing Alvarado’s desperate search to regain them, Siegal exposes how Guatemalan crime rings and official corruption enabled children to cross borders and change identities without their families’ permission. And by showing how hard it was for Betsy Emanuel to find out what went wrong when she adopted Alvarado’s children, and how impossible it was for Florida to shut down Emanuel’s U.S. adoption agency, Celebrating Children—notorious for its involvement in suspect adoptions, and which Siegal definitively links to the Alvarado kidnapping—Siegal reveals the tremendous gaps in U.S. laws and regulations on international adoption.

Access the full article here.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Interesting Event in Miami

“Justice at the Door: Ending Domestic Servitude”
St. Thomas University School of Law through its Graduate Program in Intercultural Human Rights’ Human Trafficking Academy and
its Intercultural Human Rights Law Review invites you to the 2012 symposium on human trafficking for domestic servitude*
WHEN: Friday, January 27, 2012, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
WHERE: St. Thomas University School of Law, Moot Court Room,
16401 NW 37th Ave., Miami Gardens, FL 33054**
*Continuing Legal Education Credits application pending with the Florida Bar
**In addition to the live session, the conference will be streamed online.
For more information please contact: Human Trafficking Academy athumantrafficking@stu.edu
Ana Isabel Vallejo, J.D./LL.M./J.S.D. candidate
Human Trafficking Academy Project Coordinator
Graduate Program in Intercultural Human Rights
St. Thomas University School of Law
16401 NW 37th Avenue
Miami Gardens, FL 33054
Tel: 305-623-2320
Cel: 305-978-4404
Fax: 305-474-2413

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in the U.S.

January is set as a permanent month of awareness for those who are denied their basic fundamental human rights by human trafficking in the US and around the world.

The statistics are bleak, and in a country like the US 90% of human trafficking is sex trafficking, and an estimated 80% of human trafficking victims are females and 50% are children.

There are approximately 100,000 to 300,000 children forced into prostitution yearly in the United States alone. Global figures are in the millions.

Hotels and resorts have been receiving more attention over accountability issues regarding human and sex trafficking. One group, meeting planners, has taken the initiative to sign the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct.

The Code of Conduct is an industry driven responsible tourism initiative in collaboration with End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT) International, funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and supported by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Companies who sign onto the Code are now working to encourage their industry peers and competitors to address human and sex trafficking at every hotel where they do business.

Kimberly Ritter, Senior Account Manager and Coordinator of conference and meeting planning company Nix, claims that “Child sex trafficking is widespread, occurring right now even at luxury hotels in the United States. Most hotel executives have no idea this exploitation of children exists at their properties. Once they become aware, however, they can establish policies and train staff to identify and take action against child sex trafficking.”

As part of their commitment to end child sex trafficking, Nix recently added a clause to their standard Request for Proposal inquiring about hotel policies on human trafficking.

As a company, Nix seeks to discuss child sex trafficking and exploitation in one-on-one meetings with hotel general managers, provide written materials, and by encouraging them to sign the ECPAT-USA Code of Conduct for hotels.

Meeting planners who adopt the Meeting Planner's Code of Conduct agree to establish an internal social responsibility policy, implement an action plan with objectives and timeframes, and report annually.

Trafficking networks operate both domestically and internationally, and although abuses disproportionally affect women and girls, the victims of this ongoing global tragedy are men, women, and children of all ages.

Wednesday, January 11, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Famous Folks Fighting Trafficking by Kristof

HERE’S a paradox: We’re finding authentic leadership these days not from our nominal leaders in Washington but from unelected (and mostly unelectable) figures whom we like to deride as self-indulgent narcissists.

On the Ground

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Nicholas Kristof addresses reader feedback and posts short takes from his travels.

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Damon Winter/The New York Times

Nicholas D. Kristof

Congress is so paralyzed and immature, even sleazy, that we reporters sometimes leave a politician’s press conference feeling the urgent need to shower. But look at university and high school students. Sure, plenty still live for a party, but a growing number have no time for beer because they’re so busy tutoring prisoners, battling sex trafficking or building wells in Africa.

Even more startling, we can now turn to moral leadership from — brace yourself — Hollywood’s “most beautiful people.” I know, I know. What we expect from celebrities is mostly scandalous sex lives and crackpot behavior, and some do oblige. But increasingly as our “leaders” debase the national conversation, sex symbols elevate it.

Take Angelina Jolie, who is making her debut as a director and writer with the aching new movie “In the Land of Blood and Honey.” It’s a Bosnian love story set against genocide, and it illuminates the human capacity to both love and kill.

Let me acknowledge that I regularly embarrass my kids with my ignorance of popular culture. The first time I met Jolie, four years ago, I was brought over to a couch where three women were seated — and realized, to my horror, that I had no idea which one she was. She rescued me by introducing herself.

(Maybe I should warn of a conflict here. Jolie submitted a blurb for a book that my wife and I wrote about empowering women. Better yet, she held our book, the cover perfectly upright for the cameras, as a shield when paparazzi were hounding her.)

Jolie’s new movie doesn’t pander to anyone. For starters, she isn’t in it. The cast is made up of unknowns from the Balkans, speaking foreign languages with subtitles. When Jolie wrote the screenplay and proposed filming it, she said, everyone thought she was nuts.

The movie portrays the romance between a Bosnian Serbian man and a Bosnian Muslim woman. When the Bosnian war begins, he becomes an officer in a genocidal army and she becomes a survivor in one of the army’s rape camps. The couple reunites, but she is his prisoner as well as his lover. The army officer reminds me of war criminals I’ve interviewed: a good and decent guy when he’s not committing crimes against humanity.

“How do people get to the point,” Jolie asks, “when they’re murdering the grandmother next door. How does that happen? If we can start to understand it, then maybe we can figure out how to address the signs earlier.”

Jolie also wants viewers to meditate on humanitarian intervention and what can be done to prevent mass atrocities. “I hoped people would watch the film and think, ‘Why didn’t we stop it?’ ” she said.

I started off rather scornful of celebrities dabbling in humanitarian causes. When Mia Farrow inquired about going to Darfur with me, I archly declined on the presumption that she couldn’t hack it. Then she traveled to the region on her own, and I began to run into her anyway.

Once Farrow consulted me about her plan to buy a donkey and hike off by herself across a desert occupied by murderous militias. She planned to travel without even a tent, just a rope to encircle her as she slept in the sand on the theory that snakes and scorpions would turn aside at the rope.

Farrow has since become a friend, but I’m now afraid to travel with her. I might not be able to hack it.

Likewise, the war in Congo is the most lethal since World War II, but it hasn’t been much covered by many news organizations. One person who has visited repeatedly is Ben Affleck. He has made himself an expert on Congo, and he plans to return this month.

Or think of Sean Penn and Olivia Wilde, who have shown a more sustained commitment to Haiti than most news organizations.

Look, as a journalist, I’m proud of my profession. Yet it’s also clear that commercial pressures are driving some news organizations, television in particular, to drop the ball. Instead of covering Congo, it’s cheaper and easier to put a Democrat and a Republican in a studio and have them yell at each other.

Frankly, it’s just humiliating when news organizations cover George Clooney (my travel buddy on one Darfur trip) more attentively when he breaks up with a girlfriend than when he travels to Sudan and uses satellite photos to catch the Sudanese government committing mass atrocities.

So here’s my hope for the new year. That our “leaders” in Washington will pause in their supercilious narcissism and show a hint of the seriousness and moral purpose of, yes, celebrities.