Sunday, December 22, 2013

One Sex Trafficking Survivor’s Story

Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 7:09 am
When Moe Crowle walks along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, a blighted drag in Sarasota’s historically black neighborhood, men on bikes shout from across the street and a mother wearing cheetah-print pants walks away from her baby stroller to chat. An old Cadillac with dark tinted windows stops and then crawls along the sidewalk next to her. A man opens the door and stares.
Credit Credit Dan Wagner / Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Moe Crowle

For better and worse, Moe is well-known in this north Sarasota neighborhood. The glares have been a constant since she was 17, when she was first prostituted in this affluent beach town.
“When I keep thinking about it, and dwelling on it, you know, it gets aggravating,” Moe says as she walks toward the cluster of townhomes where she trafficked. “It just brings me back to a place where I don’t want to be, and that place is on this side of town, remembering what happened, so it’s like I’m re-living it.” 
Like many prostituted children, Moe was sexually abused at an early age. By the time she was 15, Moe dropped out of High school. And in April 2011 she ran away from her mother’s home. She was quickly taken in by two women.
“My first -- what -- two weeks were heaven. I was smoking all that I want to, drinking what I want to, having anybody over to the house that I want to, doing my own thing, what a 17 year old could never possibly imagine,” Crowle says.
But soon Moe’s new friends were asking Moe to pay her way -- or the fun would stop and she would be homeless. The two women told her she could make money in exchange for sex. They dressed her up in high heels and suggestive clothing, coached her and sent her to this hostile street.
Moe’s story is just a single case study in a harrowing national problem. Child advocacy groups estimate that at least 100 thousand U.S. children are trafficked each year in the U.S. These are American children coerced or abducted by traffickers or pimps throughout the country, including here in Florida.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune reporter David McSwane spent the last year with survivors of sex trafficking and told their stories as part of a multimedia presentation called “The Stolen Ones.” What the newspaper found was a justice system that is ill-equipped to help victims of this underground economy.
To read the full story, go to

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Clinging to a Monster in a Desperate Gambit


Clinging to a Monster in a Desperate Gambit

‘The Beast’ by Óscar Martínez Details Immigrant Trek

The “beast” that Óscar Martínez writes about in his often harrowing new book is not actually an animal. It’s the train on whose roof Central American immigrants ride across Mexico, making their way to what they hope will be a better life in the United States. The beast, though, truly is a monster: It can devour the lives or limbs of its stowaways, and hosts the human predators who target them.
Pau Coll/Ruido Photo
Óscar Martínez


Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail
By Óscar Martínez
Translated by Daniela Maria Ugaz and John Washington
Illustrated. 267 pages. Verso Books. $26.95.

Early in his travels on what he calls “the migrant trail,” Mr. Martínez wonders how many people have perished on these journeys. A priest tells him that the entire 2,000-mile-plus route is “a cemetery for the nameless,” but Mr. Martínez is not content with that answer. And so he has made it his task in “The Beast” to give not only names but also life histories to the men and women, forgotten and spurned, whom he meets.
That’s how we come to know Jaime, a 37-year-old Honduran who heads for the United States after a hurricane destroys his farm, but loses his right leg when he falls from the train. And Auner, Pitbull and El Chele, young Salvadoran brothers fleeing the gang violence that has already claimed their mother’s life. And at the end Julio César, who sits by the Rio Grande, studying its currents and patiently waiting for the right moment to swim across.
By disposition and training, Mr. Martínez is ideally situated for this task. A Salvadoran, he writes for the investigative reporting unit of the newspaper, one of the best online publications in Latin America. Mr. Martínez, now just 30 and in his mid-20s when he wrote this book, consistently demonstrated physical courage as he traveled back and forth across Mexico and confronted the risks posed by corrupt police officers, drug cartels, the migrant-smugglers known as coyotes, greedy townspeople and the beast itself.
“On top of a train there aren’t journalists and migrants,” he writes, “there are only people hanging on. There is nothing but speed, wind, and sometimes a hoarse conversation. The roof of the cars is the floor for all, and those who fall, fall the same way. Staying on is all that matters.”
When published in Spanish, in 2010, Mr. Martínez’s book bore a title that translates as “The Migrants Who Don’t Matter.” Changing that to “The Beast” may subtly shift the emphasis to the train and away from its reluctant passengers, but Mr. Martínez never wavers in his focus on the Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans and Nicaraguans who travel “without anyone but robbers and kidnappers even glancing in their direction.”
This translation also lacks some of the sizzle of the original, through no fault of the translators, Daniela Maria Ugaz and John Washington. In the original, Central American peasant Spanish collided with Mexican narco-gangster argot, underlining the difference between the migrants and those who exploit them. It would be nearly impossible to render these distinctive forms of speech without the slang sounding forced and artificial. But Mr. Martínez’s voice, that of an attentive observer who has seen everything but still has the capacity to feel indignation and sympathy, comes through intact.
He describes Tapachula, the first place migrants encounter after they cross the Suchiate River from Guatemala, as “a Mexican town that smells of fritters and lead.” Walking the streets there “is like stepping on a spinal cord, a touchy boundary line between two countries in conflict.” Atop the train, passengers are “clinging like ticks onto its roof struts”; they find that “it’s so cold it feels like someone is whipping us with glass.” But riding a bus is not much better, because the road is “winding like an intestine through a no man’s land of forest and patches of rugged limestone.”
The graceful, incisive writing lifts “The Beast” from being merely an impressive feat of reportage into the realm of literature. Mr. Martínez has produced something that is an honorable successor to enduring works like George Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier” or Jacob Riis’s “How the Other Half Lives.”
Mr. Martínez is not the first to write about the migrant trail. Ted Conover’s excellent “Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders With America’s Illegal Migrants” was published in 1987, and feature films like “Tres Veces Mojado” and “Sin Nombre” have also tried to portray the drama and tragedy of smuggling humans. But as Mr. Martínez makes graphically clear, the whole system has become markedly more brutal, corrupt and dangerous: These days it’s “everyone against everyone, migrants caught in the middle.”


Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail
By Óscar Martínez
Translated by Daniela Maria Ugaz and John Washington
Illustrated. 267 pages. Verso Books. $26.95.
In the second half of the book he focuses on the United States-Mexican border, a subject that has been written about exhaustively. But even in a place like Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Tex., he finds something new to report. He writes with compassion about deportees, some of whom “hardly speak Spanish” after growing up in the United States, and how they become prey to the touts and currency exchange dealers as the migrants step into Mexican territory, “disoriented, with a plastic bag in hand that holds a copy of the papers ordering them out of the country.”
“I can tell that for a few of them, it’s hard to take those first few steps away from the Santa Fe Bridge,” he writes. “They stare into the distance, into their home country,” the United States, forced to “use Spanglish to ask how to reach their hometown, which they may hardly remember. Some have no family in Mexico at all.”
Though Mr. Martínez seeks a broad historical view, his book may also be useful in our current immigration debate, if only because it puts the lie to characterizations of undocumented immigrants as having “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” as Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, has put it. As Mr. Martínez shows, the situation is one of “narcos and migrants vying for the same spaces,” an unequal struggle if ever there was one.
“What gets the narcos angry is that migrants attract enough attention to force authorities to look like they’re doing something,” Mr. Martínez explains. When the Mexican drug smugglers grow “sick of migrants heating up their turf,” they don’t hesitate to kill entire groups of Central American intruders, or kidnap them and hold them for ransom.
“Migrants don’t just die, they’re not just maimed or shot or hacked to death,” Mr. Martínez writes. “The scars of their journey don’t only mark their bodies, they run deeper than that. Living in such fear leaves something inside them, a trace and a swelling that grabs hold of their thoughts and cycles through their head.” By capturing that grim reality, and in such gripping prose and detail, Mr. Martínez has both distinguished himself and done us all a vital public service.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

U.S. senators introduce bill to combat human trafficking of children

U.S. senators introduce bill to combat human trafficking of children

Published: Friday, December 13, 2013 at 13:10 PM.
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC), Chair of the Subcommittee on Children and Families, and Marco Rubio (R-FL) today introduced the bipartisan Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act, a bill to combat sex and labor trafficking in child welfare systems by providing employees with tools to identify, document, educate and counsel child victims. A companion bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Thomas Marino (R-PA).

Recent research reveals that more than 100,000 children are involved in the sex trade in the United States, many of whom may be as young as 11. Approximately 70% of children trafficked have had previous contact with social services, foster care, and child protective and welfare agencies.

“North Carolina consistently ranks among the top 10 states for human trafficking, and sadly, many of the victims are children,” Hagan said. “This bill attacks the issue at its core – helping children who are often most at risk by providing child welfare employees with the tools they need to identify and support victims. I am hopeful that by passing this legislation, we can give more children a shot at the safe and healthy childhood they deserve.”

“Earlier this year, Congress took an important step to combat human trafficking by reauthorizing landmark legislation, but significant gaps remain regarding human trafficking that targets innocents in our child welfare systems,” said Rubio. “While the vast majority of prospective foster and adoptive parents are well intentioned and eager to love these children, sadly, there are those who seek to exploit our children.  For children, adoptions and foster care should be a lifeline to a better future, not a path to hell as trafficking victims.”
The legislation also improves identification and reporting requirements for child welfare agencies, requiring states to report to the Department of Health and Human Services the number of trafficking victims in their child welfare systems as well as their current procedures and policies to combat the problem. Victims would also need to be reported to law enforcement agencies and then entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, which helps law enforcement nationwide locate missing children and apprehend criminal offenders.

“One of the greatest challenges in combatting child trafficking is the lack of reliable data on which to base law enforcement or policy responses,” added Hagan. “Increased data collection will provide more accurate statistics on the number of children trafficked and ensure that law enforcement and policymakers can better address the problem.”

The FBI has ranked North Carolina among the top 10 states most susceptible to human trafficking based on the state’s multiple interstate highways, ports and large military bases. The state is also ranked among the top 10 by the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which tracks the number of calls and tips it receives from trafficking victims and witnesses.
 The Congressional Budget Office has indicated that the legislation has no direct cost. The bill is supported by the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), the Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), Shared Hope International and the Polaris Project.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Special Edition On Child Trafficking

Facts on Child Trafficking
Q: How does federal law define child trafficking?
A: According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and more recent legislation, child trafficking includes acts of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Any child under age 18 who is recruited to participate in commercial sex acts, such as prostitution or pornography, is a trafficking victim whether or not they consent. The legislation also identifies child labor trafficking victims as children who have been recruited to provide labor or services through force, coercion, or fraud. Child trafficking can occur both transnationally and domestically, and victims include both foreign-born and U.S. citizen children.
Q: What factors put children at risk of becoming trafficking victims?
A: Research has identified poverty, lack of family support, history of sexual abuse, and living in vulnerable, high crime areas as experiences that increase children's risk of becoming trafficking victims. In addition, research also suggests that runaway and homeless youth are at increased risk.
Q: What are the unique needs of child trafficking victims?
A: Child trafficking victims are in need of a safe, stable living situation and protection from the trafficker. Victims will need trauma-informed comprehensive services, including legal, advocacy, and medical and mental health services. It is of utmost importance that child trafficking victims not be treated as criminals for acts they committed while trafficked.
Q: What are some considerations when establishing safe, stable living situations for child trafficking victims?
A: When considering living situations, reunification with family members should first be explored when safe and appropriate. For foreign-born children, reunification with family members through repatriation should be pursued when in the best interest of the child. When placement with family members either in the U.S. or another country is not appropriate, foreign-born children are eligible for specialized foster care through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program. Any child or youth without legal immigration status should be provided assistance with immigration relief.
Q: To what services are child trafficking victims entitled?
A: Federal legislation entitles child trafficking victims to four categories of services: (1) criminal justice services, (2) assistance in pursuing civil action against the trafficker, (3) the right to repatriation when safe and appropriate, and, (4) the right to immigration assistance and access to public benefits when repatriation cannot be pursued. Undocumented victims are entitled to immigration relief options including continued presence and T visas. Continued presence provides temporary permission to remain in the U.S. through a certified letter issued by the Office for Refugee Resettlement, while a T-visa provides a pathway to citizenship. Individuals with a T-visa are immediately eligible to receive federal and state public benefits, may apply for lawful permanent residency after three years, and may petition for qualified family members to join them in the U.S. In addition, regardless of whether youth have been granted continued presence or a T-visa, they are eligible for public benefits, including Medicaid and SNAP assistance, that are typically not available to newly arrived immigrants. As noted, foreign-born child trafficking victims are eligible for the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program.
Q: What practices have been found to be effective in working with child trafficking victims?
A: Research shows that developing a trusting relationship is of utmost importance when working with youth victims. Engaging in safety planning, collaborating across multiple agencies, and offering trauma-informed programming are considered promising practices. Due to the challenges of identifying child trafficking victims, research also highlights the importance of offering training to providers in a variety of practice areas to increase recognition of signs of potential trafficking among children and youth.  
Suggested Resources
      Resources through the Federal Government
Human Trafficking Into and Within the United States: A Review of the Literature (by Heather Clawson, Nichole Dutch, Amy Solomon, and Lisa Goldblatt Grace, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, August 2009)

Multiple Resources available at Responding to Human Trafficking of Children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Child Welfare Information Gateway)

Multiple Resources available at Child Victims of Trafficking(U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Refugee Resettlement)
      Legal Resources
Legal Services Assessment for Trafficked Children: Cook County, Illinois Case Study (by Katherine Kaufka Walts, Linda Rio Reichmann, and Catherine Lee, Center for the Human Rights for Children, Loyola University Chicago, August 2013)

Promising Criminal Justice Practices in Human Trafficking Cases: A County-Level Comparative Overview (by Angela Inzano, Center for the Human Rights of Children, Loyola University Chicago, 2012)
      Practice Resources
Human Trafficking and Exploitation of Children and Youth in the United States, Outcome Document: Outcomes of the Proceedings of the National Conference on Child Trafficking and Exploitation in the United States (Center for the Human Rights for Children, Loyola University Chicago, 2012)

Building Child Welfare Response to Child Trafficking (Center for the Human Rights for Children, Loyola University Chicago and International Organization for Adolescents, 2011)

Human Trafficking of Children in the United States: A Fact Sheet for Schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2007)

The information in this e-news does not represent the opinion or endorsement of MCWNN. This information is intended to provide general discussion on the topic and should not be used as a substitute for professional advice which takes into consideration specific circumstances of the situation. Those seeking case consultation should seek the services of a competent professional. If you are interested in sharing information on FYI from MCWNN, please contact Caitlin O'Grady, MCWNN Coordinator
Copyright © 2013 Migration & Child Welfare National Network, All rights reserved.
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Friday, December 13, 2013

Young, Naïve and Selling Sex


Young, Naïve and Selling Sex

‘Tricked,’ a Documentary About Human Trafficking

JK Wasson/Kino Lorber
A scene from the documentary "Tricked."
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At the beginning of “Tricked,” Jane Wells and John-Keith Wasson’s exposé of human trafficking in North America, the despicably smooth-talking Robert Money explains that all women are either prostitutes or whores. A preening pimp, he should know: His sordid taxonomy is the foundation of his entire business plan.
Mr. Money and his bragging colleagues are all over “Tricked,” a documentary that presents the sexual exploitation of young women as a systemic cancer that feeds on public misconception as much as male appetites. Those appetites are adequately represented in the form of brazen johns who deliver smug justifications for paid sex (“I don’t need to be charming”) and praise recessionary prices. Between these two groups are the women being bartered: many of them uneducated, unformed and unprepared for the consequences of posting provocative selfies on the Internet.
The soft-spoken Rain, recruited when she was 11, says she called her pimp Daddy Daycare because there were only minors in his stable. Other victims reveal just how seductive men like Mr. Money are to young women seeking affection and protection. (“Boyfriending in” is a common first step; the beatings come later.) Psychological manipulation is the pimp’s primary weapon, and the best not only have the gift of the gab but also an eye for the vulnerable.
Frustrated law-enforcement officials disclose how pimps flourish when the sole witnesses against them are prostitutes with poor “jury appeal.” Such witnesses, however, are the heartbreaking core of a film that tenderly details their experiences but leaves topics like poverty, lack of parental oversight, childhood damage and low self-esteem off the table — more than enough for a sequel.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How text messages help zero in on human trafficking

How text messages help the Polaris Project zero in on human trafficking

Jeffrey MacMillan - Jennifer Kimball is a data coordinator at the Polaris Project and works with a texting service that trafficking victims can contact for help.
A few months ago, a worker monitoring a hotline for the Polaris Project, a nonprofit group dedicated to combating human trafficking, received a text message from an 18-year-old woman in distress.
The woman, a sex-trade worker, was trapped in a motel room with her pimp and she secretly used his cellphone to send a text seeking help. The Washington-based group moved quickly to alert authorities, who ultimately arrested the pimp.
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For Polaris’s chief executive Brad Myles, the episode demonstrated how text messaging might offer a new channel to help victims. In the process, Polaris learned those texts are data, and collectively they can be analyzed to identify patterns in human trafficking so the group might better craft policy and awareness programs.
Polaris started its text hotline in March, through a philanthropic partnership with San Francisco-based cloud company Twilio, which powers text and voice customer service communications for clients such as Uber, Hulu, eHarmony and CocaCola. Victims can text “HELP” or “INFO” to the number 233733 (BeFree), where they are forwarded to Polaris’s hotline staff, who then respond from their computers through a messaging service called Chatter. Polaris has operated a voice hotline, at 1-888-373-7888, for a few years.
The text campaign lets a new group of victims connect with Polaris, Myles said. “There’s a population of people who are high-risk individuals, or survivors of trafficking, who would not call the phone number, and they wouldn’t send us an e-mail, and they wouldn’t fill out a Web form, but for whatever reason they would send us a text. Once we get in touch with them, it’s the same types of information we would probably learn from a call.”
Training hotline specialists to use texts to help victims in crisis has been a challenge, because of the kinds of information they contain, Myles said.
“The actual length and structure of the language you’re using is very different — you’re not speaking in full, complete sentences, you’re not able to explain context. It’s a very truncated, reductionist form of communication,” he said.
For instance, specialists have learned to interpret texting shorthand. If they ask if a victim is safe, the victim may respond “Y” or “N” instead of “yes” or “no.”
“We began to need to ask more directed, close-ended questions instead of open-ended questions,” Myles said, asking if someone is safe, for instance, instead of asking them to describe their situation.
Hotline specialists also had to adjust to what Myles describes as “a strobe-light feeling of communication” — texts are often sent sporadically, so the conversation may take longer than a phone call. With texts, “it’s not a continuous stream of discussion,” as specialists might have to wait minutes or even hours for a response, Myles said.
Despite the challenges, the texting campaign has generated large volumes of new data Polaris is trying to analyze. Salesforce, the company behind Chatter, collects data about the phone calls and texts, such as length, frequency and location. Combined with tips from callers — suspicious addresses, vehicles, or names of traffickers, for instance — Polaris has information on almost 200 variables per case.
Analyzing incidents in aggregate could help Polaris identify patterns in human trafficking. For instance, Polaris recently started receiving seemingly unrelated calls and texts throughout the country about illegal labor trafficking and abusive work conditions in carnivals. “It was something that wasn’t really on our radar as much before,” Myles said.
After searching its database, Polaris’s staff identified common recruitment sites and recruiters worldwide who were drawing immigrants into the United States to work at these carnivals. Polaris is developing interventions targeting workers and recruiters in Central America and Africa, where the workers often come from.
In the future, this data could be used to predict where incidents will occur before they do. Polaris has met with computing firms to discuss “becoming proactive and not being so reactive,” Myles said. “We could use [modeling] then to craft certain interventions that we know will target certain types of trafficking, without needing to learn about them from the calls.”