Thursday, May 29, 2014

Anti-Trafficking Activist Quits Amid Charges Stories Were Fabricated

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HONG KONG — A well-known Cambodian crusader against sex trafficking who attracted celebrity support to her cause has resigned from the foundation she started after being confronted with allegations that she and others connected to her group fabricated stories about their experiences as young victims of the sex trade.
Somaly Mam resigned from the foundation that bears her name days after Newsweek reported that key assertions she made — including being sold into slavery at age 9 or 10 and spending a decade in a brothel — were untrue. The Newsweek article also raised questions about the stories of women the Somaly Mam Foundation held up as examples of the horrors of sex trafficking, including Long Pross, who claimed to have had her eye gouged out by a pimp after being forced to work in a brothel.
“While we are extremely saddened by this news, we remain grateful to Somaly’s work over the past two decades and for helping to build a foundation that has served thousands of women and girls,” Gina Reiss-Wilchins, the executive director of the Somaly Mam Foundation, wrote in a statement issued Wednesday. “We don’t expect this transition to be simple, but we ask that you stand with us in the face of these serious challenges and help us to honor all victims and survivors, and the millions of women and girls who are enslaved across the globe.”
She said the foundation had retained a law firm in March to investigate the allegations, which were raised by The Cambodia Daily in articles in 2012 and 2013.
Ms. Mam helped draw millions of dollars to the cause of combating sex trafficking by enlisting support and attention from such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey, Queen Sofia of Spain, the actress Susan Sarandon and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, who along with Ms. Sarandon sits on the advisory board of the Somaly Mam Foundation. Her work has been highlighted by journalists including Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times.
The Newsweek article noted that in discussing her past, Ms. Mam said she had been “sold in the brothel” by a man she knew as her grandfather, who turned her into a domestic slave at a very young age, sold her as a virgin to a Chinese merchant and then forced her to marry a soldier at age 14.
But Newsweek, in its May 21 article, quoted acquaintances and teachers from her childhood in the village of Thloc Chhroy as saying they did not recall Ms. Mam being raised by the “grandfather” figure she describes, and one childhood friend said she remained in the village until she got her high school diploma. The article also notes that Ms. Mam herself made conflicting claims about when she was sold into slavery and how long she worked in a brothel: At a White House appearance, she said she was sold into slavery at age 9 or 10 and spent a decade in a brothel, while in her book she said she was trafficked from when she was “about 16 years old.”
Ms. Mam could not be reached for comment Thursday.
In its 2013 annual report, the Somaly Mam Foundation said that it had raised more than $2 million in contributions the year before, and that its affiliated social workers had made contact with 17,000 sex workers in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, performing such work as distributing 700,000 condoms in 2012.
But some have questioned the group’s practice of using young women to press the cause of highlighting the horrors of sex trafficking. Pierre Fallavier, who said he advised Ms. Mam’s antitrafficking group Afesip, said in emails to The Cambodia Dailythat the group’s work reflected how many aid organizations, in their zeal to raise funds, use “composite” portraits of people they aid.
“People around me — all Khmers — were saying the stories Somaly told about herself and some of the girls were exaggerated,” he wrote. “At that time I did not want to listen, because I could see the good Afesip was doing.”
“At the same time, donors were getting an interest, and were sending their people with crews of journalists to take pictures,” he wrote. “I used to tell Somaly to send them away, that all they wanted were exotic stories of violence and sex, with the picture of a beautiful hero saving children so they could sell their papers. But they came with the funders.”
Pierre Legros, Ms. Mam’s ex-husband and the co-founder of Afesip, blamed the system of international development aid and the lavishly funded nonprofit sector for providing incentives for groups like Afesip to inflate figures about the problems they are confronting and distort the truth.
“She used the system, and she has been used by the system,” Mr. Legros, who left the organization in 2004, said about his ex-wife. “I’ve worked with a lot of organizations, and you confronted the same issue when you wanted money. If you have no story, you don’t have money.”
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “What is surprising to me is that it took 10 years for people to discover that it was a joke.”

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Labor trafficking more common that you might think

Rescue group: Labor trafficking more common that you might think

UPDATED 5:27 PM EDT May 23, 2014
Group: Human trafficking more common that you might think
LOUISVILLE, Ky. —A man who was arrested on human trafficking charges is out of jail after his wife posted a $50,000 bond.
An expert with Catholic Charities said what Ming Wen Chen is accused of doing is more common that you might think.     
Kentucky Restore and Rescue said 160 human trafficking victims have been identified in the commonwealth since 2008.
Metro police said the arrest of Chen culminated a year long investigation of the Golden Palace Restaurant on the Outer Loop near New Cut Road.  His wife was cited on charges of human trafficking.
Investigators contended several women and men were forced to work 12 hours a day, six days a week.
"Some of the workers didn't even know what city they were in," said Louisville Metro Police Sgt. Andre Bottoms.
Marissa Castellanos is the human trafficking program manager for Catholic Charities, which comes to aid of refugees.
"We are seeking that workers are frequently exploited by their employers, underpaid or not paid at all," said Castellanos.
It was business as usual during Friday's lunch hour at the Grand Palace.  Nora Lewis said she's a regular and hadn’t heard of the charges against the owner.
"This is the first time I've been here in a month and so I don't know. These girls here are just as kind as they can be," Lewis said.
According to police, workers were kept in the basement of the owners' home, in a subdivision off Old Third Street Road. The basement was divided into small cubicles with makeshift beds.  They shared one bathroom and their freedom was limited.
"From our investigation, at least the female workers, weren't allowed to come out of the basement unless they were accompanied by the owner of the restaurant," said Bottoms.
"What we are seeing is that labor trafficking crimes are probably happening as frequently as sex trafficking and commonly in labor trafficking there are more victims," Castellanos said.
Investigators would not say how many workers were involved or whether they were in the country legally.
Chen is scheduled for arraignment Tuesday.
For more information on ending human trafficking, click here. 

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Because I don't write enough about nuns...

Nuns fight human trafficking at WCup

Nuns fight human trafficking at WCup
VATICAN CITY - An international association of Catholic nuns on Tuesday launched a public awareness campaign to combat human trafficking and prostitution during the World Cup in Brazil. The nuns will use social media, billboards and rallies to draw attention to the heightened risk of exploitation of sex workers and job-seekers in general. "The World Cup is a unique occasion to invite everyone to reflect on the value of life," Sister Gabriella Bottani said. Bottani said her association, Talitha Kum -- a Biblical phrase meaning "Little girl, get up!" -- was also conducting training courses to spot signs of trafficking. The clergywoman said that for previous World Cups in Germany and South Africa, the level of "exploitation" had gone up by 30 percent and 40 percent respectively.–AFP

Friday, May 23, 2014

Human Trafficking Daily

Training teachers to spot signs of human trafficking -

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Suing ICE

New York, NY - May 21, 2014 - Americans for Immigrants Justice (AI Justice) and  Kurzban Kurzban Weinger Tetzeli & Pratt, P.A., filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court against Customs & Border Protection (CBP) for its abuse and unlawful treatment of Alba, a twenty-eight year old immigrant woman who fled to the U.S. seeking asylum. Instead of accepting her as an asylum seeker, CBP held her in the most barbaric and inhumane conditions in CBP detention cells along the U.S./Mexico border in CBP's Rio Grande Valley sector.  Flores v. U.S. 

The CBP facilities, where detainees are supposed to be held no more than 12-24 hours, are commonly known as "hieleras," the Spanish word for "freezers." CBP agents and detainees alike call them hieleras because of the frigid temperatures at which the holding facilities are maintained. In addition to being held in frigid temperatures, detainees in the hieleras are routinely denied adequate meals, access to clean drinking water, and to basic hygiene products such as soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and sanitary napkins. The hieleras are often so crowded that the detainees have no space to lie down when kept overnight. Detainees are denied mattresses and bedding, and are left to sleep on the cold concrete floor with bright overhead lights left on throughout the night. Moreover, detainees with serious medical conditions are denied adequate treatment, and those with chronic conditions are denied access to medically-necessary prescription medications they carry with them at the time of their apprehension.

Though the hieleras are designated for short term custody, CBP routinely detains individuals for days and sometimes weeks in substandard conditions. "We have interviewed more than a hundred immigrants like Alba who were held by our own government in the most inhumane conditions here in the US. CBP agents detain adults and children in government-operated detention facilities under conditions that most Americans would believe only exist in third-world countries," said Joseph Anderson, Director of Litigation for AI Justice. "Alba, who is a diabetic, was kept in these detention facilities for more than a week. Her insulin was confiscated from her, she endured frigid temperatures, was not allowed to bathe or change her clothing despite the fact that she was menstruating. She was forced to try to sleep on a freezing cold concrete floor while the lights remained on at all times. She had to share a toilet that sat in the open in the cell with more than twenty women," added Anderson.

"Like Alba, many other men, women and children held by CBP in these abusive conditions are bona fide asylum seekers who have every right to come to the US seeking our protection. They include women fleeing violence and children whose families and lives have been threatened by gang violence," said Cheryl Little, Executive Director of AI Justice. "It is shameful that people who have already experienced tragic and devastating losses and come here seeking our protection are instead subject to further trauma at the hands of our own government," said Ira Kurzban, who is one of the attorneys representing Alba. "We are seeking justice done for Alba and the thousands of others being mistreated by our government," said Kurzban.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

House Passes Bills Aimed at Stemming Human Trafficking

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WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday passed a package of bills aimed at stemming human trafficking, an issue that has slowly begun to gain national attention.
The measures passed easily with bipartisan support, and versions of many of them already await consideration on the Senate floor. According to the Justice Department,as many as 300,000 children may become victims of commercial sexual exploitation each year in the United States.
One measure addresses what many law enforcement experts say is among the most urgent problems in prosecuting sex trafficking — the arrest of victims of forced prostitution, rather than customers or pimps. TheStop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act would encourage states to offer victims social and protective services, rather than prosecution, and provide job opportunities through the federal Job Corps program.
Another measure seeks to shut down online sexual service advertisements by amending current United States laws in a way that does not run afoul of the First Amendment, something that has stymied similar legislation in states.
One of the bills, also emulated in the Senate, would try to stem the exploitation of children in the child welfare system who are often targeted by pimps; another would notify foreign governments when Americans convicted of the sexual abuse of a minor travel abroad; and the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act would invest in services to aide victims of sexual trafficking.
While an interest in human trafficking has long been a focus of conservatives, the issue has attracted significant bipartisan interest in recent months. Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia and the House majority leader, held a news conference on Tuesday to push the legislation, an usual amount of attention for low-profile measures. (Though the legislation had broad support from Democrats, none attended the news conference, and some expressed concern that one measure would lead to mandatory minimum sentencing for a newly proposed offense.)
Mr. Cantor, who has been looking to move legislative focus in the House away from fiscal issues, has taken an interest in human trafficking as other members have presented him with data demonstrating the broad scope of the problem and its impact on a vast array of communities. The House has assembled a working group to keep focus on the issue.
“Many of these victims represent the most vulnerable people on earth,” Mr. Cantor said Tuesday on the House floor, “including individuals with mental disabilities and children stolen from their homes and taken from their loving moms and dads, with very little chance of ever seeing their families again.”
Several senators from both parties are hoping to pass similar legislation soon, amid hope that a rare compromise with the House is in the offing, potentially producing some of the most significant legislation on this issue in years.
“There is a strong interest in getting these done in the Senate,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, whose bill would require states to treat child prostitutes as victims rather than as criminal defendants. “I am sure we can reach a compromise. Human trafficking is the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world, and the reason there is so much interest in these bills is because 83 percent of the victims are from our country.”

Young actors in New York are part of a new play that tells the true stories of human trafficking victims.

Young actors in New York are part of a new play that tells the true stories of human trafficking victims.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I Don't Post Enough About Utah

Utah the Site of Human Smuggling

A fatal car accident in Utah has become the site of a police investigation into human smuggling. A minivan carrying nine people rolled over in the early hours of the morning, leaving four people dead and four others in serious or critical condition. The accident, which occurred approximately 30 miles from the Colorado border on Interstate 70, is not thought to have involved any other vehicles, and is currently under investigation by police officials. Todd Royce, a Utah Highway Patrol Sergeant, has said that at approximately 4:30 in the morning, a 1999 Toyota Sienna lost control and rolled down the highway, throwing multiple occupants from the vehicle. The ninth occupant of the vehicle, who is thought to be a woman, walked away from the accident and was picked up in another car.
The vehicle, which was not registered in Utah, was allegedly travelling from Los Angeles to Chicago, transporting immigrants looking for work. All of the occupants of the vehicle were Hispanic, and Royce does not believe that any of the occupants spoke English, adding credence to the idea that the accident involved humansmuggling. In fact, the details of the accident have been acknowledged by Brian Redd, a Major in the Utah Department of Public Safety, as indicative of human smugglers learning how to improve their chances of evading capture. For example, the van was travelling at night, when there are fewer observers around. Furthermore, the smugglers were using a minivan instead of a larger, and more conspicuous, panel van or truck.
Brian Redd has said that human smuggling is not particularly uncommon in Utah, and that Interstate 70, the site of this latest fatal accident, is simply one of many routes commonly used by human smugglers. Furthermore, although Utah is often only a stop along the route to cities such as Chicago or New York due to its relatively central location, Salt Lake City is itself a destination for many illegal immigrants looking for work. These immigrants, who pay anywhere from 5000 to 30000 dollars to be smuggled into the United States of America, are often put into very vulnerable positions, according to Leo Lucey, the head of the investigations division at the Utah Attorney General’s Office. In fact, according to Lucey, illegal immigrants are often forced into prostitution or slavery due to the fact that they are entirely at the mercy of criminals when they enter the country.
Despite the best efforts of police, the problem of human smuggling continues to haunt states such as Utah, with deadly consequences. This latest car accident, which ended with four people dead and four more in the St.Mary’s Hospital of Grand Junction, Colorado, is by no means the first time that human smuggling has led to death, as overcrowded vans are prone to fatal accidents. Examples of traffic accidents killing multiple illegal immigrants abound, such as the 2007 crash in San Juan county which left left eight people dead and seven more injured. Therefore, it can be seen that Utah, apparently the site of significant humansmuggling operations, needs to make significant changes in order to prevent further tragedies such as this from happening again.
By Nicholas Grabe

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Modern Slave Trade

The Modern Slave Trade

Mothers of kidnapped girls weep on the grounds of the burned-out ruins of Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria.
Anguish and heartache Mothers weep at the site of their daughters’ burned school in Chibok, Nigeria.Adam Nossiter—The New York Times/Redux

The Boko Haram schoolgirl abductions are only one example of the global scourge of human trafficking

At first, the students thought the men who arrived that night had come to save them. This is what the soldiers insisted they were doing when they ordered the girls out of their dormitories in the dark of April 14. But as the school burned, it became clearer what the girls were being protected from: education. In the Hausa tongue native to that part of northern Nigeria, the group’s name, Boko Haram, means, roughly, “Western education is unclean.”
Boko Haram set off a wave of outrage. Casual observers and celebrities took their protest to social media, while international agencies and diplomats began to express concern through official channels. The global wail served as a wake-up call to the millions who were under the misimpression that slavery had been eradicated.
This appears in the May 26, 2014 issue of TIME.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Orlando man pleads guilty to human trafficking of minor, gets 9 year sentence

Orlando man pleads guilty to human trafficking of minor, gets 9 year sentence

Attorney General Pam Bondi today announced that known gang member and human trafficker, Montavious Rakeem Postell, 22, of Orlando, entered a plea of guilty to human trafficking for commercial sexual activity of a child under the age of 18 and lewd or lascivious battery. He was subsequently sentenced to nine years in federal prison.
Circuit Court Judge Tim Shea in Orange County sentenced him to nine years in prison followed by five years of supervised sex offender probation. This prosecution by  the State Attorney General's Office follows a lengthy investigation and arrest by the Polk County Sheriff's Office with assistance from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, the Tampa Police Department, and the Office of Statewide Prosecution.
The investigation into Postell, also known as King, began after his co-defendant, Michael Kempfer, and a 15-year-old victim were arrested during an undercover prostitution sting operation. Detectives discovered the child was a victim of human trafficking and was being prostituted by Postell.

"This young girl, who should have been going to the movies with friends and practicing driving, was instead being coerced into prostitution. No child should suffer sexual slavery, and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, partnering law enforcement agencies, and The Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution have helped save this girl from a lifetime of slavery and put this horrific criminal behind bars," stated Attorney General Pam Bondi.

"Montavious Postell is going to prison where he belongs. This could not have happened without the hard work and dedication of our detectives and that of the prosecutors with Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Office of Statewide Prosecution. There are many who might argue that prostitution is a ‘victimless crime.’ They would be wrong. During the 2013 prostitution investigation, our detectives discovered Postell’s juvenile victim - a victim he forced into prostitute as a sex slave. This young girl was given drugs, physically beaten and sexually abused, and—because she was too young to even drive—she was driven around and forced to commit lewd acts with adult men. This victim will tell you, prostitution is not a victimless crime," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

In May 2013, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office conducted an extensive undercover prostitution sting, which resulted in more than 90 arrests. During this time, detectives discovered the human trafficking situation with the girl. He controlled the young girl with the threat of physical violence and drugs. The girl, not old enough to drive at the time, was driven to locations and coerced into prostitution.

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, there are 27 million people enslaved worldwide. In 2011, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center ranked Florida third in the number of calls received by the center’s human trafficking hotline. Victims of human trafficking include children, women and men who are subjected to sexual exploitation or forced labor through physical force, fraud or coercion.