State Legislatures Step Up to Fight Human Trafficking

State legislatures step up efforts to fight human trafficking

By Michael W. Savage
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 19, 2010; A03

A burst of activity among state legislatures to target human trafficking has ushered in dozens of laws to step up criminal penalties against traffickers and offer new help to victims.

The laws focus on practices that have remained largely hidden — traffickers’ coercion of victims into becoming prostitutes, forced laborers or domestic slaves. Some states have introduced measurers that criminalize human trafficking specifically for the first time. Advocates say the efforts signal that lawmakers are gaining a fuller appreciation of the scope of human trafficking.

So far this year, more than 40 bills have been enacted and roughly 350 introduced. That compares with just eight bills adopted across the country in 2006, according to the Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking group based in Washington.

Ann Morse, a director at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), said bills tackling human trafficking are “the latest big trend.” The efforts have followed coverage of high-profile cases and a growing grass-roots campaign among advocates.

The term “trafficking,” said Bradley Myles, executive director of the Polaris Project, “makes people think of whips, chains, brute force and channel slavery.” In reality, he said, traffickers may simply use threats or blackmail, or confiscate a victim’s travel documents to gain control over them. Victims have included U.S. citizens forced into work without being moved across a border.

Washington state, which has been at the forefront of the issue, expanded its efforts this year amid fears that the Winter Olympics in nearby Vancouver, B.C., would be a major draw for traffickers. Among other things, new legislation ensured that hotline posters were displayed at rest stops throughout the state.

“We were the first state to start all of this,” said state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D), the sponsor of much of the state’s anti-trafficking legislation. “We’ve strengthened the law every year.” In 2009, she said, the state forced employers who bring in foreign workers to notify them of all labor laws and allow them to keep their travel documents.

Laws also were passed this year in Vermont and Oklahoma, among other states, and they take a range of approaches.

The D.C. Council passed a wide-ranging bill in June that criminalizes labor and sex trafficking. The law allows police to seize the assets of traffickers and includes more legal support for victims. A third party who benefits from trafficking can also be prosecuted. The new law also requires authorities to collect statistics to get a better understanding of the problem.

Virginia has set up a commission to look at sex and labor trafficking in the state, with a report expected by January. The state adopted legislation in March 2009 that allowed abduction charges against anyone who used force, intimidation or deception to compel another person to perform work. This year, a new Virginia law allows vehicles used for trafficking to be confiscated.

“I represent a large number of immigrants and learned more and more about the issue of trafficking,” said Virginia Del. Adam P. Ebbin (D), who sponsored one of the new laws. “By putting the code in place, I’m hopeful we can now combat it.”

One woman in Virginia said she had come to the United States from her native Angola to become a domestic worker because of the promise of medical treatment for a long-term illness. Once here, she found herself working as a housebound slave for as much as 20 hours a day. The medical attention she was promised never arrived. Her captors would not allow her to leave the house alone, even chaperoning her to the grocery store, she said. Unable to speak English, she was trapped.

A driver working for her employer told her she was not the first. He said “there were other women that were brought to work at the house, and they were all treated very badly, like slaves,” said the woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear her captors would find her. “I don’t know what happened to them.”

The woman said she cried every day during her incarceration, sometimes searching the house for pills she could use to kill herself. Only a chance encounter with a woman at a store who spoke her native language, and the intervention of a church group, led to her rescue.

Given the volume of new legislation, the NCSL will formulate a policy statement on trafficking for the first time at its annual summit, to be held this month. The statement will allow the bipartisan group to work more closely with the federal government on the issue.

Trafficking, said Sheri Steisel, an attorney for the NCSL, “touches both foreign and U.S.-born citizens, and it’s certainly an area that a lot of legislators have determined is a high-priority issue.”

A significant rise in calls to the national human trafficking hotline, run by the Polaris Project since December 2007, suggests there is also a higher recognition of the problem among the public. “In the first month, we were getting around 300 or 400 calls,” Myles said. “Now we’re getting 900 to 1,000 a month.”

Advocates said the next step is to translate the laws into convictions. So far, even in Washington, prosecutions remain relatively rare.

Statistics documenting the problem are vague and vary widely. The government estimates that 14,500 to 17,500 victims of trafficking are brought to the United States each year. A study funded by the Justice Department found that almost 250,000 children fall into a category of trafficking victims because they are at risk of sexual exploitation.

“The majority of the people who are implementing law enforcement and criminal justice responses across the country aren’t necessarily trained to identify it,” Myles said. “I think most estimates of this out there are underestimates.”

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A Window Into Human Trafficking in Texas


Thursday, July 15, 2010

One of the topics on March 19, 2010, 10:41 pm

A Window Into Human Trafficking in Texas


my “to do” list this year is more on human trafficking here in the U.S. I’ve written a fair amount about the topic in Cambodia, India, Pakistan, but I haven’t done as much reporting on the issue here in the U.S.   Stay tuned!

In the meantime, Texas Monthly has a terrific piece on trafficking by Mimi Swartz, told largely through a Thai woman who was brought to the U.S. and apparently enslaved initially in a series of brothels and massage joints. The customers often didn’t realize that the women were enslaved, for they weren’t chained and spent much of their time smiling. I think the article is very good at capturing the psychology of these women. They may have been promised a job in a restaurant, but they arrive without knowing the language, without any legal status…

While you are in this state—dizzy, disoriented—your boss takes you to a place that isn’t a restaurant or a factory and tells you to unpack your few belongings in a dingy back room. He tells you that this is where you will work to pay off your debt. You will be a prostitute, he explains, and by the way, you will be charged for room and board while you are paying off that $30,000. When you protest, he beats you, starves you, or keeps you awake for days on end. Then, just to make himself clear, he holds up a picture of your son or your parents or your sister and tears it in half. Or maybe he just says, “We hear your father has a bad heart.”

At that point, your predicament becomes very clear. You do not speak or read the language. You do not have a cent to your name. You have no idea where you are in this vast country, and you have no way of finding out because no one lets you go anywhere alone. What do you do? Most likely, you do what you are told.

But even though many of the women enter the sex industry unwillingly, over time many of them stay in it somewhat voluntarily. Partly that’s because there’s nothing else they feel they can do, and because it’s easy money. Or partly it’s because of addictions, or a fear of returning to mainstream society. Or partly it’s Stockholm syndrome.

Incidentally, my own belief is that the worst problems of trafficking actually involve domestic girls — typically runaways, fleeing bad home situations, such as Mom’s boyfriend abusing them — and being controlled by pimps. Those girls are typically younger than the foreign women, sometimes just 13 or 14 years old. And the threats and coercion and violence directed at the runaways are sometimes particularly horrendous. In any case, read the Texas Monthly article and post your thoughts. I’m sure some readers will want to know what they can do to help, so ideas on that are welcome as well.

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Protest on Craiglist Doorsteps in San Francisco to End “Adult Services” Section


Conchita Sarnoff

Posted: July 12, 2010 09:27 AM

Protest on Craiglist Doorsteps in San Francisco to End “Adult Services” Section

On July 8, 2010, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), Prostitution Research and Education (PRE) plus more than 75 Co-Sponsors including Innocents at Risk, protested Craigslist’s “Adult Services Section” at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco, California. “When we arrived, Craigslist was literally whitewashing their cyber trafficking by painting over their corporate logo. The two painters quickly ran off”, said Dr. Melissa Farley, Executive Director of Prostitution, Research and Education (PRE) organization. Protest organizers argue that Craigslist’s online business facilitates the sex trafficking industry.

According to a legal expert who wishes to remain anonymous, “a substantial portion of Craigslist’s profits come from the sale of commercial sexual exploitation, some of it from trafficked children.” By allowing online “escort services” code word for prostitution, Craigslist normalizes and facilitates sexual abuse and provides an outlet and incentive for sex traffickers to reach new and established buyers of human sex trafficking.

Others competitors such as geebo.com, a socially responsible online classified agency in business over 10 years, attended the protest to show how to remain profitable while refusing to advertise sex ads. Norma Ramos, Executive Director at CATW said that, “by providing traffickers and johns with a virtual red light district, Craigslist is aiding, abetting and making enormous profits from sex trafficking industry”. The various times I contacted Craigslist, no one was available for comment.

The Craigslist protest was co-sponsored by 75 leading human rights and anti-trafficking organizations. including prominent individuals such as: Equality Now, End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT-USA), Center for World Indigenous Studies, So optimists International of the Americas, Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence, Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, Asian Americans for Community Involvement, Gloria Steinem, author Victor Malarek, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, and Congresswoman Jackie Speier.

In Chicago, staff members for Illinois’s attorney general, Lisa Madigan, have counted more than 200,000 sex ads since late 2008 posted to Craigslist in Chicago alone- they estimate the ads have generated $1.7 million for the company according to the New York Times editorial published on April 25, 2010. In that same article, Craigslist allegedly provided services to the Gambino crime family on charges, among others, of selling sexual services of girls between 15-19 years of age.

Child sex trafficking in the United States is fueled by the demand for prostitution along with impunity for the buyers and at times traffickers. A leading Miami criminal attorney, Joel de Fabio, learned while representing several of his State appointed clients allegedly charged with prostitution that, “Miami’s New Times Back Page section is a far more popular site amongst traffickers, prostitutes and johns in Florida because Craigslist is now considered a ‘hot’” site, said de Fabio, referring to undercover police working the site.

According to Dr. Farley, author of 20 research articles on trafficking for prostitution, “A majority of men buy sex online many of whom are trafficked or prostituted by third parties. By continuing to allow sex ads Craigslist is continuing to support prostitution and child sex trafficking under their Adult Services Section”, she reiterated. In October 2008, in the San Francisco Bay area, Craigslist’s own search page listed more than 18,000 advertisements for prostitution – classified under “escort”, “massage”, “erotic services”, “adult services”, “adult entertainment” – and other commonly-used terms generally used on classified ads to disguise prostitution.

In 2009, according to the company’s website, Craigslist operated with a staff of 28 people. Its main source of revenue is paid job ads in select cities-$75 per ad for the San Francisco Bay area; $25 per ad for New York City, Los Angeles, San Diego, Boston, Seattle, Washington D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon- and paid broker apartment listings in New York City $10 per advertisement.

The site serves over twenty billion page views per month, ranking thirty-third overall among web sites worldwide and seventh overall among web sites in the United States. With over eighty million new classified advertisements each month, Craigslist is the leading classifieds service in any medium. The site receives over two million new job listings each month, making it one of the top job boards in the world. The classified advertisements range from traditional buy/sell ads and community announcements to personal ads and adult services. In 2010, Craigslist projects a 22% increase in revenue – an estimated $36 million – and receives more than 20 billion page views per month. Even after stern Congressional pushback, Craigslist continues to create a sex trafficking advertisement thereby setting an industry trend and disregard for basic human rights.

Protesters are asking Craigslist to close the euphemistically named “Adult Services” section of their website and set a sex industry-free standard that would help to eliminate human trafficking worldwide and prostitution. Although it is an enormous goal to achieve, the alternative is to continue to advertise the sale of sexual exploitation, prostitution, and child sex trafficking in America. As one of the leading classified services, generating an abundant revenue stream that can justify a social responsible agenda, Craigslist should be leading the march.

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