It has been a few weeks since our last update, but we hope that this post will bring you up to speed on the extensive research we have been doing in the field.
We recently spent over a week in Georgia and were able to meet with a number of organizations and individuals involved in anti-human trafficking efforts throughout the state. Our comprehensive research of human trafficking in the state reaffirmed how widespread the problem is.
The FBI listed Atlanta as one of 14 cities with the highest number of sex trafficking victims in the country. It is an easily accessible city and acts as a hub for travel through the southeast.
Through extensive research in Atlanta, funded by the Governor’s Office for Children and Families- started in 2007 and reported quarterly- we are able to see where the problems of sex trafficking are within the city and its suburbs. Over the years, sex work has moved farther away from the streets and onto the internet- making it more difficult for law enforcement to find victims and track down their perpetrators.
The issues of sex trafficking in Georgia began gaining public attention in the late ’90s- at a time when it was only a misdemeanor to pimp a minor. At that time, Chief Judge Nina Hickson, from the Fulton Juvenile Court, noticed a trend of the sexual exploitation of minors as she presided over case-after-case of child prostitution- she began to wonder why these girls were running away from home and ending up being labeled as criminals for prostitution.
Prevention and awareness efforts garnered attention and government funding particularly after the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA 2000).
Since the TVPA 2000, the northern district of Georgia has ranked among the top six federal jurisdictions in terms of number of prosecutions involving the commercial sexual exploitation of children. A Few Sex Trafficking Cases in Georgia:
- In United States v. Cortes-Mesa, a group of six violent traffickers from Mexico were convicted for transporting 10 victims, including 4 minors, from Mexico to Atlanta, where they forced the victims through often severe physical abuse to engage in prostitution with countless men. The lead defendant in this case received a sentence of 40 years in prison;
- In United States v. Rugerio, two brothers were convicted of coercing five impoverished women, including one minor, to Atlanta, through false promises of marriage; upon their arrival, they forced the women into commercial prostitution with multiple men each night, seven days a week.
- In several cases, including United States v. Ward and United States v. Pruitt, citizens of Georgia and Louisiana were convicted of transporting minor girls across state lines for the purpose of prostitution; these defendants placed advertisements for the girls’ services on the Internet, and one of the girls was forced into 13 commercial sex acts in only two days.
- U.S. vs. Pipkins and Moore– exploiters were convicted under the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for prostituting minors, which allowed U.S. Attorney Susan Coppedge to stack charges on the two men- making their sentences 20 and 40 years- much longer than if there were only charged for sex trafficking.
While we spoke with agencies and organizations throughout Georgia it was clear that the past decade has seen a constant increase in anti-human trafficking efforts. Organizations throughout Atlanta and the state have developed an effective network to move forward with prevention efforts, but also to put more attention on victim aftercare.
A large amount of the anti-human trafficking community has come to center its focus on the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), particularly because this is where they feel that they can have the biggest impact- more than 70% of reported trafficking victims are women and girls. Not to say that there are not just as many sex trafficking cases among young boys and men, but individuals we met discussed that boys are not as likely to seek aid, or to report this type of exploitation.
It is important to mention that although many of the organizations we met with focus on aiding young girls, they acknowledge there is a very large problem among several victim groups who are not identified as female minors- such as boys, women, men and individuals of the lesbian, gay, transgender and bi-sexual (LGBT) community. In the case that an organization comes in contact with a victim from one of these groups, they are working to develop the necessary resources in order to provide contacts and services to those who are in need of it. There is a feeling among many of the groups we spoke with that they are nowhere near where they should be when it comes to having the appropriate resources to aid these victims. Improving this care will only come with time and additional funding for this work.
Georgia Care Connection (GCC), a center that provides statewide independent aftercare and rehabilitation coordination for child survivors of CSEC, has received over 343 referrals for CSEC since June 2009. Following investigations of referrals, records show that around 70% of their referrals turn out to be victims of CSEC. GCC is currently working with 85 minors who have been sexually exploited- five of whom are boys. A representative from the GCC discussed with us factors which have led to a greater number of cases they work on. There is no way to know if higher case numbers is a result of an increase in sex trafficking itself, or a result of greater public awareness. Many individuals we spoke with in Atlanta explained that greater public awareness has been a major factor leading to a larger number of reported cases.
Originally, referrals were primarily coming from law enforcement and juvenile courts, but they receive referrals from parents, school counselors and drug rehab centers, as well as churches and various types of community groups. The work that organizations are doing to educate law enforcement, social and medical service agencies, as well as the public about human trafficking is detrimental to finding victims and protecting at-risk youth. If more community members are trained to identify victims then there will be more individuals calling in referrals.
Who Are The Victims?
A large majority of sex trafficking victims aided in Atlanta are domestic minors. It is not a problem of race, or socioeconomic status, but a matter of vulnerability. Domestic victims of trafficking are often homeless, runaways, throwaways, or sexually abused children- they are also likely to have histories of truancy and theft. Unstable home situations of youth are often how they are lured- through the prospect of love and/or fortune- or coerced into sex work. These are all factors that make a child vulnerable. Kaffie McCullough from A Future. Not A Past discussed that any vulnerable child is at-risk of being trafficked.
There are many ways that a child can become a victim of CSEC: they may be victimized by their parents, or family members; they could be homeless, or a runaway and therefore lured out of desperation; or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We heard of CSEC stories from various individuals we spoke with. In one story, a fourteen year old girl was sent with her siblings to be watched by their uncle for the weekend. Over the course of the weekend the girl was sold for sex to a number of her uncle’s friends, yet she could not tell her parents out of fear of punishment from her uncle. It was not until her younger sister made comments to their parents that they came to hear about what had happened.
One child was taken by her parents to the car dealer each month and forced to perform sexual acts to pay off their car expenses. Read the story here.
Another girl had run away from home and, that very night, was picked up by a trafficker, pimped out for three weeks and then sold to another pimp for $500.
There is no ‘one scenario’ for what happens to a victim of commercial sexual exploitation. These stories show how drastically different each case of sex trafficking can be.
State Anti-Human Trafficking Laws
Recent laws passed now make it illegal to arrest a minor for prostitution; minors no longer have to prove they were forced, or coerced into prostitution in order to be considered a victim of sex trafficking. In 2001 it became a felony to pimp a minor in Georgia. A bill passed in 2007 included a ten year minimum sentence for trafficking a minor for sexual servitude. Senate Bill 69, which was passed in 2009, changed the definition of child abuse to include sexual exploitation that is perpetrated by either parent, caretaker, or someone unrelated to the victim, i.e. a pimp. House Bill 200, passed in April of 2011, improves the lives of trafficking victims and improves the accountability of traffickers.
A big effort among advocates is teaching the community to recognize these minors as victims of trafficking, rather than incarcerate them for criminal activities and sex work. Anti-trafficking groups are also lobbying for Georgia laws to have more focus on protecting victims, and harsher punishment for traffickers and the ‘johns’ buying these girls.
Representatives from Georgia Care Connection (GCC) and the Governor’s Office for Children and Families (GOCF) shared with us the organization of the community anti-human trafficking task force, which involves over 60 members from throughout the state. They expressed that through using both a bottom-up and top-down approach they are truly tackling the issue from all angles. They are working to raise awareness and aid victims through on-the-ground efforts, but also writing bills and lobbying for stronger anti-human trafficking policies. This is recognized by many in the field to be a necessary approach when it comes to combatting human trafficking. We cannot tackle one part of the issue without simultaneously tackling the others.
It was clear that there was a lack in awareness of labor trafficking, and a lack in anti-labor trafficking efforts and aid for victims. Labor trafficking is defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) as: “The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.”
Most organizations in Atlanta, working in the field of anti-human trafficking, were focused mainly on CSEC, or other forms of sex trafficking. Even now, as we travel through Tennessee, we still find that there is little-to-no attention to the prevalence of labor trafficking- particularly in agriculture, construction and house work.
In Atlanta we were able to meet with Dan Werner, Deputy Legal Director of the Immigrant Justice Initiative at the Southern Poverty Law Center who gave us a broader perspective of labor trafficking in the state, and shared his thoughts regarding what is missing in the field of human trafficking.
Before the TVPA 2000 there were no federal laws to protect victims of human trafficking. Even following the passage of the act there was a lack of understanding of what to do with these victims and how to pursue human trafficking cases.
A large majority of labor trafficking victims are foreign nationals, so the TVPA 2000 led to the creation of the T-Visa, or Temporary Visa, which is to be provided to a foreign victim who is willing to help form a case against their traffickers. It is uncommon, however, that victims are willing to come forward, or testify against their traffickers for reasons similar to sex trafficking victims- fear. Fear for what could happen to them, or their friends and family.
There is a common misconception that foreigners who are trafficked have willingly come to the U.S. illegally. However, Mr. Werner estimates it is possible that 3/4 of labor trafficking victims travel into the U.S. legally, but then are forced into slave-like working conditions- their documents may be taken away, or they may be forced to stay past their visa while they are paying off thousands of dollars of debt to their trafficker for bringing them to the U.S.. The TVPA, reauthorized in 2008, developed a better definition for ‘harm’- recognizing that harm is also legal coercion, such as holding passports and documents.
There is also the issue that many foreign born victims of labor trafficking do not know their rights in the U.S., or do not believe that they have any.
- In United States v. Bello, a Nigerian woman was convicted of bringing two different victims from Nigeria to Atlanta, after which she forced them to work for two years with no pay; and
- In United States v. Babb, a minister and his wife were convicted of enticing a victim from the Kingdom of Swaziland, Africa, to Atlanta, with false promises of introducing her to the catering industry, after which they stole her identification and travel papers and compelled her labor for more than 2 years with almost no pay.
Re-defining the issue and educating the public and law enforcement on what labor trafficking is, how to identify a possible victim and what to do if they come across an individual who they believe is being trafficked, or could be at-risk of being trafficked, is detrimental to the anti-labor trafficking field.
As Mr. Werner explained it, “In a climate where modern day slaves are afraid of law enforcement, it becomes a safe haven for traffickers.” Therefore, there must be community groups working with all forms of human trafficking victims, to provide them with the appropriate protection and care.
Since the lack of community action against labor trafficking has been continually brought to our attention we have decided to continue our research with a larger portion of our work focused on this issue in order to bring light to a seemingly underrepresented form of human trafficking.
Who We Met In Georgia
A Future. Not A Past– an organization focused on prevention and awareness efforts of the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)
Georgia Care Connection– a center that provides statewide independent aftercare and rehabilitation coordination for child survivors of CSEC
Wellspring Living– a treatment center and home which provides advocacy, education and treatment programs for girls and women affected by sexual abuse and exploitation
Senior Assistant District Attorney Dalia Racine from the Dekalb County District Attorney’s Office, who has worked on various cases to prosecute traffickers
Deputy Legal Director of the Immigrant Justice Initiative, Dan Werner, at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), who focuses his work on labor trafficking cases
The Governor’s Office for Children and Families, which partners with numerous organizations in Georgia through a human trafficking task force, to tackle CSEC
The Georgia Department of Education Chief of Staff, Joel Thornton, who is currently spearheading a human trafficking awareness and training campaign throughout every school district in Georgia.
Where We Are Now
We are currently working in Memphis, Tennessee. We have already spoken with numerous organizations that focus on awareness and prevention work, as well as policy development and law enforcement. We continue to meet with a number of individuals throughout the week before heading off to Alabama where we have already set up meetings in both Huntsville and Birmingham.
Outside of our meetings, we have been able to enjoy the surprisingly quiet and beautiful city of Memphis. We spent time at the National Civil Rights Museum, and have had the chance to watch some beautiful sunsets over the Mississippi River.
We have had the opportunity to educate Memphis locals on the issues of human trafficking within their community, which is a big part of what we love so much about traveling through the country as we conduct our research- being able to let people know that these issue exists in the U.S., as well as abroad.