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Springing Forward Into May

April was one of our busiest months yet. Hence, no blog updates! Sorry to keep all of our readers waiting, but we wanted to be sure to give you a thorough recounting of the events of this past month, which we will do in our next few posts.

Following our research in Miami, Orlando and North Carolina, we made our way through Washington D.C., where we met with Shared Hope International and Free the Slaves, and got in touch with a handful of other agencies on the ground, like FAIR Girls, Restoration Ministries and Polaris Project, who we will be following up with over the next few months.

Our next stop, Massachusetts, brought on a much bigger challenge than anticipated. The state passed its first anti-human trafficking law in November of 2011, one of the last three states to pass such a law, so it seemed that anti-trafficking efforts would be slow to mature. However, we saw that a great network had already been developed and continues to grow stronger. The Massachusetts Interagency Human Trafficking Task Force met for the first time in February 2012, and we had the chance to attend the Task Force’s second meeting on April 26th.

In Boston we met with Beth Bouchard from the Support to End Exploitation Now (SEEN) Coalition, “a ground-breaking partnership among more than 35 public and private agencies who believe that only genuine collaboration can yield positive outcomes for exploited youth.”

Our meeting with Ms. Bouchard gave us an in-depth look at the strong collaborative efforts that exist in Suffolk County (the area encompassing Boston). Unfortunately, it is much more difficult to find anti-trafficking efforts and trainings outside of the greater Boston area. This major-city-focused dynamic of anti-trafficking work is what we have found in most states where we have conducted research.

We also met with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition to discuss public knowledge regarding human trafficking within these vulnerable communities, and what services are available for survivors living within these communities.

Before continuing our work in Boston I took a short detour to attend a two-day conference hosted by Yale Law School entitled “Trade of Innocents: A Global Perspective on Human Trafficking”. The conference was held in mid-April in the Law School buildings in New Haven.

While the actual information provided by the conference was not new to me, the conference was a great opportunity for me to observe how these conferences and trainings bring individuals of various disciplines together. It gave me the chance to see how they interact while also giving me the opportunity to network with these individuals myself.

I met law enforcement agents (FBI and the Department of Homeland Security), artists who use film or photography to bring to light the issues of human trafficking, journalists looking to learn how to more appropriately represent these crimes, attorneys who offer pro-bono services to victims, non-profit agencies that work in the field of prevention and advocacy or policy development, as well as those who provide direct victim services.

David Fein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, opened up the conference by stating that there is certainly “no shortage of cases” in the U.S.. An example he used to explain the situation of domestic minor sex trafficking in the region was a case tried in Connecticut in 2008. Corey Davis enticed women and girls with the offer of modeling careers and lavish lifestyles. He would then force them “to work as exotic dancers and to prostitute themselves. During its existence, this sex-trafficking ring involved at least 20 women and girls, some of whom were forced to work for Davis for months at a time. A number of the victims were minors, including one victim who was only 12 years old.” Davis pled guilty, and was sentenced to 296 months in prison. Additionally, he was forced to forfeit “cash and assets, including a home that was used in the ring’s operations, and to pay $50,000 in restitution to his victims.” (Click here for additional information on the case)

This case saw a successful prosecution and the victims received recovery services and restitution. Unfortunately there are too many other cases of human trafficking that go unnoticed and victims who go un-recovered.

Jim Cole, Deputy Attorney General for the Department of Justice (DOJ), voiced his thoughts on the vital importance of partnerships between all agencies: federal and local law enforcement, domestic and international non-governmental organizations, state and federal agencies. The impact of creating and maintaining the relationships can be seen in Connecticut.  Cole stated that the last three years saw a thirty percent increase in number of cases charged in that state. He stated, “the reality is that these cases are there to be prosecuted”.

In fact, this rings true for all states we have visited during our time on the road conducting our research. Whether cases have been prosecuted, or not, does not mean that the victims are not there to be identified, recovered and provided with essential recovery services.

Cole continued with a review of the efforts put forth by the DOJ. He briefly mentioned their efforts since last January to establish the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) initiative – an interagency collaboration between the DOJ, Homeland Security, and Department of Labor – which streamlines federal investigations and prosecutions and provides regional trainings, among other responsibilities. The DOJ has already launched 6 pilot ACTeams – Atlanta, El Paso, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Memphis and Miami – which partner with state and local law enforcement agencies. (ACTeams)

The DOJ also offers grants to anti-trafficking efforts and funds 42 jurisdictions and 36 trafficking victim services providers to form human trafficking task forces to identify and rescue victims of trafficking by proactively investigating such cases. These task forces bring together federal, state and local law enforcement and victim services organizations to investigate all forms of human trafficking and assist the victims. The task forces can provide agencies with training and other materials to assist in identifying sex trafficking cases and victims. Many law enforcement agencies have formed their own human trafficking task force or working group of officers from local jurisdictions to better coordinate operations.” (DOJ Human Trafficking Task Forces)

The Deputy Attorney General also encouraged the forging of global partnerships and action. Specifically, he mentioned the importance of the U.S. working with Mexico’s law enforcement agencies to address issues of cross-border human trafficking.

The first panel at the conference included Deputy Chief, National Security and Major Crimes Unit, Krishna Patel, Senior Vice President of the International Justice Mission, Sharon Cohn Wu, and Executive Director and CEO of the Polaris Project, Brad Myles.

Myles discussed how the Polaris Project builds on the strengths of both law enforcement and social service providing partners.  A drawback to this partnership is that many non-profit organizations work a 9 am-5 pm workday, while law enforcement works around the clock. It has posed a problem in the past where social service providers and other service providing organizations were not easily accessible outside of their 9-5 hours in the office. If law enforcement were to recover a victim, they would not have many options for immediate victim care other than to house them in jail, or send them to a domestic violence, or homeless shelter – which are often not appropriate locations for traumatized victims of human trafficking. This situation has drastically changed over the years, but is still a problem in various regions throughout the country. Particularly in areas where agencies lack appropriate training on managing and investigating trafficking cases.

Since the establishment of the Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline the center has worked to change this dynamic. The hotline picks up around 20,000 calls each year and then sources tips out appropriately. Through relationships with various disciplines the Polaris Project has developed a system for sourcing out tips to the appropriate local agencies and organizations who have made themselves available 24 hours a day 7 days a week in order to provide possible victims with the necessary care.

Ms. Patel discussed the core needs of survivors of extreme abuse, needs that must be addressed immediately, including, but not limited to: medical attention and financial, psychological, and physical needs. Needs as simple as having a place to sleep have been noted as some of the most difficult to meet.

Another challenge identified by Myles and discussed by the panel was the “inception of cases”. In other words, there are agencies and law enforcement task forces funded to care for victims who have not yet been recovered. Communities and even law enforcement are asking “where are the victims?”

The reality is that very rarely do victims, or survivors of human trafficking come forward and identify themselves as victims. Additionally, cases of human trafficking are actively misidentified.

Agencies must be proactive about looking for victims; there needs to be more in depth assessment of child abuse and domestic violence cases, as well as cases of homelessness, and extreme cases of labor exploitation in agriculture, restaurants, hotels, factories, and domestic servitude.

Ms. Patel also discussed the focus placed on forming effective interagency partnerships for better victim care and more successful prosecutions. While service providers cannot necessarily be in the room for a raid, they are needed immediately following the raid to provide care to those victims who are recovered. In this aspect there seems to be a growing relationship and trust between many agencies across the country.

Unfortunately, a large barrier remains. Law enforcement and service providers do not always agree when it comes to a trafficking investigation. A social service provider or case manager may not agree with the way law enforcement officials are treating a victim throughout an investigation (e.g. not understanding past psychological trauma causing a survivor of trafficking to protect their trafficker, or pimp). Those law enforcement officials – individuals who have not been properly trained on the needs of trafficking victims – may indeed be well-intentioned, but they are likely more concerned with investigating a case and prosecuting the trafficker than about the psychological and physical trauma a victim of trafficking has endured.

On the other end, law enforcement officials may become frustrated that social service providers concentrate so intently on one victim, rather than encouraging the victim to testify against their trafficker and protect the possible dozens of more vulnerable individuals still at immediate risk for being victimized.

There seemed to be a consensus on the panel that law enforcement is still slow to pick up on how to respond to such a complex issue; a number of communities across the country have already become extremely active in providing trainings and educating individuals on how to get involved in anti-trafficking efforts, how to recognize victims, and more importantly, how to report a tip to law enforcement. We witnessed an example of this dynamic while conducting research in Alabama, where law enforcement and politicians have been extremely slow to pick up on the issue, yet many faith based communities have taken the initiative to raise awareness in their states. Patricia McCay, a woman we met in Huntsville, AL from Soroptimist International, is one of those proactive community members who was even awarded a FBI community leadership award for human trafficking awareness to acknowledge her for her work.

Myles brought up the importance of community outrage. It is up to community members to instigate a proactive response to human trafficking. Politicians and law enforcement will only put focus on an issue that citizens call for. Constituents have the ability to influence political will. So call your representatives and tell them where they should be focusing their efforts in your community!

While there are innumerable challenges in the field of anti-trafficking, a final issue I would like to present that was briefly discussed by this panel is the sensationalization of domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) in the media.

It is important to note that while no one wishes to belittle the issues of DMST, the reality is that this has certainly become the ‘sexy’ media topic of today giving very little attention to victims of other forms of trafficking – including adults trafficked into the sex trade and victims of labor trafficking, peonage, debt bondage, and forced domestic servitude.

We have often heard the suggestion that focus must be brought back to the overall issue of human trafficking and that this human rights violation must be approached holistically.  We emphatically agree, and have focused on holistic approaches in our own research.  By bringing attention to collaboration in the field of anti-human trafficking efforts, we hope to also identify where, if anywhere, this holistic approach is being taken and what may still be missing in this arena of anti-trafficking work.

It was great to see this panel of individuals from various disciplines speak in front of a multi-disciplinary audience and openly discuss the challenges that they face. These are the forums that agencies and organizations must use to network with each other, form stronger relationships, and understand how each agency can help better the programs and efforts of other organizations, rather than see them strictly as competition when it comes to applying for grants, or competitors when it comes to who a victim trusts and provides information to.

The final day and a half of the colloquium was filled with a few more panels, as well as inspirational and informative speeches by various professionals in the field of non-profit work, law enforcement, film and politics. This included U.S. Ambassador Luis Cdebaca, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, as well as a short video clip sent from Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

Everyone in attendance also had the opportunity to see a screening of the film, Trade of Innocents, written and directed by Christopher Bessette. The film, which will be officially released September 21, 2012, is a feature film staring Dermot Mulroney and Academy Award Winner Mira Sorvino. The film takes place in the back streets of a tourist town in present-day Southeast Asia and focuses on the young girls who are sold or forced into the child sex trade, the men who buy and sell these girls, and the local and foreign workers combating these horrible human rights crimes. (Film Synopsis)

Having worked in the anti-human trafficking field in Thailand for much of 2011, it was fascinating for me to see how the issue is being picked up by Hollywood. Yes, it is yet another representation of a ‘white savior’ traveling to Asia to rescue helpless girls in the sex trade, but if you can look beyond that, it shows a truly close representation of the atrocities occurring everyday throughout the region.

All viewers were required to sign waivers so I cannot say much more about the film, but I do highly suggest that everyone goes to see it when it comes out in theaters!

Our next installments will include more on the incredible network we have been able to create by attending various conferences, panels, and colloquiums; these include a panel on the Dynamics of Human Trafficking at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, the Massachusetts Interagency Human Trafficking Task Force Meeting, and a colloquium hosted by Demand Abolition in Boston, entitled Arresting Demand.


Location: Bay Area, California

Written By: Ali




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