Human Trafficking Fight Makes Progress as US Cross-agency Effort Gains Traction

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirms a focus on providing victim- and survivor-centered efforts to combat human trafficking, Oct. 24, 2016.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirms a focus on providing victim- and survivor-centered efforts to combat human trafficking, Oct. 24, 2016.

Calling human trafficking a “multibillion dollar criminal enterprise,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday reaffirmed a focus on providing victim- and survivor-centered efforts to combat it.

“It’s an assault of human rights and it’s a threat to global stability,” Kerry said Monday at the annual meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking.

U.S. officials across agencies reaffirmed their commitment to combating trafficking in persons, including following the recommendations of the Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, which released its report last week.

The advisory council, made up of 11 survivors of human trafficking, called on government agencies to increase availability of victims’ services, including relocation and housing services and specialized training of law enforcement and government officials dealing with victims of human trafficking.

To read the full story from VOA News: Click Here

Survivors Present Recommendations On How To End Human Trafficking

NPR’s Kelly McEvers speaks with Evelyn Chumbow, a survivor of human trafficking, about the report she and other survivors put together for the U.S. government with their recommendations for how to stem human trafficking in the U.S.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST: 

Today the State Department is releasing new recommendations on how to end human trafficking, what they call slavery in the 21st century. And here’s what makes the report different. It’s written by 11 people who survived human trafficking and are now members of the U.S. Advisory Council on human trafficking.

Earlier today I talked to one of them. Her name is Evelyn Chumbow. She was born in Cameroon. When she was 9, a woman came and told her uncle that Evelyn could move to the U.S., live with a family and go to school. And at first she told me she was excited.

EVELYN CHUMBOW: I was told that I was coming to America, and the first thought in my mind was, woo-hoo, I’m going to come marry Will Smith (laughter). And…

MCEVERS: You’re going to come marry Will Smith.

CHUMBOW: (Laughter) That was my first thought, you know, because back in Cameroon, I used to watch a lot of television show, and I assume that is how America was. You know, I was watching “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “The Cosby Show,” “90210,” you know? So I just was, like, just imagining myself being in that lifestyle that they were living. But when I came here, that’s not what happened.

To read or listen to the full interview by Kelly McEvers of All Things Considered on NPR: Click Here

Santa Clara County: Motel Sting Targets Human Trafficking And Sex Exploitation As Part Of Broader Sweep

SANTA CLARA — At the end of the night, after a series of encounters that ended with a few citations issued and some stern talks given out, the detective found herself having a heart-to-heart with a young woman fumbling to explain how she ended up in a motel room filled with police.

“He doesn’t force me,” the woman said of the man police suspect is her pimp, “but if I choose not to do something he threatens me.”

She continued: “So I don’t have a choice. I mean, I have a choice, but not the ones I want to make.”

The detective, sitting next to her on the motel bed Wednesday, interjected.

“It sounds like he’s manipulated you emotionally,” the detective said. “Is it right for someone to get the money that you’re doing all the work for? He doesn’t seem to care about you. He has two other girls.”

Her tone softened further.

“I would really like to help you get out of this,” the detective said. “I would really like to help you move forward with your life.”
So ended the second night of an undercover sting spearheaded by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, as part of the county’s two-year-old human-trafficking task force, aimed at curbing sexual exploitation within the South Bay’s underground sex trade.

Through the first two days of the operation, the task force detained or questioned 20 prostitutes and customers in the joint effort that also involved the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, county juvenile detention, and local victim-advocacy groups. They arrested one man they suspect was pimping a 16-year-old girl.

It’s an elusive but rewarding find. Most of the people who responded to detectives’ online ads were men looking to buy sex, along with a few women who asserted they were working of their own volition, all of them caught in the wide net cast in search of exploited minors and victims of coercion. Most were issued identical misdemeanor prostitution citations — the state penal code does not distinguish between customer and worker — and sent on their way.

To read the full story by Robert Salonga at The Mercury News: Click Here

State Department Report

On Tuesday, October 18, the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking released its annual report on human trafficking.

Each member of the Advisory Council is a survivor of human trafficking, and together they represent a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences.

The Council, established by the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA), provides a formal platform for trafficking survivors to advise and make recommendations on federal anti-trafficking policies to President Obama’a Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

To view the report: Click Here

Every 7 Seconds, A Young Girl Becomes A Bride, Report Says

Tamrea, seen here with her 5-year-old daughter, was married when she was 12.
Tamrea, seen here with her 5-year-old daughter, was married when she was 12.

(CNN) The statistics are startling: Around the world, every seven seconds, a girl under 15 is married.
Becoming a child bride is one factor that greatly affects the future of women and girls around the world, according to a report by Save the Children released Tuesday.
“Child marriage starts a cycle of disadvantage that denies girls the most basic rights to learn, develop and be children,” said Save the Children International CEO Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
“Girls who marry too early often can’t attend school, and are more likely to face domestic violence, abuse and rape… They also bear children before their bodies are fully prepared, which can have devastating consequences on their and their baby’s health.”

The report, called “Every Last Girl,” ranked 144 countries from the best to the worst in which to be a girl. The listing was based on child marriage, schooling, teen pregnancy, maternal deaths and the number of female lawmakers.
The stories of the child brides are harrowing and heartbreaking. Girls as young as 10 are being married off, in many cases with much older men, the global charity reports.

To read the full article by Chandrika Narayan, and view the accompanying videos at CNN: Click Here

Seventeen Individuals Indicted for Respective Roles in Human Trafficking Scheme that Exploited Hundreds of Thai Women for Commercial Sex in the United States

Sex Trafficking Organization Engaged in Visa Fraud and Debt Scheme to Recruit Victims into the United States for Prostitution
An indictment unsealed late yesterday in St. Paul, Minnesota, charges 17 members of an international sex trafficking organization with transporting hundreds of women from Thailand and profiting from advertising them for commercial sex throughout the United States.

The charged defendants include 12 Thai nationals and five U.S. nationals.  Eight of the 17 charged defendants were arrested yesterday at various locations in Minnesota, California, Illinois, Georgia and Hawaii.  One charged defendant was previously arrested in Belgium and four defendants remains at large.

The announcement was made by Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch; U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger of the District of Minnesota; Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; Special Agent in Charge Alex Khu of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) St. Paul Division and Special Agent in Charge Shea Jones of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) St. Paul Field Office.

“Human trafficking is a degrading crime that undermines our nation’s most basic promises of liberty and security,” said Attorney General Lynch.  “This case demonstrates the Justice Department’s determination to hold traffickers accountable and to help the survivors of this appalling practice reclaim their freedom and dignity.  As part of our nationally recognized Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team Initiative, the District of Minnesota is playing a crucial role in those vital efforts, and I want to commend all of the team members whose cooperation led to today’s action.”

“The 17 people charged in this indictment ran a highly sophisticated sex trafficking scheme,” said U.S. Attorney Luger.  “They promised women in Thailand a chance at the American dream, but instead exploited them, coerced them and forced them to live a nightmare.  In short, the victims lived like modern day sex slaves.  Today’s indictment is our ninth sex trafficking case since 2014, but it is the first that targets an entire organization.  We will continue to work closely with our federal and local law enforcement partners to target and dismantle these types of far-reaching organizations.”

“The Justice Department created the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) Initiative to bring together federal law enforcement agencies to enhance our impact in investigating and prosecuting human trafficking,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta.  “This case is an outstanding example of these efforts.  We will continue to work tirelessly with them to bring traffickers to justice and vindicate the rights of vulnerable victims.”

“This week’s arrests reflect HSI’s global reach and ongoing efforts to dismantle criminal organizations that engage in human trafficking activities,” said Special Agent in Charge Khu.  “HSI also remains firmly committed to rescuing victims and getting them help they desperately need to begin recovering from the depredations forced on them by these criminals.”

“From coast to coast, IRS Criminal Investigation is determined to team with our law enforcement partners to track down the individuals who facilitate and launder the proceeds of sex trafficking crimes,” said Special Agent in Charge Jones.  “Those who seek to enrich themselves by exploiting the desperate circumstances of their victims will not be tolerated in our cities.”

According to the indictment, which was returned under seal on Sept. 28, 2016, since at least 2009, the criminal organization has recruited and transported hundreds of women, which the organization refers to as “flowers,” from Thailand to various locations across the United States, including Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, Washington D.C., Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas and Austin, for purposes of exploiting them for prostitution.  Once in the United States, victims were allegedly placed in houses of prostitution where they were forced to work long hours – often all day, every day.  As alleged in the indictment, the women were not allowed to leave the prostitution houses unless accompanied by a member of the criminal organization.

According to allegations in the indictment, which identifies several of the women as victims of human trafficking, the organization often recruited women from impoverished backgrounds who spoke little English.  Recruiters exploited these vulnerabilities during the recruitment process, promising the victims access to a better life in the United States in exchange for a debt of between $40,000 and $60,000, which the women were required to pay off through prostitution earnings.  As alleged in the indictment, before transporting the women to the United States, the organization would typically arrange to have the women photographed for purposes of advertising them for sex on websites like backpage.com and eros.com.  The organization also encouraged the women to have breast implants in Thailand to make them “more appealing” to potential sex buyers in the United States and added the cost to the victims’ debt.

The organization engaged in widespread visa fraud to facilitate the international transportation of the women into their commercial sex enterprise, the indictment alleges.  Members of the criminal organization assisted in obtaining fraudulent visas and travel documents for the women, and members of the conspiracy used personal information on the women and their families, which they gathered in the course of obtaining the fraudulent documents, to threaten victims who became non-compliant or tried to flee.

The defendants include:

  • Sumalee Intarathong, 55, who was a boss in the scheme is currently incarcerated in Liege, Belgium, is charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking; sex trafficking by use of force, fraud and coercion; conspiracy to commit forced labor; conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution; transportation to engage in prostitution; conspiracy to engage in money laundering; conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution and conspiracy to commit visa fraud.
  • Chabaprai Boonluea, 42, of Winder, Georgia, was a house boss in the operation and is charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking; sex trafficking by use of force, fraud and coercion; conspiracy to commit forced labor; conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution; transportation to engage in prostitution; conspiracy to engage in money laundering and conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution.
  • Watcharin Luamseejun, 46, was a house boss in the scheme and is charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking; conspiracy to commit forced labor; conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution; conspiracy to engage in money laundering and conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution.
  • Pantilla Rodpholka, 31, of Mount Prospect, Illinois, was a house boss in the operation and is charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking; conspiracy to commit forced labor; conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution; conspiracy to engage in money laundering and conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution.
  • Noppawan Lerslurchachai, 35, of Lomita, California, was a facilitator in the scheme and is charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking; sex trafficking by use of force, fraud and coercion; conspiracy to commit forced labor; conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution; transportation to engage in prostitution; conspiracy to engage in money laundering and conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution.
  • Khanong Intharathong, 44, of Dunwoody, Georgia, was a facilitator in the operation and is charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking; conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution; transportation to engage in prostitution; conspiracy to engage in money laundering and conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution.
  • Andrew Flanigan, 51, of Winder, was a facilitator in the operation and is charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking; conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution; conspiracy to engage in money laundering and conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution.
  • Patcharaporn Saengkham, 41, of Los Angeles, was a facilitator in the scheme and is charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud.
  • Yadaporn Panngoen, 30, Los Angeles, was a facilitator in the scheme and is charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud.
  • Supapon Sonprasit, 31, of St. Paul, was a facilitator in the operation and is charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud.
  • Thi Vu, 48, of Atlanta, was a runner in the operation and is charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking; conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution; conspiracy to engage in money laundering and conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution.
  • Todd Vassey, 54, of Lahanina, Hawaii, was a runner in the scheme and is charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking; conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution; transportation to engage in prostitution; conspiracy to engage in money laundering and conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution.
  • John Zbracki, 59, of Lakeville, Minnesota, was a runner in the operation and is charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking; conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution; transportation to engage in prostitution; conspiracy to engage in money laundering and conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution.

According to the indictment, Intarathong served as a boss before her arrest in Belgium earlier this year.  As alleged in the indictment, each woman identified as a victim of human trafficking was “owned” by Intarathong or another boss until the victim could repay the debt.

According to the indictment, other members of the criminal organization served as “house bosses,” who owned one or more of the houses of prostitution where the “flowers” were exploited for commercial sex.  House bosses were responsible for day-to-day operations, including advertising the “flowers” for commercial sex, maintaining the houses of prostitution, scheduling appointments with sex buyers and ensuring that a significant portion of the prostitution proceeds were routed back to the trafficker/boss to pay down the debt.  The house boss kept the remainder of the prostitution proceeds, while the women were not permitted to retain any of their earnings, except for the occasional tip offered by a sex buyer.

As set forth in the indictment, other members of the criminal organization served as “facilitators,” who were primarily responsible for laundering the criminal proceeds of the organization and for directing the movement of victims within the United States, while other co-conspirators served as “runners.”  The runners were typically men who were paid, in part, by receiving access to sex acts with the women.  Runners accompanied the women anytime they were permitted to leave a house of prostitution to obtain personal items, travel as directed by the criminal organization or deposit money into accounts set up by the organization for repayment of the women’s debts.  Runners were also sometimes asked to rent hotel rooms, apartments or other facilities for the organization.

The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The District of Minnesota is one of six districts designated through a competitive, nationwide selection process as a Phase II ACTeam, through the interagency ACTeam Initiative of the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Labor.  ACTeams focus on developing high-impact human trafficking investigations and prosecutions involving forced labor, international sex trafficking and sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion through interagency collaboration among federal prosecutors and federal investigative agencies.

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by HSI; IRS-CI; Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service; St. Paul Police Department; Anoka County, Minnesota, Sheriff’s Office; and Cook County, Minnesota, Sheriff’s Office, with the support of the International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Melinda Williams and Laura Provinzino of the District of Minnesota are prosecuting the case with the assistance of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.

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Press release from the US Department of Justice

Student Hackers To Help Manhattan DA Fight Human Trafficking; They’ll Focus On Workers With Little To No Wages

It’s the coding answer to community service.

Students from Cornell and Columbia universities will be hacking for a good cause over the weekend through a program with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Human Trafficking Response Unit.

Specialized prosecutors and staff assigned to the unit will guide technology students in a hackathon as they experiment with ways to bring human trafficking to light, with the goal of identifying criminal activity in the dark corners of the web. Hackathons bring programmers together to work on all kinds of projects.

In recent memory, prosecutors have brought cases against pimps with the aid of massive troves of electronic evidence.

They are often able to connect the dots between a pimp and victims — or to a larger network of trafficked people.

District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. spoke to students at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on Friday morning, putting their challenge in a courtroom context.

In recent years, Vance’s office and other law enforcement agencies have begun treating prostitutes as victims as they are often essentially brainwashed and dependent on psychologically and physically abusive pimps.

“We understand now how difficult it is for trafficking victims to separate from the person who is trafficking them,” Vance said.

To read the full story by Shayna Jacobs at The NY Daily News: Click Here

Priceless: A Review

by Kathleen Bryant, RSC

Priceless is a suspense driven film raising a critical issue facing the world today. An ordinary man going about his own human struggles to be a good person is confronted with a choice, which transforms his life at quite a cost. Early on in the film, James, the lead character played by Joel Smallbone, would rather not ask questions or know what “cargo” he is delivering. The film raises an important question for most of us who would rather not know who is making the products we purchase or under what conditions. Human trafficking, both foreign and domestic, impacts every one of us. The film lifts up, not only the trafficking of two young women from Mexico, but includes the story of a young American girl who was also groomed and trafficked.

We watch James moving from his struggle to make easy money with ignorant compliance to a person who is moved to take action. In his efforts to free others, he is redeemed himself. The pull to be with his own daughter is also redeemed in the end. The elderly wise man in the film prods him on to listen “to that little voice and recognize the larger hand at play.” Although faith is thematic in the film, it is gracefully woven into the dialogue sparingly and not overtly preachy. It shows the price we pay for standing up to injustice in the world.

Ironically it is the victim, Antonia, played by Bianca Santos, who humanizes James and keeps reminding him that he is “a good man”. She is a victim of debt bondage and we are reminded that each human being is “priceless”.

A cautionary note, this story glorifies attempts to rescue victims when the wisdom of those fighting this crime, including the FBI, advise people never to rescue others. Carefully planned rescues by law enforcement have been jeopardized by these attempts. Don’t try this yourself at home! But do try to listen to that “little voice” calling us to be aware of human trafficking and our own compliance as we purchase slave produced goods, neglect to pay fair wages or buy sex.

Although the film moves very slowly at the start, it becomes very entertaining and captivating, fueled by James’ inner struggle. At times Priceless is a little far-fetched, but it holds a balance between suspenseful drama and succinct conversations posing real questions of life and integrity for the viewer. Once you view this film, you won’t be able to forget about the issue and might even ask questions provoked by Priceless.

CEO Of Backpage, Called ‘World’s Top Online Brothel,’ Arrested On Pimping Charges In Crackdown By Kamala Harris

Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Sheds Light on Human Trafficking in Montgomery County

Sr. Angela Reed at Academic Convocation
Sr. Angela Reed (second from left) spoke about human trafficking at Academic Convocation the day before Special Agent Stefanie Snyder gave examples of trafficking in Montgomery County.

Gwynedd Mercy University continued its Mercy Week Celebration with a presentation on human trafficking given by Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Stefanie Snyder in University Hall on Thursday.

Special Agent Snyder, who has been with the Homeland Security Investigations Philadelphia Bureau since 2003, has worked on human trafficking cases for 10 years. She has worked to put traffickers in jail and has provided drug treatment, visas, and protection to victims and witnesses.

Special Agent Snyder works on both human trafficking and human smuggling cases, and there’s a stark difference, she said. Human smuggling is transportation-based and is usually voluntary. Residents of another country who want to live in America might pay a smuggler to help them cross the border. Human trafficking, however, is exploitation-based and is never voluntary. An example could be a pimp who coerces young girls into the commercial sex trade, and then keeps their earnings.

Sex trafficking, a $32 billion per year business, is the fastest-growing crime in the United States, Special Agent Snyder said. Financially, it is second only to drug trafficking.

To read the full story by Alyssa Onisick on Gwynedd Mercy University: Click Here