Missouri Attorney General To Investigate Backpage With New Human Trafficking Unit

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announces new initiatives to crack down on human trafficking at a safehouse near St. Louis on Monday, April 3, 2017.

 

JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has begun the process of investigating the online advertising website Backpage, using a new unit in his office tasked with prosecuting human traffickers under the state’s consumer protection laws.

Hawley told the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday that evidence already points to Backpage and its affiliates knowingly participating in illegal trafficking activity and concealing it, including findings from a U.S. Senate committee, which examined 1.1 million pages of documents supplied by the company.

Spearheaded by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the probe culminated in a scathing report in January that alleges the site automatically filters out any words in ads that indicate the site was offering sex with minors.

 
Critics of the site’s practices say that it’s become a hub for commercial sex exploitation, with traffickers using it to sell sex through the “adult” sections, which once allowed users to advertise escort services, strip clubs, and “adult jobs.”

To read the full story by Celeste Bott on St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Click Here

Immigration Expert Predicts Human Trafficking Will Surge Under Trump

The U.S.’s anti-immigration policies and building a US/Mexico wall are set to hinder the fight against human trafficking

WASHINGTON, April 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Under tougher anti-immigration policies in the United States under President Donald Trump, human trafficking will “skyrocket,” a top expert warned at a conference on Tuesday.

Fear of being deported by U.S. authorities stops people from speaking up about their own or other trafficking cases, said Denise Brennan, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at Georgetown University.

“Policies that push migrants to live and work in the shadows make the perfect prey for abusive employers,” said Brennan, a keynote speaker at the Trust Conference/America Forum, a one-day Thomson Reuters Foundation event on the fight against slavery and trafficking.

“We cannot effectively fight trafficking when migrants fear reporting exploitation and abuse.”

Anti-immigrant rhetoric, violence and policies are on the rise around the world, in particular in the United States under Trump, who has vowed to fight illegal immigration and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, she said.

“Trafficking will skyrocket under President Trump,” she said. “Anti-immigrant policies make trafficking possible.”

Since becoming president, Trump has issued a temporary visa ban against seven Muslim-majority countries that was later blocked by federal courts, suspended a refugee program and initiated tougher deportation procedures.

LITTLE POLITICAL WILL

Up to 12 million people are estimated to be living illegally without documents in the United States.

While there are no official law enforcement statistics, in the United States nearly 32,000 cases of human trafficking have been reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the last decade.

“These individuals have no place to turn,” said Brennan, author of “Life Interrupted: Trafficking into Forced Labor in the United States.”

“Isolation and threat of deportation are just as powerful as locking someone behind closed doors,” she said.

 

To read the full story by Ellen Wulfhorst on Thomson Reuters Foundation News: Click Here

Lawsuit Accuses Philly Hotel of Providing Rooms to Human Traffickers

A suit filed against the Roosevelt Motor Inn in Rhawnhurst is the first of its kind under the state’s 2014 human trafficking statute.

Roosevelt Motor Inn. Photo via Google Maps

A hotel in Northeast Philadelphia has been accused of regularly providing rooms to human traffickers.

A lawsuit was filed on behalf of a 17-year-old girl who claims she was forced to perform sexual acts with men at the Roosevelt Motor Inn, located at 7630 Roosevelt Boulevard in Rhawnhurst. The lawsuit, which was filed in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, accuses the hotel of knowingly and regularly providing rooms to her traffickers in 2013 and 2014, starting when she was just 14 years old.

It’s reportedly the first lawsuit of its kind under Pennsylvania’s 2014 human trafficking statute, which establishes that businesses that directly or indirectly benefit from human trafficking can be forced to pay compensation to victims.

The lawsuit, filed by Kline & Specter partners Thomas Kline, Nadeem Bezar and Emily Marks, lists the defendants as the Roosevelt Motor Inn; its manager, Yagna Patel; and the company that owns the motel, UFVS Management Company, which operates out of Purchase, New York.

The complaint states that the defendants “failed to take any steps to prevent human sex trafficking at the Roosevelt Motor Inn and instead permitted heinous and unspeakable acts to occur and profited from them.”

To read the full story by Claire Sasko on Philadelphia: Click Here

‘A Gift To Human Traffickers’: Report Warns Of Dangers Of Trump Immigration Policy

Study claims hardened stance on immigration leaves undocumented migrant workers at greater risk of modern slavery and human rights abuses 

Undocumented farm workers from Mexico at work on a farm in California
Undocumented labourers from Mexico at work on a farm in California. Analysts warn the new immigration policy will put such workers at greater risk of exploitation and debt. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s hardline approach to immigration has been branded a “gift to human traffickers” amid concerns that stricter deportation and border regulations will push undocumented migrant workers underground, putting them at greater risk of slavery and human rights abuses.

The new administration’s immigration policy – which hinges on the construction of a US-Mexico border wall and immediate repatriation of illegal immigrants – will force criminal networks to use more costly and potentially more dangerous trafficking routes by air and sea, say global risk analysts Verisk Maplecroft.

According to a report by the company, the controversial stance adopted by the White House towards migrant workers and immigration will be a major driver of human rights risks for business in 2017.

Developed countries are warned that human rights abuses are surfacing closer to home for western companies just as legislation strengthens and scrutiny of business practices increases.

Saket Soni, executive director of the membership organisation National Guestworkers Alliance, said the Trump administration’s new regulations will only exacerbate existing problems and proves that the US government is “part of the problem”.

“Trump’s policies are a gift to human traffickers,” said Soni. “We know firsthand what Verisk Maplecroft’s report confirms: criminalising immigrants makes them more vulnerable to forced labour, human trafficking, and modern-day slavery. Trump’s mass criminalisation will drive immigrants further into the shadows, where increasing numbers of them will face forced labour conditions.”

The report, entitled Human Rights Outlook 2017, draws on Verisk Maplecroft’s portfolio of global human rights data and its interactions with multinational companies to assess the top 10 human rights issues affecting business in the year ahead.

“The US is already classed as ‘medium risk’ in our index measuring modern slavery around the world, and the commodity risk that we’ve done shows that there are already extreme risks for migrants, including those on farms harvesting apples or citrus fruits,” said Maplecroft’s principal analyst, Alexandra Channer.

“There’s already a significant problem for undocumented workers in certain industries in the US. So the impact of these policies will be worsening an already serious issue, which we could see potentially widen to different industries, for example the transportation and hospitality sectors.”

To read the full article by Kate Hodal on The Guardian: Click Here

Fighting Human Trafficking In Detroit

When some 200 law enforcement officers raided the Victory Inn on Jan. 12, they recovered more than just narcotics.

They also rescued 14 victims of human trafficking who were being provided drugs in exchange for “commercial sex dates” in filthy rooms filled with needles, crack pipes and guns.

And they had expected to find even more victims.

“Traffickers move people, and it just so happened that some of the women were working elsewhere,” said Deena Policicchio, director of outreach and education services for Alternatives For Girls, which joined the operation 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Detroit-based nonprofit serves high-risk girls and women and partnered with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations to offer the victims crises counseling, hygiene supplies, clothing, drug treatment referrals and transportation to safe lodging. WC Safe, a Wayne County nonprofit that helps sexual assault survivors, and the University of Michigan Human Trafficking Clinic also assisted the victims.

“They’re still in trauma and crisis mode,” Policicchio said shortly after the raid.

According to court records, Michael Randol, a 41-year-old convicted felon from Detroit, distributed drugs to women in exchange for sex dates at the motel. One woman described as a frequent Victory Inn resident told police she worked as a prostitute to pay back a man called “Q,” who sold her cocaine and heroin, and to “work off a drug debt she owed” to another man called “T.” She alleged the men had as many as 20 women “working for them.”

Melissa Novock, a WC Safe human trafficking specialist, said a lot of traffickers use drugs to manipulate women who have or develop addictions. But there are a number of reasons women fall victims to trafficking. Some fall behind on rent and need money. Others can’t get a job because of criminal histories. Some become involuntarily controlled.

“(Some)times what happens is a woman is selling herself, a pimp finds her, decides he wants to own her and he’ll just go in a hotel, rape her and then say she is his,” Policicchio said. “…and he will beat her and control her from that day forward.”

Pimps often target vulnerable young girls and women, though boys can be victims, too, Novock said. There’s also a misconception that victims are snatched from malls or bus stops.

“Sometimes that does happen. But a lot of the times…the young girls are not in a great situation,” Novock said, rattling off examples: They’ve been sexually abused, live in foster care or a homeless shelter, or suffer from an abusive relationship. “They’re looking for some type of attention, some type of love and a pimp takes advantage of that.”

Trafficking happens everywhere

While The Victory Inn sits next to a topless bar in an area known for prostitution, authorities say human trafficking occurs everywhere.

“We’re always thinking that this is happening somewhere else or to someone else, but it’s happening in Michigan, and it’s happening in the city and the suburbs,” Novock said.

Policicchio said she went on one raid with law enforcement in an affluent Wayne County suburb. They were looking for women forced to prostitute at a hotel full of families staying there for a soccer tournament.

To read the full story by Stephanie Steinberg on The Detroit News: Click Here

Indiana At The Crossroads Of Human Trafficking Fight

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – As the crossroads of America, Indiana is at the crossroads of the Nation’s growing problem of human trafficking.

Indiana state police are asking truck drivers, the men and women who work, eat, and sleep on the interstates, to look out for victims of trafficking. It is a crime a crime that often goes unseen and unrealized.

In the first ten months of 2016, 66 cases were called in to the National Human Trafficking hotline. According to the organization, 16 of the calls came from victims or survivors. 
Indiana State Police Trooper Yan Dravigne sees the tragedy first hand.

“These people are not treated as humans. They are treated as objects and once their job is done they are discarded,” he said.

Last month, Dravigne pulled over Procopio Torres along I-70 in Morgan County. Dravigne said Torres admitted he was paid to drive three boys from Texas to New York.

“He had no knowledge about their names or who they were,” he explained. “They were scared. Who knows what they were promised. They didn’t know where they were going, they were just promised something.”

Torres is charged with transporting illegal aliens for financial gain. The three boys, aged from 11-14 years old, are in the custody of federal authorities. Investigators believe their trip began somewhere in South America.

State police in Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio are working with Truckers Against Trafficking. Troopers are encouraging drivers who see something suspicious, call a special hot line.

“They’ve seen this stuff happen at rest stops and truck stops,” Dravigne said.

Randy Gries admitted he’s seen plenty in his years of driving a truck, but never enough he said to warrant a call to authorities.

“The girls in the truck stops, for example. When you see them, you know, number one, that there is more behind it than that one individual,” he explained.

Sarah Hurley has seen and heard a lot, too. She founded Kristy’s House, which provides counseling and other help to women trying to escape the sex trade.

To read the full story by Rich Van Wyk on The Greensburg Daily News: Click Here

Trooper Who Rescued Teen: ‘No One Should Be Trafficked’

PHOENIX — An Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper said his training in identifying signs of human trafficking helped him rescue a 16-year-old runaway who was being sold for sex.

Trooper Jonathan Otto, 33, said a traffic stop near Kingman led to the discovery Jan. 11 after he’d noticed a vehicle driving in excess of 100 mph along U.S. 93 in the early-morning hours.

After interviewing the occupants of the vehicle, Otto said he recognized one of its female passengers as demonstrating indicators of human trafficking. Though the girl initially said she was 18, Otto said he found information about her at the scene that showed she was a minor.

At the time of the stop, the 16-year-old was in the company of a man and woman with whom she shared mutual friends, Otto said. They were identified by DPS officials as Rasheen Adams, 22, and Chicha Harris, 22, of Las Vegas.

Officials said the girl was trafficked in Southern California, taken to Arizona, and was on her way to Las Vegas at the time of the traffic stop.

Adams and Harris were arrested and face felony charges including sex trafficking of a minor, custodial interference and theft of means of transportation, the DPS stated. Both were booked in to the Mohave County Jail and were each released on a $10,000 bond, officials said.

Runaway sought to ‘get away from her impoverished life’

In a news conference in Phoenix on Thursday morning, Otto recalled the signs that led him to believe it was more than just a typical traffic stop.

He said that when he first approached the vehicle to talk to the occupants, he smelled a pungent perfume that had permeated the vehicle. A female occupant in the front passenger seat was wearing only lingerie, and the teen in the backseat was scantily clad.

To read the full story by Garrett Mitchell of The Arizona on USA Today: Click Here

Hiding In Plain Sight: Chicago Neighborhoods Fight Modern Day Slavery

In the grand scheme of things, it was a small victory but for impoverished neighborhoods like Chicago’s Englewood, it was a triumph.

After a protracted and sometimes acrimonious City Council battle in March, a bill to allow city strip clubs to sell liquor on their premises was shelved after its sponsor admitted she wasn’t fully aware of the bill’s contents.

Under current law, there is a ban on strip clubs selling alcohol if those clubs feature nude dancers. The law also states that dancers in these clubs must wear “hot pants” and cover their chests.

Communities like Englewood, which fear a proliferation of strip clubs, are standing up to fight back against abuses they see as threats to their very foundations.

The sponsor of the rejected bill, Alderman Emma Mitts of the 37th Ward, withdrew the ordinance proposal after meeting stiff opposition from community leaders who saw a lifting of the liquor ban as likely to contribute to the growth of sex and human trafficking in the city.

“A drunk man is even worse than guys coming in just to see a strip because it causes more violence against women. I won’t support any of it. It became so heated so quick, they actually pulled back the legislation,” explained Alderman Toni Foulkes of the 16th Ward, and one of the ordinances most vocal opponents.

Human Trafficking
The US State Department has identified three ways to fight the scourge of human trafficking: prosecution, protection and prevention. (Photo: US State Department).

For local leaders like Foulkes, the kerfuffle over liquor licenses in strip clubs is something she considers a matter of communal survival.

To read the full story by Duke Omara on Medill Reports Chicago: Click Here

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

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