Texas Has Hired Its First Ever Director Of Human Trafficking Prevention

In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Kim Grabert, the state’s first director of human trafficking prevention, discussed how the state plans to recover and rehabilitate runaway youth who are sold for sex.

Earlier this year, the Tribune’s Sold Out series examined how state policies — including a severely underfunded child welfare system — failed to help child sex-trafficking victims. Since then, lawmakers set aside a budget increase of more than $500 million for the foster care system and the governor’s office approved new funds for trafficking prevention initiatives — including the state’s first-ever director of human trafficking and child exploitation.

Kim Grabert, who in July came to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services from a similar agency in Florida, said in an interview with The Texas Tribune that she hoped to help multiple state agencies cooperate to help Texas trafficking victims.

We talked with Grabert about what the state is doing to track down runaways, whether online data-mining could help find victims, what should be done about the lack of specialized homes for recovered teens and what Texas can learn from Florida’s example. Below are her answers, which have been edited and condensed.

Texas Tribune: Why was your position created, and what do you see your specific role as being?

Kim Grabert: The position came out of a grant through the governor’s office, and really the position was created so that I can focus all my time on one topic.

My background and my strength is really in all the collaborative team-building and the ability to kind of look at what’s going on everywhere, figure out where we can plug in and where is the opportunity to leverage what’s already existing.

We’re going to introduce a screening tool, so [DFPS will] be using the same one that the governor’s office is using [and that] their grantees will be using, so we can get really good evaluation information out of that.

And then we’re going to be looking at our continuum of care and understanding where there’s opportunities to build specialized placements or specialized services [for trafficking victims], and how can we work with what already exists, through education, to grow the population that they’re serving.

TT: You came here from Florida. In your time here, have you seen things that Florida is doing on child sex trafficking that Texas is not, and are there things that Texas has to learn from other states?

To read the full interview from Edgar Walters on The Texas Tribune: Click Here

Human Trafficking, ‘The New Crack Cocaine,’ Bay Area Police Say

SANTA CRUZ – Most are adults and about 30 percent of Santa Cruz County’s human trafficking victims are commanded by female traffickers.

“It’s the new crack cocaine,” Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills said Wednesday morning to police officers and badged supervisors at the police department’s community room. “Except with trafficking, you can sell it over and over.”

Every officer raised a hand when asked whether he or she has responded to a sexual-assault case. The cases, too often, lack information, one officer said. Those missing details are common in human trafficking, which includes sexual assault, domestic violence, kidnapping, abuse and other crimes involving victims too vulnerable, or too traumatized, to report their situation. The training, part of a twice-monthly program at the department, was designed to teach officers how to identify the subtle signs of human trafficking — holding a person by means of force, fraud and coercion. 

The FBI has identified the San Francisco Bay Area, including Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, as one of the three highest-intensity child sex trafficking regions in the country.

Mills said Santa Cruz Police Department, unlike metro departments, lacks a unit dedicated to human trafficking.

Deborah Pembrook, who teaches others about the problem through the Coalition to End Human Trafficking in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, said trafficking is happening in Santa Cruz County. About 30 percent of the traffickers are women, Pembrook said. Traffickers can be anyone, a trusted family friend to gang members immersed in organized crime. The trafficked may appear to be the criminal, such as a drug dealer. And many trafficking victims are so traumatized by the abnormal lifestyle, they struggle to find a way out and relapse, Pembrook said.

Pembrook said, of the 25 forms of human trafficking observed by the Polaris Project, an initiative that defines human trafficking as a form of slavery and a “multibillion dollar criminal industry,” most have been observed in Santa Cruz County. Those include escort services, illicit massage, strip clubs and cantinas, pornography and covert crimes disguised by traveling sales, commercial cleaning services and restaurant work. She said human trafficking has not been observed locally in manufacturing industries or people trafficked from recreational areas.

Many victims of human trafficking are branded like animals. Their tattoos, which Pembrook showed on a projector screen, may be phrases stating they belong to someone. Detective Laurel Schonfield, who works human trafficking and other cases, said one of the photos depicting a cheetah tattoo was taken in a case that has linked tips of trafficking from Santa Cruz County to Florida. She said the crimes have no boundaries.

Human Trafficking: Ohio Looks Beyond Traditional Law Enforcement

 

According to Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s “Governor’s Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force Report” released in January, there are at least an estimated 3,000 minors at-risk for human trafficking in the state of Ohio.

Human trafficking is defined on the Human Trafficking Task Force website, www.humantrafficking.ohio.gov, as a form of modern-day slavery in which criminals profit from the control and exploitations of others. Trafficking takes place in one of two forms: labor trafficking — compelling people to provide labor or services; and sex trafficking — forcing individuals to perform commercial sex acts.

“Both use force, fear and coercion to keep victims working against their will,” according to a news release. “Both types occur in Ohio.”

In 2015, Ohio ranked fourth in the nation for calls for the numbers of human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline number. In 2012, Ohio ranked 11th in the nation, according to the governor’s task force report.

“Over the last several years, Ohio’s calls to the national hotline have increased. More specifically, 4.8 percent (1,066 calls) of the total calls made to the national hotline came from Ohio in 2015, compared with 3.4 percent (459 calls) of the total in 2012,” the report stated.

To read the full story by Kristi Garabrandt on The News-Herald: Click Here

MnDOT Initiative Raises Awareness For Human Trafficking

The Minnesota Department of Transportation will begin installing posters in 41 rest areas across the state this week to educate the traveling public about human trafficking and to encourage them to report suspicious activity.

The posters include guidelines on how to recognize signs of human trafficking and potential victims as well as a toll-free hotline to report any suspicious activity.

Human trafficking often involves the transport of victims from a base of operations to locations of exploitation.

“Minnesota has the third highest number of human trafficking cases in the nation,” said MnDot commissioner Charlie Zelle. “MnDOT’s responsible for maintaining the quality and safety of multiple modes of transportation, including highways, airports, rail lines, transit systems and commercial vehicles, provides unique opportunities to see—and stop—human trafficking activities.”

To read the full story by Claire Colby on Post Bulletin: Click Here

Brownback Lauds New Law Aiding Fight Against Human Trafficking

Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday signed legislation strengthening laws against child exploitation and sex trafficking. (Katie Moore/The Capital-Journal)

Gov. Sam Brownback described human trafficking as a modern iteration of slavery Monday, affirming his justification for signing legislation to strengthen interdiction and prosecution of people who exploit children in Kansas.

The House and Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 40 to create new crimes of promoting travel for child exploitation and of internet trading in child pornography. Under the law, human trafficking suspects wouldn’t be able to use as a defense lack of knowledge about a victim’s age or that a victim had consented to be oppressed.

“Trafficking victims take many forms — forced labor, sex trafficking, child soldiers and involuntary domestic servitude,” the governor said.

“Trafficking is modern-day slavery. Kansas has rich history of fighting such evils.”

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, said the 40-0 vote in the Senate and 120-0 vote in the House on the bill demonstrated government reform didn’t have to be affixed to political labels.

To read the full story by Tim Carpenter on The Topeka Capital-Journal: Click Here

New York State Set To Ban Child Marriages

Gov. Cuomo called the child marriage ban a priority. (HANS PENNINK/AP)

ALBANY — New York will soon outlaw child marriages.

As lawmakers head into the final three weeks of the legislative session, the Assembly is expected to pass a bill as soon as this week raising the legal age at which a person in New York can marry.

Under current law, the age of consent in New York for marriage is 18. But someone as young as 14 can wed as long as they have parental and judicial consent.

The bill set to pass the Assembly would prohibit the marriage of minors under 17 years of age and require those 17 and 18 to get court and parental approval to wed.

The Senate passed the measure in March but will have to act again after the Assembly sought some tweaks. Gov. Cuomo has called the issue called it a priority.

The Assembly Democrats twice discussed the measure behind closed doors — including right before beginning a 12-day break that encompassed Memorial Day — and agreed to bring it to the floor for a vote.

“Children who are 14 should be worrying about their math test; they should not be married with marriage responsibilities,” said Assembly bill sponsor Amy Paulin (D-Westchester County). “They are too young. And for girls who are married to much older men, it’s abuse. It is time to change the law.”

To read the full story by Kenneth Lovett on The New York Daily News: Click Here

Feinstein: ‘Human Trafficking Is Totally Bad. It’s Totally Illegal. It Ruins People’s Lives’

Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Thursday applauded the collaboration between Fresno law enforcement and community groups in combating human trafficking.

“Today was a really unique meeting, because Fresno seems to have a very unique program,” Feinstein said after the Thursday gathering. “Here, there’s a community-police connection.”

Stopping human trafficking has been a concern of the senator’s for some time, and she said the opportunity to hear from law enforcement officials and community leaders at the meeting in Fresno will be helpful in crafting legislation to address the problem.

“Human trafficking has been relayed to me to be the second largest criminal industry in the United States, Feinstein said. “And young girls are trafficked all throughout America and throughout California. And pimps make a lot of money, and young girls have their lives ruined.”

California has the most cases of reported human trafficking in the U.S., and Fresno has the seventh-highest number of those cases, according to the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission’s Central Valley Against Human Trafficking Project. Bakersfield is ranked eighth.

And human trafficking is increasing, in part because of awareness in the community to report it, but also because of gang-related trafficking, the commission said.

Feinstein said 49 percent of girls who are traffficked are between ages 15 and 19, but 10 percent are 11 years old. Those involved in human trafficking should be vigorously prosecuted, she said.

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, who participated in the roundtable at Fresno police headquarters, said victims are often promised love and money, but “before they know it, what they’re promised is violence and death.”

To read the full story by Barbara Anderson on The Fresno Bee: Click Here

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

Slavery Still Exists In The Land Of The Free — We Must Confront It

(CNN)More than 150 years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, slavery is illegal almost everywhere. But it is still not abolished — not even here, in the land of the free. On the contrary, there is a cancer of violence, a modern-day slavery growing in America by the day, in the very places where we live and work. It’s called human trafficking. The time has come for a new abolitionist movement to confront this oppression and turn it back.

Each year, thousands of people, usually women and girls, are deceived, threatened or simply forced into commercial sexual exploitation. That is, they are forced to provide sex for money. Don’t be misled, this isn’t a crime confined to exotic locales. It happens all the time, even in a neighborhood near you. Sex trafficking occurs when a young woman is forced into prostitution at a truck stop; when a sexual predator lures a teen on the internet; when a family member makes a child sell sex for cash.

Josh Hawley is the attorney general of Missouri.
Josh Hawley is the attorney general of Missouri.

The International Labor Organization estimates that 4.5 million people are trapped in commercial sex exploitation worldwide, 98% of them female. Since 2007, the National Trafficking Hotline in the United States has received more than 31,000 reports of trafficking happening in this country. Nearly 2,000 calls to the NTH have come from my home state of Missouri.

Sex trafficking amounts to a form of slavery: It is forced, unchosen labor. Left unchecked, it threatens to disfigure our society. That’s a danger I take personally. As attorney general of Missouri, I am my state’s chief law enforcement officer. I swore an oath to uphold the rule of law, and that means fighting violence and oppression wherever it exists, especially violence against the poor and vulnerable. The swelling epidemic of human trafficking makes a mockery of the law and its protections. Confronting this evil demands new thinking and decisive new action. And this is my pledge: In Missouri we will act, and we will act now.

To view the full story by Josh Hawley on CNN: Click Here

Deeper Cuts Proposed For Human Trafficking Victim Services

BISMARCK — The chairwoman of the state’s anti-human trafficking task force says victim service programs could be in jeopardy under a funding cut recommended Tuesday, March 28, by a legislative committee.

The House Appropriations Committee recommended reducing funding for human trafficking victim services to $250,000 for 2017-19, half of what the Senate approved and one-fourth the level requested by the Attorney General’s Office.

Committee members cited budget challenges as the need to cut general fund spending.

“I do believe it’s an important program,” said Rep. Chet Pollert, R-Carrington. “I do believe we also have to be cognizant of where we’re at.”

The programs, which received $1.25 million in state funding for 2015-17, served 79 victims in 2016, including 26 minors.

Christina Sambor, chairwoman of FUSE, the anti-human trafficking task force, said programs have leveraged the state dollars to receive federal grants, supporting emergency housing, case managers and other programs.

Without sufficient state funding, the programs may not have enough matching dollars to get future federal grants, Sambor said.

“It can put the whole system in jeopardy, for sure,” she said.

To read the full story by Amy Dairymple on the West Fargo Pioneer: Click Here