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.

Sociology Major Uses Marketing Internship to Help Former Human Trafficking Victims

Slavery was formally abolished in the United States in 1865 by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution—today, all countries have abolished slavery However, slavery continues to exist in practice in the form of human trafficking, which is often called modern-day slavery. Victoria Erdel’s (Class of 2019, sociology) curiosity to learn more about the impact of human trafficking on its victims led her to complete a summer internship helping trafficking victims using her written and visual communication skills.

For seven weeks, For seven weeks, Victoria worked with Starfish Project, a jewelry-making social enterprise in Asia that helps previously trafficked women establish careers and gain their independence.Victoria was a marketing and communications intern who helped the organization share the stories of women who were sex trafficked. “As an intern, I began by creating behind-the-scenes content for their social media accounts,” Erdel said. “However, during my third week I was assigned to come up with new ways to share the women’s stories.” That new mode of sharing stories came in the form of videos visualizing each woman’s experiences. Each video consists of Victoria drawing out the narrative of a given Starfish worker, which turns a person’s tragic story into a work of beauty and hope.

Victoria’s interest in working with Starfish Project started when she was 13 years old. She met the group’s founder when she gave a talk at Victoria’s church in Mishawaka, a town only a few miles away from Notre Dame. The talk inspired Victoria to learn more about human trafficking and how to fight it. During her sophomore year at Notre Dame, Victoria believed that she was now in a position to help the Starfish Project using a skillset developed during her first two years at the University. She learned about the marketing internship opportunity available to work directly with the women of Starfish Project in Asia.

The experience was valuable for Victoria, but it did not come without its difficulties. Going to a place where the dominant language was Chinese without any knowledge of it posed a challenge for Victoria. “I was worried about how I would be able to communicate with others, but I am glad that it went smoothly in the end.” Victoria said. Given the subject matter of Starfish Project’s activities, it was inevitable that the experience would be an emotional one for Victoria. “I had to be emotionally prepared to collect the stories from the women there. Some of the things they dealt with were quite dramatic,” Victoria said. Despite the difficulties of the internship, Victoria was inspired to continue her work on human trafficking once she came back to the United States.

To read the full story by Grant Johnson on Notre Dame‘s website: Click Here

Lawmakers Praise Financial Industry’s Human Trafficking Barriers

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) recently praised the financial industry’s efforts to thwart the work of human traffickers.

The lawmakers are supporting the Senate Banking Committee’s inclusion of a provision in the BRINK Act that would combat human trafficking. The language is based on the End Banking for Human Traffickers Act, which was originally introduced by Warren and Rubio earlier this year.

The legislators said the language requires federal banking regulators to work with law enforcement and financial institutions to address the use of the financial system for human trafficking while establishing an office within the Office for Terrorism and Financial Crimes to coordinate with the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.


To read the full story by Douglas Clark on Financial Regulation News: Click Here

Judges And Prosecutors Share Best Practices At Global Vatican Trafficking Summit

For two days, judges and prosecutors from all around the world have met in the Vatican to discuss the dangers of organized crime and combat the modern slavery of the 21st century, human trafficking.

It was organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and shows participants that they are not alone when fighting this issue.


Judge in Trinidad and Tobago
“Just having the platform to really articulate the issues and to hear what other countries have been doing who have been addressing this problem seriously for a very long time is helpful, so I will be able to take it back. We are doing right now continued training and sensitization of the public and of the important state holders how to recognize victims of human trafficking.”

Statistics show that around 24.9 million victims are trapped in this form of slavery. Of these, 81 percent are exploited for labor and 19 percent are sexually exploited. One out of every four victims is a minor, with 71 percent being women and 29 percent male.

To read the full story on Rome Reports: Click Here

In Uganda, Missionary Nun Determined To Tackle Child Begging

Children begging on the streets of Kampala, the capital of Uganda. (Credit: Stock image.)

A Comboni missionary nun in Uganda who’d been out of the country for ten years recently returned to discover a widespread social problem she hadn’t seen before: children begging on the streets, often as part of a human trafficking ring. Working with the Ugandan government, Sister Fernanda Cristinelli is determined to do something about it.

Sister Fernanda Cristinelli, a Comboni missionary, has returned to Uganda where she had served for ten years, to witness a disturbing new phenomenon: widespread begging. According to Fides News Agency, children sit by roadsides all night, “begging for a few pennies.

“They cannot have a hot meal, go to school, play, wash, feel safe and secure. They are children from the Karamoja area, one of the poorest in the northeast of Uganda, who are forced by adults to beg in the capital Kampala,” Cristinelli told Crux.

Cristinelli says her return to Uganda has put her “in front of a phenomenon that I had never seen in Kampala years ago.

“Children aged 3 to 10, and girls from 12 to 14, are begging on the streets, the busiest of the capital, and adult women control them. The little ones jump towards cars in the unpredictable traffic of the streets of Kampala to beg, and the girls, with babies on their shoulders, do the same.

“In addition, these children live in decrepit tents at the edge of the city, in the mud when it rains,” Cristinelli said.

The Daily Mail quotes 32-year old Betty, a mother of five, whose survival and that of her family depends on the capacity of her two -year old daughter, Namuli, to make money begging.

“Like any mother, I feel bad about doing this. But without the money Namuli gets from begging we will die of starvation and have no money to put clothes on our backs. This is the only way we can stay alive,” she said.

To read the full story by Ngala Killian Chitom on Crux: Click Here

Vatican Address to Highlight Bitcoin Use in Slave Trade

The Vatican is soon to host an address on how bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are being used in the modern-day slave trade.

To be held today at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PASS) in the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, the talk by Bank of Montreal senior manager Joseph Mari is to provide an overview of the role cryptocurrencies play in money laundering, while highlighting the potential of blockchain to help the unbanked.

The second of a three-day long event, itself part of an even larger effort led by Pope Francis to eradicate slavery entirely by 2020, the address is expected to be given to an audience including the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and other senior church leaders.

Since the Pope was named the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in 2013, he has made slavery a top priority of the church, helping inspire the recent PASS efforts, according to an internal document provided to CoinDesk.

In addition to today’s address on blockchain, the group has held other workshops, seminars and plenary meetings culminating in the organization’s “core” recommendation to resettle slaves where they are found, if they so choose, rather than repatriate them.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with CoinDesk, Mari detailed the purpose of his particular address, and the potential bigger picture role it could play in fighting against what the International Labour Organization estimates is a $150 billion
 forced labor industry.

Mari said of the audience:

“Blockchain and cryptocurrency needs to be on their radar, it needs to be recognized as something that is current, is being utilized and the quicker the learning curve is surmounted, the quicker we can start working towards the risks that are presented.”

Mass education

The day’s proceedings are scheduled to kick off with the celebration of mass by H.E. Msgr. Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, who is also the bishop of Argentina and chancellor of PASS.

Following chancellor Sorondo’s blessing at Casina Pio IV in Vatican City, Mari is scheduled to present the most recent results of Project Protect, founded two years ago to teach AML officers how to identify patterns in their own transactions that might be evidence of human trafficking.

To read the full story by Michael del Castillo on Coin Desk: Click Here

Hotline Focuses Awareness Of Human Trafficking In Latino Communities

The National Human Trafficking Hotline has reportedly received 2,200 calls concerning sex trafficking with connections to Mexico or Latin America since it was set up in  2007. 

Polaris, the organization that operates the hotline, plans to target these demographics, with emphasis on the Houston area, in its latest anti-trafficking campaign, according to a news release from the group.

In partnership with Hispanic Communications Network, a social media marketing company serving U.S. Hispanic communities, Polaris will be releasing all-Spanish public service announcements, social media strategies, celebrity endorsements and survivor testimonies throughout the next few months, geared toward raising awareness in the Hispanic community nationwide, according to the Polaris news release.

 “When communities are equipped to recognize the signs of sex trafficking and know there’s a trusted resource available to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they can play a critical role in the fight against this crime,” said My Lo Cook, Polaris’ strategic initiatives director for Mexico, in the release.

To read the full story by Jasmine Davis on Chron : Click Here

Lighting up the darkness of trafficking

by Sister Michele Morek

U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking pray outside of the White House in Washington, D.C., Oct. 9. (Michele Morek)

Trafficking victims live among us. They may grow our food, make our clothes, serve us in a restaurant, do our hair or nails, or build our electronic devices.

Trafficking occurs in every state in every nation. The number of networks of sisters working against trafficking around the world is an impressive force, but the problem of trafficking is getting worse: In the United States alone, there was a 35 percent increase in sex trafficking reported in 2016, according to Polaris, while labor trafficking reports rose by 47 percent.

Catholic sisters all over the world have been increasing their efforts to fight trafficking. One effective anti-trafficking group is the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking (USCSAHT). It was my good fortune to be a charter member of the first board of directors, since I was doing anti-trafficking advocacy at the United Nations at the time.

The 15 sisters on the board are from different congregations and from all over the country, but they do have one thing in common: They are engaged in a wide variety of ministries that involve work against human trafficking.

Some of the board members offer services for survivors of trafficking: rescue, protection, education, rehabilitation. Others create newsletters, maintain websites, act as the justice representative for their congregations, or do advocacy in Washington, D.C., in their state capitals, or with local officials. All have created prayer services and educational resources for their congregations or other organizations they belong to; many of these resources and prayer services can be found on the organization’s website.

The organization was legally incorporated within the past year, so the original informal board is now the first official board. We met Oct. 8-10 at the Washington Retreat Center, a ministry of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement. The meeting was devoted to planning, capacity-building and setting the vision for the next three years in leadership, membership, program and services.

U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking board meeting in October (Michele Morek)

The second night of the meeting, we board members gathered in front of the White House for a prayer service. Holding candles and posters, we prayed for homeless youth. (In March, a month after vowing to end human trafficking, President Donald Trump proposed through his budget to eliminate the Interagency Council on Homelessness.) We also prayed for people on the move, especially the 22 million refugees. The president wants to wall them out, deport them, ban then and turn them away.

As we prayed, other people would slip in, indicating their support by whispered word or expression. A Hasidic Jewish family, a tourist couple and several others hovered quietly around the edges of our group. An evangelical minister walked into the middle of the circle and with extravagant gestures to heaven loudly called down the blessing of God, to which we all enthusiastically agreed, “Amen!”

Many religious congregationsindividuals and coalitions are members of our anti-trafficking coalition, but everyone has access to anti-trafficking resources on the website: curriculum, teaching modules, faith resources, newsletters, video, information about slave-free goods and services, and suggested actions.

Besides providing a networking tool for members and a source of education for everyone, U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking was founded to be the official U.S. representative of a global network of sisters working against human trafficking. The global umbrella group, Talitha Kum (from Jesus’ Aramaic words, “little girl, get up”), works with its director and with national and regional coalitions of sisters around the world that are engaged in anti-trafficking work.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently mentioned our group in its anti-trafficking newsletter, noting, “U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking utilizes social media to showcase positive efforts and victories of women and men working tirelessly to combat trafficking.”

Work against trafficking is not a single-issue ministry for the sisters, as trafficking has many root causes:

  • Poverty and lack of decent work drive men and women to seek work to support themselves and their families. Desperate parents may sell their children. Most trafficked people work in commercial sex trades or forced labor. They are also exploited through involuntary domestic servitude, bonded or debt labor, child soldiering, begging, crimes, forced marriage and organ removal.
  • Migration puts refugees and other people on the move into harm’s way, making them vulnerable to traffickers. According to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, there are more than 65 million people currently displaced worldwide, more than at any time since World War II.
  • Political upheaval is a major cause of forced migration as desperate people flee from persecution or violence. Trafficking is the end result of complex interconnected social factors.
  • Climate change disasters and other natural disasters can be causal factors for all the issues above, increasing poverty, migration and political instability.
Sisters from U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking pose in front of the White House during a prayer service outside Oct. 9. (Provided photo)

The logo of the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking is particularly apt: It shows a green shoot growing out of the darkness from behind prison bars. It is coming out crooked at first, but as it leaves the cage, it straightens and grows up toward the light. All sisters who have worked with survivors of trafficking can see the victims’ journey in that little shoot. We are all doing what we can to light up the darkness and take away the bars.


This story first appeared on Global Sisters Report


November Monthly Reflection

Hope is a Way of Life

by Anne Victory, HM

With all of the recent crises—multiple hurricanes leaving millions without the basics of life, earthquakes killing thousands, devastating forest fires, senseless gun violence, reckless political maneuvering—I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, drained, exhausted. Add to that the fact that these disasters are likely to make the vulnerable more susceptible to human trafficking, and I truly feel almost paralyzed. Can I—and others who work for justice—make any difference in the face of such chaos? Is this what is meant by compassion fatigue? I suppose it could be.

As I was pondering these things, I was challenged last Saturday when I attended a Walk for Freedom event on Public Square in Cleveland where I staffed my organization’s (Collaborative to End Human Trafficking) informational display. A passerby came up and asked what the display was all about. When I told him, he responded that it’s really hopeless, that slavery has been going on for centuries, and essentially that I have no business trying to change things. “That’s just how things are. Rape is a fact of life, and forced labor is woven into the economy. While it’s probably wrong, it’s also hopeless to try to change things! You don’t really expect to make a difference, do you?”

I was a bit taken aback, since so many others who were present that day expressed gratitude for our efforts to raise awareness of the crime of human trafficking and to connect services on behalf of victims. After a moment, I responded, “Of course, we can make a difference! I believe that things can change. I think it’s worth the effort. I may never know how my presence, my words, or my actions help another person. That doesn’t mean that I should not try. If I –and so many of my colleagues—don’t speak out for the voiceless, that’s when we fail.” Sadly, he walked away unconvinced. Perhaps that was his way of letting himself off the hook, or maybe he is just too discouraged.

As I pondered this encounter, I also recalled the opportunity I had to speak about human trafficking with some refugee women recently at Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services. They came from Somalia, Swaziland, Congo, Iran, Nepal, and other countries. They spoke Swahili, Somali, Nepalese, Arabic and some small amount of English. They are eager to get settled in this new land and want to provide a new life for their children. They expected that they would now be safe from harm now that they are in the United States.

As I slowly presented information on human trafficking with the help of interpreters, I watched as their eager faces began to show concern and even fear. It seems that every one of these women knew well that this crime happened routinely in their countries of origin, but they never expected to find it here. In their effort to become self-sufficient, they want to gain employment, but now they hear that some employers may not be reputable. What can they do? Who can help? They expressed fear, especially for their children, who learn so much more quickly and assume, like all teenagers, that they are invincible! My short presentation offered them clues regarding the “red flags,” and local phone numbers to call for help. I left these sessions hoping that, while I had instilled a level of fear, I had also empowered them with tools and resources that will help keep them and their families safe in their new country.

I also left inspired by the courage of these strong women who have already endured so much—war, years in refugee camps, mistreatment, and unspeakable abuse. I respect their resiliency, their willingness to start over in a new land with nothing but the clothes on their backs and their immense hope for their families. So is there any reason why I should not continue trying to make a difference on this important issue in the face of other crises that may indeed cause even more people to become vulnerable? I can’t think of any legitimate excuse!

I feel compelled to continue speaking out for those with no voice, no power. Like the stories of the Old Testament prophets, I am reminded that a prophet’s role is not to be successful but to be faithful. How can I, so very blessed with freedom, faith, education, the support of a loving family and community, turn away in despair over the condition of our world? What about those who really suffer every day of their lives because they lack the basics? Who will speak for them if I don’t?

I recall that the Constitutions of my congregation, the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, challenge me to demonstrate that “hope is a way of life . . .” (Art. 17). Standing on the shoulders of so many people of good will who have gone before me and now stand in solidarity with me, I pray that I and we will overcome our compassion fatigue and be ones who offer hope in these most challenging times.