Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Music Video: Blood Into Gold - Peter Buffett featuring Akon

Press Release:

Blood Into Gold is the compelling new song from Peter Buffett featuring Akon, pinpointing the issue of human trafficking and slavery. The poignant video, produced by UNICEF, is a powerful visual representation of the songs message, utilizing moving images and video from around the world that depict the severity of this issue. As a complementary advocacy tool to the song, the hope of the video is to call attention to the issue and inspire others to help bring an end to the atrocities associated with human trafficking.

Visit istheresomethingicando.com for more info.

Buy the song in the iTunes store here

Monday, March 30, 2009

Film: Playground

"I hope these are a couple of unpleasant hours for you."

- Swanee Hunt, former US Ambassador to Austria and Founding Director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard, as she introduced the film "Playground" to a large audience at Suffolk Law School on February 17.

Unpleasant indeed. Unpleasant and then some is more like it. How else do you describe a 2 hour film that lays bare the reality of sexual slavery in the United States, taking you through the stories of young girls who could very well be your neighbor, you friend, your sister, or you? That is exactly what the film 'Playground' - by filmaker Libby Spears, produced by George Clooney, Stephen Soderbergh, and Grant Heslov, does.

Coming from a point where trafficking in the media tends to be sensationalized in all the wrong ways [see: Taken], Playground is a welcomed change, addressing the issue in a creative, compelling, and very real way. Whereas we usually see documentaries from Cambodia or Thailand or anywhere else we can label as 'over there' to make us feel better, or we see CIA agents valiantly struggling to save their innocent daughter inside the US, Playground gives us a glimpse of the often overlooked reality of the enslavement of girls inside the US - girls born and raised here, girls that could very well be the girl next door.

Mixed in with the stories of several victims (all with a different background, thus effectively tossing the notion that such things happen only to 'certain types' of girls), are startling statistics and facts, and interviews with some of the people who are taking the lead in fighting this insidious crime. There is a lot to digest, and in the coming weeks I will be posting my thoughts and reactions to many of the issues raised. Rather than give you a complete summary though, I encourage you to see the film on your own and then hopefully discuss it with your friends and community, and come back here to discuss it with us and others in the comments section.

Read more about the film here

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

International Megan's Law Proposed

From the Catholic New Agency:

‘Megan’s Law’ proposed to complement human trafficking laws

- A proposed Congressional bill, the International Megan’s Law, is being introduced to complement existing human trafficking laws by notifying foreign governments when a known sex offender in the United States intends to travel to their country. The bill also aims to prohibit foreign nationals who are sex offenders from entering the U.S.

The proposed legislation will encourage and provide assistance to foreign governments which do not have a system to identify and track child sex offenders. It will strongly encourage foreign governments to notify the U.S. government when a U.S. citizen is arrested, convicted or imprisoned overseas for a sex offense against a minor in that country and will include strict penalties for sex offenders’ non-compliance with their travel reporting requirements.

The bill is named for Megan Nicole Kanka. In July 1994, the seven-year-old Megan was kidnapped, raped and murdered. The assailant was a repeated sex offender who unbeknownst to neighbors was living across the street from her Hamilton Township, New Jersey home. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) recently introduced the bill into the House.

Smith also authored the nation’s first anti-trafficking law, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, to combat trafficking whose victims are primarily women and young girls.

“The International Megan’s Law builds upon the original state and federal Megan’s Law concept of notification and brings the program worldwide when a high risk sex offender decides to travel,” said Smith, whose district includes Hamilton Township.

“I know firsthand the positive impact the U.S. can have in persuading other countries to take action to protect vulnerable populations within their own borders,” Smith continued, speaking in a Friday statement. “Since the passage of my first Trafficking Victims Protection Act (PL 106-386), over 100 countries have implemented their own anti-trafficking laws and regulations to protect women and children within their own borders. The International Megan's Law is a continuation of the United States’ leadership in promoting and implementing global programs that make it more difficult for sex offenders to seek out and prey on new victims.”

He reported that informal communications between international law enforcement officials have resulted in child sex offenders being prohibited from entering the U.S., while countries suffering rampant child “sex tourism” have refused entry to convicted sex offenders after receiving prior notification.

Praising these efforts, Rep. Smith said a more systematic effort was needed.

“We simply cannot leave notification of travel of child sex offenders to random spot checks or ad hoc reviews,” he said.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Getting to Know You: Jennifer Hollinger

My interest in human trafficking began with a graduate research assistantship at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University. I have always been interested in the topic of international migration but I had very little idea that this assistantship would provoke me to action in an area where I will remain active for the rest of my life.

I knew very little about human trafficking before embarking on this project which examined the outcomes for minors who have been trafficked into the United States, mostly for the purposes of sex work but also for underage labor. I was shocked and horrified at the extent of this practice, not just in the United States but around the world. Perhaps I was naive but the young age of these trafficking survivors incited both outrage at their treatment and a deep sadness for their suffering.

Research was one thing, but traveling to Albania on an Advocacy Project Peace Fellowship to work with CHASTE (Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking Across Europe) was quite another. Over the summer of 2007, I carried out research in Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo on human trafficking for sexual exploitation. I met trafficking survivors, advocates for survivors, amazing women who ran shelters with their own money, and a diverse array of people engaged in the fight to end human trafficking. I saw things that I would like to forget and learned things that I will never unlearn. It's one of those situations where, once your eyes are opened, they cannot be shut to the reality of human trafficking.

When I started my fellowship, I learned that I would have to write a blog (which you can view here) and I thought, me, write a blog?? It really was not my thing and I did not see the point. I learned that blogging was a wonderful way to communicate to my friends and family, a release valve for all of things that I was seeing and feeling.

More than anything, I learned that blogging was a way to spread knowledge, to raise awareness for human trafficking. The amount of people that reached out to me after I returned from my fellowship absolutely staggered me. It made me feel a part of something - a global movement, small but dedicated. A movement that would not give up, one that would not tire and would expose to the world the horror that is human trafficking. I am lucky and honored to be able to raise my voice against this modern day slavery and, for that reason, I am so happy to be a part of The Human Trafficking Project (HTP).

I currently work at the Academy for Educational Development (AED), which is at the forefront of utilizing media in new and innovative ways to strengthen civil society. I look forward to applying this knowledge to HTP and I really look forward to comments from readers. I hope you all will join me in learning and becoming a more educated advocate for human trafficking survivors.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Exchange On Feminism and Trafficking

In response to a reader's comment

Hello Anonymous - Thanks for commenting - I love being able to have a conversation and share ideas this way! I want you to know that I genuinely appreciate the tone of your post, and the latitude you afforded my beliefs - and I hope you read my response (and respond!) in a similar light and as part of the important dialogue process that you mention. Now, as far as a response, first let me say that I think you brought up a lot of good points regarding the causes of trafficking and what needs to be done to stop it. I do want to clarify my perspective on being a feminist and fighting trafficking.

You mentioned that you do not believe they can go together, but for me being a feminist is an important part in my personal fight against trafficking so I wanted to elaborate a little on that point. I will spare you an entire dissertation on what feminism means to me (although, after having composed what comes below, maybe I haven't really spared you at all) - but as far as it relates to trafficking, I believe that women deserve equality and a life free of exploitation, especially based on their gender/sex. The commercial sexual exploitation that happens to women who are trafficked is so fundamentally wrong there aren't enough negative words for me to use in describing it. (please note: I'm not ignoring labor trafficking - simply focusing on sex trafficking for the moment, although there is for sure overlap).

I want to respond to your comment in 2 parts - first on feminism and trafficking, and second on the more substantive issues of trafficking that you mentioned. First - I know that feminism and moral values is another matter, but I do want to address your statement that feminists are part of the human trafficking problem because they do not yet have moral values and want to impose their individual values/goals on others. As I mentioned above, I think that for me and probably many others who would identify as feminists, the belief in the rights of women is an important part of the drive to fight against trafficking.

So the question is, how does that belief end up being connected to trafficking in a negative way as part of the problem? To answer that, I think that sometimes feminism and the idea of women's rights - namely personal autonomy (which is at the core of my feminist beliefs) - can often get confused with the idea of sexual liberalization and the separate idea of promiscuity and immoral sexual activity. I think that all of these terms (which, for this sentence at least I take no position on) can get caught up in a polarized moral debate and produce an outcome where feminists stand for the idea of frequent, careless, and meaningless sex. This in turn can lead to a belief that feminists are all pro-prostitution, pro-abortion, and in general espouse beliefs that some consider immoral. (Again - I take no position on this for the moment - and I hope I am managing to set out the argument in objective, if overly simplistic, terms.) From that standpoint, I can understand how feminism could be part of the problem of trafficking - the argument would be something along the lines of feminism promoting a more open and embracing attitude of sex and sexuality for women, which leads to more sex and possibly more meaningless sex and 'hookups', which is not only immoral but also contributes to moral debasement in society, and in turn contributes to both the supply and demand of things like prostitution an pornography, which are forms of trafficking. All together then, these things create a cyclical relationship and an ever enlarging problem with trafficking.

Now, having stated what a potential argument could be that connects feminism and trafficking, let me make one point, and then I will leave the feminism/morality debate for another day (although I would still love to talk about it with you - I am very open to hearing what you have to say). Firstly (and I do realize that this is sort of a blanket statement so there are bound to be numerous problems, from all sides, with it), I think that the idea that feminists in general support promiscuity and immoral sexual activity, that in turn feeds supply and demand for trafficking, must necessarily fail because it does not take into consideration the fact that trafficking is a non-consensual occurrence. Even if one accepts that feminists do promote that sort of thing, and that promiscuity is bad and immoral, that one instance of immoral behavior on the part of a woman does not excuse any subsequent immoral and illegal behavior on the part of another person wherein she is a victim and not a willing partner, and it certainly does not mean that she deserves to be a victim of someone else's immoral or illegal behavior.

A related point to this is whether you can have consensual prostitution - or whether all prostitution is in the end a form of trafficking (which all depends on your definition of consent. On that subject, I think Catharine MacKinnon makes an excellent point when she asks whether an act of prostitution or participation in pornography was truly consensual, or a result of lack of choices). I will leave that point for a later post or discussion.

Basically what I am saying is that even if feminists do try to impose their view on others, and even if their view espouses immoral behavior as far as sex, it still does not excuse the immoral and illegal behavior on the part of the traffickers, pimps, and johns who create the supply and demand for trafficking. Thus making a connection between even a feminism that does espouse such views and trafficking doesn't work in my mind. The underlying goal here - which I believe is a goal of feminism - is personal autonomy. People should have control over their own bodies, and do not have the right to infringe on anyone else's autonomy. When a woman is forced into prostitution or any other form of trafficking, her personal autonomy is violated.

Now, for the second part of my response I will keep it short. As far the substantive issues on trafficking that you brought up, I would say that I agree with you entirely. I think that the Archbishop summed up the problem quite well in the quote you included. I have made similar statements on my own many times. Trafficking is a symptom of a much larger problem (and maybe even more than one problem). From my perspective trafficking is intimately tied to poverty as well as the increasing levels of sexually graphic material that we are confronted with in everyday media and the commodification of women. Women and children who grow up in economic poverty have historically been much more vulnerable to exploitation, and these days with the rise of the internet and the bombardment of sexually explicit images everywhere you look, the scope trafficking victims is widening to include people that many would never suspect such as middle class suburban teens.

All of these things are topics I plan on posting on in the future, and I welcome your feedback/comments/dialogue and hope others join in too.


Comment posted by Anonymous

When you said that you consider yourself to be a feminist but are at the same time trying to fight human trafficking, my first impression is that the two cannot go together... so please forgive me if I will say something that may sound offensive to you.

I would like to first say, one of the things I have learn over the years and which I also often keep forgetting is that there is two sides to a story, for example we may feel very strong about something but we are not necessarily seeing the other side of the story.

You probably have seen this happening before when you/someone writes about something, and unintentionally someone else is either offended or has a more plausible explanation then what was written.

My first impression about you, because of the statement where you consider yourself to be a feminist but feel very strong to want to tackle the human trafficking issue is that you may not truly understand what being a feminist is... or at least what I consider a feminist to be (The word feminism means many things to many people)... What matters is that you seem to be a person with moral values... feminists to me are part of the human trafficking problem as they are persons who do not yet have moral values but what to impose their individual values/goals onto others... and this is very dangerous for society.

Read the full comment here

Monday, March 16, 2009

Peter Buffett and Akon Debut “Blood Into Gold” at the United Nations “Breaking the Silence, Beating the Drum” Against Slave Trade Commemoration Event

New York, NY, March 12th, 2009 -- In observance of the 2009 Commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade on the 25th of March, Emmy-award winning musician and philanthropist Peter Buffett, and R&B/pop star Akon will publicly debut an issue-inspired song, “Blood Into Gold”, with a live performance at a star-studded cultural evening and concert in the United Nation’s General Assembly Hall.

Peter Buffett was asked by non-profit organization, the Culture Project, to write the song specifically for this commemoration. Akon, who has previously collaborated with Peter, loaned his voice and production expertise on “Blood Into Gold”. All proceeds from the download of the single will go to an organization whose purpose is to educate and bring an end to human trafficking worldwide. A poignant video to accompany the song is currently in production.

For the first time at the United Nations, the evening concert, will bring together: Akon (Senegal/USA) & Peter Buffett (USA); Mezzo-Soprano Audrey Babcock (USA); Soprano Angela Brown (USA); The Blind Boys of Alabama (USA); Izaline Calister (Curacao/The Netherlands); Toumani Diabaté (Mali); Danny Glover (USA); Gilberto Gil (Brazil); Bill T. Jones (USA); Sarah Jones (USA); Salif Keita (Mali) and his Band; Ladysmith Black Mambazo (South Africa); Emeline Michel (Haiti); The Marley Brothers (Jamaica); CCH Pounder (Guyana/USA/Senegal); Stephanie Benson (Ghana); Phylicia Rashad (USA); Tenor Noah Stewart (USA); Randy Weston (USA) and his Quintet; Choreographer Gabri Christa (Curacao/The Netherlands) and others. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann will deliver testimonies at the concert and pre-taped testimonials from Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali will be broadcasted.

The concert is being produced by the Culture Project. Legendary music producer, Nile Rodgers, will be the concert’s music director.

Organized around the theme “Breaking the Silence, Beating the Drum”, the concert is part of a series of events celebrating the triumph of the spirit over slavery and human trafficking. This year’s theme was chosen because drums are traditionally used throughout the world, especially in Africa, to send a loud message. In this case, drums will serve to remind all of the causes, consequences and lessons of the transatlantic slave trade, and of the dangers of racism and prejudice. (www.un.org/en/slavery).

A press conference is scheduled for March 25 at 1pm in Room 226 of the UN Secretariat with Kiyo Akasaka, UN Under Secretary-General for the Department of Public Information, Peter Buffett, Akon, Salif Keita, Gilberto Gil and Emeline Michel [for more information, contact Paulina Kubiak at kubiakp@un.org].

Peter Buffett and Akon¹s social action website, IsThereSomethingICanDo.com, will re-launch on March 25th to coincide with the release of “Blood Into Gold.” Powered by YourCause.com, the leading cause-focused social networking site, the site is an online destination where users can get involved, share personal experiences in making a difference, and meet others with common goals and a passion for change. Spotlighting a new social cause of worldwide concern monthly, April will bring much-needed attention to human trafficking as the featured subject with more to come.

About Peter Buffett:

Emmy Award-winning musician Peter Buffett’s career spans more than 28 years. He is the creative mind behind many of the original MTV bumpers of the ‘80s, and the climactic crescendos in the memorable “Fire Dance” scene in 1990’s Oscar winning film Dances With Wolves. While Peter has remained behind the scenes as a composer of jingles, movie soundtracks, and atmospheric sound collections for the grand majority if his career, he began experimenting with vocals and a more eclectic pop/rock sound in recent years. His music combines elements of soft and progressive rock with a contemporary vocal sound, channeling the unique pop sensibilities of Beck and Teenage Fan Club, the weightless harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel, and hints of the mysterious and free-spirited Pink Floyd and Alan Parsons Project. Peter’s lyrics resonate his passion for social change and echo the message he shares as a noted philanthropist.

About Akon:

The son of accomplished jazz musician Mor Thiam, Akon was introduced to varied musical styles early on, and his three full-length albums for Universal, ‘Trouble,’ ‘Konvicted,’ and ‘Freedom’ are a hybrid of rap and silky R&B vocals. His multifaceted sensibilities and popular club anthems have launched him to international success, with four 2008 GRAMMY nominations and over 8 million records sold.

Media Accreditation

Journalists with valid UN grounds passes will be allowed entry to all the events, based on space availability. Journalists not accredited at the United Nations should apply for accreditation at http://www.un.org/media/accreditation/form/myform.asp

Press Contact for UN:

Paulina Kubiak

+1-212-963-6936 T

Press Contact for Peter Buffett:

Vera Sheps

+1-646-613-1101 T

Relevant Links:


Friday, March 13, 2009

Introduction: Erin Albright

This is my first blog post. Ever. I feel a little nervous about that - so bear with me if I start to wander. I am many things - a humanitarian, a feminist, a (soon to be) lawyer, an avid blog reader, and a hundred other labels I won't bother to list. Human trafficking speaks to each and every one of these parts, and perhaps more importantly, it offends each and every one of these parts. I feel a deep sense of purpose and satisfaction in being able to devote my entire self - with not even one small part sitting by in silence - to the issue. This is why I've chosen to dedicate my time and career to combating human trafficking.

I join this blog because, as I said above, I'm an avid blog reader. As my list of daily reads grew longer over the last few years, I also watched our culture change such that blogs became an enormous source of power and an important platform for education, for activism, and for support of each other's efforts as well. Because trafficking is such an invisible crime, and surrounded by so many taboos, it is important to me that I not be silent, that we not be silent.

My journey to now began while studying abroad in 2002. I remember one of my professors asking us what year slavery ended. "1865!" someone yelled out, much to the delight of the professor who proceeded to lecture us for 20 minutes on Americans and their narrow world view and sense of history. The lecture was annoying and mildly insulting, but the point was not lost on me, and the topic - human trafficking - caught my attention. Over the next few years I read the occasional article on trafficking and tried to educate myself on the issue as I finished college and tried my hand at the real world. It wasn't until law school that I really began to immerse myself in the issue and decided to devote my career to anti-trafficking. So here I am. In my work thus far I have done very interesting things, met some amazing people who are also doing very interesting things, and generally learned just how much more is needed to effectively combat human trafficking.

And so, from here on out I will be blogging on a regular basis about trafficking. I am interested in pretty much everything related to trafficking, and I hope that between the people at HTP, and all of you who read HTP, we can create a real presence and conversation, sending the message that we won't be silent.

Western New York Trainings on Human Trafficking

Free Trainings: Recognizing Human Trafficking in Western New York

While the term “human trafficking” tends to elicit images of foreign people trapped in foreign countries, the U.S. Department of Justice recently cited over 1,200 alleged cases of human trafficking in the United States over the last two years. These statistics include cases indentified in WNY. There are few identified patterns when it comes to characteristics of victims of human trafficking. They are old and very young, foreign-born and US citizens, men and women, college students and impoverished, and are subjected to labor or sexual exploitation or both. The International Institute of Buffalo, Farmworker Legal Services of New York, and local co-sponsors in six counties are collaborating to provide a free training to participants who wish to learn about this important topic. Information will include the definition of trafficking, best practices in victim identification and services and cooperation among stakeholders to help better respond to this issue locally.
The next training will be:

Chautauqua County

When: Monday, March 30, 2009, 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Where: Horizon Room, Williams Center, SUNY Fredonia
280 Central Ave, Fredonia, NY 14063
Who: Intended audience includes government and social service providers, educational staff, medical personnel, religious and cultural groups, legal assistance providers and victim advocates.
Sponsored by International Institute of Buffalo, Farmworker Legal Services, and the Women’s Studies Program at SUNY Fredonia.

RSVP with name, title, and organization by March 16, 2009
716.883.1900 ext. 326 or tassistant1@iibuff.org

Please inform and encourage others that may find this training useful. In the next four months, similar trainings will also be held in the counties of Wyoming, Orleans, and Allegany. Please call or email for more details on future trainings.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


About two months ago, I travelled to India with twenty five people. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

Social Justice is not a new practice for me. I have been involved in many organizations, even ones I’ve formed, to help aid problems I saw in the world. So traveling across the globe started as just another adventure. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Being in India I realized how big the problem of human trafficking really is. I got a face to the name. I saw injustice, yet I saw peace and joy like I’ve never understood it.

Coming home, thoughts of what happened in India plagued my mind. They still do. I have to go back because I’m supposed to do something there and I’m not quite sure what it is.

Aside from India, I study Art Therapy at the University of Louisville. I knew that it was what I was supposed to be doing, but in what way I was horribly confused. Upon returning I knew why I was placed in the AT program...to help provide treatment.

Rescue these people, yes. Give them a place to stay, of course. What are we doing to help them? To show them that this isn’t all there is? Give them a new reason to hope? I want to find who is treating them and how, what ways are working and develop some network of people that are in this together. I want to create a network of people who are trying to not only rescue them, but aid in the rebuilding of them.

How this is going to work? I’m not entirely sure. I just know that it needs to be done. I want hope to be given to these children and adults who have known such despair.

India really effected me. I’m still discovering how daily. I’m taking step by step and HTP is the one I needed to take right now.

- Amy Turner

Internship on anti-sex trafficking issues


This internship involves Work with Dr. Juliette Engel of MiraMed Institute and Marianna Solomatova of the Angel Coalition on anti-sexual trafficking issues that encompass legal issues, human rights, coalition-building, public education, research and training work.

Minimum Required Skills:
  • Advanced Russian Language Skills
  • Ability to Translate between Russian and English with Ease
Internship time frame must be a minimum of 3 months

Preferred Skills:

  • Experience working with NGO's
  • Experience living in Russia
  • Experience working in Russia
If interested please fill out application and return it to Elena Yurovaat eyurova@angelcoalition.org

About MiraMed's Graduate Internships:
We have graduate and post-graduate level internships available in our Moscow office for men and women who are interested in woman's rights, prevention of international sexual trafficking, social adaptation of orphans, and computer education including graphics and publishing.
We can provide housing for up to three interns at any one time in a fully equipped apartment. However, interns that can provide their own housing in Moscow are much more likely to be selected. Interns are expected to self-fund their transportation to and from Russia, food costs and personal expenses.
Since all internships are customized, you need to fill out the application for the specific focus area below and we need a resume. We need to know your academic background and interest and the time frame most suitable for you. If academic credit is being sought for your internship, you will need to let us know what we need to do to make sure you will receive credit.
We have customized internships available in the following fields:
Anti-Sex Trafficking / Women's Issues Intern
NGO Capacity Building / Grant Writing Intern
Social Work with Orphans / Psychology Intern

Computer / IT / Web Design Intern

Monday, March 09, 2009

Tonawanda massage parlor plea

From Channel 4 News in Buffalo, NY:

Tonawanda massage parlor plea
2 pleads guilty to harboring illegal aliens

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Acting U.S. Attorney Kathleen M. Mehltretter announced today that Ying Dong, 46, and her husband, Bing Lu, 49 , both of Flushing, New York entered pleas of guilty today before United States Judge William M. Skretny. Dong and Lu pled guilty to Harboring and Concealing Illegal Aliens while operating a massage parlor in Tonawanda. The charge carries a maximum punishment of 5 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for June 26, 2009 at 10:00 a.m..

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert C. Moscati, stated that the defendants admitted owning and operating Eastern Spa, 637 Main Street, Tonawanda, New York by employing illegal aliens whom they knew to be in the United States unlawfully.

These women performed services at the spa for a fee, the majority of which was paid to the defendants. The employees were permitted to keep any tips they received from the customers.

Eastern Spa and seven other "accupressure" and "spa" locations were shut down after federal, state and local law enforcement agencies executed search warrants at these locations on March 26, 2007.
On December 10, 2007, another law enforcement action shut down four more locations, resulting in a sex trafficking conviction of the owner of those spas.

Investigation and prosecution of these types of cases is a priority of the Department of Justice. In Western New York, these investigations are lead by the HTTFA, a collaboration of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and non-government service organizations working together to identify, rescue and assist victims of human trafficking, human smuggling and other civil and human rights offenses in the 17 Counties of the District.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Moscati leads this task force. Since its inception, investigations by the HTTFA have resulted in 15 convictions and the rescue of over 60 employees, with several cases still pending. Acting United States Attorney Mehltretter emphasized that the Task Force will continue to aggressively investigate any case where it is believed the most vulnerable persons in our society are being victimized by persons intent on taking economic advantage of others based on their age, gender, ethnicity or status in this Country.

The joint investigation underlying this case was lead by the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Lev J. Kubiak, and included the participation of: United States Custom and Border Protection, under the direction of James Engleman; the United States Border Patrol, under the direction of Chief Patrol Agent Kevin Oaks; the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Laurie Bennett; the United States Department of Labor, under the direction of Assistant District Director, Michael Fitzgerald; the Niagara Falls Police Department, under the direction of Chief of Police John Chella; the Town of Niagara Police Department, under the direction of Chief of Police James Suitor; the New York State Police, under the direction of acting Superintendent Preston Felton and Special Investigations Unit Lieutenant William Saunders; the Niagara County Sheriff's Office, under the direction of Sheriff Thomas Beilein; and the Erie County Sheriff's Office, under the direction of Sheriff Timothy Howard.
This case has been a long process for the WNY area. Sometimes, it is easier on the victims if they're not dragged through the long court process and the offenders plead out. I worry that the public nature of the plea, though, may confuse in people's minds the difference between smuggling, illegal immigration and human trafficking. However I feel that the continued work of law enforcement and NGOs in the WNY area will lead to increased public knowledge and better victim identification.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

UNODC Global Report on Human Trafficking

A Global Report on Trafficking in Persons launched today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) provides new information on a crime that shames us all.

Based on data gathered from 155 countries, it offers the first global assessment of the scope of human trafficking and what is being done to fight it. It includes: an overview of trafficking patterns; legal steps taken in response; and country-specific information on reported cases of trafficking in persons, victims, and prosecutions.

At the launch of the Report in New York, the Executive Director of UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa said that "many governments are still in denial. There is even neglect when it comes to either reporting on, or prosecuting cases of human trafficking". He pointed to the fact that while the number of convictions for human trafficking is increasing, two out of every five countries covered by the UNODC Report had not recorded a single conviction.

According to the Report, the most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation. The victims of sexual exploitation are predominantly women and girls. Surprisingly, in 30% of the countries which provided information on the gender of traffickers, women make up the largest proportion of traffickers. In some parts of the world, women trafficking women is the norm.

The second most common form of human trafficking is forced labour (18%), although this may be a misrepresentation because forced labour is less frequently detected and reported than trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Worldwide, almost 20% of all trafficking victims are children. However, in some parts of Africa and the Mekong region, children are the majority (up to 100% in parts of West Africa).
Although trafficking seems to imply people moving across continents, most exploitation takes place close to home. Data show intra-regional and domestic trafficking are the major forms of trafficking in persons.

The United Nations Protocol against Trafficking in Persons - the foremost international agreement in this area - entered into force in 2003. The Report shows that in the past few years the number of Member States seriously implementing the Protocol has more than doubled (from 54 to 125 out of the 155 States covered). However, there are still many countries that lack the necessary legal instruments or political will.

"This Report increases our understanding of modern slave markets, yet it also exposes our ignorance", said Mr. Costa. "We have a big picture, but it is impressionistic and lacks depth. We fear the problem is getting worse, but we can not prove it for lack of data, and many governments are obstructing", he admitted. The head of UNODC therefore called on governments and social scientists to improve information-gathering and -sharing on human trafficking. "If we do not overcome this knowledge crisis we will be fighting the problem blindfolded", he warned.

In a Panel Discussion on "Exposing Denial and Benign Neglect", Mr. Costa called on governments, the private sector, and the public at large to step up the fight against trafficking in persons. "More must be done to reduce the vulnerability of victims, increase the risks to traffickers, and lower demand for the goods and services of modern-day slaves", he said.
To increase public awareness of human trafficking and rally the world to fight it, Mr. Costa appointed Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino as a Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking. "We know that Mira's commitment to the plight of trafficking victims will move people to take action against modern-day slavery", said the Executive Director of UNODC.