Sunday, May 31, 2009

Author Charged in Sex Trafficking Case

From the Journal News:

Author accused of keeping sex slave
Terence Corcoran and Sean Gorman

POUND RIDGE - A 65-year-old restaurant-guide writer is accused of bringing young women from abroad to his northern Westchester County home under the guise that they would work for him, then forcing at least one of them into sexual slavery.

Joseph Yannai is the author of "The International Who's Who of Chefs 2004-2005," was charged with one count of first-degree sex abuse and two counts of second-degree labor trafficking, both felonies, according to the county District Attorney's Office.

Police say Yannai lured the primary victim, a 21-year-old from Hungary, to work at his home as his personal assistant. But after she arrived Feb. 18, she learned the real rules of the house: that her e-mails and personal phone calls would be limited and that she would get no spending money or access to transportation, police said.

Then there was that other expectation, that Yannai "threatened and coerced the victims to perform sexual favors," District Attorney Janet DiFiore said.

The woman also came across photos of Yannai with other women in his bedroom and learned that there had been six or seven other young women from various countries who worked at his home, police said.

A second victim, a woman from Brazil, also was working there at the time, police said.

Before leaving Hungary, the primary victim had made e-mail contact with another Hungarian who lives in Pound Ridge, police said, and on March 11, the 21-year-old victim contacted that person, who helped her escape.

The woman then went to Pound Ridge police, who launched an investigation before turning the case over to state police.

Yannai, who lives with his wife and has no children, surrendered yesterday at the state police barracks in Somers, Investigator Cornelius Merritt said.

Yannai, who was arraigned in Pound Ridge before Town Justice Edward Hand, posted $100,000 bail and is due back in Town Court on June 22.

Authorities say the victim learned of Yannai's job offer through a Web site for au pairs. In e-mail exchanges that began in December, Yannai posed as a young woman who was his former employee, the prosecutor's office said.

The woman was told that she would work as a personal assistant to a 64-year-old businessman and had the option of being paid $2,000 a month to work for him but live elsewhere, or live in his home, all expenses paid, and receive $20,000 at the end of the year, authorities said.

She chose the latter, officials said.

Both the Brazilian and Hungarian women are now staying in a shelter, officials said.

Yannai faces a maximum of seven years in state prison if convicted of the top count.

Yesterday, Yannai appeared friendly and hospitable when approached by The Journal News at his home. Although he declined to discuss the case, he invited a reporter and photographer inside the home, offering them drinks, introducing them to his dog, Sadie, and giving them a tour of the spacious living room, which was adorned with leather furniture, and offered a view of the many lily pads floating in a pond out back.

"You're giving me the opportunity to say something I've wanted to say for the last who knows how many years: No comment," he said, referring questions on the case to his lawyer.

His lawyer, John Pappalardo, said Yannai denies the allegations against him.

"There certainly was no sexual abuse or sexual slavery in this case," Pappalardo said.

Several news crews were parked outside Yannai's home on Route 124 yesterday.

Neighbors said they were stunned by the allegations.

"I can't really imagine he's done anything wrong," neighbor Ellen Abisch said, adding that Yannai had told her he had au pairs living and working at his home.

Another neighbor, Katherine Biagiarelli, who lives next-door to Yannai, said that when she came home from work a couple of weeks ago, she saw police taking items out of his home.

"They took some computers out, some hard drives," Biagiarelli said, adding that she did not know Yannai personally.

Another neighbor, Nancy Mutino, who described Yannai as "very rich," said she's friends with his wife, Elena. Mutino said the allegations were surprising.

"That blows my mind because he has a lovely young wife - a really lovely, young wife," she said.

Two things that are really important about this case:

1.) This adds to what people in the counter-trafficking movement try every day to convey through awareness campaigns: there is no one face of a trafficker; no one profession; no one age group or ethnicity. Just because someone in your neighborhood is a respected member of the community with a family, does not mean this person is incapable of being a trafficker. This is not the only case where neighbors in a suburban setting were shocked to find someone they knew in their immediate area was exploiting people in his/her home.

2.) This case shows that labor and sex trafficking can happen at the same time or at the least, that sex abuse can happen while being trafficked for labor exploitation. Creating hard differences between the two types of trafficking can sometimes seem purposeless when we're confronted with cases like this. It's also important to understand that women are trafficked for labor exploitation, which is often overlooked or underreported.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Human Trafficking in the Midwest

"Human trafficking in the Midwest, really?" is a question I am often asked. Perhaps because people tend to associate human trafficking with crossing international borders, states like Missouri that are located right in the middle of the country might seem immune. The reality is incredibly different, as shown in a recent indictment of 12 people in Kansas City accused of operating a massive trafficking ring.

According to the Kansas City Star, “A federal grand jury indicted the defendants on racketeering, marriage fraud, identity theft and other counts in a scheme that involved forced labor trafficking and immigration violations in 14 states.” Three businesses were also charged, and the scheme allegedly involved Missouri, Kansas, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, South Carolina and Wyoming.

Though Kansas City has mainly dealt with sex trafficking cases and mainly with domestic trafficking, this case is an international labor trafficking case. Victims allegedly came to the US based on promises of legitimate jobs, only to be held with debt bondage and threats. The article quotes a written statement by James Gibbons, acting special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who stated “The indictment alleges that this criminal enterprise lured victims to the United States under the guise of legitimate jobs and a better life, only to treat them as modern-day slaves under the threat of deportation.”

Kansas City has been extremely active in anti-trafficking efforts since receiving a grant from the Department of Justice in 2006; the number of cases investigated and prosecuted has sky-rocketed.

Just this past March, the Human Trafficking Rescue Project in Kansas City (the taskforce and larger coalition that received the DOJ grant) conducted an undercover operation investigating attempts to obtain underage prostitutes (which is automatically considered trafficking under Federal Law). KMBC Kansas City reported that “During the operation, task force officers placed Internet ads for underage prostitutes. According to court documents, the ads -- some of which were posted on Craigslist -- clearly stated that the prostitutes were "little girls" and were "young."”

This operation was unusual, in that it proactively focused on addressing those who patronize victims of human trafficking, rather than on traffickers per se. Seven defendants have been charged as a result of "Operation Guardian Angel" as the operation has been called; it is the "nation’s first-ever federal prosecution of the alleged customers of child prostitution under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act," according to Matt J. Whitworth, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri.

Late last summer, a group of traffickers pled guilty in a case where they brought women into the Kansas City area from China for forced prostitution. According to an article in the Kansas City Business Journal, John Wood, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, stated: “Chinese women were recruited to travel to Kansas City, then coerced to work as prostitutes at massage parlors. These businesses have been shut down and the owners brought to justice. We have also provided social services to assist their victims.” Two years ago, a year after receiving the Justice Department grant, officials in Kansas City conducted a similar raid on “massage parlors” that were fronts for forced prostitution.

While this might appear to be a disturbing trend, it is actually quite heartening; eventually I hope that the cases will go down, but for now it means that victims are actually being found unlike in the past, not that there has been a sudden influx of victims. Ideally, similar efforts to train law-enforcement and social-service professionals in Missouri and surrounding states will lead to similar increase in identifying trafficking victims, providing services to survivors, and punishing perpetrators.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Position open with Polaris Project in DC

Polaris Project
DC Case Manager

Education: Master (MA, MSW, etc.)
Location: Washington, District of Columbia, 20013-8892, United States
Type: Full time
Salary: 40-45K
Last day to apply: July 21, 2009
Last updated: May 23, 2009
Sector: Nonprofit
Job posted on: May 22, 2009

Degree Preferred (but not required):
Licensure Preferred (but not required): LGSW or LICSW
Clients: Survivors of Human Trafficking
Languages Required: English, Spanish
Language Preferred: Korean
Location: Washington, DC Office
FLSA Status: Exempt
Supervisor: Client Services Supervisor
Geographic Service Area: DC Metropolitan Area

Position Description: Polaris Project is seeking a Case Manager to provide comprehensive case management to survivors of trafficking in persons as part of Polaris Project’s DC Trafficking Intervention Program (DC TIP). The Case Manager will:
  1. Provide direct case management services to clients and coordinate psychosocial, legal, medical, translation and shelter services and referrals [75%]
  2. Conduct outreach activities, including direct victim outreach and community outreach activities in institutional settings [10%]
  3. Participate in and contribute to Polaris Project’s crisis response team, entitled STAT, to be on-call for potential emergency referrals from law enforcement and other community organizations. Note: Participation in the STAT program may require flexible work hours and some occasional availability during evenings and weekends. [15%]
Emotional maturity, stability, and resilience are required, along with excellent social skills that facilitate authentic, empathic, and friendly communication. Experience, comfort, and sensitivity working in multi-cultural environments are required.

Client Population: Most clients will be survivors of sex trafficking or labor trafficking. Labor exploitation victims may also be served. Clients will include foreign national survivors, particularly Asian and Latino, as well as U.S. national survivors of trafficking in street prostitution, brothels, strip clubs, and escort services.

Client Service Philosophy: Polaris Project’s client services provide a safe and appropriate environment for trafficking victims and coordination of comprehensive care that is sensitive to their unique needs. The philosophy guiding Polaris Project’s direct service provision is strengths-based, client-centered, and culturally and linguistically sensitive throughout the phases of assessment and care.

Polaris Project uses the empowerment model of service delivery, encouraging the client to actively make choices about the development and implementation of her treatment and to leverage her strengths while developing a positive sense of self. The empowerment model profoundly changes the expectation of the client and her role – from passive participant to manager of her own life and collaborator within her social support network.

Additional Qualifications:

  • Strongly proficient Spanish.
  • 2 or more years experience providing direct client services (including internship and practicum), with demonstrated competency in client service provision and case management, preferably to survivors of trafficking in persons, trauma, domestic violence, and/or sexual assault.
  • Demonstrated passion for social justice, human rights issues, and women’s issues - Experience working in multicultural environments.
  • Resiliently positive and energetic attitude.
  • Emotional maturity, stability and resilience.
  • Confidence in managing interns and volunteers
  • Comfort and sensitivity when working with survivors of commercial sexual exploitation
  • MSW
  • Proficient Korean language ability
  • Driver's license
How to Apply:

Application Instructions: PLEASE DO NOT FAX OR MAIL YOUR APPLICATION. All application materials should be sent to Materials should include a custom cover letter, resume, and three references, plus any additional personal statements you may wish to include. The deadline for application is rolling, until a candidate is chosen, so early application is advised.
For information on additional employment opportunities with this organization, please click here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Welcome the Newest Contributor to HTP!

My name is Jennifer Kimball, and I am a recent graduate of the University of Missouri (May 16th!). I plan to pursue a career in public service working to fight human trafficking; Currently I am working in DC with the Truman Fellows Program, and I am a 2008 Harry S. Truman Scholar. I am the co-founder of Stop Traffic Now, a student anti-trafficking organization that started in April 2007. I am also the co-founder of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, which is a multi-sector, community-based coalition made up of law enforcement officials, social service providers, university professionals, members of faith communities, students and others.

I first studied human trafficking as a freshman in college; during my sophomore year, I met another student who was also passionate about this issue, and together we decided we wanted to do something to fight trafficking. When we learn that people were trafficked to our own, small college town, we became even more passionate. I helped lead the planning and hosting of an internationally attended human trafficking conference; more than one hundred people came from all over the country and some from outside of the US. The coalition grew out of this conference.

I am especially committed to raising awareness about trafficking within the US, especially domestic trafficking, since so many people (even those aware of human trafficking) do not know that it happens in the US and to US citizens. Raising awareness is particularly crucial right now; until people know about this crime and how to recognize it, nothing can be done to stop it. So many of the law enforcement officials that I work with have told me stories about how they came across trafficking victims before, but since they did not have training and awareness, they did not help these people.

My posts will focus on anti-trafficking efforts and awareness, as well as on human trafficking issues that are often ignored. While human trafficking is a horrific, daunting and massive human rights abuse that can be overwhelming at times, everyone has a role in working to stop slavery.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Civil Judgment Successful for Farmworker Victims of Trafficking in Denver

From the Denver Post:

Fields of fear for Colorado illegal farm laborers
For a group of farm laborers working in the U.S. illegally, it wasn't jail or deportation that scared them - it was their "contractor."
By Felisa Cardona and Kevin Vaughan of The Denver Post

They lived in squalor — ratty tile floors, holes in the walls, mold, disgusting bathrooms, unsafe water — and worked jobs that left them bone-weary.

They were migrant farmworkers, Mexicans who slipped into the country illegally and found work in the fields of northern Colorado, and from the outside, their lives looked typical for people living on society's fringes.

But in a fenced-in compound on the edge of the Weld County town of Hudson, the five men lived in fear — not of the authorities, who could kick them out of the United States, but of the man who arranged to smuggle them into America, who gave them a place to live and found them jobs and who signed their paychecks, but who they said carried a gun to keep them in line.

They eventually banded together, filing a federal lawsuit against Moises and Maria Rodriguez, the agricultural contractors who brought them to America and forced them to live as virtual prisoners as they worked off their debts.

A federal judge in Denver recently awarded them $7.8 million in what immigration experts described as the largest judgment of its kind in the country.

That ruling came after the contractors offered no defense to charges that they deducted smuggling fees, rent and cleaning charges from the workers' paychecks and used the threat of violence to make sure the men complied.

Caught up in the suit was one of Colorado's best-known organic farmers. Andy Grant of Grant Family Farms denied that he knew anything about the way the men were being treated, but settled for $10,000 — $2,000 for each worker.

For Grant, the suit was a kick in the gut — an "affront" to a man who grew up playing with the children of Mexican farm workers, who pays above minimum wage, who describes himself as having "an absolute commitment to social justice for workers."

But the implications of the suit go far beyond Grant.
The size of the judgment — more than $1.5 million for each worker - stunned Denver attorney David Simmons, who specializes in immigration issues. He called it "unprecedented."

And Texas immigration attorney Dan Kowalski, who runs Bender's Immigration Bulletin, said he had not seen a case like it.

"I'm sure it's at the top," he said of the judgment. "I haven't heard of anything bigger than that."

Behind a mask of legitimacy

Moises Rodriguez was well known in the farm fields of northern Colorado. He was a "contractor" — a businessman who could supply a crew when a farmer needed to plant a field, or weed it, or harvest it. The farmers paid Rodriguez a lump sum to cover the wages, insurance and taxes for the workers, and he would, in turn, cut it into individual paychecks. His wife, Maria Rodriguez, handled the books. The Rodriguezes provided documents to farmers that purported to show that all their employees were legal workers.

The arrangement is common in farming.

But Rodriguez was much more than just a contractor, according to a sheaf of documents filed as part of the lawsuit and a criminal investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They detail an elaborate system for smuggling workers into the United States.
For those workers, the stories begin in Mexico, where they all heard the same instructions — to find their way to a hotel, to ask for a mysterious man.

For some, it was El Girasol in Agua Prieta, and a man named El Radio. For others, it was room No. 19 at the Hotel San Carlos in the town of Palomas and a man named Gerardo.
A smuggler — a "coyote" — would lead the men out into the desert, where they would walk for days, crossing the border into Arizona.

North of the town of Douglas, the coyote would place a call on a cellphone, and a little later a pickup with a camper shell on the back, or a van, would arrive. Then men would pile in for a ride to a safe house in Phoenix.

The next step of the journey would involve a long, cramped ride in the back of a pickup to Denver. In some cases, Rodriguez himself would do the driving.

From there, the journey would continue to a fenced-in compound on a 9.14-acre tract on Hudson's northeast edge. There sat the two barracks-like apartment buildings — 20 units in all — separated by a small, filthy bathhouse.

Suffering to live in squalor

Moises and Maria Rodriguez lived in town, in an 1,100-square-foot house at 657 Birch St. From the front stoop, they could look to the east, across the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway tracks, and see the compound. Their son, Javier Rodriguez, lived in a mobile home near the old apartment buildings, which had originally been constructed by a pickle company for its field workers.

The men lived two, three or four to an apartment. A videotape of the units, filmed by federal agents executing a search warrant, shows floors with broken and missing tiles, walls with holes in them, splotches of mold and red signs hanging above the sinks, warning that the water wasn't safe to drink.

And the men apparently contributed to the mess — the video shows trash strewn about, dirty dishes and open cans of food on the broken- down counters.

Each day during the growing season, the men piled into an old school bus and rode to a farm field, then put in 12 hours planting, or weeding, or harvesting vegetables.

In the summer of 2004, Grant hired Rodriguez to bring in a crew to work some of his 2,000 acres. Among that crew were the five men.

It was hard work, which they expected. But according to the lawsuit, the reality went far beyond that.

It was a veritable prison, the workers alleged, a place where Rodriguez held them in a form of debt bondage. For example, Rodriguez contended that each man owed him money for smuggling them into the U.S. — he put the price somewhere between $1,100 and $1,300.

He charged them $100 a month for rent, $96 a month for a transportation fee, and money for bathroom cleaning — even though most of the toilets didn't work and the one that did was filthy. He charged them Social Security taxes but didn't turn that money over to the federal government.

Split shoes, swollen feet

Sister Molly Munoz, a nun who also works as an advocate for migrant farmworkers, visited the Hudson compound regularly.

"They were in very poor conditions," Munoz said. "When the high winds came, the apartments would sway. There were no screens on the windows and they had rashes all over their arms."
Munoz held Mass for the men in the front yard of the camp just inside the fence that surrounded the barracks. She brought them toothpaste and they quietly told her about their plight, how they had crossed the border with only a knapsack. She saw their swollen feet and their tennis shoes, split apart after endless hours in the fields.

"It's very tough work," she said.

She also saw something else: Terror among the men.

"They were desperate to talk and they could not talk," she said.

By then, the men had also begun telling their story to Patricia Medige, an attorney for Colorado Legal Services. The nonprofit organization is devoted to providing legal help to the indigent.
In a videotaped interview conducted by Medige in the fall of 2004, one of the men tried to explain the fear he felt. On one hand, he said, Moises Rodriguez did not beat or threaten him. But he described how powerless he felt, given the money Rodriguez demanded, and how scared he felt after hearing his boss had tracked down one man in North Carolina.

"We wanted to leave," the man said in Spanish, "but he said we couldn't leave 'til we paid."

Grocers distant from process

The fruits and vegetables that sit on grocery shelves come from a variety of sources — conventional farms and organic operations like Grant's. Some of the produce is grown in Colorado, some in other parts of the country, some even outside the United States.
Almost all of it, at some point in the process or another, involves manual labor.
For grocers, monitoring the labor conditions of farm workers is a difficult proposition.
"Part of our core values is to care about not just the products we sell but people who help make these products," said Libba Letton, spokeswoman for Whole Foods.

Letton said the company relies on government agencies to monitor labor laws.
"We do as much as we reasonably can do other than growing and harvesting with your very own hands," she said.

King Soopers spokesman Trail Daugherty said if the grocery chain's management learned of unethical practices by a supplier, it would reconsider doing business with the company.
"Since we are a grocery retailer, we depend upon the Department of Labor to keep us current on their findings of human-rights violations," he said.

The government was keeping tabs on Moises Rodriguez.

In 2004, inspectors from the Colorado Department of Labor concluded that Rodriguez's camp in Hudson was not livable, and they denied his application to be a crew leader who provides housing to migrant farmworkers.

"One of the outreach workers with the Adams County Workforce Center inspected the property and found it improper for habitation and told him at that time that the housing was inhabitable and he would not be allowed to be a crew leader providing housing," said Bill Thoennes, spokesman for the Department of Labor. "She said at some point she suspected that he was ignoring that information and was simply bringing in people and housing them anyway."
The state notified the federal Department of Labor, and Rodriguez was denied a permit to be a crew leader. Then his wife, Maria Rodriguez, applied to become a crew leader.
"An inspection was done later and it was found to be inhabitable again," Thoennes said of the property.

U.S. Department of Labor inspectors conducted another investigation and learned that many of the people working for Rodriguez were not in the country legally, and immigration officials were notified.

Medige, the attorney working for the five men, helped convince them to cooperate with federal investigators even though it could mean deportation.

"What is the price tag on your freedom?" Medige asked. "They just decided in the course of the season to take a stand. We kept meeting with them and they would not stand for it. . . . they said, 'We are not going to let this happen to somebody else.' "
A grand-jury indictment

In the fall of 2004, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents began surveillance on the camp.

They documented dozens of men living there in cramped, filthy conditions. But they also saw the men coming and going in their own cars, and talking on telephones.
A grand jury indicted Moises and Maria Rodriguez and their son, Javier Rodriguez, on charges of harboring and transporting illegal immigrants. Federal authorities seized the property and more than $128,000 in cash. When they searched the two mobile homes near the barracks, they found two pistols and ammunition.

In 2006, Moises and Maria Rodri guez each served nearly a year in jail and were then deported to Mexico. Javier Rodriguez — an American citizen — also pleaded guilty in the case and was sentenced to home detention. Family members who answered the door at his apartment in Brighton last week said he did not want to be interviewed for this story.

But while the workers told investigators they were being mistreated and were being held against their will — at least psychologically — federal prosecutors did not pursue charges of involuntary servitude against the Rodriguezes.

The reason was simple: The surveillance tapes showed the workers coming and going, and it would have been difficult to convince a jury that they couldn't have escaped.

"We have a higher burden of proof in the criminal matter than in the civil matter, and we would have to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt," said Jeffrey Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver.

For their cooperation, the men were granted temporary visas allowing them to stay in the United States — but they were told they could be deported once the case was concluded.

Town buys compound land

In April 2006, Medige, the legal services lawyer, filed a civil lawsuit against Moises and Maria Rodriguez and against Andy Grant and Grant Family Farms. The suit alleged violations of the Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act by Moises and Maria Rodriguez. They asserted that Grant should have known how the workers were being treated and, therefore, condoned it.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock allowed the men to withhold their identities because they feared retribution. Each was given the name "John Doe" and a Roman numeral.
Grant, who took his farm into bankruptcy reorganization after years of drought and other problems wreaked financial havoc on his operation, reached a settlement, and the suit against him was dismissed.

Judge Babcock ultimately entered a default judgment against Moises and Maria Rodriguez. Then, on April 14, he awarded more than $1.5 million to each of the five men for numerous violations of federal law.

At an auction conducted by the federal government, the town of Hudson bought the land where the compound sat. The winning bid was $37,000.

Barracks, not fear, destroyed

In late April, mud clogged the driveway leading to the barracks and weeds overgrew the camp. Portions of a chain link fence that once surrounded the compound were down or missing.
The apartments looked as if someone left in a hurry: Shirts hung in a closet, an uncooked bag of beans lay on top of a stove, and a television set, its screen smashed, sat on a chair.

Many windows and doors were missing. Signs remained above the kitchen sinks in some units, warning that the water was not safe to drink.

Photographs of some of the migrants' children were left in a half-empty album on the kitchen counter.

Town manager Joe Racine said the town had to demolish the rickety old barracks. Racine said the company hired to clear the land said it would be easier — and cheaper — if the barracks were burned down, and so on May 2, local firefighters torched them.

They — and two ramshackle mobile homes on the property — went up quickly.
Ultimately, the land will be home to Hudson's public works department, and more playing fields in an extension of the city's park.

Of the men who filed the lawsuit, Medige remains protective. Some have returned to Mexico, but others remain in Colorado, working in the fields.

They still fear retribution from Moises Rodriguez, she said, even though he's no longer in the U.S.

Fantastic article covering this case. I say this because it really covers almost every aspect of what happens in a farmworker trafficking case: from the involvement of the recruitment of workers in their home country to the incredible control and power of crew leaders to where the growers and grocers stand (or claim to stand) in this situation. It was a little disappointing that the charges of involuntary servitude or trafficking weren't pursued against the Rodriguezes, but such is the situation with many trafficking cases where the traffickers are given lesser charges due to the difficulty of prosecuting a trafficking case.
Despite the fact that trafficking of farmworkers is one of the most common forms of trafficking in the United States, it is rarely covered by the media and even those involved in the counter-trafficking movement don't understand the problem as well as we should. This does bring a lot of really good news for legal service providers representing trafficking victims across the country, though. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this is one of, if not the first successful civil suits against traffickers in the U.S. I'm looking forward to hearing about more successful civil suits in the future on behalf of victims.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Arrests Made in Tampa, FL

*Photos courtesy of ABC Action News

From the St. Petersburg Times:

It started with one.
Police investigated.

They found a woman who endured abuse, rape and beatings, they say — a woman held captive in a $600,000 Treasure Island home, forced to dance and prostitute her own body.
But it didn't stop at one.

"This broke it open," said an investigator, Pinellas County sheriff's Capt. Teresa Dioquino. "A lot of tentacles sprung off of this case."

Now, Tampa Bay may sit in a ring of something often associated with dank rooms and Third World countries.

Human sex trafficking.

• • •

What police claim happened inside the house — what may be happening in other local cases — fits the predatory manifesto of traffickers all over the world.

"We're starting to find more and more cases where our youth is being targeted right here in the U.S., right here in Florida," said Giselle Rodriguez of the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking. "We're starting to see cases involving homeless adults. They look for people that are down and out on their luck, who are desperate to get themselves out of debt.

"They promise the American dream."

Kenyatta Cornelous, 38, Edward Jones, 47, Corinna Shaffer, 24, and Colin Dyer, 36, who turned himself in Monday, are all charged in connection with the case.

They brought women to the home with promises of prosperity, deputies say, then took their phones and identification and began a cycle of sexual and mental torture and mind control. They brought the women to strip clubs, where they were forced to dance and sell themselves while trailed by "handlers."

It's a classic model for exploitation. It happens in trailers, seedy motels, five-star resorts and mansions. It happens to men and women, young and old. It happens in a country where people have basic freedom.

So when it starts to get bad, why don't the victims just leave?

"They're afraid," said Mark P. Lagon, executive director of the Polaris Project, a U.S. organization that combats trafficking. "They're afraid of their exploiter killing or harming them, and they're afraid that they won't be seen as a victim, that police or immigration officials or society will treat them like a criminal, like an illegal alien or like a dirty, disposable person."

• • •

Vegas Showgirls, a squat stucco building beside Derby Lane on Gandy Boulevard, has a sign out front.

What happens at Vegas stays at Vegas.

But sordid allegations led investigators right back to the club. At least one victim was forced to dance there against her will, officials said.

Shaffer, who danced off and on at Vegas Showgirls under the name "Lacy," has four previous arrests related to prostitution or nudity in an establishment that serves alcohol. During her last arrest at Vegas Showgirls in February, seven other women ranging from 18 to 26 were also arrested on various charges, including prostitution for four of them.

"Vegas had nothing to do with this. It's just a club," owner Chip Jones said Sunday. "They just worked here. We didn't know anything that was going on on the outside."

Employees standing at the door declined to comment Monday.

Lagon points to the sex industry. He points to newspapers and magazines that print ads for illegal massage parlors. He points to the Internet.

"The sex industry is the enabling environment of human trafficking," he said. "It takes many forms. Latin brothels, Asian massage parlors, minors and migrants sold for sex on craigslist. There are the faces of sex trafficking, and businesses who are accomplices need to look at themselves in the mirror."

Where there is demand, he said, there will be supply.

At 2:30 p.m. Monday, there were 10 cars in the parking lot at Vegas Showgirls.
Emily Nipps can be reached at or (727) 893-8452. Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (727) 893-8857.

A friend of mine sent this article to me. He resides in Tampa, Florida. Crazy to think how close to home trafficking can get. Tampa is a mere 12 hour drive.

Recently I attended a workshop for Social Workers and Therapists on dealing with Human Trafficking in the states and it was astonishing to realize how little people think it goes on here. It occurs under the guise of the sex industry.

It makes my heart beat fast, at least now people know what's happening and that it's happening in their neighborhoods.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Call For Papers: Conference at the University of Toronto

Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies
Faculty of Arts and Science
University of Toronto
The Commodification of Illicit Flows:Labour Migration, Trafficking and Business

October 9-10, 2009
Call for Papers

The Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies is calling for papers analyzing human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation within the contexts of migration and the global economy. Scholars and practitioners from all academic disciplines, including economics, law, social sciences, business, women and gender studies, public policy, health are invited to submit their work. People working with relevant governmental agencies and NGOs are also invited to apply.

The existing literature and research on sex trafficking has been burgeoning steadily at the expense of those written on human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation. Migrant workers compelled by their economic deprivation in their home countries are seeking better life opportunities abroad. If their journey is well managed and legal, they will be safe and protected from exploitation and abuse. Nevertheless, many are threatened or coerced to enter debt bondage arrangements that have pernicious implications on their rights to freedom, economic prosperity and social status. Their forced labour produces goods offered and sold in both licit and illicit markets. Some corporations and businesses are in search of this same cheap transnational labour in an attempt to increase their profits and remain competitive.
In an attempt to expand the existing scholarship on labour trafficking, themes to be focused upon will include the following:
  • The (Il)licit in Migration and Human Trafficking
  • The Current Economic Crisis: Implications on Migration and LabourTrafficking
  • Socio-Economic Dimensions of Labour Trafficking
  • Forms of Labour Trafficking
  • Historical and Contemporary Aspects of Bondage
  • Child Trafficking for Labour Exploitation
  • Businesses and Child labor: Financial Analysis of Trafficked Labour
  • Corporate Liability and Code of Conduct
  • Government Responses to Illegal Migration and Trafficking in HumanBeings
  • International Labour and Human Rights Standards

A one page abstract should be sent to Antonela Arhin at by June 15, 2009. Acceptance notifications will be made by June 30. Submissions of final papers will be accepted until September 1, 2009.

For more information, please visit
the Centre's website.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I'm a Walking Contradiction, a Victim of a Catch 22

A few weeks ago, a new writer for the blog introduced herself. This is an incredibly exciting opportunity to write for this blog. We're all so passionate about the end of slavery and educating people about it.

In response to this writer’s piece, someone commented on her identifying herself as a feminist and an abolitionist. Said person alluded to feminism being contradictory to being anti-trafficking. I commend the writer for responding to the reader with such dignity and poise. I was slightly angered. Considering myself a feminist, I stand firmly in those beliefs. I by no means believe that feminism and trafficking go hand-in-hand.

Feminism is a controversial belief in and of itself and for someone reason you cannot be feminist and have any other belief. Allow me to introduce myself, I’m Christian, Feminist, Liberal, Activist, Humanitarian and Abolitionist. Many of which people say you can’t be one and the other.

I don’t mean this to be sarcastic, or to be rude. I am simply troubled that anyone would think that someone’s ideology would prevent them from being against a cause such as slavery. No matter what or whom you believe in, you should believe that slavery in any form is wrong. My intentions for joining this blog were to help in educating people who stumble upon this blog and to learn, myself, from fellow activists and abolitionists. We’re building a community, uniting a front, banding together to fight against the biggest secret this world holds.

Let’s break down what it means to be a feminist and an abolitionist. Feminism is the belief that women are politically, socially, sexually, and intellectually equal to men. A feminist stance can change from woman to woman (or even man to man), but a huge concern and often argued stance is prevention and protection against sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape. A majority of Human Trafficking going on in the world right now is sex trafficking. Thus making perfect sense for a person who adopts feminist ideology would want to see an end to Human Trafficking. Women of the sex trafficking are not willing participants, no one in Human Trafficking is a willing participant. A woman, feminist or not, would want every woman to be able to make a decision when and with whom she wants to have sex with and without force. Based on the definition of a feminist (being against sexual exploitation) they would be the perfect candidate of someone AGAINST human trafficking.

Trafficking isn't about a woman's right to sexual exploration. I'm sure it's easy to confuse the terms for some people, however when disecting the two would show vast differences. Feminists do think that women should be seen in the same light, sexually as men. We should be able to explore and parade the same way men would and not be judged for the actions we take. That would be sexual exploration. When exploitation is concerned, we shouldn't be forced to do or be something sexually.

An abolitionist is someone who wants to end slavery. In our world today we are blind to the fact that there are 27 million people who are enslaved all over the globe today. Slavery is illegal everywhere. Abolitionists usually have the same stance, some just have a heart for different areas of the world. My heart is in India, and most likely will always be. However, as an abolitionist, I want to see slavery end EVERYWHERE. No man, no woman, no child, no mother, no father, no brother, no sister, should be forced to succumb to these horrible conditions and acts commented by traffickers and the people who participate.

This issue not only bothered me because the viewpoint of my fellow blogger made sense, but because I really think that you can’t keep people in a box. Not every label a person decides to use fits the stereotypes of the label. Clearly, I am a walking contradiction as all of the labels I acquire are not usually together in social circles. The most fascinating factor about the human being is how multifaceted we are. Different parts of our brain fire different signals and affect the way we think and feel about all different types of ideas or matters of the heart. We are allowed to modify whatever ideology we choose to adopt because those ideologies meant different things to each individual.

Readers, I challenge you to think beyond the box of “abolitionist”, “feminist” or any other label you adopt and look towards the big picture that brought you here to this blog. We all have different interests, careers, passions and calling; we all have a common goal, end slavery.