This blog is designed to be a one stop portal of updated news, links & media relating to human trafficking both in Australia and Across the Globe.

THE JAMMED is a feature film inspired by court transcripts and is about slavery and deportation in Australia - and a Melbourne woman who tries to rescue three girls from a trafficking syndicate. (www.thejammed.com)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Slavery now has a new face - Brandi

Modern-day slavery

Published Monday, March 16, 2009 7:00 am
by Jessica Williams-Gibson, The Indianapolis Recorder

INDIANAPOLIS - Slavery as blacks know it is permeated with images of Africans stuffed in ships, whipped and beaten beyond recognition, hung on trees and picking cotton. Slavery now has a new face – human trafficking.

Nykita Hurt holds a photo of her daughter Brandi who became a child prostitute at the age of 14. Experts say more than 300,000 children are being sexually exploited in the United States.

Human trafficking is often confused with smuggling, extortion or simple prostitution. When a person is a victim of human trafficking they are mandated to work under specific conditions by force. The U.S. is one of the top “destination” countries for human trafficking.

“I don’t want to devalue the legacy of slavery in this country with real shackles. For people to understand the kind of control someone is under, it's useful to think of this as a modern day form of slavery,” said Mark Lagon, executive director of Polaris Project, a national organization aimed at ending human trafficking.

Forced labor continues to be a substantial portion of human trafficking yet commercial sex dominates. According to Gayle Helart, assistant United States attorney, for the Southern District of Indiana, the crime isn't about the violence or the labor itself, but the money - especially commercial sex.

Unlike African slaves, victims of human trafficking oftentimes come to the U.S. on their own. They are promised lucrative opportunities such as a job in a hotel or education. Seduced by American culture and the idea of the U.S. as a land of opportunity, victims agree and follow the offender. Once in the states, victims are moved around to different locations, forced to sell their bodies and turn over all of the money to a male or female pimp.

Helart states that due to the glorified lifestyle of the pimp/whore culture, human trafficking isn't taken as seriously as it should be. Victims are in grave danger as many suffer violent acts, or simply threatened to be abused. To the trafficker, victims are disposable and very little care is taken for their wellbeing.

The control – the desire to “pay off their debt” to the pimp, or the need to help families in their native country – keeps victims selling their bodies. Victims' families also may have taken out loans to send their child to the U.S. or must pay back a wavering smuggling fee.

“What keeps victims staying is the promise of something better, the carrot in front of their face,” said Helart. “Human trafficking is all about the ‘work here, under these conditions, or else.’”

The issue of human trafficking goes even deeper being that young girls are often affected by labor but mostly sex. Black girls are a large part of this growing trend. Girls constantly move around to human sex trafficking hubs most notably Atlanta and Dayton, Ohio. Truth is, human trafficking could be in any neighborhood.

“This crime could literally be anywhere and we wouldn't know it. I'm not saying it's not here (in Indianapolis); I don't know. We do get a lot of leads and that's good,” said Helart. “For some reason a lot of offenders let their victims go to church to subdue and keep them from getting rebellious. We try to get with faith-based communities and leaders on this.''

Lagon states human trafficking sounds like it requires someone crossing a border yet there are increasing trends among American-born victims of human trafficking. Law enforcement believes when it comes to juveniles, there's not really a juvenile out there by themselves; a pimp will almost always handle her.

“Studies have indicated that children who are runaways or throwaways, when they try to make their own life on the streets, a huge proportion of them within 48-72 hours fall under the control of pimps,” said Lagon.

To curb this trend authorities state it's not enough to say “where have you been for the last few weeks'' when runaways return. Parents should probe further asking questions such as how old is your boyfriend and are there other girls there at his home. If the offender is of an inappropriate age and/or has multiple girls in his home, it's almost certain to be human trafficking.

Parents should also be on the lookout for expensive gifts she can't afford and should watch for the adults in their lives who are showering attention and affection on their kids. Talking to kids and teens about healthy relationships and sexual behavior will further reduce human trafficking.
Furthermore, authorities are taking actions on the financial worth of human trafficking. Because human trafficking is difficult to detect and often rely on the testimonies of the victims, authorities are taking down pimps and Johns. They have also found victories in unofficial ledgers.

“In the blackjack case in Florida, the John would be given a playing card after payment. They'd turn that over to the girl so she'd know services had been paid. In this case, men would wear condoms so the girls were keeping track with condom wrappers. They were told that $20 would get taken off their debt with every sex act,” Helart said.

Citizens are asked to be observant in their neighborhoods, jobs and places of worship for suspicious behavior, homes and businesses appearing to keep individuals inside, and individuals who are always accompanied by someone.

For more information, call Polaris Project at (888) 373-7888; the FBI's Innocence Lost initiative at (317) 639-3301; or Helart at (317) 226-6333

Sunday, March 15, 2009

She came from Guatemala

A woman in her early 20s smuggled into the United States for what she thought was a housekeeping job. See Jammed True Stories.

Carlos Andres Monsalve, 29, the smuggling gang ringleader, was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. Henao served a short prison term and is scheduled to be deported.
But the investigation went much further. It connected with an international human trafficking network.
In total, seven people were indicted and six victims identified.

A Clearwater task force did much of the work that led to the arrests. The task force, formed in 2006 when the Clearwater Police Department won a three-year, $450,000 grant from the Justice Department, is now a model around the country.

Human trafficking plagues Florida, California and Texas, among other states. Unlike smugglers, traffickers don't just transport human cargo; they exploit the travelers for purposes ranging from manual labor to prostitution.

Clearwater Deputy Chief Dewey Williams, three Clearwater police investigators and a special agent from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement sat down with a St. Petersburg Times reporter to talk about the case.

Monsalve, the kingpin, owned houses across the state, including in Tampa and Pasco. Police said he lived a middle-class life. No gold chains. No fancy cars. A legal immigrant from Colombia, he helped run a clothing store in Tampa.

But his main business was more sinister. Monsalve made the circuit of Hispanic communities, passing out business cards offering women for prostitution. For years, his ring was composed of willing prostitutes. At some point in 2005, authorities believe, he began to use forced labor.

His operation set up in Pinellas, Pasco, and Hillsborough counties, as well as in Orlando, Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

The women would charge $30 per sex act. The organization skimmed half that amount off the top and applied the other half toward the women's debts. Victims fell back on tip money to pay for food, condoms and other expenses, authorities said.

Detectives said there were six to eight women in the ring, each bringing in as much as $6,000 per week. One woman became pregnant, according to a report from the FDLE. The organization made her have sex with clients until she was "too pregnant" and then kicked her out onto the street.

The story of Clearwater's involvement starts as early as 2004, when police got a tip about a Hispanic brothel at an apartment complex near U.S. 19 and Drew Street.

In these types of cases, police said, the tip often comes from people who think it is a drug house. A steady stream of customers comes in, staying for only minutes, all of them men.

Police managed to get an undercover officer into the brothel and bring about a raid, arresting one woman on prostitution charges.

Police learned she was a willing prostitute, but the brothel was part of a bigger operation that included forced prostitution. That led police to apply for the Justice Department grant.

Thanks to the grant, two people are assigned to work full time on human trafficking cases at Clearwater police headquarters: Detective James McBride of the Clearwater Police Department and Special Agent Cal Cundiff of the FDLE.

They came upon Monsalve's trafficking ring in a roundabout way.

One night in 2006, two young women were spotted running down the road in Tallahassee. Police determined they had been brought into the country and forced to work as prostitutes. They were running from the trailer where they had been held.

Police arrested the man who had delivered the girls to the trailer and began burrowing into the network behind this brothel. Monsalve's name emerged, but no one knew the organization's structure.

FDLE Special Agent Eric Yopp eventually learned Monsalve was based in Tampa Bay and told the task force in Clearwater.

As it happens, the local task force had come across business cards Monsalve was distributing at U.S. 19 and Drew Street. The cards said "Tacos and Gorditas" and included a cell phone number on the back. People in the know understood the code words for prostitution.

Authorities set up an undercover operation and arranged to have one of the women delivered to them on May 22, 2007.

Henao, the driver, was arrested and found to be working for Monsalve.

After months of interviews with the Guatemalan victim, whose name has not been released by police, authorities came to understand the inner workings of the organization.

The woman explained that the police and military had been bribed all the way through Central America. The traffickers warned her that if she did not go along with their plan, they would notify immigration officials or harm her family, including her 6-year-old daughter in Guatemala. They even told her that the police in the United States would show no mercy if they found her.

"When we came in and were taking the trafficker into custody she thought … we were going to kill her," McBride said. "She thought the police, we were going to kill her."

The woman explained that the prostitutes rotated each week through brothels in Tampa Bay, Orlando, Tallahassee and Jacksonville areas.

Police in Clearwater pooled their information with state and federal authorities, eventually leading to Monsalve's arrest in September 2007 in Houston. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced in the fall.

"Our very first meeting on the task force, we stated that we are not interested in stopping that transporter that brought that trafficking victim," said Clearwater Sgt. Steven Sears, "our goal was to take down the organization."

The Clearwater task force has been at work on other cases since then, some still ongoing. In all, this task force has dealt with five human trafficking victims. It is in the third and final year of its grant, but plan to reapply.

"In this area, nothing has been done like this (investigation)," Sears added later. "With these types of cases it's not something that is reported. It is not something that gets a lot of press. It is very subtle and low-key. For us to develop it from nothing into this, it was very satisfying."

And it's not just the police work. Sears said an organization called World Relief and other partners helped the woman. Among other things, they took her to doctor visits, set her up with educational services, provided her with transportation to church and helped her contact her family in her home country.

The woman was allowed to take up residence in the Tampa Bay area in exchange for her cooperation. She has since moved out of the area and is living somewhere in the southern United States. Police said she is hoping to be reunited with her young daughter.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.
More information is at the task force's Web site at www.catfht.org.

The Russian Mob

Russian mobsters consort with terrorists, slave traders
March 15, 7:51 AM ·
Jim Kouri
Law Enforcement Examiner

From Himalayan villages to Eastern European cities, people — especially women and girls — are attracted by the prospect of a well-paid job as a domestic servant, waitress or factory worker. Human traffickers recruit victims through fake advertisements, mail-order bride catalogues and casual acquaintances. Upon arrival at their destination, victims are placed in conditions controlled by traffickers while they are exploited to earn illicit revenues. Many are physically confined, their travel or identity documents are taken away and they or their families are threatened if they do not cooperate.

Women and girls forced to work as prostitutes are blackmailed by the threat that traffickers will tell their families. Trafficked children are dependent on their traffickers for food, shelter and other basic necessities. Traffickers also play on victims' fears that authorities in a strange country will prosecute or deport them if they ask for help. A major purveyor of these de facto slaves is the Russian organized crime syndicate. Brutal, cunning and ruthless, these 21st Century mobsters present a new threat to US national security.

Over the past decade, trafficking in human beings has reached epidemic proportions. No country is immune. The search for work abroad has been fueled by economic disparity, high unemployment and the disruption of traditional livelihoods. Traffickers face few risks and can earn huge profits by taking advantage of large numbers of potential immigrants. Trafficking in human beings is a crime in which victims are moved from poor environments to more affluent ones, with the profits flowing in the opposite direction, a pattern often repeated at the domestic, regional and global levels. It is believed to be growing fastest in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

In Asia, girls from villages in Nepal and Bangladesh — the majority of whom are under 18 — are sold to brothels in India for $1000. Trafficked women from Thailand and the Philippines are increasingly being joined by women from other countries in Southeast Asia. Europe (European InterPol) estimates that the industry is now worth several billion dollars a year. Trafficking in human beings is not confined to the sex industry. Children are trafficked to work in sweatshops as bonded labor and men work illegally in the "three D-jobs" — dirty, difficult and dangerous. A recent CIA report estimated that between 45,000 to 50,000 women and children are brought to the United States every year under false pretenses and are forced to work as prostitutes, abused laborers or servants. UNICEF estimates that more than 200,000 children are enslaved by cross-border smuggling in West and Central Africa. The children are often "sold" by unsuspecting parents who believe their children are going to be looked after, learn a trade or be educated.

In the decade since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world has become the target of a new global crime threat from criminal organizations and criminal activities that have poured forth over the borders of Russia and other former Soviet republics such as Ukraine. The nature and variety of the crimes being committed seem unlimited — trafficking in women and children, drugs, arms trafficking, stolen automobiles, and money laundering are among the most prevalent. The spillover is particularly troubling to Europe because of its geographical proximity to Russia, and to Israel, because of its large numbers of Russian immigrants. But no area of the world seems immune to this menace, especially not the United States. America is the land of opportunity for unloading criminal goods and laundering dirty money. For that reason — and because, unfortunately, much of the examination of Russian organized crime (the so-called "Russian Mafia") to date has been rather hyperbolic and sketchy — many in law enforcement believe it is important to step back and take an objective look at this growing phenomenon.

As in the United States, there is no universally accepted definition of organized crime in Russia, in major part because Russian law provides no legal definition of organized crime. Analysis of criminological sources, however, enables one to identify some of its basic characteristics. These include organizational features that make Russian organized crime unique in the degree to which it is embedded in the post-Soviet political system. At the same time, however, it has certain features in common with such other well-known varieties of organized crime as the Italian Mafia. The latter has a complicated history that includes both cooperation and conflict with the Italian state. Much more than was ever the case with the Italian Mafia, however, Russian organized crime is uniquely a descendant of the Soviet state.

Russian organized crime has come to plague many areas of the globe since the demise of the Soviet Union just more than a decade ago. The transnational character of Russian organized crime, when coupled with its high degree of sophistication and ruthlessness, has attracted the world's attention and concern to what has become known as a global Russian Mafia. Along with this concern, however, has come a fair amount of misunderstanding and stereotyping with respect to Russian organized crime.

Trafficking is almost always a form of organized crime and should be dealt with using criminal powers to investigate and prosecute offenders for trafficking and any other criminal activities in which they engage. Trafficked persons should also be seen as victims of crime. Support and protection of victims is a humanitarian objective and an important means of ensuring that victims are willing and able to assist in criminal cases. As with other forms of organized crime, trafficking has globalized. Groups formerly active in specific routes or regions have expanded the geographical scope of their activities to explore new markets. Some have merged or formed cooperative relationships, expanding their geographical reach and range of criminal activities. Illegal migrants and trafficking victims have become another commodity in a larger realm of criminal commerce involving other commodities, such as narcotic drugs and firearms or weapons and money laundering, that generate illicit revenues or seek to reduce risks for traffickers.

With respect to organized crime, certain geographical or infrastructure characteristics, such as the presence of seaports, international airports, strategic border locations, rich natural resources, and so on, provide special criminal opportunities that can best be exploited by criminals who are organized. More so than common crime, organized crime is fed by the presence of ethnic minorities who furnish a ready supply of both victims and the offenders to victimize them. Organized crime also thrives in environments characterized by a relatively high tolerance of deviance and a romanticization of crime figures, especially where government and law enforcement are weak or corrupt (the history of the Sicilian Mafia illustrates this).


Russia is one of those unfortunate countries that has the receptive environment in which organized crime thrives. Organized crime is deeply rooted in the 400-year history of Russia's peculiar administrative bureaucracy, but it was especially shaped into its current form during the seven decades of Soviet hegemony that ended in 1991. This ancestry helps to explain the pervasiveness of organized crime in today's Russia and its close merger with the political system. Organized crime in Russia is an institutionalized part of the political and economic environment. It cannot, therefore, be fully understood without first understanding its place in the context of the Russian political and economic system.

Unlike Colombian, Italian, Mexican, or other well-known forms of organized crime, Soviet organized crime was not primarily based on ethnic or family structures. To help understand the difference, we can look to the history of organized crime in the United States for a contrasting portrait. As a number of scholars have pointed out, organized crime provided a "crooked ladder of upward mobility" for some immigrants to the United States. Certain immigrants — sharing a common ethnicity, culture, and language, and, being on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder, either having legitimate opportunities for advancement closed to them or rejecting the opportunities that were available — have turned to crime, and specifically organized crime, to get ahead.

Because organized crime is made up of criminals who conspire to carry out illegal acts, a degree of trust is necessary among those criminals. Co-conspirators must be able to trust that their collaborators will not talk to the police or to anyone who might talk to the police, and that they will not cheat them out of their money. A shared ethnicity, with its common language, background, and culture, has historically been a foundation for trust among organized crime figures.

Yet ethnicity did not play the significant role in Soviet organized crime that it played in the United States. Instead, the Soviet prison system, in many ways, fulfilled functions that were satisfied by shared ethnicity in the United States. In the Soviet Union, a professional criminal class developed in Soviet prisons during the Stalinist period that began in 1924 — the era of the gulag. These criminals adopted behaviors, rules, values, and sanctions that bound them together in what was called the thieves' world, led by the elite criminals who lived according to the "thieves' law." This thieves' world created and maintained the bonds and climate of trust necessary for carrying out organized crime.

Organized crime in the Soviet era consists of illegal enterprises with both legal and black-market connections that were based on the misuse of state property and funds. It is most important to recognize that the blurring of the distinction between the licit and the illicit is also a trademark of post-Soviet organized crime that shows its ancestry with the old Soviet state and its command-economy system. This, in turn, has direct political implications. The historical symbiosis with the state makes Russian organized crime virtually an inalienable part of the state. As this has continued into the present, some would say it has become an engine of the state that works at all levels of the Russian government.

Contemporary Russian organized crime grew out of the Soviet "nomenklatura" system (the government's organizational structure and high-level officials) in which some individual "apparatchiks" (government bureaucrats) developed mutually beneficial personal relationships with the thieves' world. The top of the pyramid of organized crime during the Soviet period was made up of the Communist Party and state officials who abused their positions of power and authority. Economic activities ranged across a spectrum of markets — white, gray, black, and criminal. These markets were roughly defined by whether the goods and services being provided were legal, legal but regulated, or illegal, and by whether the system for providing them was likewise legal, legal but regulated, or illegal. The criminals operated on the illegal end of this spectrum. Tribute gained from black markets and criminal activities was passed up a three-tiered pyramid to the nomenklatura, and the nomenklatura itself (some 1.5 million people) had a vast internal system of rewards and punishments. The giant state apparatus thus not only allowed criminal activity, but encouraged, facilitated, and protected it, because the apparatus itself benefited from crime.

These sorts of relationships provided the original nexus between organized crime and the government. From these beginnings, organized crime in Russia evolved to its present ambiguous position of being both in direct collaboration with the state and, at the same time, in conflict with it.
Jim Kouri

US Department of Justice
United Nations Protocols
National Criminal Justice Reference Service
National Association of Chiefs of Police
Department of Homeland Security

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Inside Melbourne's sex slave trade 2009

Maris Beck | March 12, 2009 - 12:34PM

THE boss would kick her awake. Every time she opened her eyes, the nightmare began again. There was no escape from the men - their hair, their sweat, their predatory breath. Many were using amphetamines. They hit her. Sometimes one would hold a a gun to her head. But there was no choice, she says. She was owned by the mob.

"I was so scared of them.Even now I am still scared." Once, the boss took her for a drive into the bush. "She told me 'a girl like you, I can bury anywhere here.' If something happened to me . . . nobody would know."

For seven months, she was locked in a brothel, seeing 15 men a day, in around the clock shifts. As she speaks tears stream down her cheeeks and her breath shudders. More than five years later, the memories still haunt her. "It was like in prison," she says.

She calls herself "Mae" but that is not her name. She still fears the people who bought and sold her. She speaks softly, in halting English and in Thai. But she is not in Thailand. The prison-brothel she describes may sound like something from the slums of Bangkok or Mumbai, but the reality is closer to home. Mae was trafficked to Melbourne and the brutal things done to her took place in suburbs where we live.

Her story begins with poverty - and a plane ticket. Mae was born into a poor family in Thailand. Her mother worked three jobs, desperately trying to get enough money to pay for her daughter's education. When Mae was in her early 20s, a cousin offered her a restaurant job in Australia. Mae leapt at the chance. She thought she could send money back to help her mother.

But as soon as she got to Australia, her cousin deposited her with the madam of a Melbourne brothel. The woman took her passport and told her she owed $40,000 for her visa and travel costs.

Mae's English is broken, but her meaning is clear: she had been sold. "I didn't have no choice," she says. "The first day, I was so confused. I couldn't believe this was happening to me. The boss showed me how to use the room, how to use the condom, and how to use KY.

"Once the customer came in, he would wait in the waiting room and all the girls would have to take turns to come to walk in front of him. He would pick anyone and we would go to the room."

Mae says she had never seen the inside of a brothel before. For the next seven months, it was all she would know. "I could not get out of the brothel, even to get fresh air."

Mae had to work seven days a week, often 24 hours a day. She lived in the brothel, sleeping on the couch or in the "working room", if it was free.

The boss' husband was allegedly a drug dealer, heavily involved with organised crime. Mae says many of the women in the brothel took speed and ecstasy. Soon, she was taking drugs, too. "We couldn't put up with the situation . . . 15 customers a day and 24 hours a day. We couldn't do it without drugs."

It took its toll. For a time, Mae was so sick that she could not walk. "I thought I wasn't a human," she says.

For seven brutal months, Mae was never paid. When she finally bought back her freedom, she had paid with $40,000 worth of sex.

Mae is not the only one to have done this. The United Nations ranks human trafficking as the third largest transnational crime, after drugs trafficking and the arms trade. Melbourne is a "major destination" of trafficked women in Australia, says federal policewoman Jennifer Cullen, national co-ordinator of the Australian Federal Police's anti-trafficking team.

Some 258 suspected cases of sex trafficking have been referred to the AFP since 2004. During this time,the Federal Government has identified 112 victims, 60 per cent of them from Thailand, and another 20 per cent from South Korea.

Thirty-two of these victims have been found in Victoria, and according to Tanya Plibersek, Minister for the Status of Women and co-ordinator of the federal victim support program, the number is likely to be much higher.

A spokesperson for anti-trafficking organisation, Project Respect, says the group helped seven trafficked women in Melbourne during 2008, only two of whom are included in Federal Government statistics.

The key element of trafficking, says Jennifer Cullen, is "removing the right to choose". Trafficking contracts are illegal, she says, because they involve threat, force, and deception. The exploitation ranges from debt bondage through to literal slavery. (Last August when the High Court upheld the conviction of Wei Tang, a Brunswick Street brothel owner, for keeping five Thai women as sex slaves.)

While some women are rescued by AFP or Department of Immigration raids and others escape, or are freed after they pay off their whole "debt", for many, the ordeal does not end when they leave the brothel.

Kathleen Maltzahn, former brothel outreach worker and founder of Project Respect, says trafficking "is about erasing a person. It is about saying you are an animal, you're not a person. You don't count for anything. The psychological and physical impact of that is very profound.

"When I talk to women years later, they talk about the change in their lives and how hard it's been to recover, how they lost their sense of who they were."

One way in which the ordeal continues for some women is the Federal Government's response to trafficking, which has been widely criticised for failing to take a more human rights-based approach to victims. At present ongoing assistance is linked to the victim's role in a viable prosecution of a trafficker.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick says: "At the minute, the main thrust of Australia's response to human trafficking is around law enforcement. But with that approach, when we look at the person who has been trafficked we see them just as a witness in the case against the trafficker."

Victim support and visas enabling them to remain lawfully in Australia are only available to those women who are "of interest" to law enforcement agencies. These victims receive a 30-day visa and support while law enforcement agencies decide whether their presence in Australia is necessary to assist in a prosecution or investigation. If the trafficker has vanished, or if victims are too afraid to speak to police, they face deportation.

Those who do help police, often feel as though they have moved from "debt bondage to witness bondage", says David Manne, a human rights lawyer who has represented several allegedly trafficked women in Melbourne.

They feel forced to testify, he says, so they can stay in the country. In cases he worked on he says, "the human rights of the women involved were ignored".

A Department of Immigration spokesperson says that following discussions with community and government agencies, the Federal Government is considering changes to visa framework for trafficked women to make it simpler and more flexible.

For Mae, the road out of the brothel has been long and hard. For several months after she finished her "contract", she had little choice but to stay in the brothel. She was addicted to drugs, and trying to save money to return to Thailand.

Although the conditions were better than before, she says she still felt trapped. She was only able to give up prostitution when a client offered to support her and gave her a place to stay.

Since then, she has met a loving husband, and has children she describes as "the hope of my life". It is because of them that she quit drugs. But unless she is granted a humanitarian visa that will enable her to stay in Australia, she will be sent back to Thailand without them. She is not eligible to receive victim support or a witness protection visa, she says, because she is too afraid to speak to police.

"My life is better now but it is still not the same as other people," she says.

The memories of life in the brothel are still too real, and she is haunted by the thought of those she left behind.

Traumatised and alone in a foreign country, many trafficked women like Mae struggle to escape the cycle of substance abuse and prostitution. But one remarkable woman, forced into prostitution in Sydney, is throwing them a lifeline.

Maria (an alias) was recognised as a victim by the Federal Government, and accepted into the victim support scheme. But she knows many others are not so lucky. So with the help of Project Respect, she is starting a Thai noodle bar in Melbourne to employ trafficked women. It will be a way out of prostitution, she says, and a place where women can regain their sense of identity.

Mae will be one of the first to work in the noodle bar, if her visa application is successful. Like Mae, Maria came to Australia thinking she would work in a restaurant.

The project has received $65,000 in funding from the Victorian Government, and Maria hopes to raise another $170,000 by the middle of this year. "I think women can help each other to run the restaurant and they won't need to work in the brothels," Maria says. "We don't want to do prostitution.

"A lot of people don't know this is happening. They don't know what is happening behind closed doors."

But a hint of what is happening is there for all to see. Every day the services associated with trafficked women are openly advertised in newspapers and online: "exotic", "new girls every week", "will do anything".

But even those who buy sex from these women them do not see the brutal reality of their imprisonment. "I didn't think this would happen in a civilised country like Australia," Mae says. "But it did. It happened to me."

Mae spoke to The Age with the help of an interpreter. See The Age online's multimedia presentation on sex trafficking in Melbourne at theage.com.au

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Central High School holds human trafficking forum

Friday, Mar. 06, 2009

Theresa Flores, a trafficking victim who wrote a book about her experience, addresses the crowd at the Feb. 25 forum at Central High School. From an upper-middle class family in suburban Detroit, she was forced into a sexual exploitation ring at age 15.

Human trafficking is not just something that occurs in third-world countries. Modern-day slavery occurs all over the world, including North Texas.

That was the message of the Eyes Wide Open Human Trafficking Forum at Central High School last week.

About 400 people attended the Feb. 25 program that featured speeches by law enforcement and human rights experts and trafficking victims. It was hosted by two student groups – Central Impact and the Junior World Affairs Council.

"It most impacts people our age," said Hayley Bupp, Central sophomore and a member of Central Impact. "I always thought it was other countries; I didn’t realize it was happening in the U.S."

Central teacher Steve Patty, a sponsor for Central Impact, a group that encourages students to become involved in global issues, said club members decided to make human trafficking their emphasis for the year after hearing some victims speak about the topic.

Human trafficking involves forced labor in a range of venues – from sweatshops to homes – and activities – from prostitution to farming. In many cases, victims are smuggled to different areas and work in servitude to "pay off" an insurmountable debt to their smugglers.

Human rights experts estimate that 27 million people are enslaved in such circumstances around the globe, as human trafficking is the second-most lucrative criminal activity, next to drug trafficking. In the United States, 300,000 children – many of them runaways – are at risk of sexual exploitation by traffickers.

Targeting runaways

Theresa Flores, a human trafficking victim who spoke at the forum, said she was an upper-middle class girl from a Catholic home in a Detroit suburb who was forced into a sexual exploitation ring at age 15. The perpetrators threatened to kill her family if she ever told anyone. She got out of the situation two years later when her family moved.

Flores wrote a book about the experience, The Sacred Bath, and now works as a counselor to help other women and children caught in human trafficking.

Today’s traffickers often target runaways. They sometimes kidnap children or lure them through Internet social sites. Most are not known by their future victims, but they can also be older boyfriends or even family members, Flores said.

"We have allowed it to happen by not keeping our eyes open for this," she said. "We don’t like to think it can happen here."

'Big profits’

Another former trafficking victim, Given Kachepa, came to the United States at age 11 as part of the Zambian A Cappella Boys’ Choir. Kachepa, an orphan living with his siblings in his aunt’s home in a poor rural village, was told that he would be given money, an education and help for his family if he would travel abroad with the choir.

Shortly after arriving in this country, the boys were singing four to seven concerts a day for no pay and were threatened with abuse and deportation if they reported their condition.

Kachepa and the other choir members were rescued by federal immigration authorities, and he was adopted by a family in Colleyville.

Kachepa, now a senior at the University of North Texas, wants to warn about trafficking.

"Traffickers get rich by exploiting innocent victims," he said. "It’s big profits and cheap lives. People become disposable."

Local trafficking

Fort Worth and Dallas police officials also spoke at the forum about local trafficking.

Kathleen Murray, a licensed social worker with the Fort Worth police’s human trafficking unit, said that in the last year the unit had found 24 victims, all but two of them women. Seventeen of them were involved in illegal sexual activities, six were forced laborers and one was both.

Dallas police Lt. Christina Smith, commander of the vice unit, said law enforcement officials are changing their approach to prostitution by looking at ways to help women get out of the sex trade.

"For many years, we put prostitutes in jail. We’re not going to arrest ourselves out of a problem," she said.

Smith said that Dallas police offer resources to victims to help them stop abusing drugs, find housing and learn job-interview skills.

Course of Study in the Curriculum of some schools in Chiang Rai

A fountain of misery
Published: 7/03/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: NewsTackling a problem at its source is obviously a better strategy than letting it grow to the point where it becomes unmanageable. With this in mind, the British Embassy this week donated some 20,000 brochures through Thai government agencies in an awareness campaign against international human trafficking and the 700,000 people around the world known to have fallen victim to it.

Similar motivation has seen human trafficking introduced as a course of study in the curriculum of some schools in Chiang Rai to discourage hilltribe girls from being lured into the flesh trade. In recent weeks, it has also focused media attention on rescuing abused child maids trafficked here from Laos and Burma, underage labourers on fishing trawlers and trying to help the Rohingya boat people who are not even welcome in their own country.

There is no doubt that women abducted into forced prostitution and men coerced into servitude undergo the most horrific of human experiences. Such a despicable trade can only be sustained by callously exploiting the desperation bred of poverty. There can never be too loud an outcry against such wrongs.

Last June a tough new law to combat traffickers came into force and extended its protection to all those in danger of becoming victims of prostitution, pornography, sexual abuse, forced labour or the trade in human organs. It increased the punishment meted out to traffickers, spared victims from prosecution and concealed their identities. It also frees high-ranking police officers from having to obtain search warrants when actively in pursuit of suspected human traffickers and while rescuing their victims.

Now, nine months later, it would be encouraging to see police and public prosecutors making proper use of this law. Thailand has long had to suffer the shame of being branded an international people trafficking hub because gangs illegally trading in sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and other forced labour activity are either based here or use the country as a transit route.

Collusion has long been suspected between the corrupt influential figures behind the trafficking and their equally corrupt law enforcement counterparts. The new law was intended to dissolve such relationships, put the culprits in jail and make it clear that any tolerance that ever existed was at an end. If these goals have been achieved the accomplishment has been shrouded in secrecy. If they have not, then why enact important legislation if it is not going to be enforced?

This law also targets the exploitation of job-hunters, who sometimes pay 200,000 baht or more to get employment overseas. With no cash reserves, these job-seekers mortgage their land with the job-brokers, who charge them extortionate interest rates on the money they borrow. Once in a foreign country and with no money or knowledge of the local language, these workers often find out that their job description has changed. Fearful of losing their land, they have no choice but to accept what the foreign employers give them. Sometimes they lose everything.

Last year, in a six-month anti-trafficking operation across the United Kingdom, 528 people were arrested in 188 police raids. The majority of the 167 victims were found to have come from Southeast Asia, with about 30% of the cases involving Thais, either as traffickers or victims.

At present, such a coordinated response is the best way to tackle trafficking on this scale. The future lies in getting the message across to the vulnerable before the trap springs shut and they become the victims.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Capital Profile - Andra Ackerman

Andra Ackerman
Director of Human Trafficking Prevention and Policy

Age: 37

Home: Cohoes

What she does: Since last year, Ackerman has worked at the Division of Criminal Justice Services training police agencies, prosecutors and state law enforcement officials on New York's new human trafficking law and how to use it. The law took effect in November 2007, boosting prison time for those convicted of trafficking, or "modern-day slavery" in which victims are forced into the sex trade or another form of labor.

How she got there: Headed the Schenectady County District Attorney's Office Special Victims Unit beginning in March 2005; before that, she worked as assistant district attorney in Albany County for four years; briefly worked at Troy-based Pechenik & Curro law firm; and served as assistant district attorney in Rensselaer County for a year and a half. Ackerman earned her law degree in 1999 from the State University at Buffalo's School of Law, her bachelor's degree in political science from Siena College in 1994, and her associates degree in criminal justice from Hudson Valley Community College in 1991.

Personal: Single. Grew up in foster care in the Capital Region. Graduated from Averill Park High School.

How does your new job combating human trafficking compare with prosecuting sex crimes?
"It's very different — to be so long in the trenches, so to speak, really working with the victims and the court system, to now being at a state agency where the beautiful part of it is being able to affect change; to not only affect one community, but all the communities in New York state."

What is the scope of human trafficking in New York?

"Society is changing, and along with that are the ways that (criminals) are pulling victims into human trafficking. There are many cases where women are pulled in from the bordering states and countries. But they're also pulled in from the Internet. And they take runaway kids, for example, from areas like MySpace and Craigslist, and they literally lure them into prostitution and use the same means as traffickers. Really, the (new) law applies to them as well."

Human trafficking is often associated with immigrants from foreign countries? Does that hold true?
"That is correct — but it's not just outside of this country. ... There are just as many victims who are domestic victims. It literally can be happening down the street. It's really insecure, troubled kids who are offered an opportunity to change their lives — and it's not the change they were looking for."

On the unique problem human trafficking presents:

"Human trafficking is different from every other crime that I've seen ... (The victims are) not running to police, they're running away from police. ... They think in their mind that they're committing a crime, and they're told that. So here you have a situation where somebody appears to be a prostitute. They're afraid of law enforcement and law enforcement, old-school, has looked at them as prostitutes. What we're doing here is to try to show and teach law enforcement to look outside the box. ... These perpetrators use that fear of law enforcement as a tool, and that's different from all other cases that I've handled, because the victims really feel like they're part of this crime, too. They're made to believe that."

On her experience in foster care and its impact on her career:
"A lot of the work I do now is because of that. It's really being a voice for kids. What I love about this job is I helps me affect kids' lives on a state level, not just in the community. The community is great, but this job allows me to do it in every community around New York. And if I didn't have that experience when I was younger, I may not be here. ... A lot of these kids abused are in foster care. If you haven't been there, it's so hard to understand. But being there, and you look at them and you tell them you been there, they're eyes get big. They really open up to you they talk to you."

What would you tell victims if they could see your words?
"I'd say, 'Take a moment, Trust us. Give us your time — we can provide you the services you need and we can help you. And really, New York state is there for you. It's true."

Robert Gavin
First published: Monday, October 13, 2008