Tag Archives: human trafficking

Working against human trafficking, from Moldova to Milwaukee

According to a report published by the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission in 2013 entitled “Estimating the Number of Sex Trafficked Youth Using Contacts with Milwaukee Police Department,” more than 77 youth below the age of 17 were trafficked in our city. This information is now more than 3 years old and does not account for adults.

There are many great organizations working to fight human trafficking in Milwaukee and abroad.

Please learn about, volunteer with and work alongside these groups.

Here are a few: Racine Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Police Department, the Commission on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence and the U.S. Attorney’s Eastern District Task Force on Human Trafficking, along with many nonprofits.

For a comprehensive list of organizations, please see the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee’s May 2013 report entitled, “Survey Results: Services for People Who’ve Been Trafficked.”

Another organization is Diaconia Connections, an international aid and development organization affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA, the Czech Brethren and the United Church of Christ. Diaconia Connections maintains an office in the Plymouth United Church of Christ on Milwaukee’s East Side.

The following is a personal reflection from their director, Jeremy Ault, about his trip to Moldova, documenting the anti-trafficking work being done there.

After nearly two hours of traveling, my Moldovan colleagues Adrian and Livia stopped the car in the middle of a gravel road at the top of a long, winding hill. They made their way to a rusted gate that demarcated the property line of a family that lived in a dilapidated house. Turquoise paint peeled away from warped, sun-bleached wooden planks, while the breeze sucked curtains out of broken windowpanes. The yard was bare and rusted hulks of farm equipment could be seen through the crushed walls of a collapsed barn. There was no electricity, no running water and the outhouse door was left ajar.

It was at times like these between Adrian, Livia and me where our language barrier was most noticeable. I had no idea of their plans, so I just followed.

Upon reaching the threshold of the gate, I caught a glimpse of an elderly women making her way to the door. She walked with a severe bend in her spine — most likely the consequence of years of farm labor and osteoporosis.

With her came three children. Their ages varied, from 10-16. There were two boys and a young girl. They didn’t speak to us. After some hushed conversation, Adrian turned to me and waved me inside.

I hesitated.

I made it to the steps leading to the entrance, glanced at the children, and then turned back around. I walked across the yard, back through the gate, and stood by the car. I didn’t leave that spot for an hour.

***

In the summer of 2015, I traveled with three representatives from the Presbyterian Foundation to the European nation of Moldova to document the work of Diaconia Connections (the nonprofit I work for), and our Moldovan partners CASMED and ProCoRe. Our goal was to produce a video about the work being done to fight human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a reprehensible crime. And Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, is ground zero.

Cornered between Romania, Ukraine and the Black Sea, the country has experienced years of economic dysfunction, political corruption and civil war. For working-age adults and young people, opportunity is often found by seeking employment in Russia or the European Union.

Moldova is rated as a Tier 2 Watch List by the U.S. State Department. It is a primary source of men, women, and children trafficked for sex and forced labor. Victims are sent to Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Russia and the European Union. Nearly 80 percent of those trafficked work in the sex industry.

The problem is most egregious in Moldova’s rural communities, where educational and economic opportunities are lacking. Individuals in the countryside are desperate for opportunities. And desperate people without the proper means to acquire work visas, are prime targets for human traffickers. In Moldova, there are plenty of potential victims.

***

We met up with our Moldovan colleagues, Livia and Adrian, early on in our trip and they stayed with us for a few days, driving us around Moldova, where we visited villages and farm communities. But instead of listening to stories of capture, abuse, escape and healing from individual survivors, we instead visited the damp, musty homes of elderly women suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.

We came upon the cottage of a 75-year-old man uncontrollably shaking from a neurological disease that rendered him unable to speak or feed himself. The nurse from CASMED that cared for him walked over 7 miles a day to wash his soiled bed linens and slice his bread.

We had lunch with a single mother and her son who was physically disabled and unable to leave the house. We listened intently as she pleaded with local government officials to assist her in rebuilding the foundation of her home. In the middle of the conversation, the mayor of the town leaned over to me and said in English, “Her house is going to be condemned next month. We don’t know what to do. We have no money to help.”

At some point I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like a voyeur. The overbearing sense of helplessness began to weigh on me, so I created an alternative reality.

I convinced myself that the people we were visiting were acting — perhaps for the camera. I decided to look away, to ignore the problems that were presented before me — which is why, at our last stop, I refused to enter the house.

I stood by the car indignant and upset that Adrian and Livia had taken me to the home of an elderly women, caring for children, who was clearly uncomfortable and in need of some kind of material aid. Once again, I brought nothing. I had no food and no money. And this time, I had little empathy. I don’t know, maybe I was ashamed of my own privilege?

My colleagues from the Presbyterian Foundation, along with Adrian and Livia, returned to the car. None of them asked me about my decision to stay outside.

Instead, they recounted another tragic story that had become all too familiar: Six years ago, the children’s mother was lured by work “recruiters” from Russia, promising a job in the hospitality industry in Moscow. Thinking that she would work in a hotel or café, the mother gave money to the recruiters to purchase a work visa. She left. And has never been back. It is now known that she was trafficked into prostitution by an organized crime syndicate. Her children have spoken with her only twice since she’s been gone, and they do not know when or if she will return. The task of caring for her children has fallen to her impoverished and elderly mother — a situation that only continues the cycle of poverty and vulnerability that enables traffickers to take advantage of desperation.

***

After some reflection, I thought more critically about my own decision to not enter the house. Livia and Adrian, in the face of problems, never looked away. They listened to the stories of people and actively found ways to help. The work of CASMED and ProCoRe are testaments to the power of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming challenges. The nurses from CASMED provide not only medical assistance, but offer company and conversation, reminding those they care for that they are loved and remembered. Social workers from CASMED and ProCoRe assist elderly caretakers with their expenses, providing educational materials, a living stipend and food throughout the year. Youth counselors and workers provide job training, therapy sessions and organize cultural outings to help young survivors of trafficking heal. I began to feel ashamed that I, in my privilege, did not allow the children or the grandmother to tell me their story.

Livia, Adrian and all the individuals we visited, forced me to realize an often forgotten fact: that a crime like human trafficking affects entire communities in addition to those trafficked. Men who have been sent away to Moscow to work on construction sites as bonded laborers are unable to remain home and attend to their ailing mothers. Women forced into prostitution in Turkey are unable to care for their aging fathers. Bright students desperate for work and educational opportunities drift away to cities and across borders, weakening their communities and impoverishing the life and future of their villages.

But the story doesn’t need to stop there.

No matter how insidious the crime trafficking can be, together, survivors and regular people like you and me can fight back.

It is why Adrian and Livia continue to care and provide healing for all of those affected — the survivors and those who are left behind.

It’s why survivors themselves are often their own best advocates. They are strong, resilient people who have a lot to teach us.

It’s why we should never ignore their stories.

It’s why we should actively search for those places in our communities where trafficking is happening and volunteer, donate to, or work alongside those organizations fighting this terrible crime.

***

We were about an hour and half north of the capital Chisinau when I saw my final glimpse of the Moldovan countryside. It was awash in an auburn, early-morning light that intensified the dour hues of plowed fields and barren hillsides. Thousands of dried sunflower stalks shuddered in the wind while elderly farmers dressed in loose-fitting cotton overalls lounged under spindly beech trees. Women’s Orthodox headscarves splashed radiant shades of red and blue across the landscape as they slowly herded untethered cows into the irrigation canals for water. It was a bucolic, peaceful scene. For while the land showed signs of serious erosion and the people working the fields conveyed a life bereft of material wealth, it was nevertheless enticing. It was one of the few moments where I really paid attention, when I chose not to look away.

While Moldova might be far away, the trauma of trafficking hits close to home. As citizens of Milwaukee and the United States, we should work to fight injustice and human trafficking here and in places like Moldova. It might be uncomfortable and we might have to learn where we can be of help, but much more is lost when we avert our eyes and stand listlessly by on the roadside.

***

Jeremy Ault is the director of Diaconia Connections and an Analyst for Spectrum Nonprofit Services. He lives in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. For more information, please visit www.diaconiaconnections.org.

Read more

> Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, “A Crime Hidden in Plain Sight: Human Trafficking in Milwaukee,” Allison Dikanovic, Feb. 29, 2016,.

> Trafficking in Persons Report 2016, US Department of State.

> Homicide Review Commission Report, April 15, 2013, “Estimating the Number of Sex Trafficked Youth Using Contacts with the Milwaukee Police Department.”

 

Images provided by Jeremy Ault.
Images provided by Jeremy Ault.

Attorney General offers ‘national strategy’ to combat human trafficking

As part of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced the Justice Department’s National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking , as required by the 2015 Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.

In addition to this new national strategy, every year, the attorney general also submits the Attorney General’s Annual Report to Congress and Assessment of U.S. Government Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons, which details the programs and activities carried out by all federal agencies and sets forth recommended goals for the upcoming year.

The most recent report, for FY 2015, is available here.

The department also has launched www.justice.gov/humantrafficking as a central destination to learn more about the department’s efforts to combat the scourge of human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is one of the most devastating crimes that we confront,” said Lynch.  “The National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking summarizes the work that our many components and our U.S. Attorney’s Offices are doing to better help survivors and target traffickers. These efforts encourage increased collaboration within the department as well as between the department and our partners in order to build on our successes as we prepare to take on the work that remains.”

The National Strategy sets forth plans to enhance coordination within the department and to develop specific strategies within each federal district to stop human trafficking.

The National Strategy includes the following:

  • An assessment of the threat presented by human trafficking based on FBI case information.
  • An account of the work of the department’s components that are most extensively involved in anti-trafficking efforts, including the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit; the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section; the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices; the FBI; and various grant-making components within the Office of Justice Programs.
  • A description of the district-specific strategies developed by each U.S. Attorney’s Office.
  • A discussion of human trafficking and anti-trafficking efforts in Indian Country.
  • Information about annual spending dedicated to preventing and combating human trafficking.
  • A description of plans to encourage cooperation, coordination and mutual support between the private and non-profit sector and the department to combat human trafficking.

On the web

To learn more about the report and the department’s efforts to combat human trafficking visit www.justice.gov/humantrafficking.

Human trafficking cases rise in Wisconsin, U.S.

New data show a 17 percent increase in the number of human trafficking cases handled in Wisconsin in 2015 and an increase of 24 percent nationwide.

Polaris, a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery, released data earlier in February from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline and the BeFree Textline. The organization’s numbers do not represent the full scope of the problem, but rather the incoming calls for help.

There were 50 cases of human trafficking reported to the hotline from Wisconsin in 2015, including 45 cases of sex trafficking and three cases of labor trafficking.

In 2014, Polaris reported 43 cases of human trafficking from Wisconsin.

Since 2007, the organization has received reports of 205 cases in the state.

Nationwide, the increase in the number of cases was larger — 24 percent from 2014 to 2015 and an increase of 519 percent since 2008.

There were 5,973 cases of human trafficking reported to the hotline and the BeFree textline in 2015. Most of these cases involved reports of sex trafficking and about 30 percent of the survivors or victims were identified as U.S. citizens.

“From the domestic servant forced to work for little pay who required emergency shelter to the young girl made to sell sex online against her will who texted us for crisis support, survivors of human trafficking are reaching out to the national hotline more than ever,” said Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris. 

Also, recent research by Northeastern University funded by the National Institute of Justice found that posting the number to the hotline in public areas is one of the most effective ways to increase the number of human trafficking arrests. The hotline has collected more than 6,500 tips since 2007.

Myles said, “More survivors calling the national hotline means more women, children and men are being connected to life-changing support through the incredible work of more than 3,000 service-provider partners across the country.”

In Wisconsin, those partners — prosecutors, police officers, social workers, educators, victims advocates, lawyers and other professionals — have begun meeting as a task force to address eradicating modern-day slavery. The task force consists of 37 members representing public and private agencies and is co-chaired by Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel and Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson.

At the task force’s first meeting in late 2015, the attorney general’s office shared the case of a 15-year-old girl rescued from sex-traffickers by Department of Justice agents. Undercover officers found information for the girl, missing from her home for months, posted on an Internet site under “escort.” 

“We challenged everyone in the room to make this a true working group — one that works to improve training, law enforcement, prevention, awareness, advocacy, resources for victims seeking help, sensible legislation, counseling and other direct services to survivors, housing for survivors and aftercare,” Schimel said after the meeting.

Task force members emphasized their work on this issue requires putting aside partisanship and politics.

“We have an amazing multi-disciplinary group from all across the state,” Schimel stated. “If anyone can accomplish something, it is this group.”

A month after the task force’s first meeting, legislators introduced SB 618, legislation intended to make certain that child victims of human trafficking can access services. Through a loophole in the law, child victims of human trafficking are not automatically eligible for services made available to victims of child abuse. 

The measure also would require the reporting of suspected abuse — child prostitution and sex-trafficking — to a law enforcement or social services agency, possibly leading to earlier intervention in cases.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety held a hearing on the measure on Feb. 1.

On the line

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline is 1-888-373-7888. Reach the Polaris BeFree textline at 233733.

Recognition in Racine

Karri Hemmig on Feb. 2 received the first “Unsung Hero Award” from Racine Mayor John Dickert for her work with the Racine Coalition Against Human Trafficking. “I don’t know that people realize that for years, Karri worked without a salary to make sure the lives of our women and men, boys and girls who have become victims of human trafficking are rescued from a perilous future,” Dickert said.
— L.N.

Wisconsin Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force meets, sets goals

The Wisconsin Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force held its first meeting recently, with 37 members from public and private organizations sharing their experiences of the sexual exploitation of young people and their efforts to eradicate modern day slavery.

Victim advocates, as well as the results of investigations nationwide, have identified Wisconsin as a hub of human trafficking. 

The nonpartisan task force is co-chaired by Attorney General Brad Schimel and Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson, who ended the meeting with a challenge. 

“We challenged everyone in the room to make this a true working group — one that works to improve training, law enforcement, prevention, awareness, advocacy, resources for victims seeking help, sensible legislation, counseling and other direct services to survivors, housing for survivors, and aftercare,” Schimel said, according to a news release. “We have to protect our children and what we saw in the room was a group of people who are willing to work hard and to show progress.” 

Just a few weeks ago, a 15-year-old girl was rescued from the sex trafficking by DOJ-Division of Criminal Investigation agents. Undercover officers found her information posted on an Internet site under “escort.” She had been reported missing since late October. 

“Every time we get a glimpse of this crime, we are alarmed with what we see,” Schimel stated. “We ask ourselves, ‘How can this be happening?’ We have an amazing multi-disciplinary group from all across this state. If anyone can accomplish something, it is this group.” 

Human Trafficking exists in small and large cities, towns and villages, both urban and suburban. A statement from the task force said municipalities with truck stops or clusters of inexpensive motels can be centers for human trafficking, which is why one player in the effort to combat the crime is Truckers Against Trafficking.

The task force is working with local and regional human workgroups to better coordinate prevention, training, data collection and service delivery efforts. Through enhanced planning, resources and communication, the state-level task force will offer additional support to existing efforts, increase public awareness of the issue, create statewide practices and expand residential and community-based services throughout Wisconsin.

The task force will oversee five work groups: Training; Identification and Screening; Prevention and Public Awareness; Placement and Services; and Data.

Schimel said, “We heard from many eloquent and passionate advocates today and there are many more in the room who did not have a chance to talk simply because there was not enough time at this first meeting. I challenge you to hold this task force’s feet to the fire and demand that we do something.

“There is so much we know we need to do to prevent the spread of this scourge and to turn victims into survivors. If we do our work well, we can make our social services and criminal justice systems friendly and more welcoming places for victims. Until they truly believe they can count on us to really help, they will not come forward.” 

Senate passes bill to help victims of human trafficking

The Senate unanimously passed legislation on April 22 to help the victims of human trafficking, ending a tortuous partisan standoff over abortion that also delayed confirmation of President Barack Obama’s attorney general nominee.

The vote was 99-0 to approve the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which expands law enforcement tools to target sex traffickers and creates a new fund to help victims. The House has passed similar legislation and the White House has voiced support.

“We have not fallen deaf to the cries of those who actually need our help, the victims of human trafficking,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the lead GOP sponsor. “This legislation will be instrumental in helping victims of sexual abuse and trafficking recover from a life in bondage.”

The unanimous outcome put a bipartisan punctuation mark on legislation that started out with wide support from both parties, but veered into a partisan cul-de-sac last month when Democrats said they’d noticed language that could expand federal prohibitions on abortion funding. How or why Democrats had failed to see the provision in the first place became a topic of frosty dispute on Capitol Hill, with Republicans pointing out that the bill had unanimously passed committee, and one Democratic senator’s office acknowledging that an aide had in fact known of the abortion language.

At the same time, Attorney General-designate Loretta Lynch languished despite commanding enough votes to be confirmed, because Republican leaders made the decision, never fully explained, to delay her confirmation vote until the trafficking bill was completed. Now that it is, Lynch will get a vote on April 23 to replace Eric Holder and become the nation’s first black female attorney general.

The partisan gridlock on the trafficking bill and Lynch made no one look good, and with all sides eager for a resolution Cornyn worked with Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada to arrive at a compromise, which they announced on April 21. It addresses Democratic concerns about expanding prohibitions on spending federal funds for abortions, by splitting the new victims’ fund into two pieces.

One part of the fund would be made up of fines paid by sex traffickers, and it could not go for health services, rendering the abortion restrictions moot. The other part of the fund, which could go for medical services, builds on $5 million already appropriated by Congress for Community Health Centers, which are already subject to abortion spending prohibitions. The compromise allowed both sides to claim a win since Republicans ensured any money for health services could not go for abortions, while Democrats could say that they had prevented prohibitions on spending federal money for abortions from being expanded to a new source of money.

“An effort to fight back against human trafficking in our country is, without question, no place for gridlock and dysfunction,” Murray said. “It certainly shouldn’t have taken this long but I’m pleased that we were able to work together, find common ground and reach an agreement.”

With the bill finally greased for passage following announcement of the abortion compromise, Republican leaders staved off one final partisan controversy by persuading conservatives in the caucus to hold back on a handful of immigration-related amendments they wanted to offer. U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said he was urged to pull back an amendment that would have allowed for punishing people for immigrating illegally with their kids or other family members.

“I yielded to higher authorities against my better judgment. … We ended up with no immigration amendments,” Sessions said. “They wanted another bipartisan accomplishment and it wouldn’t have achieved it.”

The amendments that did get attached to the bill passed with little controversy, though one, by Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., drew concerns from at least one advocacy group. The measure would make it illegal for websites or social media sites to “knowingly” sell advertisements for sex services involving minors. A pro-privacy group, the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the measure was so vaguely written that it potentially makes every U.S. company that hosts web content subject to criminal prosecution.

Announced presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, missed the vote.

43 cases of human trafficking reported in Wisconsin in 2014

Forty-three cases of human trafficking in Wisconsin were reported in 2014 to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline.

That number includes 38 cases of sex trafficking and three cases of labor trafficking, according to data released by the NHTRC and Polaris, a national leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery.

Since 2007, the center has received reports of 148 cases of human trafficking in Wisconsin.

From across the United States, the center received reports of 5,167 cases of human trafficking in 2014. The reports were made to the hotline and also to Polaris’ BeFree texting helpline at 233733. The report said calls went up 26 percent in 2014 from 2013.

Since 2007, there have been 19,724 cases of human trafficking in the United States called in or texted to the helplines.

“Human trafficking hotlines are a lifeline for survivors so they can stay safe and get connected with help and services,” said Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris. “Behind the data are the stories of thousands of women, men and children in each and every state who were exploited against their will.”

Data from the center:

National Human Trafficking Resource Center

• 5,042 cases of human trafficking reported in the United states. Of those cases:

• 3,598 (71%) were sex trafficking.

• 818 (16%) were labor trafficking.

• 172 (4%) were sex and labor trafficking.

• 454 (9%) were cases where the trafficking type was not specified.

• A total of 24,062 substantive signals were received from the U.S.

Polaris BeFree Texting Helpline

• 125 cases of human trafficking reported in the United States. Of those cases:

• 99 (79%) were sex trafficking.

• 10 (8%) were labor trafficking.

• 2 (2%) were sex and labor trafficking.

• 14 (11%) were cases where the trafficking type was not specified.

• A total of 1,279 texting conversations were received in the U.S.

The top three sex trafficking venues in the United States are commercial front brothels, Internet ad-based trafficking and sex trafficking occurring at hotels and motels.

The top three labor trafficking industries in the United States based on the data are domestic work, traveling sales crews and the restaurant and food service industry.

In Wisconsin, the data shows the top venues for sex trafficking to be pornography, escort services, street-based, hotel/motel-based and nightclub-based.

In Wisconsin, the cases involved 38 females and six males; 28 adults and eighteen minors, 25 citizens and four foreign nationals.

Polaris emphasizes the data are not intended to represent the full scope of human trafficking.

Polaris also notes that the greater percentage of sex trafficking cases reported is largely due to greater awareness of the issue, and much less awareness about labor trafficking in the U.S. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of modern slavery worldwide, with 14.2 million (68%) of those victims of labor exploitation.

For help…

Polaris also notes that the greater percentage of sex trafficking cases reported is largely due to greater awareness of the issue, and much less awareness about labor trafficking in the U.S. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of modern slavery worldwide, with 14.2 million (68%) of those victims of labor exploitation.

 

Wisconsin lawmakers combat state’s growing human-trafficking problem

Residents of Walworth County were shocked in January when a couple was arrested for allegedly holding a runaway 16-year-old Waukesha girl in a Janesville home and prostituting her to men they solicited on the Internet.

Sex trafficking is much more common in the state than it’s perceived to be. While Wisconsinites tend to think human trafficking is a problem confined to developing nations and large urban areas, the statistics show otherwise.

More than 200 victims of trafficking have been identified across half of Wisconsin’s counties, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. During a nationwide FBI-coordinated investigation of human trafficking last summer, 10 children were rescued in Wisconsin and 100 suspected traffickers were arrested in a single day — numbers that were among the highest of all the cities participating in the probe.

Experts say the one-day operation revealed only the tip of a crime that is mostly hidden.

Jan Miyasaki, director of Madison’s Project Respect, said in her work with local women in the sex trade, she encounters between 50 and 75 cases a year involving force, fraud or coercion. Claudine O’Leary, a community educator who works with minors in the Milwaukee sex trade, said she’s come into contact with more than 100 young people in the past year whom she believes fit the definition of human trafficking victims.

But despite the scope of the trafficking problem, Miyasaki and other advocates say the state lacks money for data collection, education, law enforcement training and victim services that could bring more cases to light and help to prevent them. Only 7 percent of Wisconsin justice system agencies received training on human trafficking from 2000 to 2007, according to an article that appeared in the Wisconsin Law Review.

In 2008, the state enacted a law to help prosecutors and law-enforcement officials identify traffickers and bring them to justice. But weaknesses in the law have limited its effectiveness.

Last month, in a rare display of bipartisanship, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Madison threw their support behind a new, much stronger anti-trafficking law. Advocates for human trafficking victims believe the new law will make a difference.

With the assistance of Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s office, GOP state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck authored AB620, which passed the Assembly on a bipartisan voice vote on Feb. 11. Loudenbeck, a member of the Assembly Committee on Public Health and Public Safety, says she sought input from law enforcement, victims advocacy groups and prosecutors to craft a law that makes it easier to obtain a conviction, strengthens penalties for traffickers and supports victims.

Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R– Marathon, authored a companion bill, SB492, which is expected to clear his chamber as soon as March 11.

“Human trafficking is a fast growing criminal industry across the globe and Wisconsin is no exception,” Petrowski said. “While Wisconsin is moving in the right direction to eradicate human trafficking, there is still a lot of work to do. We must protect our most vulnerable citizens.”

VICTIM’S FEAR

Loudenbeck said her eyes were opened to the problem when she read a report titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: Human Trafficking in the United States.” The report showed the problem needs a wider response than just creating laws, she said.

“It’s also about creating awareness,” Loudenbeck explained. “If you’re not trained to recognize what’s happening, then you’re not going to be able to have the appropriate response.”

It’s not just law enforcement officials who fail to recognize victims — it’s the victims themselves. Although sex traffickers coerce their victims into prostitution via physical violence and other forms of intimidation, such as withholding drugs from addicts, the victims often regard themselves as criminals due to the illegal acts they’re pressured to commit or their drug use.

In the past, victims have been reluctant to come for- ward because they’ve faced prosecution for crimes their abductors or controllers have compelled them to perform. Loudenbeck’s new law, however, protects victims from prosecution, thus eliminating a major barrier preventing them from seeking help.

Trafficking victims are mostly vulnerable people such as immigrants, poor and abused women and teens, and young people addicted to drugs. Homeless teens with nowhere to live and no means of support are especially subject to exploitation. They’re lured by offers of a place to stay, a meal, a relationship, a job or access to drugs.

Typical is the case of a 15-year-old Fitchburg runaway who was introduced to a man who offered to take her and her 10-month- old son on a trip to Atlanta. When they arrived, he took her to a hotel and ordered her to prostitute for him, according to Lt. Todd Stetzer of the Fitchburg Police Department. She refused, and the man allegedly traded her to another pimp, who advertised her for “adult services” on the site backpage.com, she later told police.

Detectives located her in Georgia by tracking her cellphone. They put up posters in the area where they detected her signal, and a clerk at the hotel where she was being held saw one and alerted police.

CONSENT OR COERCION?

One of the thorniest problems with Wisconsin’s 2008 trafficking law was the requirement that victims had to prove they participated in prostitution or other crimes without their consent.

“You have a woman or man who is engaging in prostitution and you ask them if they are doing this consensually and they say, ‘yes.’ But the surrounding circumstances might be that she consented because he (the trafficker) threatened to beat her family up, not feed her or withhold drugs,” said Assistant Attorney General Karie Cattanach, who handles sex trafficking cases and acts as a resource for other prosecutors. “So, you’re telling a jury on one hand that not consenting is a factor, but on the other hand you’ve got the victim saying, ‘Yes, I consented.’”

“If I say, ‘Give me your wallet,’ and you do, then a defense attorney can say that you consented to give up the wallet,” added Assistant Attorney General Winn Collins, who works on the legislative side of the issue. He said the focus should be on the threat or force used to obtain the wallet rather than the fact you complied. Collins and Cattanach said the new law does exactly that by eliminating “non-consent” as an element of trafficking.

“The prosecutor still has to prove coercion, but (the new law) takes the focus away from the consent and puts the focus on the offender’s conduct,” Collins said. “The directions to the jury don’t stress consent.”

Another major change in the law is that it allows evidence of similar acts of trafficking and child sex crimes committed by the accused to be admissible in court.

The new law also allows for a unified process to incorporate the forfeiture of property in a trafficking case.

Other changes to the law will make it fairer for victims. For example, the new law will limit the ability to prosecute minors for prostitution. It will also allow victims of sex trafficking to have convictions for prostiution vacated or expunged.

Despite all the improvements in the state’s trafficking law, people who provide services to victims say that more education of law-enforcement officers is critical to addressing the problem, as is increased funding for support services. As more cases are identified, the inadequate web of services currently helping victims is going to be stretched to the breaking point, according to service providers.

Meanwhile, service providers across the country are not waiting for — or counting on — more effective laws to help identify and rescue victims. They’re utilizing every approach they can think of, and some of them are quite creative.

For instance, the Polaris Project, a group that combats modern-day slavery and human trafficking, puts its national helpline number on bars of soap and shampoo bottles in hotels hosting large events that are likely to attract prostitution.

The number is 888-373- 7888.

Editor’s Note: This article includes information provided by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. You can find the center online at www.wisconsinwatch.org.

SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM

The scope of the human trafficking is vast and growing, thanks to the ease of Internet solicitation and transporting of victims. While a bag of cocaine can be sold just once, a body can be sold repeatedly for labor or sex, making human trafficking more profitable than the drug trade.

• It’s estimated that at least 27 million people globally are living in slavery.

• Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims are trafficked across international borders every year.

• Annual profits from human trafficking total $32 billion, making it the second largest criminal enterprise after drug trafficking.

• The present rate of child trafficking is 10 times higher than it was during the trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 16th to 18th centuries.

• An estimated 1 million children are exploited by global commercial sex trade every year. Nationally, the average age of a new child prostitute is 13.

• Between 14,500 and 17,500 children and adults are trafficked into the United States every year.

• About 85 percent of sex trafficking cases involve women and girls, but males and transgendered people are also victims.

American Bar Association adopts policy against ‘gay panic’ defense

The American Bar Association has adopted a policy against the use of the so-called “gay panic” defense.

The ABA, which has 400,000 members and is the largest volunteer professional organization in the world, adopted the policy at its annual meeting, held earlier this month in San Francisco.

The policy states:

“RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges federal, state, local and territorial governments to take legislative action to curtail the availability and effectiveness of the “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses, which seek to partially or completely excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction.  Such legislative action should include:

“(a) Requiring courts in any criminal trial or proceeding, upon the request of a party, to instruct the jury not to let bias, sympathy, prejudice, or public opinion influence its decision about the victims, witnesses, or defendants based upon sexual orientation or gender identity; and

“(b) Specifying that neither a non-violent sexual advance, nor the discovery of a person’s sex or gender identity, constitutes legally adequate provocation to mitigate the crime of murder to manslaughter, or to mitigate the severity of any non-capital crime.”

The “gay panic” defense has been used in U.S. cases, perhaps most infamously in 1995 in the Michigan trial of Jonathan Schmitz, who killed his friend, Scott Amedure, after learning during a taping of the “The Jenny Jones Show” that Amedure had a crush on him.

The two men who killed Matthew Shepard in October 1998 in Laramie, Wyo., also attempted to use the “gay panic” defense.

The voting by the ABA’s 560-member House of Delegates concluded the organization’s annual meeting, which also featuring an award presentation to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and a speech by Attorney General Eric Holder.

The delegates approved multiple policies sponsored by the ABA’s criminal justice group, including the one against the use of the “gay panic” defense and others regarding youth in the juvenile justice system with mental health and substance abuse disorders; child abuse and neglect laws and the re-examination of strict liability offenses.

The delegates also adopted resolutions related to international law, including one urging countries not to apply statutes of limitations with respect to genocide crimes against humanity and serious war crimes; another encouraging the establishment of a network of U.S. judges to facilitate communication regarding the interpretation of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and a third recognizing that U.S. common law is not an appropriate basis for refusing to enforce arbitrational awards.

Other approved resolutions:

• Support the rights of all Americans, particularly veterans, to access adequate mental health and substance use disorder services.


• Urge governments to promote the human right to adequate housing.


• Urge Congress to enact the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2013.

• Approve the Uniform Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking Act.

LGBT travel group joins anti-trafficking campaign

The world’s largest LGBT travel group has joined a global campaign against human trafficking.

The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association made the commitment at its annual convention in Chicago in early May.

IGLTA, which represents travel agents, tour operators, destinations and services, is the third association to sign the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct drafted and circulated by ECPAT International. 

ECPAT is a global network of 81 groups in 74 countries working to combat child exploitation.

The code, signed by more than a thousand companies, consists of voluntary guidelines that travel companies can implement to prevent child exploitation. Signers agree to establish a policy against sexual exploitation of children; train employees in children’s rights, the prevention of sexual exploitation and how to report suspected cases; include a clause in contracts stating zero tolerance of sexual exploitation of children; and provide information to travellers on children’s rights.

The United Nations estimates that 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide each year.
ECPAT statistics concerning the U.S. conclude:

• 300,000 children nationwide are at risk of some form of commercial sexual exploitation.

• 14,500-7,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year.

• 43 percent of child victims of commercial sexual exploitation in Los Angeles engaged in survival sex – sex for money, food, a place to stay, clothes or drugs.

• 45 percent of commercial sexual exploitation of children in New York City occurred in hotels.

• 95 percent of all trafficking victims experience physical or sexual violence.

• 25 percent of tourists sexually abusing children outside the United States are American or Canadian.

IGLTA board member Rika Jean-Francois was instrumental in creating the partnership between the LGBT group and ECPAT. Jean-Francois also is a commissioner of ITB Corporate Social Responsibility, and ITB Berlin signed the code in 2011.

“IGLTA signing the child-protection code sends a strong signal to its members and the tourism industry as a whole,” said Jean-Francois. “I believe that it is part of our social responsibility to speak out against sexual exploitation of children and to stand up for human rights in tourism.”

Carol Smolenski, the executive director ECPAT-USA, said, “ECPAT-USA is thrilled to partner with IGLTA in raising awareness about the unique role travel companies have in identifying and protecting victims of trafficking. The international reach of IGLTA and its members is crucial to fight trafficking in all regions of the world.”

On the Web

To read more about the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct and find companies that have pledged to uphold the code, go to www.thecode.org.

Wisconsin restaurant owner charged with human trafficking

Authorities say a Kimberly restaurant owner engaged in what amounted to “modern day slavery” when she made a woman work long hours with little pay.

Fifty-one-year-old Yen Meier, owner of Yen’s Chinese Buffet, is facing charges of human trafficking in Outagamie County.

A criminal complaint says the alleged victim told police Meier brought her to Kimberly from China after she became pregnant by Meier’s brother. The woman says she arrived in the United States in December 2011 and was forced to work 12- to 14-hour days, 6 to 7 days a week. She says Meier paid her a total of $50 the entire time she worked at the restaurant.

Fox Valley Metro Officer Scott Van Schyndel tells WLUK-TV (http://bit.ly/17G9TGM ) local police and agents from the Department of Homeland Security arrested Meier on April 16.