Last November, a police raid on a Los Angeles club resulted in the arrest and detainment of 80 undocumented women. But instead of listening to their claims of abuse and spotting the many, significant indicators of human trafficking, the LAPD treated the women like criminals and turned them over to ICE. Now, finally, all the women have been released from custody. But the club’s owners and operators and the men who bought and used these trafficked women are still free.
This victory was won by the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights in Los Angeles and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, both of whom worked to get the detained women released, and in some cases, interviewed as possible human trafficking victims. Additionally, over 1,000 Change.org members signed a petition demanding that the LAPD stop treating potential trafficking victims like criminals. Thanks to the advocacy of so many, this case has a happy ending. But across the country, trafficked men and women — especially undocumented victims — are treated as criminals and deported before they get a chance to tell their stories.
The remaining failure in the Club 907 case is that the police didn’t arrest any of the people responsible for trafficking, abusing, or taking advantage of these women. Sadly, the double injustice of arresting trafficking victims while their traffickers and buyers go free is not unusual news. In this case, the injustice of arresting victims has been corrected. But as Lauren Markham writes over on the Immigrant Rights blog, the club owners were advertising for more dancers on Craigslist within a week.
The process of reforming police departments to identify potential trafficking victims and treat them as such will be a long one. That’s why the efforts from organizations like CHIR and AILA, as well as grassroots advocacy like Change.org members holding police accountable, are so critical to protect human trafficking victims. And maybe next time, this victory will be even more complete when the victims are treated as victims and their abusers are held accountable.