Children Kidnapped for Sex Trafficking

RIO GRANDE VALLEY – Four young children could have ended up as sex trafficking victims. Instead they’re now back with their families in Mexico.

They were kidnapped. Suspected smugglers tried to bring them to the Valley. The children were all under six.

San Juan Police Chief Juan Gonzalez says young human traffickers want children under 10.

“These children have been raped repeatedly more than 30 times a day.  The more use they get out of a child, the more profit,” he tells us. “They are using these children.  The younger the better for the human trafficker.”

Gonzalez trains officers around the country to recognize signs of sex trafficking. Two women from San Juan and Edinburg tried to bring four children across the bridge illegally.

A customs officer suspected the women were going to sell the kids. The children ranged in age from less than a year to six years old. The women told officers the kids belonged to them.  hey even had fake U.S. birth certificates.

An alert customs officer didn’t believe their story.

“Officers are being trained to recognize force, fraud and coercion,” the San Juan police chief says.

Gonzalez says if the suspected smugglers got away with their crime, the children would be living through unimaginable horror.

“They’re utilizing them in bars and nightclubs or even for individuals who are requesting them to abuse them,” he tells us.

Or traffickers might sell the children to pornographers.

“Traffickers seek young children, because they can abuse them for a longer period of time,” Gonzalez explains.  “This kind of crime is a money maker.”

He adds, “Human trafficking is gone more profitable than drug smuggling, more profitable than human smuggling, arms trafficking.”

Human trafficking is hard to detect and harder to prosecute.

Gonzalez says children trafficked into this country are often taken to brothels. He says there are probably brothels around the Valley investigators haven’t found yet.

He tells us officers will usually find human trafficking when they respond to a noise violation or to find a runaway.



Police Look Up “Prostitution” in the Dictionary, Confusion Reigns

According to a November 2009 study out of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes against Children Research Center (CCRC), some law enforcement agencies have gotten the memo re: underage prostitution, and others have filed it in the trash right alongside their TPS reports. The latter group continues to classify juvenile prostitutes as delinquents, rather than victims, and would sooner arrest and prosecute these “criminals” than help them escape a life of coercion, threats, and countless forms of abuse. Needless to say, Bill Lumbergh would not be proud.

In fact, I recently contacted Bill, who had the following to say: “Yeah, police officers … So, if you could go ahead and, uh, actually protect and serve the citizens your community? That would be terrific … Okay? Thanks.”

No one really wants to please Mr. Lumbergh, but seriously, it would be oh-so-helpful all around if law enforcement could begin to see underage prostitution for what it is: Forced. Damaging. Rape.

Regardless of how a minor lands into a life of prostitution, it is practically a given that emotional and physical manipulation keeps her there. “Glamorous” as the job is, complicated as the feelings are (see: Stockholm syndrome), it is also pretty much a given that she wants –- needs -– to get out. Logically, reasonably, law enforcement, child protection, and mental health agencies should then step in with their training and services to recognize the exploitative situation for what it is and assist that individual.


Published in: on February 28, 2010 at 8:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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2 Days to Human Trafficking Awareness Day: What Can You Do?

With two days to go before Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Monday, we have some good news to share!

The North County Times, a newspaper in the San Diego area reported yesterday, that Adrian Zitlalpopoca-Hernandez, a man who had two women smuggled from Mexico to Vista to work as prostitutes in North County migrant camps, is guilty of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion. Link to full article.

This case was heard in Federal court, and Zitlalpopoca-Hernandez now faces a minimum sentence of 15 years. This is great news for a couple of different reasons. First, simply, the bad guy was caught and found guilty in court. We police officers are always happy when the bad guys are convicted, because real life is not like TV where every case is solved in 60 minutes. The truth is that many times victims are never able to identify the suspects, or the investigator cannot develop enough evidence for the prosecutor to move the case forward. It is a melancholy day when you must look a victim of violent crime in the eyes and tell them you cannot take their case to court.

The other reason this conviction is noteworthy is that one of the victims went ”sideways” (that’s cop jargon for surprising everyone in the middle of trial) while testifying, stating she had lied to investigators during the course of her interview. She essentially spoke out in defense of the defendant! Link to full article. The prosecutors were obviously successful in overcoming this surprise, which means they had more evidence than just this one woman’s testimony. A solidly investigated and prepared case can usually survive these unforeseen events.

I have no knowledge of this particular case beyond the news articles linked, but I want to use this case as a backdrop to address a potential reason for this victim’s change in heart: Stockholm Syndrome. Victim’s having positive feelings towards their abusers or captors is fairly common. Perhaps 1 in 4 victims will exhibit symptoms of the syndrome, and it is not limited to hostage-type situations. The psychology can be complex, but the bottom line for those of us involved in assisting victims and investigating trafficking cases is this; we must understand that trafficking victims may change their statements, shift their allegiance back to their trafficker, or go “sideways” for a variety of legitimate (in their mind) psychological reasons. They may have experienced trauma far beyond that suffered by a person who is assaulted only once, or whose period of confinement is quite short.

As investigators and service providers we sometimes need to show great patience with victims of crime. All of us who are interested in the plight of survivors must realize that the depth of victimization, and an individual’s response to that experience, may be beyond our own comprehension.

Only a relatively small percentage of cases where trafficking victims are identified end up with a criminal prosecution. Training of law enforcement will raise that percentage over time, and that is one of our long-term goals.

Congratulations to all of the people involved in this Southern California case! I am sure it took many law enforcement officers, victim service providers, prosecutors and others to care for these victims since their discovery, and prepare the case for court.

And good luck to the women, as they move on from being “victims” to “survivors”.

(I would like to thank my friend Marisa Ugarte, Executive Director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition for passing on these news articles. )

9 Days to HTAD: What can you do? Send this blog to 10 friends, so they can learn more about trafficking over the next 9 days.

8 Days to HTAD: What can you do? Study and understand the definition of the law so we are all talking about the same thing. Help others understand what the definition addresses, and what it does not.

7 Days to HTAD: What can you do? Leverage media, educational, and community outlets to raise awareness of HTAD.

6 Days to HTAD: What can you do? Be a billboard! And be ready to talk about trafficking when asked. Host a party, or open a business selling products that support survivors of trafficking.

5 Days to HTAD: What can you do? Know who to call to report suspected trafficking! The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 1888-3737-888

4 Days to HTAD: What can you do? Study the TIP Report, and share your knowledge!

3 Days to HTAD: What can you do? Realize that trafficking victims are hard to find, and low wage situations do not always include trafficking. More importantly, everyone deserves our respect, even those on the margins of our economy.

2 Days to HTAD: What can you do? If you are in law enforcement ,or a service provider, be patient with victims and understand their statements may change over time. Prepare for that possibility through good investigative and case management practices. If you are not professionally involved in working directly with victims of trafficking, remember that putting a case together can be very tough. Keep in mind that trafficking survivors have been through experiences we probably cannot even imagine.


Published in: on January 9, 2010 at 8:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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Houston’s Slave Trade

One of the most significant places in which human trafficking takes place is only a drive away from Bryan-College Station; Houston has become the largest hub for modern-day slavery in the United States. According to a Free Speech Radio News report, the city’s large sea port, international airport, and geographic position on Interstate 10, which has identified by the Department of Justice as one of the main human trafficking routes in the United States, have contributed to Houston a center of the modern day slave trade.

The Houston Rescue & Restore Coalition organizes bus tours to raise awareness of the human trafficking problem in Houston, a FSFN correspondent took a ride on one the bus tours and reported on how the HRRC points out how to identify areas where human trafficking is taking place:

Although largely a hidden crime, it is possible to detect the red flags of human trafficking from a distance. Traveling down main roads, Houston Rescue and Restore staffers point out street prostitution tracks, parks frequented by teenage runaways, and a day labor site where workers have been tricked out of their pay. But most of the sites flagged on the tour advertise as “spas” or “modeling studios” and have blacked-out windows, barred doors, security cameras, and neon signs stating they're open 24 hours a day. Many are concentrated in one area

While many of the victims of human trafficking are brought to the United States slaves, some of those who become victims are undocumented immigrants. According to the report there are undocumented immigrants who may be forced into prostitution or forced into other work to pay off a debt from being smuggled across the border. Also, teenage runaways are susceptible to falling victim to human trafficking; traffickers will recruit young women by providing security, affection, and generosity before they commercializing their victims.

How bad is the human trafficking problem in Houston? The largest human trafficking case in the history of the continental United States took place in Houston: US vs. Mondragon, over 100 women rescued after being forced into labor. The alternative newspaper Houston Press recently reported on the prosecution of human traffickers for including sex trafficking of children, sex trafficking by force and the transportation and coercion of minors.

According to statistics compiled by the Polaris Project, throughout the world 27 million people are affected by the modern day slavery that is human trafficking and 800,000 are trafficked across international borders every year. Of the victims approximately 80% are female, 50% are children, and 70% are forced into prostitution. The total yearly profits generated from human trafficking are $32 billion.

Human trafficking is going to remain a significant problem because despite the startling statistics the problem of modern day slavery has not received significant media coverage. Because the victims are so often immigrants, and many times undocumented immigrants, it is easy for people to remain ambivalent about the problem. Over 140 years after slavery was ended in Texas on June 19th a modern day slavery continues.


Published in: on January 7, 2010 at 12:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Newark man pleads guilty to running ring; had prostitutes in Atlantic City

A Newark man pleaded guilty in federal court in Camden on Tuesday to running an enterprise that brought women and girls all over New Jersey, including to Atlantic City, to be prostitutes, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said.

Ibn Shabazz, 35, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, Fishman said. He faces as many as five years in federal prison and a fine of as much as $250,000 when sentenced April 12.

Shabazz admitted that he and Kasiem Brown, 35, also of Newark, ran a prostitution ring from June 2005 to October 2006, and employed at least three underage girls and several adult women to work for them, Fishman said. His role included driving the women to various locations in New Jersey to work as prostitutes.

Brown was arrested at his home in Newark in October 2006 after an Atlantic City police officer saw a group of men drag a woman down the street, police said at the time.

Officer Alexis Smith was on duty at about 3:30 a.m. Oct. 5, 2006, when she recognized the woman as a 17-year-old prostitute, police said at the time. She brought in the woman for questioning and a warrant was issued for Brown’s arrest. During the raid on Brown’s home, officers found seven women and two handguns.

Brown is awaiting trial on charges related to the case, Fishman said Tuesday.

The state Department of Corrections Web showed Brown had a long criminal history, including charges of distributing drugs on school property, aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

Shabazz, Brown and a 19-year-old Newark woman also were arrested in Atlantic City in January 2006 after someone reported gunshots. Officers stopped their SUV and found two loaded guns inside, police said at the time.


Nine Charged With Sex Trafficking Children

SAN DIEGO (CN) – Nine people face federal charges of sex trafficking of children – all of them are in jail, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. The nine are members of associated of a gang called NWS that prostituted minors and adults in North San Diego County, according to the indictment.
The six-count indictment was handed up Dec. 4 and unsealed on Tuesday. It accuses the defendants of “conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of children and by force, fraud, or coercion,” prosecutors said in a statement announcing the indictment.
The defendants are Malcolm Jamal Allen, 18; Ama Bahati Bernard, 25; Devon Leontae Sutton, 21; Birdia Rollins, 20; Nicole Brook Tierney, 28; Vincent Windsor Heimstra, 57; Dominique Cortez Little, 20; Joseph Anthony Ponder, 20; and Alexandra Grove, 19. All live in Oceanside except Heimstra, who lives in Wildomar.


Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 10:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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North County gang charged in sex trafficking

A indictment unsealed today charges nine alleged members and associates of a North County gang with sex trafficking of children, authorities reported.

The indictment issued by a federal grand jury on Dec. 4, accuses the defendants of forcing girls into prostitution between January and November of this year, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego.

Charged in the case are Malcolm Jamal “King Show Tyme” Allen, 18; Ama Bahati “Spanc” Bernard, 25; Alexandra “Allie” Grove, 19; Vincent Windsor Heimstra, 57; Dominique Cortez “C-Marley” Little, 20; Joseph Anthony “Little Scraps” Ponder, 20; Birdia “Keisha” Rollins, 20; Devon Leontae “Young Fe” Sutton, 21; and Nicole Brook Tierney, 28.

All are Oceanside residents, except Heimstra, who lives in Wildomar in Riverside County. The defendants are charged with sex trafficking of children by force, fraud and coercion; conspiracy to commit that crime; sexual exploitation of children; and aiding and abetting. Authorities did not immediately disclose the number of alleged victims or their ages.


She survived the horror Ex-‘chica’ takes aim at trafficking

AS CHILDREN and their parents walked past crowded restaurants on Roosevelt Ave. in Jackson Heights recently, men yelled “Chicas!” and handed out cards with phone numbers and pictures of busty, scantily clad women.

For Kika Cerpa, a woman in her mid-30s, those cards bring back memories of her harrowing ordeal as one of those “chicas.”

Cerpa’s hellish tale began in 1993, when she was lured from her native Venezuela by a boyfriend who had moved to the U.S.

“I was forced,” Cerpa said of her coercion into prostitution.

She escaped that life after a friend was killed by a drunken client, said Cerpa, an alias given to her by an advocacy group that gave her refuge.

She lobbied for passage of a state law against human trafficking in 2007. The measure passed. But citywide, there were only eight arrests for sex trafficking in 2008, state records show.

And sex trafficking remains all too common along Roosevelt Ave. and in the vicinity, advocates and local leaders said.

When Cerpa arrived in the U.S. at age 20, her boyfriend’s cousin – a brothel madame – took her passport and her life savings of almost $2,000 and told her she had to pay off her beau’s debt. She was taken to a brothel on Roosevelt Ave.

It’s been 13 years since Cerpa worked there. But her tale of horror has received international attention, including from the United Nations secretary general.

Before she told her story to a recent UN forum on human trafficking, she told Queens News that for three years she was often forced to serve 40 johns a day.

Young women, many of them undocumented immigrants, are being intimidated and blackmailed to work for prostitution rings operating near restaurants, bars and clubs in the neighborhood, community leaders said.

“Once they get here, they are enslaved,” said Arnaldo Salinas, a member of the Guardian Angels, which patrols the neighborhood. “I’ve seen scars…from women beat upon by their pimp.”

Out of the 3,260 prostitution-related arrests last year in New York City, about 38% occurred in Queens, more than in any other borough, state Division of Criminal Justice Services statistics show.

There’s less street prostitution, but more “deliveries” to locations all over Queens, advocates said.

Sonia Ossorio, of the National Organization for Women’s New York City chapter, said one reason there are so few arrests for sex trafficking is that local law enforcement officials are not trained to detect it as a crime.

When asked whether sex trafficking is treated as a crime, an NYPD spokesman said it would be considered a “derivative of prostitution.”

The Queens district attorney’s office declined to comment when asked how sex trafficking offenses are prosecuted.

Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) said another issue is that many brothels operate on the border between the 110th and 115th Precincts. He called for a new precinct that would encompass the border area.

Peralta said he and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens) are planning a meeting with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to seek federal stimulus money under Homeland Security to fund extra patrols.


Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 9:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Facing the realities of human trafficking in our own back yard

Shaniya Davis

I recently published a story on the Foreign Policy Association Blog Network, Trafficking? Not in my town…Yes, in every town, which featured the story of 5 year-old, Shaniya Davis, from Fayetteville, North Carolina. Shaniya was reportedly kidnapped and her body was later found on the side of a rural highway in North Carolina. Her mother was later charged with human trafficking for placing her daughter into ’sexual servitude’.

The story lead me an interview with Blog Talk Radio’s DC based show, “A Measure Of Truth”. I sat down with host, Michael Fordham to discuss some of the harsh realities of human trafficking/modern slavery and how it can effect every town, and we can all make an impact in helping to bring awareness to, and an end to, this horrendous crime against humanity. Click here for the recorded pod cast.

The case in NC has led many to seek to ask tough questions on whether this tragedy could have been prevented, however while the general issue of abuse has been addressed, few have touched on the realities of human trafficking. Out side of the human trafficking field few have questioned or mentioned the demand for sex, sex with a child, that factored into this story, which is haunting reality for many children across the globe. The demand for children that exists in Fayetteville, NC or, Washington, DC is the same demand that fuels sexual slavery in India, Thailand and beyond. This brings me back to an older article I published, Are we still clueless about modern slavery?. The hard truth is overall, yes! However we are progressing, we do have a long way to go. First steps are to educate yourself on what human trafficking is, then make yourself aware of the signs and how to report any suspected cases or potential victims.

What is Human Trafficking, or Modern Slavery? It is when the use of fraud, force, or coercion is used in which to exploit an individual for the mere means of profit or economic gains. There is no stereotypical face of human trafficking, for the chains of modern slavery can bind anyone, of any gender, race, religion or age. Those bound by slavery do not have to cross borders to be victimized, for one can be exploited within their own home, community, as well as half across the globe. Modern slavery comes in many shapes and forms, such as; child soldiers, forced labor through debt bondage, and forced prostitution or sex slavery. And as we have seen, not even rural North Carolina is immune to this disease of power and greed, which binds some 27 million people around the world.

It does happen right her in our nations capital, and not rarely. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considers Washington, DC one of the top 14 sites in the country for sex trafficking of American children. (FBI, 2005). According to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Task Force members maintain that hundreds of sex and labor trafficking cases in the Washington, DC area remain undiscovered each year.

Anyone can become a victim; there isn’t one face to human trafficking and modern slavery. How do you know if you have come across a victim? The following is a list of potential red flags and indicators of human trafficking. If you see any of the following red flags, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-3737-888 now to report the situation.

• Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips

• Is not free to leave, or come and go

• Works excessively long and/or unusual hours , has no breaks or unusual restrictions at work

• Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off

• Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts

• Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work

• Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous / paranoid behavior

• Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up “law enforcement”

• Avoids eye contact

• Appears malnourished or is in poor physical health

• Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse

• Has little to no personal possessions

• Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account

• Has numerous inconsistencies in their story

Note: This list is not exhaustive and rather represents a selection of possible indicators and may not be present in all trafficking cases. Please see for a more conclusive list


Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 8:40 am  Comments (1)  
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Priest faces three felonies for allegedly seeking sex with teenaged girls

Fr. James Patrick GradyFr. James Patrick Grady

ST. LOUIS (St. Louis Public Radio) – A former priest at St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church in south St. Louis has been charged with three felonies for allegedly seeking sex with an underage girl.

James Patrick Grady was one of three men picked up in an FBI sting in late July. He allegedly responded to an advertisement set up by the FBI offering girls for sexual activity, and set up a meeting with a 16-year-old. He was arrested when he showed up to the meeting location.

The indictment issued Thursday also says law enforcement found child pornography on Grady’s computer.

Grady was suspended from his post after his arrest. He could face life in prison and thousands of dollars in fines if convicted of the sex trafficking, possession of child pornography, and coercion and enticement charges.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis would not comment on pending litigation.


Published in: on November 6, 2009 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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