I WANTED IT TO BE HER

 Image

The search team huddled around the photograph of the homeless woman panhandling at Tropicana Avenue and Jones Boulevard.

 

The picture gave them hope.

 

They studied the woman’s leathery skin and straight blond hair. Her narrow-set eyes hugged the bridge of a small, sloping nose hung above a pair of thin lips.

 

They glanced back at the pictures of a grinning 21-year-old Jessie Foster just before she went missing eight years ago in Las Vegas, then gasped. A lot can change in that time, but those lips, that nose — could it really be her?

 

“Oh, my lord,” Mary Borchers said.

 

“Yeah, we got to go down there,” Shannon Forsythe said.

 

Borchers is an advocate for sex-trafficking victims and a friend of Jessie’s mother, Glendene Grant.

 

Foster’s story in the documentary “Trafficked No More,” which was broadcast last month on several Las Vegas television stations, had brought in new tips about Foster’s possible whereabouts. But Grant, who lives in Kamloops, British Columbia, couldn’t follow up on all of the tips.

So on Sunday, Borchers traveled to Las Vegas from Los Angeles with Forsythe and members of her sex-trafficking victims’ assistance nonprofit group, Run 2 Rescue, to resume the search into a question no one has been able to answer since 2006: What happened to Jessie?

 

They dispatched 15 volunteers to pass out fliers Monday morning. It was then — when two volunteers had handed a flier to the homeless woman — that the photo had been taken. The woman didn’t say she was Jessie, but she said the missing person on the flier looked familiar.

 

That didn’t matter to Forsythe, founder of Run 2 Rescue. If Foster is in fact a sex-trafficking victim, she could have been afraid to admit her identity.

 

“We need to cut the meeting short,” Forsythe said to the waiting volunteers at East Vegas Christian Center.

 

The homeless woman could still be near Tropicana and Jones, but Borchers and Forsythe knew their window was closing. It was almost 5 p.m. and getting dark.

 

They piled into a Ford Explorer with another woman from Run 2 Rescue and two men for protection, and sped toward Tropicana and Jones.

 

• • •

 

Jessie vanished in 2006 from North Las Vegas, like a drop of rain on the desert floor.

 

In May 2005, she had come from Kamloops to the Las Vegas Valley. A month later, Jessie moved in with her boyfriend, Peter Todd — a man Jessie’s parents, Dwight Foster and Grant, barely knew.

 

When Jessie went missing — she last spoke by phone with her mother on March 24, 2006, and was last seen by Todd on April 3, 2006 — Grant filed a report with North Las Vegas Police. After learning Jessie had been arrested in June 2005 and had an outstanding warrant for prostitution, Grant was certain their second-oldest daughter — a former honor roll student — was a victim of sex trafficking.

 

Police searched Todd’s home. They interviewed him twice. He said Jessie took her belongings and drove off. Authorities didn’t find anything suspicious, North Las Vegas Police Lt. Tim Bedwell said.

 

They tracked every lead they could, even tips from psychics, but all police ever found were animal bones in the desert. They even got two retired officers to search every recent missing-persons case for a link. They found nothing.

 

Grant and Foster insisted Todd was a pimp and blamed him for Jessie’s disappearance. With no evidence to indicate otherwise, police cleared Todd of wrongdoing.

 

Jessie’s case grew cold.

 

Nearly eight years later, Jessie’s case still haunts the department. Bedwell can still picture Jessie grinning without a care in the passenger seat of a car.

 

“We’ve conceded for a very long time that even though this is a missing-persons case, common sense says there’s been a crime committed and she’s a victim,” Bedwell said. “We just don’t know what, and we can’t find evidence.”

 

Jessie’s disappearance changed the course of Grant’s and Dwight Foster’s lives.

 

They entered a world of what-ifs and body watches, holding their breath every time human remains were found in Las Vegas.

 

Early on, the mystery festered like an open wound. What if Jessie is alive and being tortured? What if she died alone in the desert?

 

The macabre thoughts went on and on for the parents.

 

That first year, Grant refused to leave home and let her cupboards go empty. She struggled to take care of her two other daughters and grieved constantly. She quit her job and focused her efforts on trying to find Jessie.

 

Grant and Dwight Foster hired a private investigator and made several trips to the valley to comb the city for their daughter. Still, no luck.

 

Then, near the end of the first year, Grant said she received a sign that helped her move forward. While on a flight to Las Vegas, she had learned police had found Shawn Hornsbeck, a child who had been kidnapped in Missouri and had been missing for four years.

 

Grant knew then Jessie might not come home any time soon. Grant would be in it for the long haul.

 

“Once I knew, it was easier to wait for the next few years to go by,” Grant said. “I don’t know how to explain that, but I just knew.”

 

• • •

 

Doris weaved the Ford Explorer through the rush-hour traffic on Interstate 15, toward Tropicana Avenue.

 

“If she says, ‘yes,’ we take her right there,” said Doris, Run 2 Rescue’s outreach coordinator, who asked that her last name not be used to protect her identity.

 

“We need to get her in the car and out of town to make sure no one follows us,” Forsythe said. “Then out of the state tonight.”

 

“We also need to consider law enforcement,” Borchers said.

 

Borchers thumbed through photos of Jessie as she listened. The similarities between Jessie and the homeless woman were unbelievable.

 

Still, the searchers reminded themselves the woman might not be Jessie. There are nearly 2 million people in Clark County. The odds of finding Jessie on the streets were slim.

 

Regardless, they would help the woman if she needed it.

 

About 10 minutes later, Doris exited onto Tropicana and sped past an adult video emporium and the Orleans. They notified a safe house at an undisclosed location to prepare for Foster. A plan was formulated.

 

They prayed.

“Let it be Jessie,” Forsythe said. “Let it be Jessie.”

 

• • •

 

Grant learned long ago to give up any expectations when people searched for her daughter.

 

She knows getting worked up will only make her crazy. Instead, Grant focuses on what she can control — her advocacy work.

 

After a detective told her no one would be interested in Jessie’s story, Grant’s mission became to prove the detective wrong.

 

Jessie’s story has appeared in documentaries, books and enough newspapers to fill three scrapbooks. Grant has traveled to high schools and universities across Canada, sharing her daughter’s story. She started Mothers Against Trafficking Humans in Jessie’s name.

 

Each time Grant helps another parent deal with losing a loved one to human trafficking, or helps someone by sharing her own story, she’s keeping Jessie alive.

 

Grant also prays … a lot.

 

“I don’t lose hope, but I don’t daydream about the what-ifs,” Grant said. “Those are the ones that will put you in the psych ward.”

 

Her ex-husband, Dwight Foster, from whom Grant has been separated since the late 1980s, has struggled to move forward. Grant said Dwight Foster was consumed with Jessie’s disappearance.

 

Dwight Foster stays up all night and sleeps all day. He is no longer the happy-go-lucky guitar player he once was. He even quit his job.

 

“Somewhere in his dad mind, he probably felt that he didn’t protect her,” Grant said.

 

Grant has chosen not to live in the past. She recently moved out of the home in which Jessie grew up. Grant has moved into a new home with new furniture.

 

Grant knows she can never go back to the life where Jessie brought friends over to bounce on the trampoline and pick grapes off vines. In those days, Grant always thought Jessie would grow up and do hair and makeup for movie stars.

 

Those are just memories now. Grant knows she can’t go back to that life, even if Jessie is still alive.

 

Still it isn’t easy to move forward. Grant cries once a day for Jessie and posts often on Facebook, promising to bring her home no matter what. Even if Grant doesn’t expect answers, she needs one.

 

“It means I don’t have to think Jessie’s being raped,” Grant said. “I don’t have to think that the crows picked her bones clean.”

 

• • •

 

Grant’s mind raced; she couldn’t sleep.

 

It was close to midnight, and Metro Police hadn’t finished scanning the woman’s fingerprints. Grant remained glued to her phone, struggling to remind herself not to expect anything.

 

Earlier that night Borchers, Forsythe and Doris had found the homeless woman. She appeared intoxicated and wouldn’t comment on whether she was Jessie. Borchers snapped three photos and sent them to Grant.

 

The first two pictures didn’t look like Jessie at all, but the third picture — could it be? Grant couldn’t say for certain. The search team needed to find out more. Borchers called Grant and gave the phone to the woman.

 

They wanted to see her react to Grant’s voice.

 

“Please,” Grant said into the phone. “I just need to hear you speak so I can tell.”

 

No response. The woman grew angrier. That’s when the search team decided to call Metro so they could determine the woman’s identity for certain.

 

“There were at least a dozen people stating that it was her, including our own team,” Borchers said. “Even law enforcement said the same thing: that it was her.”

 

After midnight, the fingerprint results came in. It wasn’t Jessie.

 

“I wanted it to be her,” Grant said.

 

The next day, the search resumed.

 

source:  http://lasvegassun.com/news/2014/feb/21/after-eight-years-hope-remains-alive-even-if-missi/#.UwdrtAFQw9k.twitter

Published in: on February 24, 2014 at 10:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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In child sex-trafficking case, court says no knowledge of age needed

A federal appeals court held Friday that prosecutors did not need to prove a defendant in a child sex-trafficking case knew his victim was under 18, if the defendant had “reasonable opportunity” to observe the underage victim.

In a case of first impression for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the court rejected a bid by Devon Robinson to overturn his child sex-trafficking conviction. Robinson claimed the government had not proven he was aware that the girl wa s underage at the time of the crime of which he was accused.

Robinson was convicted in 2010 of trafficking a 17-year-old girl. She testified at Robinson’s trial in Brooklyn federal court that he was her boyfriend, not her pimp, and said she told “everybody” at the time that she was 19, according to the ruling.

The jury convicted Robinson of two counts of sex trafficking of a minor, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. On appeal, he said the government could not prove he knew the girl’s age and therefore had not proven he recklessly disregarded this information.

Robinson and the government offered competing interpretations of Section 1591 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

That section was amended in 2008 to enable prosecution to convict someone of child sex trafficking if he had acted in “knowing, or in reckless disregard of the fact … that the person has not attained the age of 18 years and will be caused to engage in a commercial sex act.”

Robinson argued that the government had to prove that he had ample opportunity to observe the girl, and that he had recklessly disregarded her underage status. Prosecutors countered that they only had to prove one or the other.

The 2nd Circuit agreed with the government.

“Viewed in context, the most natural reading of this provision is that proof that the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the victim may substitute for proof that the defendant knew the victim’s underage status,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jose Cabranes wrote in the opinion. He was joined by Judge Chester Straub.

In a brief concurring opinion, Judge Amalya Kearse said she would affirm Robinson’s conviction but was not persuaded by the majority’s interpretation of Section 1591.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn declined to comment. Curtis Farber, an attorney who represented Robinson on appeal and has since been appointed as a judge in the Kings County Criminal Court, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The case is U.S. v. Robinson, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, No. 11-301.

For the U.S.: Sylvia Shweder and David James of the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York

 

source:http://newsandinsight.thomsonreuters.com/

Published in: on December 2, 2012 at 3:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sex Trafficking Into the U.S.: It’s Not Getting Better

Forced prostitution victim “Claudia” wants people to know that sex trafficking from other countries into the United States is a substantial problem, and that the effects of its horrors last years. Speaking anonymously in a recent conversation with CNN, Claudia shared her experience to let authorities and others know that girls like her have fallen – and are still falling – through the cracks and into a living nightmare.

Though Claudia herself was fortunate to escape her situation awhile ago, it wasn’t easy, and she’s still afraid of vengeance by the pimp who lured her to America from Mexico. Prior to her enslavement, Claudia simply wanted a better life, and a guy she met at a party promised her as much with a good job at a clothing factory in the U.S. Sounds pretty innocuous, if not ideal, right? It does, especially when the promises are made to your 15-year-old self, by your soon-to-be boyfriend, and you want (or need) to believe their truth.

Once Claudia made it New York City, she soon discovered there was no clothing factory, no great job, no better life. Her boyfriend, the maker of hopeful promises, was a pimp, and she would be his newest prostitute. Young, naïve and in the country illegally, Claudia did not exactly have the upper hand in this scenario. And to make certain she wouldn’t go anywhere, her not-at-all-a-boyfriend brought her physically and emotionally under his control with cigarette burns, beatings and a new and terrible promise to kill her parents at home, should she put up a fight.

So Claudia endured. She endured sleeping with 20 men consecutively on her first day forced into prostitution. And she endured every day of rape and abuse after that, forming, in spite of all odds, a plan to escape. She sneakily, patiently, squirreled away a few tip dollars at a time in the refrigerator. She asked questions of the older girls, on the down-low, getting a feel for neighborhood streets and how to get to the bus station when it was time. Then, finally, she ran.

(more…)

One not guilty verdict won’t stop prosecution of sex-trafficking cases

LARGO — Prosecutors plan to move ahead with more cases against what they say was a human trafficking and forced prostitution ring, even though a jury has acquitted one man.

“We’re looking forward and we’re still going to proceed,” Assistant State Attorney Della Connolly said, adding that “I very much believe in my victims.”

Colin Anthony Dyer, 37, was found not guilty of sexual battery and human trafficking. Prosecutors said he had raped a woman who worked as a dancer at the Vegas Showgirls strip club and who testified that she was expected to work as a prostitute inside private “VIP rooms” there.

Juror Victor Rendon of Largo said jurors felt three dancers made inconsistent statements, hurting their credibility.

For example, one dancer initially told police Dyer had grabbed her by the arm but testified this week that he choked her as well. Another apparently testified incorrectly about a double-locked door in an apartment where she said she was held. It was hard to believe one woman, who said she had been dancing in strip clubs since age 15, when she said she did not know how to tell the difference between a circumcised and uncircumcised penis, he said.

“None of them struck us as being really credible,” he said.

Deciding about the human trafficking charges was more difficult than the sexual battery, Rendon said, because most jurors believed something improper did occur.

He also said Dyer, who testified in his own defense, did not seem fully knowledgeable about the scheme, which prosecutors said was mostly orchestrated by another man, Kenyatta Cornelous, who is awaiting trial. “I thought he was a dupe in the whole thing,” Rendon said about Dyer.

Defense attorney Bryant Camareno said he believed the witnesses appeared to have embellished their stories.

Vegas Showgirls manager Jason Byers said in an interview that prostitution is not allowed at the club and denied the dancers’ allegations. Asked why they would testify about prostitution, he said, “I think they were coerced into what they were supposed to say.”

The case was watched by some Stetson University College of Law students who, by coincidence, were in the final days of a course on human trafficking. Professor Luz Nagle said several students who went to watch the case told her they were “shocked” by the outcome.”

“I think that the students learned that this an evolving field in the law,” she said.

Three more cases are pending, including the one against Cornelous.

source:http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/criminal/one-not-guilty-verdict-wont-stop-prosecution-of-sex-trafficking-cases/1101764

Man receives 17 years for child sex trafficking

SANTA ANA, Calif. — A man who prostituted two Florida teen girls across the country has been sentenced to 17 1/2 years in federal prison in Santa Ana.

Dwayne Lawson pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of sex trafficking of children as part of a plea agreement.

Lawson was arrested in April 2009, soon after Los Angeles police arrested a 17-year-old girl for prostitution.

Federal prosecutors say Lawson contacted the girl on Myspace in 2008, promising to make her a star and giving her a bus ticket from Florida to Las Vegas. He admitted later to bringing the girl to Orange County to work as a prostitute.

Prosecutors say he drove a second girl from Miami to Orange County in 2008, having her engage in commercial sex acts along the way.

Man Found Not Guilty of Sex Trafficking Charges

LARGO | A man charged in a high-profile human trafficking case was found not guilty of all charges late Thursday night.

Colin Anthony Dyer shouted “We won!” as he left the courtroom shortly after 11 p.m. He was set to be released from the Pinellas County Jail later in the night. Had he been convicted, Dyer would have faced as much as 60 years in prison.

“Obviously we’re very sad for these very brave girls that had to go through this,” Assistant State Attorney Della Connolly said. “We’re just very disappointed.”

Defense attorney Bryant Camareno, who said in his opening statement that the case would come down to the credibility of the state’s witnesses, said he believed that issue was what led to Dyer’s acquittal.

He said Dyer’s accusers “felt the need to embellish, and as a result, it tainted their credibility.”

For three days, jurors had heard testimony from witnesses who described a sex trafficking ring in which young women worked as dancers and prostitutes inside the Vegas Showgirls strip club near St. Petersburg.

One of the women said Dyer raped her as he helped hold her captive in an apartment, a charge that could have carried a 30-year prison sentence if he was convicted.

On Thursday afternoon, the jury heard from Dyer, who took the stand and declared: “I am an innocent man.”

The purported human trafficking organization was set up by a man named Kenyatta Cornelous, several witnesses said this week. Cornelous, who is awaiting his own trial, was described as a ruthless enforcer who used beatings, threats, sexual abuse and other punishments to keep dancers in line and for those who did not earn enough money.

Dyer served as a kind of branch manager for the organization, prosecutors said. They said he drove women to the club, where they were required to perform sex acts for paying customers inside private “VIP rooms.” He also collected their money.

“He knew money changed hands. He knew the girls were getting beat. He knew there was sexual favors. He knew there was prostitution. He knew what was going on,” Assistant State Attorney Kelly McKnight said.

One exotic dancer said Dyer and Cornelous urged her to move from a different strip club by promising her “a better life in a better club.” By switching to their group and dancing at Vegas Showgirls, she said, “I was promised going out on trips, vacations, put through school, a real good time.”

Instead, she said, breaking down in tears, “I had to dance and perform sexual favors to guys.” The 28-year-old dancer, who is not being named because of the nature of the allegations, said she was intimidated by the group into performing the sex acts.

But Dyer told a much different story when he took the witness stand Thursday. He said he met Cornelous while working as a bouncer at a club called Bottoms Up and was hired merely to run a food truck. In fact, even some of the prosecution witnesses said he had spent time working on preparing the food truck for a blues festival in Orlando.

“I am innocent of any of these allegations,” Dyer said.

Dyer said he had a falling out with Cornelous over money and moved to Orlando, but he was shocked weeks later to learn via television news that he was a wanted man in connection with a human trafficking case. He said he drove to Pinellas County and spoke to a sheriff’s detective to try to clear his name.

But his comments in that interview became potential evidence against him because he described driving the women to and from the strip club. .

But during his testimony on Thursday, Dyer denied driving the women anywhere and seemed flustered when Connolly, the prosecutor, showed him the interview in which he said he did.

Connolly suggested a reason that his story changed: By the time of the trial, he had learned that transporting workers to and from forced labor is against Florida’s anti-human trafficking law.

As to the rape allegation, Dyer on Thursday denied any kind of “physicality” against his accuser.

“This is something that this lady has grabbed out of the air,” he said.

Jurors took more than four hours to reach their verdict.

source: http://www.theledger.com/article/20100610/NEWS/100619966?p=all&tc=pgall

Sex Traffic Victim: ‘I Was A Slave’

Those who support an effort to toughen laws on human sex trafficking are making a final push to get the governor to sign a bill sitting on her desk.

 “Robyn,” which is not her real name, said she was treated like a slave.

 “My life was at risk every night. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I had to see a gun at night when I got back to the place I was staying,” she said, trying to hold back tears.

 Robyn, 19, said she was forced into prostitution for three months last year by a 38-year-old man she met online.

 “I felt safe at the time and then one day everything changed. He turned on me. I mean, he changed into a monster,” she said.

 Robyn said she took in between $500 and $1,000 a night working mostly on Chinatown’s streets, but the money was collected by her pimp.

 She said the bill now before the governor would help other women on the street like her by making sex trafficking a felony.

 The city prosecutor’s office supports making sex trafficking a felony, but opposes the bill.

 “It’s going to overlap with our existing statutes. It makes things more complicated, not easier,” said Dennis Dunn, deputy prosecutor.

 Prosecutors said numerous technical aspects of the bill would make it difficult to convict a sex trafficker.

 “I think it’s difficult because part of what needs to be done has nothing to do with legislation. It’s a matter of educating both law enforcement and the public to be aware,” said Dunn.

 Robyn said human sex trafficking is a bigger problem than most people realize.

 “I don’t think people want to know there’s people out there. Young women out there that are still in my position and they need help,” she said.

 Robyn said she’s trying to find a job and wants to go back to school, but she’s still fearful her former pimp will find her.

 Gov. Linda Lingle has until July 6 to sign the bill into law. Supporters of the measure vow to raise the issue again next legislative session if the governor vetoes the bill. Those who support an effort to toughen laws on human sex trafficking are making a final push to get the governor to sign a bill sitting on her desk.

“Robyn,” which is not her real name, said she was treated like a slave.

“My life was at risk every night. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I had to see a gun at night when I got back to the place I was staying,” she said, trying to hold back tears.

Robyn, 19, said she was forced into prostitution for three months last year by a 38-year-old man she met online.

“I felt safe at the time and then one day everything changed. He turned on me. I mean, he changed into a monster,” she said.

Robyn said she took in between $500 and $1,000 a night working mostly on Chinatown’s streets, but the money was collected by her pimp.

She said the bill now before the governor would help other women on the street like her by making sex trafficking a felony.

The city prosecutor’s office supports making sex trafficking a felony, but opposes the bill.

“It’s going to overlap with our existing statutes. It makes things more complicated, not easier,” said Dennis Dunn, deputy prosecutor.

Prosecutors said numerous technical aspects of the bill would make it difficult to convict a sex trafficker.

“I think it’s difficult because part of what needs to be done has nothing to do with legislation. It’s a matter of educating both law enforcement and the public to be aware,” said Dunn.

Robyn said human sex trafficking is a bigger problem than most people realize.

“I don’t think people want to know there’s people out there. Young women out there that are still in my position and they need help,” she said.

Robyn said she’s trying to find a job and wants to go back to school, but she’s still fearful her former pimp will find her.

Gov. Linda Lingle has until July 6 to sign the bill into law. Supporters of the measure vow to raise the issue again next legislative session if the governor vetoes the bill.

source: http://www.kitv.com/news/23715987/detail.html

Officials learn how to spot signs of human trafficking

Human trafficking exists in central Alabama, but it has re­mained mostly hidden, federal prosecutors say.

Human trafficking is divided into two categories, sex traffick­ing and forced labor, said U.S. Attorney Leura Canary.

“Basically, it is modern slav­ery,” Canary said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Alaba­ma held a seminar Thursday to teach law enforcement officers and social service providers how to spot signs of human traf­ficking.

Right now, human traffick­ing is not being discovered, Ca­nary said, because it is not being investigated.

The U.S. attorney’s office has tried cases that appeared to in­clude elements of human traf­ficking, but it was impossible for prosecutors to prove it, Ca­nary said.

“We have had cases where we have strongly suspected (hu­man trafficking),” Canary said.

A state law against human trafficking passed the Legisla­ture on the final day of the ses­sion and was signed by Gov. Bob Riley.

A federal law against human trafficking has existed since 2000.

Human trafficking does not necessarily involve transport, but rather denotes using force or coercion to make someone en­gage in sexual activities or per­form labor against their will.

Many — but not all — human trafficking victims are immi­grants, some of whom have been tricked into forced servitude aft­er being promised passage into the United States.

Some perpetrators tell immi­grants that they can work off their debt after arriving in the country, said Assistant U.S. At­torney Monica Stump.

The debt, however, contin­ues to grow, and the victim is perpetually trapped into per­forming labor for the perpetra­tor, Stump said.

Sex trafficking often involv­es a woman whose life is com­pletely controlled by a pimp, Stump said.

“What may look like prosti­tution may be human traffick­ing,” she said.

The pimp does not allow the woman to talk, and if she does talk, she has been given a story to tell people, including authori­ties or social workers, Stump said.

“There is a whole code and culture for how it works,” she said.

Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal indus­try in the world, according to the National Human Traffick­ing Resource Center. It is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest, with drug dealing being the largest.

Investigating human traf­ficking can be difficult when dealing with immigrants, Ca­nary said.

Many of them don’t trust law enforcement because the police in their countries are corrupt, she said.

Many women who have been forced into prostitution do not even realize the situation they are trapped in constitutes a type of slavery, Canary said.

They have come to accept the life, she said.

In any human trafficking case, it is critical to gain the vic­tim’s trust, Canary said.

“If we lose them, they walk away and we lose the whole case,” she said.

Attendees at the seminar in­cluded Montgomery police offi­cers and representatives from the One Place Family Justice Center.

Educating the people who have the opportunity to inter­vene when situations appear to involve human trafficking is key, Canary said.

“The ultimate goal, of course, is to try to stop (human traffick­ing),” Canary said.

Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal indus­try in the world, according to the National Human Traffick­ing Resource Center. It is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest, with drug dealing being the largest.

Investigating human traf­ficking can be difficult when dealing with immigrants, Ca­nary said.

Many of them don’t trust law enforcement because the police in their countries are corrupt, she said.

Many women who have been forced into prostitution do not even realize the situation they are trapped in constitutes a type of slavery, Canary said.

They have come to accept the life, she said.

In any human trafficking case, it is critical to gain the vic­tim’s trust, Canary said.

“If we lose them, they walk away and we lose the whole case,” she said.

Attendees at the seminar in­cluded Montgomery police offi­cers and representatives from the One Place Family Justice Center.

Educating the people who have the opportunity to inter­vene when situations appear to involve human trafficking is key, Canary said.

“The ultimate goal, of course, is to try to stop (human traffick­ing),” Canary said.

source:  http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/article/20100521/NEWS01/5210332/Officials+learn+how+to+spot+signs+of+human+trafficking

Media FAIL: The Lawrence Taylor Arrest and Human Trafficking Awareness

A week after Lawrence Taylor was arrested and charged with third-degree rape and solicitation of a 16-year-old prostitute, we know it’s possible the girl was told to lie about her age to the NFL Hall-of-Famer and say she was 19. We know she was picked up by her uncle with a black eye and other bruises. And we know that her pimp, Rasheed Davis, who has been accused of beating and drugging the girl before ordering her to have sex with Taylor at his hotel, was charged with sex trafficking of a minor. But as women’s issues writer Marcia G. Yerman points out in The Huffington Post, the media’s treatment of this story has done little to advance awareness of human trafficking.

It’s all in the framing: Rather than call Davis a sex trafficker, the press has mainly referred to him as the “girl’s pimp.” The girl herself has also been labeled a “teen hooker.” But third-degree rape, a felony in New York State, is applied to cases where the adult is over age 21 and the minor is under 17. And federal law classifies underage girls who are sold for sex as trafficking victims. So how come the media hasn’t emphasized that very term, victim?

Instead, the focus of this story has fallen on Taylor’s fluctuating celebrity and notoriety, with frequent mentions of his past drug use, his football legacy, and his stint on Dancing With the Stars. The latest news debates whether he and the trafficked teen actually had sex, and how this could affect his case in court. All the “important” stuff.

Lost in the hype is human trafficking as an issue in the United States. The “teen hooker” at the center of this story could have instead been labeled justly and connected to the larger picture of runaways who are targeted within hours by traffickers. The specific vulnerability of runaways and the coercive tactics used to lure them into prostitution could have been emphasized. And so much speculation into the life and times of the football hero could have been saved for gossip magazines.

The content of the news seems to be determined by both news suppliers and consumers, based on what sells, but should it be? Isn’t news media supposed to provide a public service? A celebrity’s involvement in a human trafficking case catches a whole lot more notice than the story of an average john, and it’s excellent opportunity to educate a mainstream audience. But disregarding the potential victim in this story and the larger social issue doesn’t change or productively inform the public’s perception of human trafficking, Unfortunate, because in the fight against human trafficking, the news media could — and should — be an important player.

Photo credit: tedkerwin

source: http://humantrafficking.change.org/blog/view/media_fail_the_lawrence_taylor_arrest_and_human_trafficking_awareness

Bill to shield child prostitutes touted in Senate

When a young girl finds herself out on the street, selling her body to pay her pimp or because she has a drug addiction, it’s not prostitution — it’s coercion, abuse, slavery.

That’s the premise behind a new bill making its way through the state Senate that would protect children from being prosecuted for the crime of prostitution. The proposed “Safe Harbor” bill creates the presumption that children and teens who engage in prostitution are victims of sexual exploitation.

“They are coerced or forced into this trade, and they should be treated as victims instead of criminals,” said state Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, who sponsored Senate Bill 153.

“The big thing is, this needs to be brought up and it needs to be talked about. It can’t be swept under the rug.”

Specifically, the bill says anyone under the age of 16 cannot be prosecuted for crimes of prostitution. For 16- and 17-year-olds facing prostitution charges, “there shall be a presumption that the actor was coerced into committing such offense by another person.”

Kane said he hopes to have a vote on the bill before the Senate’s current session ends May 5.

The bill has faced some opposition. In testimony to the Select Committee on Children in Hartford, Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane spoke against the bill, which he argued “seeks to address a problem that does not exist in the state of Connecticut.” He went on to state that “the Division of Justice is not in the business of prosecuting the innocent victims of human trafficking” and notes that under existing state law, children under 16 cannot be prosecuted for prostitution because they cannot legally consent to sex at that age.

Advocates of the proposed Safe Harbor bill agree the state has not had many cases of minors arrested for prostitution. However, they say the legislation will do more than just protect minors from being prosecuted for crimes of which they are victim, it will also raise awareness about the problem of child sex trafficking and exploitation.

“The goal is to intervene in (the victims’) lives and make available services to let them know they have another choice, to let them know they do have rights, that the law works in their favor,” said Kathy Maskell, U.S. advocacy director for New Haven-based Love 146, an organization that fights child sex slavery and exploitation at home and around the globe.

EVEN IN CONNECTICUT

Children get recruited into the sex trade at alarmingly young ages. The average age that a girl enters the world of prostitution is 13 years old. Child victims face lower life expectancies stemming from the devastating consequences of sex trafficking: depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, physical abuse, risk of suicide, sexually transmitted disease. They have a greater chance of being murdered during their lifetimes.

At Love 146’s safe house in the Philippines for female victims of sex trafficking, survivors expressed deeply troubling self-images as a result of their harrowing ordeals.

“I feel like a dog. I feel like dirt. I could never return home, I feel worthless. These are the words they use to describe themselves,” Maskell says. “I don’t think it would be a stretch to say U.S.-born victims would feel the same way.”

Supporters of the bill say the problem of child sex trafficking is not relegated to foreign countries; they say sexual exploitation of children happens right here in the United States, even here in Connecticut. Since 2008, the state Department of Children and Families has identified 25 youths in Connecticut as victims of child sex trafficking, according to testimony in support of the bill by Connecticut Voices for Children.

Also in 2008, two men were sentenced in federal court for their roles in prostitution rings that had victims in Connecticut and New York. Dennis Paris was sentenced to 30 years in prison for prostituting minors as young as 14 years old in the Hartford area. Authorities said Paris recruited young girls from troubled backgrounds, some of whom were addicted to drugs. Corey Davis was convicted of trafficking more than 20 females, including a 12-year-old girl, and forcing them to work as prostitutes and strippers.

Experts say those most at-risk for being coerced into prostitution are child runaways and victims of sexual or physical abuse. But the reality is that sexual exploitation of children through prostitution can happen anywhere, at any time, according to Maskell.

“Because of the Internet, it really does open it up to anyone in any socio-economic community,” she says.

A number of local nonprofit organizations, state agencies and youth advocates have banded together in support of S.B. 153, including the state Office of Victim Advocate, the Connecticut Commission on Children, Love 146, Connecticut Voices for Children, ECPAT-USA, the Essex-based Paul and Lisa Program, and the Clinton-based Barnaba Institute.

Alexis Taylor Litos, executive director of the Barnaba Institute, says even though not many minors get arrested for prostitution in the state, children who are exploited through sex trafficking often get picked up for other offences. Instead of getting intervention and the help they need to get out danger, these kids get lost in the legal system, she says. Being treated like a criminal sends victims spiraling deeper into despair.

“It is instilling that self-blame and making them feel it is their fault,” Litos says.

In some cases, she adds, the teens give false identification to police to appear older. Litos says better training in the area of sex-trafficking and sexual exploitation of children would enable first responders to do a better job of identifying red flags and clues that a child or young teen is being abused or trafficked.

Of all the people who went before the state Select Committee on Children or sent letters to express support for the “Safe Harbor” bill, the most profound voice belongs to an 18-year-old Connecticut woman, who herself was a victim of sexual exploitation. In a letter to the committee, the woman wrote that she was a scared kid who ran away from home and ended up trapped in a life of prostitution by the age of 14.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into to. I have been raped and beaten many times and I still have these memories that will be with me for the rest of my life. I was 14 years old. I did not try to tell anyone because I was scared,” the unidentified woman wrote.

The woman said she got help and was able to escape the world of prostitution, but it was hard.

“I just wish that everyone that goes through this can get the support that they need rather than a jail sentence,” she wrote.

source: http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2010/04/25/news/new_haven/doc4bd3b5e07a5fa364395395.txt