How Does Talitha Kum Fight Trafficking?

These past weeks have been a living reminder that human trafficking exists both near and far. The many meetings and presentations I attended and/or gave show me that, when people are aware of the realities of human trafficking, they begin to feel an energy and the willingness to act. Each person is affected differently and, therefore, the response from each person is unique. Hopefully, as people learn about this terrible reality, they will act in creative ways to combat the issue. I have yet to find an individual or group not willing to do something about this scourge when they understand the reality.

Cleveland

One of the meetings I attended recently was the USCSAHT international “Borders are not Barriers” in Cleveland. Here, I met many sisters I know from Central Mexico and South America. Among them was Sister Gabrielle Botani, CMS, Coordinator of Talitha Kum at the Vatican. Talitha Kum, a project of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and the Union of Superiors General (USG), is an international network of members living a consecrated life who word against trafficking of persons. Working as a network facilitates collaboration and the exchange of information between 76 different countries.

Being together reiterates to me the fact that human trafficking is alive everywhere and certainly on this continent. As we hear about migrants journeying from Central America, we know how vulnerable they are in this unstable situation.

“People trafficking is a gross human rights violation which is often linked with mixed migration movements, but there has been little early identification and help for victims or those at risk,” said Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons.

Click here to read more about the Talitha Kum conference.

Under Reported, Under Served, Overlooked

When you think of a victim of human trafficking, what “picture” comes to mind?

For most of us, it’s a picture of a young girl or young woman walking the street in provocative clothing or being sold for sex on the web, at a truck stop, or in a hotel. Few of us picture a boy or a man in the same situation. Yet, the reality is that large numbers of boys and men find themselves as victims of human sex trafficking.

In a study done in 2008 by John Jay College of Criminal Justice, it was found that males “comprised 45% of sexually exploited children in a study done in New York.” Another study done by ECPAT-USA in 2013 reported that the exploitation of male victims “is vastly under reported.”

There are a number of reasons for this phenomenon. Many male victims are reluctant to come forward about their victimization for fear of being considered weak. They, like their female counterparts, feel shame and guilt. Often, they are confused about their sexual orientation which adds to the shame and guilt. Others fear violence from their pimps if they come forward.

Male victims of sex trafficking suffer the same types of trauma as females. They often suffer from depression and are at risk for committing suicide and abusing drugs and alcohol. Many male victims have suffered physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse as children. They are more vulnerable because of this, as are those who find themselves in foster care or on the street after running from an abusive home.

Thankfully, the plight of male victims of sexual exploitation is coming to light. However, there are very few services for male victims. Many of those that do exist only provide short-term housing. Hopefully, with this new insight, more adequate aftercare and reintegration services will be established to help save exploited boys and men from the world of sex trafficking.

Click here to learn more about sex trafficking in boys and men.

What is Known About Human Trafficking

Much has been written about the scope of human trafficking throughout the world. While there isn’t an agreement as to exact numbers due to the difficulty in identifying victims, there is a general acceptance of certain components of human trafficking.

  1. Human trafficking responds to and is driven by demand for cheap goods and commercialized sex. And this demand is enormous! Indeed, human trafficking is a business that generates a profit of approximately $32 billion annually. There are around 30 million trafficked people around the world, including some 5.5 million children.
  2. Human trafficking is a crime that is gendered, the primary victims being women and girls. However, the number of trafficked men and boys is increasing. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UN ODC) report indicates that women constitute approximately 51% of trafficked persons, men 21%, girls 20%, and boys 8%. This report identifies the most common form of trafficking is sexual exploitation, which is most in demand in western and southern Europe.
  3. Some forms of human trafficking are a result of other types of crises, such as forced armed recruitment of child soldiers, the demand for exploitative sexual services by armed groups, or the enslavement of persecuted ethnic minorities. The links between other forms of human trafficking and crisis situations are less direct, such as the opportunistic trafficking of displaced persons for the purposes of forced labor in neighboring countries or cases where children are trafficked into the international adoption market.
  4. Human trafficking is both global and local. That is, many human traffickers are recognized as being highly organized criminal networks with a very broad reach. This, frequently combined with extensive government corruption, means that many trafficking organizations are international forces. At the same time, however, the forms of trafficking that emerge in communities are not uniform. The rules of supply and demand state that the nature, shape, and form of trafficking will be different depending on the community. For example, labor trafficking on a rural South American coffee farm will be different from sex trafficking in a Korean nightclub. However, both manifestations of the crime may arise from a highly organized criminal network with local connections that allow them to deceive and/or control the local source of victims and to engage in the necessary corruption to create a successful business empire.
  5. Victims of modern slavery are often subject to inhuman living conditions and psychological and physical abuse. They face starvation and drug addition in order for traffickers to assert control over them. Traffickers are known to threaten and/or harm victims’ family members.
  6. Modern slavery is a complex issue caused by many dynamic and interdependent elements that makes it too difficult for any single organization to solve it alone.
  7. Human trafficking is a crime in itself, but it is rarely the end goal for a perpetrator. Once the act of human trafficking is complete, it normally leads to further crimes like enslavement, sexual and/or physical violence, etc.
  8. Combatting human trafficking has never been more challenging, especially in the midst of the worst migration crisis since World War II. Migrants, especially refugees, are vulnerable to traffickers abusing their situation and preying on their desperation for a safe haven. However, “most people are never identified as trafficking victims are, therefore, cannot access most of the assistance or protection provided.” This is often the case as the movement of refugees and migrants is significantly mixed, making it easier for traffickers to infiltrate and prey upon the vulnerable.

Do you ever feel as if the issues of human trafficking is too big to make a difference? While the issues cannot be solved by one individual, that one person can make a difference! Learning about and getting involved in the fight against human trafficking has changed many lives.

Flippin’ (Pancakes) for a Cause

The Daughters of Charity at St. Louise House in Albany, NY have been raising funds to assist building a safe house for trafficked women in the area. The first event fundraiser was a pancake breakfast and 50/50 drawing.

This collaborative project began as the sisters listened to the personal dream of their invited speaker, Debbie Fowler. Debbie spoke of her years in Kuwait where her husband was on a work assignment. It was in that desert country that she learned of maids who had been lured there from their native countries. They had gone to obtain employment but quickly had their papers taken away, finding themselves working for little or no pay and being beaten and sexually assaulted. After volunteering in a shelter for these women, Debbie returned to New York and, upon further research, learned of the great number of women being trafficked just in the United States. That is when she decided to take action.

Debbie was brought to us to speak after meeting Linda Rivard, activities coordinator for the Albany campus of Daughters of Charity, during their time as volunteers at Her Treasure Box, a creative arts thrift store. The thrift store provides “creative arts with a purpose–to provide hope and healing” for women survivors of human trafficking.

I follow the anti-trafficking effort via our local Coalition to End Human Trafficking, which is made up mostly of faith-based and religious here in the Albany area. We are in support of both Her Treasure Box and Eyes Wide Open, another local start up. We are beginning to partner with the Homeland Security arm, The Blue Campaign, and other state agencies for the purpose of education via leafletting at public events and other options yet to be developed.

Written by Sister Faith Colligan, D.C.

Federal Government Seizes Backpage

By now, you’ve probably heard that, on April 6, the federal government has seized and disabled Backpage.com and affiliated websites. This is a huge step forward as the nation recognizes sexual exploitation as intolerable; however, there is still much work to be done.

Over the past several years, Backpage and other websites have posted an online environment where it is as easy to purchase a human being for sex as it is to order a pizza. Buyers will no longer be able to easily access such websites and the rates of exploitation of vulnerable people will sharply decline.

“Backpage has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking, placing profits over the well-being and safety of the many thousands of women and children who were victimized by its practices,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Strange. “It is appropriate that Backpage is now facing criminal charges in Arizona, where the company was founded, and I applaud the tremendous efforts of the agents who contributed to last Friday’s enforcement action and who assisted in obtaining the indictment in this case. Some of the internal emails and company documents described in the indictment are shocking in their callousness.”

Currently, Backpage is the world’s second largest classified advertising website. It is valued at more than $500 million and is operating in 97 countries and 943 locations worldwide.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Backpage is involved in 73% of the suspected child trafficking reports it receives from the public. In the words of Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, “the vast majority of prosecutions for sex trafficking now involve online advertising, and most of those advertisements appear on Backpage.”

Last year, the NCMEC reported an 846& increased from 2010-2015 in reports of suspected child sex trafficking which they surmised to be “directly correlated to the increased use of the internet to sell children for sex,” said Amy Zimmerman in the Daily Beast.

I applaud those who have helped in any way to accomplishing this feat! This is one giant leap forward in the fight against modern day slavery!

Survivors Are Victims

Human trafficking survivors are just that–survivors. They were, and still are, victims. They should be treated as such. Rather, a lot of times, our justice system treats them as criminals. They are thrown in jail for their roles as “prostitutes” even though it wasn’t a life they chose for themselves.

Even children are treated this way. They are called “child prostitutes” and judged for selling their bodies at pre-pubecent ages. There is no such thing as a child prostitute.

Rather than treating these victims as criminals, we need to treat them as the survivors that they are. How? Here are some tips for treating human trafficking survivors.

  • Provide support and encourage self-sufficiency for survivors. Many survivors don’t have training to hold a job. Giving them access to vocational training and other longterm support is vital to their future success.
  • Focus on the individual and use a trauma-informed approach. It’s important to remember the trauma they’ve experienced in order to avoid re-traumatization.
  • Utilize their experience. Survivors are the only ones with true firsthand experience. They are experts on the topic of human trafficking and their knowledge should be put to use to help others. Survivors also deserve to be compensated for this expertise and their confidentiality should be respected.
  • Don’t force them to do anything. Self-sufficiency should be encouraged and forcing a survivor to participate in activities or programs takes that freedom away.

You can read more tips on treatment of survivors here.

Explanation of New Senate Bill

March 21, 2018 marks a significant victory in the fight against human trafficking and commercial sexual exploration. In a 97-2 vote, the Senate voted to pass a combination of the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” (“FOSTA”), H.R. 1865, and S.B. 1693, the “Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act of 2017″ (SESTA”) which will amend the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (“CDA”), 42 U.S.C. § 230, to ensure that prosecutions and civil suits against corrupt website owners who knowingly facilitate trafficking will not be blocked by so-called “Good Samaritan” immunity.

This bill makes two major changes that will aid prosecutors in their fight against online human trafficking. First, FOSTA/SESTA will amend the United States Code by adding in  a new statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2421A, which criminalized “using a facility of means of interstate or foreign commerce…[owning, managing, or operating] an interactive computer service…or [conspiring or attempting] to do so with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.” thus, under this new statute, when companies use their online platforms with the intent to promote or facilitate commercial sexual exploitation or human trafficking, they can now be held criminally liable. This amendment closes a significant gap in the existing law. Currently, companies with online platforms were virtually free to engage in as much promotion or facilitation of trafficking as they pleased because they were shielded by the CDA’s immunity provisions.

For years, companies with online platforms, such as Backpage.com, have been actively involved in the exploitation of others, all the name of their bottom line. Despite these blatantly irresponsible and immoral practices, these companies were often shielded from suit under §230(c),  which has been interpreted to provide immunity from liability for website owners who engage in screening methods, taken in good faith, to reduce illegal content on their sites. This “good Samaritan” immunity provision, however, has been missed by companies like Backpage.com to create a shield behind which they can actively engage in the facilitation of trafficking. For further information about Backpage.com and their illegal activities, see the Senate Investigatory Committee’s report and the CSE Institute’s policy paper supporting the SESTA which was introduced prior to FOSTA.

The proponents of FOSTA/SESTA recognized this fatal flaw in the CDA and, consequently, sought to amend it. Therefore, the second, and perhaps the more important, change that FOSTA/SESTA will make is to the CDA itself is to include a specific exception to this immunity under §230(e) which will permit both prosecutions and civil suits to proceed under the federal trafficking laws, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591 & 1595, and their state analogs. This change will effectively ensure that there are no more cases like Jane Doe No. 1 v. Backpage.com, LLC, 817 F.3d 12 (1st Cir. 2016), where the court recognized that Backpage was complicit in the exploitation of the plaintiffs but could not provide any remedy for the plaintiffs under the law.

The passage of FOSTA/SESTA trough Congress signals that Congress is willing to take aggressive steps in bringing the extant law up-to-date to fight the issues that have arisen in today’s internet-drive society. The CSE Institute applauds their work in this area and wants to thank Senators Portman and Blumenthal and Representative Wagner for their tireless work on this issue. Now, more than ever, we are hopeful that Pennsylvania’s legislature will amend 18 Pa.C.S. § 3011 “Trafficking in Individuals” to include “advertises” as one of the predicate criminal acts to enable our Commonwealth’s prosecutors and plaintiff’s attorneys to sue under state law. This amendment would allow the state law to target trafficking where it happens most, online.

Written by Rhea Rhodes Esq., Director, CSE Institute, Villanova University.