January was National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, so there were a number of local and national events in which to attend. It was a goal of mine to be at more slavery and trafficking events in 2017, since I feel that has been lacking from my schedule over the past couple of years. It is a subject near and dear to my heart, and was my first, formal introduction to social justice in 2006.
I was privileged to attend my first event by the local organization, Tapestri. They do outstanding work here in Atlanta, and while I’ve heard of them for a number of years, I’ve never actually participated in any of their events or programs.
This turned out to be rather different than things I’ve attended in the past because I was one of the few people there that wasn’t with the government or other nonprofit. That made it really fun and interesting as I got to know the people around me.
Outside of Tapestri, most of the presenters were with the FBI, so it was also incredible to hear about their involvement. There were also several lawyers speaking, so we were able to hear about their work and the state and national legal system as it pertains to this issue. So, there was a huge focus on the legal and law sectors, and how all those worked together and separately to combat this issue. Those weren’t topics I get to hear a lot, so it made for a really fascinating day.
Here are my notes:
- The FBI has 122 victim specialists in 56 field offices, and works with 41 Indian reservations, across the US.
- The Trafficking Victims in Persons Act (TVPA) passed it 2000. It provides protection, prevention and prosecution. It also includes both sex and labor trafficking.
- One of the new trends is that victims could be the kind of kids that you see selling candy in public places. This is another form of revenue.
- Exploiting transgender kids and adults is also a new trend.
- The T-Visa (trafficking visa) is only one year to start. Their the victim’s lawyers and reps petition for them to stay.
- Proactive: federal, state and local partners working together.
- Task forces and working groups
- Non-governmental meetings
- Events and partnerships
- The FBI has special people trained to work with youth and get their testimony so they don’t have to be in court.
- The FBI has to follow the legal definition rather than how a victim self-identifies with the issue. (Sometimes they don’t even see themselves as victims.)
Homeland Security Investigations
- They fall under ICE.
- They are an investigative department of Homeland Security.
- They are similar to the FBI but it involves immigration as well.
- Trafficking effects every people group.
- HSI also puts victims in touch with resources like Tapestri.
- Referrals come from raids, partners, civilians and professionals like doctors who come in contact with victims, schools, other NGOs, and hotlines like Polaris.
- There are not enough beds, so sometimes HSI has to rely on domestic violence shelters and homeless shelters, especially for men. There are no places for men or labor trafficking victims, in particular.
- They also provide training for law enforcement at all levels.
US Department of Labor
- Enforces legal compliance for welfare of citizens, and includes some immigration. (ex: migrant workers)
- Priorities include agriculture workers, food services, hospitality industry, construction, etc.
- Doesn’t investigate but protects and refers to other agencies and service providers.
- Also provides back wages owed to victims.
- Participates in task forces.
- Can also issue U (abuse victims) and T (trafficking victims) Visas.
- Usually dealing with labor victims (including seasonal workers) that are recruited under fraudulent circumstances.
- Often the victim’s families are threatened to keep them in line.
- Provides training for industry groups like hospitality, nurses, etc.
Breakout: FBI Advanced Training for Working with Victims
- Mostly works with sex trafficking girls from other countries.
- First case study is in Suwanee, GA, a suburb about an hour north of Atlanta.
- The woman perpetrator was wealthy and connected.
- She was from Nigeria, and went back there to find a girl to come back with her. The pretense was as a nanny, and she said she’d also put the girl in school.
- The girl was mistreated every day: beaten, made to cut the grass with scissors, bleach the fence. Wasn’t given a proper bathroom, just a bucket to go to the bathroom in, despite the large house.
- The first girl ran away, and the woman did the same thing to a second girl.
- The woman told her friends the girls were her slave and she could do whatever she wanted with them. The friends sometimes gave the girls gifts behind the woman’s back. Neighbors sometimes saw the girls being mistreated, and so did people, including government officials, who attended her parties. Finally, her best friend turned her in because she couldn’t take it anymore. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE!!!
- Second case study is an international sex trafficking victim.
- Started in Tenancingo, Mexico, which is notorious for this crime. Families are raised to be victims and perpetrators. Kids even aspire to run these types of businesses because they see that money can be made.
- A guy made a girl (“Tere”) believe that he was her boyfriend. Bought her things she’d never had, acted innocent for her, and convinced her to come to the US with him on a fun trip. There, he trapped her in a brothel.
- The perp family had brothels in Marietta and Norcross, Georgia, suburbs outside of Atlanta..
- Typically girls work in the brothel or are driven to the John.
- Charged $30 for 15 minutes with the girls, and they may see up to 50 Johns per day.
- Tere worked for two years and was forced into almost 1,700 sex acts.
- She was beaten, threatened, put into deprivation, etc.
- Sometimes victims families are brought to the US and protected if it looks like the family in another country will be threatened or harmed.
- They return to a lot of the same places. Gwinnett County is big and growing.
Prosecuting Trafficking Cases
- Federal case study:
- Found girls with similar tattoos on Backpage.com
- These girls were recruited by pimps because they already had Backpage profiles.
- The pimps also recruited girls that were down on their luck. (ex: abused, poor, bad home life, addiction – all teens and young adults, various races)
- Guy said he was a party promoter.
- Bought things for them, and then later said they owed him for these things, and that he owned them.
- Also recruited girls on Instagram and Facebook through long-term cons.
- Sex trafficking of a minor is one of the easiest charges to prove, and it carries a 10-year minimum sentence.
- Second federal case study is international:
- Mexican men recruited women to come to the US.
- Only the main guy was tried and sentenced to 40 years.
- Third case study pertains to the state:
- Georgia doesn’t have to prove knowledge of age. A perp doesn’t have to know she/he is underaged. If she/he is, then that punishment is carried.
- Prosecuting pimps: 10-year minimum for adult victims and 20-year minimum if victims are juvenile
- Georgia has good prosecuting laws. Teams try to work together to see if state or federal has the strongest conviction changes, and the one with the harshest convictions takes the lead.
- Had another case of a pimp who got life + life + 114 years. Sadly, this is rare.
- There are apps that allow pimps to track ALL phone usage on his account without the girls’ knowledge so they are tightly monitored.
- Victims stay with them out of shame, personal threat, violence, family issues, threats to families, they don’t feel like they have other options, money, “love,” legal threats, drugs, blackmail, and loss of freedom. And younger victims just have less knowledge about the world and legal systems to understand how things work.
- Victims are usually young, come from a dysfunctional family, have a history of abuse, etc.
- Trauma victims often form bonds like Stockholm Syndrome.
- Georgia also has an added mental disability clause for harsher sentences.
- There are international treaties for gathering evidence and seizing assets abroad.
- Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN) referrals come from law enforcement, Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and sometimes people inform them directly.
- Free for clients.
- Represent immigrants and trafficking victims who have little ties to their current location or families.
- Work in partnership with others to make sure all services are covered.
- Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) works for the rights of vulnerable populations, mostly hate crimes.
- Distributes free education and literature.
- Fights for justice in legal system.
- Have now worked with a number of trafficked victims.
- Civil litigation can also prosecute for pain and suffering, unlike criminal law, for higher victim payouts. Restitution is tax-free money.
- Visas are non-immigrant status that allow you to stay in the US. They can also sometimes apply to families.
- T-Visa: Only 5,000 per year allowed
- U-Visa: Only 10,000 per year allowed
- Trafficking victims must be willing to cooperate with the law/investigators.
- U victims must also be helpful to law enforcement during cases and suffered in some way.
- No statue of limitations on trafficking crimes, but not enough people come forward.
- People coming from other countries, especially third-world countries, often mistrust law enforcement and don’t come for them for help because their own legal systems are corrupt.
- Can take up to five years to obtain a T- or U-Visa. But victims can apply for work authorization in the meantime, but that can also take one or two years. Minors, however, can work regardless.