Change the Mission, Declare Victory, Move On

Three years ago a gathering of diverse groups and individuals formed the Coalition Against Human Trafficking. A year of work resulted in a bill against trafficking persons, and proposed amendments being debated in the legislature would strengthen that bill to offer better protections to minors.

The law sits unused. In hard financial times, with a Governor who has declared illegal immigrants to be the cause of all the state’s problems, where is the political will to rescue victims?

Much easier to go after the ‘spas’–the most visible face of prostitution in Rhode Island. It has worried me from the first that the workers in them– almost always female and Asian, had no voice in the effort to ‘rescue’ them. Now they are speaking, but too late. They are about to be put outside the law. Some of our legislators who have taken much unfair criticism for not ‘closing the loophole’ met with women to hear their opinions firsthand.

A woman who later identified herself only as Jasmine was among the most vocal.

Through a translator, she said she fell into prostitution three years ago after answering a newspaper ad.

“I was very hungry. That’s why I started,” said Jasmine, a petite woman of “older than 40” who wore a Ralph Lauren winter coat and now works at a Providence spa. “It’s better than stealing, or breaking the law. This is a way of life. There are people dependent on this.”

As Sunday’s meeting progressed, a collective sense of fear and frustration grew as the women realized an unwelcome political reality.

Many had hoped for a compromise that would protect them from jail. Jasmine suggested increased taxes on spas.

“For reasons that are hard for me to understand, the legislation is more harsh than we would like for the women,” Segal responded. “There’s still a small chance that the severity could be lessened… But you need to understand that’s a small chance.”

So it’s a case of bait and switch. We wanted to prosecute trafficking, we wanted to stop crimes like extortion, fraud, threats, kidnapping, rape and murder. Heinous crimes that urgently need to be prosecuted. Instead we get a law to arrest women.

There will be very few arrests of customers, because it will be almost impossible to prove the crime. When the city of Providence wanted to stop streetwalking, it was relatively simple to have undercover policewomen identify men who solicited them for sex. They didn’t have to entrap. These losers were cruising around bothering everyone. That’s why they were a nuisance.

But how on earth are they going to prove that a man solicits for sex indoors? Nope. They’re going to arrest some women and make a lot of lawyers richer.

The website of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Human Trafficking (RICAHT) hasn’t been updated since April. However, Happy Endings reports that RICAHT members were at the meeting to speak with the women. Prof. Donna Hughes started a splinter organization called Citizens Against Trafficking , allegedly because RICAHT didn’t support making prostitution illegal.

Meanwhile, real crimes of forced labor and forced prostitution are committed against those who have the least power to seek the protection of the law.

Polaris Project, a national organization against trafficking is active in Rhode Island, and they are working on behalf of victims, with many success stories. There are other advocacy organizations that reach out to people where they are, and quietly save lives. They will still be here when the moral crusade has declared victory and moved on.

Providence Daily Dose also covered the meeting.

Rhode Island’s Future has some constructive ideas on how to help trafficking victims.

In a related post on things no one should have to sell, ‘Desperately Selling a Kidney’. There’s always profit in finding new ways to use poor people as a human resource.

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