Category Archives: Human Trafficking

Another Brothel Raid

And unlike ‘Club Osaka’ in 1990, the police did not throw the women in jail and let the customers go. ProJo has the story here.

This use of the new law criminalizing indoor prostitution is not the usual routine of arresting prostitutes until they’re bailed out by their pimp. This kind of operation takes investigation and enlists multiple agencies including Day One. It is a targeted action against human trafficking.

I think that all our work and lobbying was not in vain. From the beginning there were those who wanted to ‘close the loophole’ and thought that was all that needed to be done. We helped get a strong anti-trafficking law passed in 2007, and also helped ensure that the ‘criminalization’ would allow the police and courts to recognize victims trapped in this life.

The two women accused of prostitution were interviewed by the state police and an advocate from Day One, a Providence resource center whose mission is to reduce the prevalence of sexual abuse and violence. Demers said they were trying to determine whether the women were victims of human trafficking.
Despite the high volume of customers and little pay, the women “admitted no one was forcing them to do this,” Demers said. “It appeared they were doing this under their own free will.”

I don’t aspire to be Carrie Nation, axing a bar to save drinkers from demon rum, and I think there are some people who have options and choose prostitution. But not these women. Shipped from out of state, fifty to a hundred men a day. I hope someone can persuade them to testify.

Some of the people arrested, including the ringleaders, were here illegally, and will be dealing with ICE. Some of the customers will pay way more than the $30 they were expecting as they were wanted for deportation. The rest are outed– names and addresses in the Journal. Raids like this may work as a deterrent to people who used to break the law with impunity.

But to really make our state a place that traffickers will avoid, we will have to keep investing money and will in good police work and victim advocacy. If word gets around that victims can call on the law for justice, people will testify. Nearby states, none of which had a ‘loophole’ and all of which have prostitution, will have to coordinate investigations.

This isn’t about morality, or ‘cleaning up our city’. Our city will continue to be an immoral mess no matter what. This is about prosecuting a crime– one of the worst. Anyone who holds another person in bondage belongs in jail. We had a war about that, and it’s not over yet.

New Law Used Well

Just a quick post before work–

I’ve covered the anti-trafficking efforts in Rhode Island and did not support criminalizing indoor prostitution. Since the law passed I’ve always said I’d be glad to be proved wrong. Like most who worked on this issue, my agenda has been helping victims and bringing justice.

Amanda Milkovits of the Providence Journal reports…

PROVIDENCE –– Two New York men who the police say came to Rhode Island because of a loophole legalizing indoor prostitution are now the first to be prosecuted for human trafficking and enslavement since prostitution was made illegal in the state.

Andy Fakhoury and Joseph Defeis, both 23, are accused of trafficking and enslaving teenagers as young as 16 and putting them to work as prostitutes in an Elmhurst apartment, in the heart of a block of college rental apartments.

The crimes came to light last month, the police say, after a friend of a 19-year-old woman contacted the Providence police and said the teenager was being forced into prostitution.

Providence police Maj. Thomas F. Oates III said the case then became “a rescue mission.”

When you read the article you will note that this was a well-planned investigation involving multiple agencies with the focus on prosecuting human trafficking. This kind of police work does not happen without political will and it does not come cheap. However, we could become a state that traffickers will want to avoid, because crimes such as rape and extortion will not be treated as victimless.

Congratulations Felicia

During the time I worked with the Coalition Against Human Trafficking I met many concerned and dedicated men and women who wanted urgently to extend help to people who were coerced into prostitution or involuntary labor.

One of the women I immediately liked and trusted was Felicia Delgado. Felicia is herself a survivor of drug addiction and prostitution, and now works with Project RENEW, a local outreach organization that offers help and a way out to commercial sex workers.

Edward Achorn of the ProJo has an editorial today, about the court decision to clear Felicia’s record from prostitution charges. He makes reference to Biblical teachings about forgiveness.

I know from conversations with Felicia that she is a devout Christian who studies the Bible with her church and on her own. I’m sure that her work of reaching out to people in trouble is an expression of faith in action.

As far as forgiveness, I’m reminded of what Jesus said about the helpful guy who offers to take a speck out of your eye when he has a log in his own. When Jesus said to ‘forgive one another’, he seemed to mean that all of us fail sometimes.

Congratulations, Felicia, for everything you have accomplished. Thank you for what you contribute to our community.

Against the ‘Spas’

Alert readers will note that in all the essays I’ve written about the controversy over prostitution in Rhode Island, I’ve never said it was a ‘victimless crime’. I’ve tried to make that distinction that opposing the arrest of prostitutes does not mean there’s no harm to the practitioners and the community in the proliferation of ‘spas’ and ‘clubs’ in our state.

It is rather from the perspective of harm reduction that I argue against making prostitution a crime. I think that putting people outside the law drives them further from help. Also, these laws have not helped victims in other states as far as I can see. I hope I’m wrong, good friends tell me that arrest is the first step to rescue. I’ll be happy to see that, if it happens.

I’ve been working on an essay called, ‘The Chinese Laundry, the Irish Maid’ about work stereotypes. Yes, in America my great-grandmother actually was an Irish maid, my grandfather was an Irish cop, my friend’s father actually did run a Chinese laundry. For immigrants the natural course of action is to start off in an occupation where you are accepted. Usually this is not brain surgeon, unless you are an Indian doctor.

I’m not against hard work. I’ve cleaned plenty of toilets in my life, for minimum wage. There’s no shame in that.

But what happens when a woman faces hard labor at less than a living wage on one hand, and constant recruitment to a less ethical, but high paying life on the other? What happens when the marketing of minority women as ‘exotic’ colors the perception of honest, hard working women who happen to be the targeted race?

Racialicious has an essay that says it so well. It’s not about prostitution, but the ‘dating sites’ that offer Asian women. It’s not safe for work, it’s angry and passionate and cuts through the nonsense and racism with a bright sword of truth.

So just go to the source, and read it firsthand.

Claiming Victory

In today’s ProJo there’s a letter by Prof. Laura Lederer, congratulating the Journal for supporting the law criminalizing prostitution. She sees this as a step to fighting sex-trafficking. Depriving anyone of their freedom is a human rights violation, and forced prostitution is an atrocious crime. But so far, we have not seen criminals brought to justice. Rather, we have seen frightened women wondering if they are going to be arrested.

Prof. Lederer calls this, “An important battle, well fought and (thank God) well won.”

I don’t see any victory yet. When a vulnerable person who has been forced into unpaid labor or prostitution is freed, and the perpetrators are brought to justice– that will be a victory.

To achieve that, it will be necessary to vigilantly prosecute crimes against some of the least powerful among us– the young, the undocumented, the addicted and the emotionally troubled. We will have to look at runaway youth and sweatshop factories. Is there any political will to do that? Or do the most oppressed now have to fear the police as much as their captors, with criminalization and an accelerated crackdown on illegal immigrants?

Rhode Island now has a law like all the other states. None of them have stopped prostitution or abolished trafficking. Federal and state investigators have put some perpetrators in jail, but it’s a long and difficult process. Does Rep.Giannini have a plan to provide safety and justice for victims of abuse? Let’s hear it.

Until then, I don’t see victory, just complacency.

Hope They’re Wearing Flame-Proof Vestments

I seem to recall that Bishop Tobin made a few mild statements in defense of immigrants and the ProJo letters page blasted him for it. But a brave group of clergy is giving it another try…

The Rhode Island State Council of Churches will release on Monday a 2,600-word document developed over the course of a year by the council’s Faith and Order Commission.

The document starts with a reminder to both Jews and Christians that Abraham, the first patriarch of the Hebrews, had been “called by the Lord” to emigrate from his homeland, and that Jews were constantly admonished in the Scriptures not to “wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Similarly, it says, it speaks of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman as an example of reaching out to people across ethnic lines, and points to his admonition that punishment will go to those “who do not feed the hungry or clothe the naked.”

“All the Christian denominations in the U.S. are immigrant churches. The history of our churches is a mixed record, though, and many of us have apparently forgotten our origins,” the statement laments.

At the very beginning of his term, President George W. Bush met with President Vincente Fox of Mexico, to discuss immigration. That was abandoned when Fox refused to join the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ in the Iraq war. The Republican Party, unfortunately, has never stood up to those under its big tent who blame immigrants for all our problems.

For the clergy to issue a statement, even a late and mild one, shows moral courage. They’ll face criticism, but that’s their job, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Where No One’s Looking

The Rhode Island legislature is moving to ban indoor prostitution. The most likely result will be arrests at the spas.  In police raids the women picked up are adults. They say they are in it for the money. Real trafficking is harder to find than through the doors of a storefront. If we want to fight trafficking, especially of children, we should be looking in the parks and under the highway overpass. The New York Times has a 2-part series this week on runaway children…

Around the country, outreach workers and city officials say they have been overwhelmed with requests for help from young people in desperate straits.

In Berks County, Pa., the shortage of beds for runaways has led county officials to consider paying stipends to families willing to offer their couches. At drop-in centers across the country, social workers describe how runaways regularly line up when they know the food pantry is being restocked.

In Chicago, city transit workers will soon be trained to help the runaways and other young people they have been finding in increasing numbers, trying to escape the cold or heat by riding endlessly on buses and trains.

Part 2 describes how girls are pressured to trade sex for shelter and affection, and then induced to work as prostitutes. Getting them out of that life can’t be done with just arrest. Sgt. Byron A. Fassett is one officer who works with girls at risk…

In 2005, Sergeant Fassett created the “High Risk Victim” unit in the Dallas Police Department, which flags any juvenile in the city who runs away from home four or more times in a given year. About 200 juveniles per year fit that description. If one of those children is picked up by the police anywhere in the country, the child is directed back to Sergeant Fassett’s unit, which immediately begins investigating the juvenile’s background.

The unit’s strength is timing. If the girls are arrested for prostitution, they are at their least cooperative. So the unit instead targets them for such minor offenses as truancy or picks them up as high-risk victims, speaking to them when their guard is down. Only later, as trust builds, do officers and social workers move into discussions of prostitution.

Repeat runaways are not put in juvenile detention but in a special city shelter for up to a month, receiving counseling.

Three quarters of the girls who get treatment do not return to prostitution.

Closing the loophole will not make the problem go away. To protect children and other vulnerable people takes commitment of time and money, and success is measured one child at a time. Do we have treatment for children that will keep them away from predators and pimps? Rescue by arrest hasn’t wiped out prostitution in other states. What will make Rhode Island different?

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.

Citizens Against Pleasure and Health

The erotic is a measure between our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.
Audre Lorde:
The Uses of the Erotic

I was active in the Rhode Island Coalition Against Human Trafficking (RICAHT) but left when the mission seemed to be drifting into a crusade against prostitution. The anti-trafficking law we worked to pass in 2007 is unused, being expensive to implement and aimed at protecting a group of people that includes those we now vilify as ‘illegals’. Our cash-strapped state is not about to rescue anyone from a factory or restaurant kitchen, or brothel either. When eventually some criminal case is pursued, the anti-trafficking law might be a useful tool for justice and RICAHT is now supporting a law that would offer further protection to child victims– a good addition to the original legislation.

Meanwhile the legislature has criminalized prostitution in order to shut down the ‘spas’ that have been proliferating all over the state. I’m opposed to arresting the women because I don’t think it will stop prostitution. I think it will just make prostitution more dangerous. On the other hand, towns and neighborhoods have a valid claim to their property values and safety. I wouldn’t mind if the spas got zoned, taxed, regulated and inspected out of existence.

Professor Donna Hughes was instrumental in the forming of the Coalition. She lectured, showed films, shared the results of decades of research. I was very impressed with her knowledge and dedication. There is no doubt that slavery is a heinous crime. Trafficking is real, poor people are tricked and exploited and shipped across borders. Within borders too.

I was uncomfortable with Dr. Hughes’ conservative politics. I read her essays on National Review Online and knew our views were worlds apart, as in this opinion piece from 2006…

Hughes: President Bush has been the crucial factor. He has created a political climate in which all of us, from local activists to high-ranking political appointees, could do this work. Mainstream feminists like to say he’s anti-woman, but by supporting the abolitionist work against the global sex trade, he has done more for women and girls than any one other president I can think of. And he seems to have done it because it’s the right thing to do, not because of pressure or favoritism. The new law and policy will literally initiate change for millions of women and girls around the world. Years from now, when the anti-Bush hysteria has died away, I believe he will be recognized as a true advocate for women’s freedom and human rights.

Still, a coalition is supposed to include diverse members coming together for a common goal. And Dr. Hughes did not at first lobby for the arrest of prostitutes.

According to Wikipedia, she left the Coalition this year, to form a new organization, Citizens Against Trafficking–

In 2009, Hughes has been a leading figure in the campaign to end the decriminalized status of indoor prostitution in Rhode Island. She was a prominent member of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Human Trafficking (RICAHT), but later left the group and founded a new organization, Citizens Against Trafficking (CAT) when RICAHT did not lend its support to an anti-prostituton bill that penalized those who sell sex.

Now it seems to me that having gotten the anti-trafficking bill passed, there are no easy victories. Working to create an escape for women and men who are exploited, working with organizations such as Day One and Polaris Project, immigrant groups, advocates against domestic violence–it’s the long haul.

On the other hand, if activists can get the ‘loophole’ closed they can declare victory and move on to the next project. Providence will be free of prostitution just like Boston and Hartford and NYC.

Dr. Hughes has gone from fighting a real foe, human trafficking, to attacking the most visible commercial sex businesses, to allegedly targeting a storefront sex-education center. Closing the loophole, helping to chase the Sexuality Center out of Pawtucket, would earn Dr. Hughes credit with her conservative and religious allies, but I don’t see what it would do to fight trafficking or help people who are in trouble.

Here’s from The Phoenix, which will probably have to fire all its reporters if they ever lose their ad revenue from the ‘spas’.

Megan Andelloux’s Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, which would offer classes on sexuality and the latest from the nation’s medical journals, was slated to hold its grand opening in the Bucket last weekend.

But Andelloux was forced to move the long-planned celebration to the Spot, an arts space on Thayer Street in Providence, her plans delayed by zoning snafus and — perhaps — a little prudishness in Pawtucket City Hall.

“All these rumors got started that I was going to be selling porn and that [the Center] would be a brothel,” said Andelloux, a certified sex educator.

The trouble started with an e-mail sent a couple of weeks back by University of Rhode Island professor Donna Hughes, best known for her crusade to close the state’s prostitution loophole, to members of the city council.

Utilizing the suggestive power of well-placed quotation marks, the missive read, simply: “Hello, A center for ‘sexual rights’ and ‘sexual pleasure’ is opening in Pawtucket,” and included the web site for the center.

If they did go to the web site they would have seen such lurid events as a ‘panel discussion’.

ProJo.com reports too, this is from Bob Kerr…

The little sex shop on Main Street, Pawtucket, one floor up from the chess club, appears ready to help people find what they’ve been missing.

The books are there, the educational aids, the videos. Megan Andelloux’s two degrees — one from the American College of Sexologists, the other from the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists — hang on the wall.

Megan herself is in residence, ready to put her training to work to help people deal with those things that never happen or happen at the wrong time. She offers counseling, instruction, reading material, a place to drop in and try to explain.

“Think of Planned Parenthood meets feminist sex toy shop,” says Megan.

She is sitting with her husband, Derek, whom she met at the University of Rhode Island, in the coffee shop across the hall from her Center For Sexual Pleasure and Health in the Grant Building in the heart of downtown Pawtucket.

Derek, a resident in family medicine at Brown, sees the center as the beginning of an ever-expanding business that will eventually include medical services.

“But it might not be in Pawtucket,” he says.

There’s no contradiction between sexuality and health. There’s nothing wrong with sex education. I’m not advising Dr. Hughes to march on over to that big video store on Allens Avenue, but it seems she opposed a woman-owned business that is dedicated to education and empowerment. Why? What’s the threat?

Strange Bedfellows– one of the arguments against arrest as rescue is that putting people outside the law leaves them more vulnerable and invites corruption. check here, at Happy Endings for a story about who is ‘friends of the police’.

Is this Constitutional?– Alabama’s supreme court upheld a law against selling sex toys on the basis of public morality. Nothing against public morality, I’d like to see more of it, especially in our politicians, but these products were not intended to be used in public. And what of our constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness? Is that not self-evident? It is to me.

Test Case

This week the Projo ran an editorial on the case of a 16 year old runaway girl who was picked up on a domestic violence complaint and found to have been working in a strip club.

This girl was rescued due to outstanding work by the Providence police, the Northeast Innocence Lost Task Force and the FBI. A Providence police officer stayed with her while she waited in the emergency room, trying to find out the real story. The girl, who was suicidal, was using a fake name and ID. The man who is her alleged trafficker has enough warrants out to keep him in prison for as long as it takes to get the facts.

The Journal editorial has one answer to the problem of exploitation– arrest prostitutes. This is essentially what two proposed bills will allow. Although stripping is not legally prostitution, and amending the employment laws to ban minors from working in a hazardous environment has precedent and should easily pass, ‘close the loophole’ is the answer.

The Journal endorses bill H 5044A which is an arrest bill with anti-trafficking language added. (follow the link to view the bill). The Senate has a competing bill that is opposed by the police because the penalties are not strong enough.

I think both bills are trying to deal with a confusion about what we are doing. Are we rescuing victims, or punishing lawbreakers?

Should we be arresting victims of crime? Is prison a safe place for troubled people? A guard at the Wyatt Detention Center plead guilty today for having sex with an inmate. How much ‘force and coercion’ is possible in that situation?

Years of political and legal advocacy for victims of domestic violence led to a practice of law enforcement that allowed a police officer to treat a boyfriend beating as a real crime worth investigating. Years of advocacy for missing and exploited children made possible the teamwork that led to the arrest of a probable trafficker. There is public support for investigating and prosecuting these kinds of crimes.

The first year of work by the Coalition Against Human Trafficking led to the passage of a bill against human trafficking--one that mandates up to 30 years in prison for crimes such as those alleged against this teenage girl.

But no sooner was this bill passed then we were told that it had no teeth and was worthless. Closing the loophole became the only answer.

I’m not a lawyer, but I hope there is a good prosecutor to go after this guy. I hope the girl has some good legal advice. And I wonder why we have a brand-new anti-trafficking law that no one seems interested in enforcing.

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