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?