Tag Archives: Human Trafficking

Planned Parenthood Saves Lives

About twenty-five years ago, a young woman scheduled a job interview at a photo studio. She was a skilled retoucher who could make decent money fixing portraits with a graphite pencil and a sable brush. The studio was where the downtown Pawtucket pedestrian mall used to be, and right on the bus line.

When she arrived for the interview, she found herself in a room with two men who gave off an unwholesome vibe, and as they discussed business she formed a quick escape plan in her mind, but fortunately did not need to book it out the door. When she got up to leave, the conversation went like this–

“We’ll give you a ride home.”
“No, that’s fine, I don’t need a ride.”
We’ll take you home.”
“No thanks.”

By this time she did not want to be in a car with these guys, or let them see her house. The men were insistent beyond politeness, but she kept saying no, and finally got out of there, vowing to avoid the place and regretting that they had her resume with her address.

To paraphrase Mark Patinkin, I was that girl.

I never heard from them again, and would have forgotten the episode if the studio owner had not been arrested some time later for sexual assault.

The story in the paper as I recall it was that the photographer had enticed an underage girl to pose for him, promising to shoot a model portfolio and make her rich and famous. He persuaded her to take off her clothes, then told her that he would show the pictures to her mother unless she let him have sex with her. The crime was discovered when the girl went to Planned Parenthood, fearing she was pregnant. She told her story to a counselor, who reported it to the police.

This happened in 1984. The Providence Journal did not put its archives online until 1986, and the only way to find a citation for this story was to go to the Providence Public Library, search through index cards and look at microfilm.

I couldn’t remember which year this happened, but I had help from some people who used to work for the Pawtucket Times. The story was a minor local scandal, and the photographer was ‘a character’ who used to hang out at Tom’s Diner. Not a scary guy at all unless you were a fifteen-year-old girl he was extorting. I found only one reference in the card catalogue, and one article–

Providence Journal May 25, 1984 p.C9

‘Pawtucket businessman charged for coercing teenager into sex’

PAWTUCKET– A Pawtucket man was arraigned in District Court yesterday on a charge of first-degree sexual assault on a girl, 15, and Judge Anthony J. Dennis set bail at $100,000 with surety pending a grand jury hearing.

———–is charged with coercing a minor to have sexual relations by threatening to distribute nude photographs of her.

Capt. John Tomlinson, prosecution officer, said the girl said she answered a newspaper ad for girls interested in a modeling career.

The rest of the article says that Capt. Tomlinson wanted the bail set at $200,000. It sounds like the police thought he was a real bad guy.

I can’t find the article that cites Planned Parenthood, I’m still looking.

The photographer paid $10,000 surety, and the records posted online at ri.gov show many hearings and court dates ending in a plea of no contest to a lesser charge of 3rd degree sexual assault. I’m not a lawyer, sounds like a plea bargain to me.

This assault was a felony crime then, and now we are even less tolerant of child pornographers and child molesters. The use of coercion means the crime fits the definition of human trafficking, even though the girl was not taken out of state.

I’m not naming the offender, I’m told he has died and he’s not the point of the story. The point is that Planned Parenthood is accessible health care and advocacy for women who have few other options. The staff at Planned Parenthood are bound to confidentiality. They have been targeted on trumped up charges of aiding human trafficking when in fact they are an agency where women can find help and advocacy.

Contraception is under political attack, and if women’s health is collateral damage, it’s the poor and the young who will suffer the most. Many of us can remember a time when Planned Parenthood was the only medical provider we could afford. Planned Parenthood saves lives.

Feministe lists some of the services the House of Representatives voted to de-fund…

One in five American women has used Planned Parenthood’s services. The vast majority of care — more than 90% — offered at Planned Parenthood health centers is preventative. Every year, Planned Parenthood carries out nearly one million screenings for cervical cancer — screenings which save lives. Every year, Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses give more than 830,000 breast exams — exams which save lives. Every year, nearly 2.5 million patients receive contraception from Planned Parenthood — a service which prevents enormous numbers of unintended pregnancies and, by extension, an enormous number of abortions. Every year, Planned Parenthood administers nearly 4 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV — tests and treatments which save lives, extend lives, preserve fertility, and maintain reproductive health.

Reproductive health is not a luxury, it’s an essential part of women’s health. Politicians want to score points by playing with women’s lives. We won’t let them.

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.

Angels of Light

Even 2,000 years ago Rabbi Jesus knew that some people weren’t what they seemed to be. The organizer of the group that went to Haiti to rescue children, and ended up trying to leave with children who were not orphans–whose parents might have been able to take them home if only they had some help– turns out to have a troubled past.

Remember the Golden Rule. If you were ever in such a terrible situation and begging for help, what would you want? To have someone help you care for your child, or someone take your child to a foreign country? News accounts say at least one child was crying for her mother. Just because they are poor, doesn’t mean you can ignore all the rules.

UPDATE: Not only does the organizer of this badly conceived ‘rescue mission’ have a suspect past, their lawyer is a suspected human trafficker who is alleged to have transported women and girls tricked into prostitution. We should know soon is he is the same man the Dominican police have been seeking.

It’s been asked, would American evangelicals go into a place like say– Bosnia after the civil war, and try to load a bunch of white children into a van and drive them off, no questions asked? What were they thinking?

BACKGROUND: There have been numerous scams where Christians have been persuaded to donate to ‘aid’ programs that were actually scams. There are also scams where Christians sign on to a scheme to get rich quick on African gold. Pat Robertson took donations in the US to set up an operation in Congo that is alleged to have been an attempt to loot diamonds with the collaboration of dictator Sese Seko Mobutu.

Children are more precious than gold. What was planned for those Haitian children, and again, why did the Christians not offer help to the parents so they could care for their own children in their own country?

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.

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.

Wipe Out Prostitution

Russ Smith has a good post about Prof. Donna Hughes’ editorial in the Providence Journal and the process that led to the latest new bills. Sounds like this sausage mix sat on the counter for too long. Smith lists the many ways a broad and poorly defined law against prostitution can be applied to make it possible to arrest people who don’t think of themselves as ‘pros’.

I was in the Coalition Against Human Trafficking the first year, and we did succeed in getting a good law passed. The devil is in the implementation. If that guy washing dishes in the back room of a restaurant is suicidal with homesickness and his wages are paying off his indenture, who will crusade to save him? Where’s the glamor?

Early on, the Coalition began to focus on sex trafficking, which is an atrocious crime, but difficult to fight–even with the FBI few cases are prosecuted.

In the second year, the Coalition turned to an easier target–the Asian spas that operate so openly. There was the ‘loophole’ in the Rhode Island law, with political allies committed to closing it.

When you can’t win the game, move the goal posts.

I think prostitution is a bad thing, I think the body is the self, and to sell a kidney, or access to the body is a violation of personhood.

So I would rather see this trade out in the open, with laws enforced to protect people from crimes such as rape, assault, extortion and blackmail. Making prostitutes into criminals will drive them far from the legal system, which should be a protector from violent crime. I would rather see my tax money go to pursuing those who commit such crimes, who are a threat to everyone.

Tara Hurley heard Prof. Hughes’ testimony, and comments here.

The Women Speak

Finally — the legislature hears from some of the women it proposes to ‘rescue’.

PROVIDENCE — An Asian woman who said she works in a “spa” took the witness stand in a Senate hearing room Thursday night and asked why lawmakers want to outlaw indoor prostitution.

The rest here at ProJo.com — long overdue.

This Weekend at the Columbus

Tara Hurley’s documentary, ‘Happy Endings–You Can’t Clap With One Hand’ opens at the Columbus Friday and Saturday. A link to her site here–

We have published a review, and also an opposing view. See for yourself, because the General Assembly will soon vote on whether to close the loophole on indoor prostitution.

What is lacking in this debate is input from the people who are either offenders or victims in need of rescue, depending on how you see them. That is why Tara Hurley’s documentary is so valuable, she was able to interview spa workers, johns, police and public officials.

To solve a problem, we first have to understand the problem. ‘Happy Endings’ lets some of the people involved have a voice. There are others who are not yet heard, but this film is a beginning.

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