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#HumanTrafficking - A Portrayal by Linda Witong
by Linda Witong, Special Advisor to SI Advocacy 2015-2017
“It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name - - modern slavery.” President Barack Obama, September 25, 2012
"Human Trafficking, better described as modern day slavery, is one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises in the world. The ILO estimates human trafficking generates $150.2 billion in illegal profits each year. More than one-third of these profits are from forced labour exploitation and the remaining two-thirds are from sexual exploitation. Prostitution has become much more lucrative than drug dealing. A single 'pimp' can earn more than $1.5 million every six months with six women or children in their 'stable'. The chances of being apprehended are fairly small and there is often no one to testify against the pimp as potential witnesses often 'disappear' and are later discovered to have been killed.Estimates on how many people are trafficked globally vary from 20 to 37 million. The Human Trafficking Center considers the ILO’s number to be most methodologically reliable — 20.9 million. However, the best estimates have some degree of inaccuracy as it’s difficult to measure activity within illicit markets. In addition, many survivors who are trafficked do not report these crimes as they fear the traffickers, or the reactions of their family or community.
One cannot rely on a profile of either a victim or a trafficker to determine who is at risk of being trafficked or who may be a predator. Every year girls of every nationality are trafficked who are young, slim or obese, tall or short, strikingly beautiful or very plain. These girls, as well as their predators, come from all socio-economic groups. The one common denominator is that these victims were seen to be vulnerable by their predators. It has been estimated that 90 percent of survivors of Human Trafficking experience sexual assault, often by age 14."
"At a Halloween party somewhere in the U.S. a trafficker meets a 12-year-old runaway who asks for his help in finding a place to stay.
Instead, the trafficker – a long-time member of a notorious and well known gang – forces the young girl into the commercial sex trade the very next day. For more than three months, he will hold her captive, coercing her to have sex for money multiple times a day at a variety of businesses, homes, apartments and hotels. Across the U.S., in another city, 4 girls who are 13 and 17 with disabilities are befriended by some men and thereafter lured to a house. Some of them are gang raped and all are then trafficked. Meanwhile, in another city, a girl gets into an argument with her mother and leaves her residence. The girl sees a young couple who she knows and agrees to get into their car. They then take this girl, who also has mental health issues and has gone off her medications, and force her to work as a prostitute 24 hours a day including on her birthday.
These exploiters who are called 'guerilla pimps', kidnap girls on the street who look vulnerable. There are also 'Romeo pimps', who pretend to romance victims before exploiting the young child.
When asked, most people will associate slavery with what has happened in the past. However, there are more people in some form of slavery today worldwide than at any time in human history.
And these victims of modern day slavery have often ended up as witnesses in our criminal justice system. Young and afraid, the child will sit with a prosecutor who notices the child’s black eyes and bruises which the child tries to cover up by their clothing. The child may not even look at us as we try to interview them. But often when we ask if the defendant caused their injuries, the child will say no but their eyes will start to water. And although this child sits with a child advocate and is clutching onto a new toy close to their chest, the child has been manipulated into compliance, isolation and fear by their exploiter. The child’s self esteem is low or non-existent. They have been told that they are a “throwaway child” i.e. that they are worth nothing “as no one wants them”. Very often the child has runaway from physical or sexual abuse within their family and feels that there is little or no social safety net for them. If you’ve had unsafe people around you when you’re growing up, you don’t necessarily know what safe people would be like, or how to recognize it. These children try to survive on the streets the best way they can and often trade sex for food, drugs, money, or a place to stay.
The child sitting in a prosecutor’s office may also be from a affluent family but feel unloved by members of their family. The Defendant may be one of the first person’s in their life who has paid attention to the child and made them feel good or beautiful.
The child may also be uncooperative and not even recognize themselves as victims. While clutching their toy, the child may look at you with fear as they have been brainwashed into viewing law enforcement and adult service providers as their enemy. They believe that they must protect their exploiter and their commercial sexual enterprise as that is the only “family” the child has known.
And assuming that the child is cooperative and we have filed charges against the exploiter, we often see members of the public who do not understand that the child is a victim. Prosecutors have been known to be discussing a trafficking case with a defense counsel who will argue that we should know that our victim is a 'prostitute' at which point we will lean over, and looking them straight in the eye, point out that they should know that the child was only 12. But it is apparent that the attorney may never see this young survivor as just a victimized child.
So we prepare for trial building our case by corroborating the victim where we can by gathering witnesses, motel records, phone records, computer records, photos, and medical records which may show prior injuries as well as DNA as it is common for exploiters to have sex with their victims. If we find the victim and exploiter’s DNA at the location where the child states the exploiter kept them, or on implements or tools, it can help prove physical or sexual abuse in our criminal case.
And once we are before a jury, we must be aware that potential jurors may also believe that they cannot trust the child as a witness as the juror believes that the juror would have gotten away or fought off the predator. Jurors do not understand the coercion, violence and fear that has resulted in a small injured child huddling in a chair in the corner of our office trying to find some safety in a otherwise dangerous world. The child is scared to testify in court, face their exploiter and “tell on” someone that they know has a gun or other weapon which they have used on the child repeatedly in the past. Finally, jurors may not understand the physical injuries which may have resulted in brain trauma or the emotional scars which will alter how a child reacts to events or how they even recall it. It is our job to educate the public and the jurors about what the child has endured and to appreciate the courage that it took the child to live through and survive such abuse.
And as a prosecutor, you also know that simply filing charges against these predators without providing additional services to the victim is not going to work. It is our job to try to get the child individual attention and special services or they will be victimized again. It is our job to perhaps be the first advocate that the child may have known and to do everything in our power to begin the healing process and path to recovery for the child. Our reward? That will always be a hug and a thank you from the child after the trial is over".
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