Spain seeks truth on baby-trafficking claims

The tearful stories swapped outside the Spanish attorney general’s office today were of nuns, priests and doctors trafficking in babies, of tiny corpses kept in fridges, of coffins without bodies and of mothers who only caught one fleeting glimpse of their newborn children.

“My baby is not registered as having been born, died or even as being stillborn. She simply does not exist, but I heard her cry,” said Ana Páez, 51. She was one of 261 mothers, fathers, siblings and adoptees demanding that authorities investigate whether they were victims of a baby-stealing network in Spanish hospitals.

Páez travelled from Barcelona today to add the daughter she says was born in 1981 at the Vall d’Hebron hospital to the other cases that campaigners want investigated by the courts.

“I want to know where she is,” she said. “I have cried for her often and I want her to know that I didn’t give her away, that she was stolen. Now I know I am not the only one.”

Adela Alonso, 70, said: “The same thing happened to me in Valladolid in 1967. I heard that baby cry, but two days later they said he was dead and had buried him.

“I want him to know that he has two brothers and lots of cousins.”

While most had no proof that their children were stolen, their stories had one thing in common – the absolute power exercised by maternity hospitals over their patients, especially poorer ones, for decades.

The fact that hospitals were responsible for burying children who died at childbirth meant the number of potentially suspicious cases was huge. In some cases the paperwork is missing.

“We were told that there is no register, that our case simply does not exist,” said Antonio Moreno, who was searching for a sister born at a clinic in Terrassa, near Barcelona, in 1967.

Clandestine networks that once encouraged single women to hand their babies over for secret adoptions by respectable families in a mostly Roman Catholic country have added further confusion to past events.

In those cases, births were sometimes registered fraudulently as being born to the adoptive mother. Lax adoption laws were not changed until 1987.

A Madrid clinic that closed in the 1980s after being investigated for its role in illegal adoptions, the Clinica San Ramón, is at the centre of the allegations. Journalists found a baby’s corpse in a fridge, leading to rumours that bodies were kept to show parents who doubted their own child had died. A former clinic employee recently confirmed that babies were illegally given up for adoption.

A group of people born at the San Ramón and adopted by families from the Valencia region are among those now seeking their biological parents.

“The stolen children are looking for their parents and the mothers for their children,” said Enrique Vila, the lawyer representing them.

Revelations that, in its early days, Franco’s regime also removed children from new mothers deemed to be dangerously leftwing have added to mistrust of the medical system.

Campaigners insisted today that while the theft of babies may have originated in the early days of Franco, it had proved so lucrative that it continued after the dictator died.

Estefania Anguita, 24, wanted to know what happened to her twin sister, Amanda, born at La Alianza clinic in Barcelona in 1986.

“We were both born healthy, but two hours later they said she had died. The hospital said it buried her. There are five more cases from the same hospital.”

Antonio Barroso, an adoptee who is leading the campaign, said: “If they refuse to accept the case then we will go to the European court of human rights at Strasbourg, because we are not going to stop.”

Study explores ‘demand’ for trafficking of children in Atlanta

ATLANTA, GA (WABE) – The principle that Supply and Demand drives commercial business can also be applied to the commercial sexual exploitation of children- or trafficking. To stop the supply,’ we need to address the demand, say advocates like Deborah Richardson, Chief Program officer for the Women’s Funding Network.

“The number of girls that are being exploited continues to increase – and the reason that continues to happen is because the demand for buying young girls in this country, very little attention is paid to it. And the internet has provided the anonymity and access to these girls like never before.”

The internet, according to studies by the Atlanta-based Schapiro Group, is the predominant marketplace for purchasing sex from young girls.

Commissioned by the Atlanta advocacy group, A future Not a Past, the Schapiro group also conducted a Demand study’ last fall, to get a better understanding who the johns’ are and where they’re coming from.

“We posted ads on a few different websites posing as a fake escort agency.”

Rusty Parker is senior strategist.

“The ads would say ‘call us tonight’ a phone number and picture of a girl who might look young.”

When men called in, he says, operators’ would survey them without their knowledge. From 218 usable surveys, they found the calls came from men ALL over metro Atlanta, and the average age was less than 40. And while many may not have been trolling for child prostitutes per say, more than half were willing to purchase sex from an adolescent girl.

Again Rusty Parker.

“We had a protocol in place to offer the ‘johns’ 3 opportunities to back out, this girl was under 18, she told me she’s 18 but i question that, things like that. we measured to see how many of these guys backed out after these warnings.”

After all three warnings says Parker, “We found that just about 50% say yes, that’s ok with me, send that girl over.”

No transactions were carried out.

While the demand study may represent a small piece of a huge pie, it’s one of very few studies out there. And advocates and sociologists like Carrie Baker, an associate professor at Berry College, believe it shows how acceptable it has become in our society for men to seek out younger and younger girls for sex.

“Our culture creates certain things as desirable and right now it’s focused on very young girls being desirable.”

Baker says the sexualization of girls in popular culture, makes it seem more normal for men to desire these young girls and then to act on that desire.

“Look at pop culture, music television, Nickelodeon and you’ll see cartoons geared toward kids where female characters dress very scantily and engage in strip teases. Go to a toy store, look at Brats dolls. They’re little hookers is what they are. They’re very sexualized, wearing very scantily clad clothes and all they talk about is how to attract men, how to be fashionable, how to be glamorous, how to be hot.”

Whether it’s toys, Miley Cyrus pole dancing, or teen shows like MTV’s Skins with explicit content, Baker, Richardson and others agree that the sexualization of youth in our culture contributes to the demand of child sex trafficking – and it needs to be stopped.

To view the study, visit www.womensfundingnetwork.org

Painful affairs of child adoption in Nepal

As Dozens of Parents are Waiting for Child Adoption, the US Decision to halt Adoption and Nepal’s Haphazard Way of Adoption Process have been Giving Trouble to Many Families.

Last September, American couple Haydn Hilling and his wife Edvige desperately wanted to take home their adopted Nepali child, Kailash. Though the American couple that hails from Louisiana spent more than one-and-a-half years getting the necessary paperwork required for the adoption, the process has come to a standstill following the United States’ decision to halt adoptions of abandoned children from Nepal.

clearpxlThe U.S. administration halted the adoption of Nepali children due to growing allegations of child trafficking and falsification of documents, often in connivance with government authorities.

A joint statement issued by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the first week of August said the step was taken to protect the rights and interests of Nepali children and their families after field visits to orphanages and police departments showed that documents describing children up for adoption as abandoned were often unreliable.

Another 10 countries–Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom–have also halted inter-country adoptions from Nepal.

According to Nepal’s Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, new rules were put in place last December and some stern measures have been added to the process.

“The Hague Secretariat also wants the smooth resumption of child adoption here,” chief of the ministry’s legal section, Sher Jung Karki said. The new set of policies allows local placement agencies to charge US$5,000 to adopting parents, while the government charges US$3,000.

Any foreign placement agency must set up a liaison office in Nepal and pay the government US$10,000 that will be handed over to an organization working for the welfare of children. Subsequently, the process of inter-country adoption of street children is subject to widespread abuses, the government has banned the adoption effective from Jan. 5.

The new policy also allows Nobel laureates, heads of states/governments, foreign ministers, celebrities, or a couple with an annual income of over US$300,000 to become foster parents, while others cannot.

Largely, a vulnerable adoption process that had been taking place in Nepal since several years has compelled the US government more alerted and posed a ban. That was the reason that they could not adopted two – year – old Kailash which made them running from pillar to post that their call will be heard.

Now the list is long. As many as 56 American families are facing heartbreak due to the US Government decision to ban child adoption from Nepal until Nepal’s legal provision ensures that adopted children were not fraud and claim genuine.

These desperate 56 parents have instituted an alliance and had registered a petition in US Congress. “We respectfully request that the Right Honorable members of the US Senate and House petition the Department of State and USCIS within the Department of Homeland Security to assist the “Nepal Pipeline families” in obtaining visas to bring their children home immediately,” the petition reads.

In response to the petition, 14,398 letters and emails were sent far to support their campaign. Moreover they have internet campaign through blog, http://theywaitnepal.blogspot.com/. One can find the photos of to be adopted Nepali child and their US mother. “These families are struggling to bring home their legally adopted children who are stuck in Nepal awaiting visas that will allow them to enter the US,” they write in their blog.

Many anxious parents are waiting in the US also. Many are stranded since August, 2010.

It seems that child adoption in Nepal has been turned into a profitable business as dozens of websites and privately organizations have claimed that there were many advantages of adopting children from Nepal. “There are many advantages for adopting from Nepal. Even though Nepal is an economically poor country, children are cared for very well with few incidences of abuse or neglect. If you like the idea of adopting a baby or toddler, it would be an excellent country to consider,” claims, adoptionark.

Read more: http://www.allheadlinenews.com/briefs/articles/90032149?Painful%20affairs%20of%20child%20adoption%20in%20Nepal#ixzz1CdLImHV9

Child pornography prosecutors: Victims are getting younger, acts are more vile

Child pornography isn’t just more pervasive, it’s getting even uglier.

Federal prosecutors in Detroit say they have witnessed the disturbing trend with the kids getting younger — toddlers and infants as young as 6 months old — turning up in photos and videos.

And the assaults are getting worse. It’s not just still images of children in the nude, they say.

“There’s a misconception in the public arena that these are mainly still images of children without clothes on. Well, the truth is that the majority of the pictures that are traded among these guys almost inevitably involve a child being either raped, or being forced to perform some type of sexual act on an adult or child,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy, chief of the general crimes unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

Bestiality images also are surfacing.

“It’s really horrific,” he said.

Child porn lovers live in your neighborhood

They aren’t just creepy loners.

Crouched on a bench in the federal courthouse in Detroit almost every week, seemingly normal people — doctors, coaches, authors, engineers, teens — are charged with possessing and making child porn, a $3-billion-a-year industry that the federal government has labeled the new silent child abuse.

Outed by their Internet activities, the accused stand before a judge, heads usually hung low, while their families sit in the back of the courtroom aghast at the accusations. And there typically is no criminal history to point to.

“There’s this notion that it’s the creepy neighbor who lives in the basement of his parent’s house and downloads this stuff,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy, chief of the general crimes unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

Far from it, he said.

There’s another misconception about child porn, he added.

“It’s not an eastern European problem, or southeast Asian problem. Half of the child porn traded in this country is made in this country,” he said.

100,000 Web sites

Currently, there are an estimated 100,000 known child porn Web sites, according to Brigham Young University Women’s Services, which also reports that child porn generates $3 billion annually, accounting for one-quarter of the $12-billion U.S. porn industry.

Fueled by the secret nature of the Internet, child porn has increased to the point where the federal government can’t keep track of it all. The Justice Department conceded in a report issued in August that the growth of child porn is outpacing efforts to combat it.

“Tragically, the only place we’ve seen a decrease is in the age of victims,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in August, following the release of the report, which promised to hire 38 prosecutors especially for child porn cases.

The Justice Department report says complaints of online enticement of children have more than tripled from 2004 to 2008, and complaints of child prostitution rose tenfold. Since 2006, more than 8,600 people have been prosecuted at the federal level on child porn charges.

Equally troubling, authorities said, is that not only are the kids getting younger, but the images are getting more graphic and violent. Children can be heard crying in some videos, they said.

What’s driving this trend?

Some legal and psychological experts think it’s the addictive nature of porn and its explosion on the Internet. The more users see, they say, the more they want.

“Normal sex acts don’t excite them anymore,” said Patrick Trueman, a former chief of the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. “Now you’re seeing the really extreme stuff, because once you’ve been through the still shots, that’s not good enough.”

Using social networking

In Michigan, a cyber crimes unit with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security has spotted another disturbing trend in recent months: Some people are using social networking to meet other child molesters. They’re using peer-to-peer networks to molest kids in unison, with a remote audience participating.

For example, ICE agents arrested a 52-year-old Pinckney father last month for allegedly posing his three minor children in a sexually explicit manner during video chat sessions with a man in Texas. The other man did the same with his children. Both men have been charged. The Free Press is not releasing the name of the Michigan father to protect the identity of his children, ages 9, 8 and 5, according to court records.

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    By TRESA BALDAS
    Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
    Steven Demink of Redford is accused of manipulating mothers into molesting their children and letting him view the sex acts.

    Steven Demink of Redford is accused of manipulating mothers into molesting their children and letting him view the sex acts.

    //

    John Belloli, 50, of Dearborn Heights pleaded guilty to drugging a 7-year-old before using her for sex and photographing the acts.

    John Belloli, 50, of Dearborn Heights pleaded guilty to drugging a 7-year-old before using her for sex and photographing the acts.

    //

    Dr. Craig Tubbs, 50, of St. Louis, Mich., a family physician, admitted to having 54 child porn images stored in his e-mail.

    Dr. Craig Tubbs, 50, of St. Louis, Mich., a family physician, admitted to having 54 child porn images stored in his e-mail. / Justice Department photos

    //

    Related Links
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  • A child porn collector asks judge for mercy
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    –><!–individual: 22 numChar :2217
    –><!–individual: 35 numChar :2108
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    Child pornography isn’t just more pervasive, it’s getting even uglier.

    Federal prosecutors in Detroit say they have witnessed the disturbing trend with the kids getting younger — toddlers and infants as young as 6 months old — turning up in photos and videos.

    And the assaults are getting worse. It’s not just still images of children in the nude, they say.

    “There’s a misconception in the public arena that these are mainly still images of children without clothes on. Well, the truth is that the majority of the pictures that are traded among these guys almost inevitably involve a child being either raped, or being forced to perform some type of sexual act on an adult or child,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy, chief of the general crimes unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

    Bestiality images also are surfacing.

    “It’s really horrific,” he said.

    Child porn lovers live in your neighborhood

    They aren’t just creepy loners.

    Crouched on a bench in the federal courthouse in Detroit almost every week, seemingly normal people — doctors, coaches, authors, engineers, teens — are charged with possessing and making child porn, a $3-billion-a-year industry that the federal government has labeled the new silent child abuse.

    Outed by their Internet activities, the accused stand before a judge, heads usually hung low, while their families sit in the back of the courtroom aghast at the accusations. And there typically is no criminal history to point to.

    “There’s this notion that it’s the creepy neighbor who lives in the basement of his parent’s house and downloads this stuff,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy, chief of the general crimes unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

    Far from it, he said.

    There’s another misconception about child porn, he added.

    “It’s not an eastern European problem, or southeast Asian problem. Half of the child porn traded in this country is made in this country,” he said.

    100,000 Web sites

    Currently, there are an estimated 100,000 known child porn Web sites, according to Brigham Young University Women’s Services, which also reports that child porn generates $3 billion annually, accounting for one-quarter of the $12-billion U.S. porn industry.

    (Page 2 of 3)

    Fueled by the secret nature of the Internet, child porn has increased to the point where the federal government can’t keep track of it all. The Justice Department conceded in a report issued in August that the growth of child porn is outpacing efforts to combat it.

    “Tragically, the only place we’ve seen a decrease is in the age of victims,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in August, following the release of the report, which promised to hire 38 prosecutors especially for child porn cases.

    The Justice Department report says complaints of online enticement of children have more than tripled from 2004 to 2008, and complaints of child prostitution rose tenfold. Since 2006, more than 8,600 people have been prosecuted at the federal level on child porn charges.

    Equally troubling, authorities said, is that not only are the kids getting younger, but the images are getting more graphic and violent. Children can be heard crying in some videos, they said.

    What’s driving this trend?

    Some legal and psychological experts think it’s the addictive nature of porn and its explosion on the Internet. The more users see, they say, the more they want.

    “Normal sex acts don’t excite them anymore,” said Patrick Trueman, a former chief of the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. “Now you’re seeing the really extreme stuff, because once you’ve been through the still shots, that’s not good enough.”

    Using social networking

    In Michigan, a cyber crimes unit with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security has spotted another disturbing trend in recent months: Some people are using social networking to meet other child molesters. They’re using peer-to-peer networks to molest kids in unison, with a remote audience participating.

    For example, ICE agents arrested a 52-year-old Pinckney father last month for allegedly posing his three minor children in a sexually explicit manner during video chat sessions with a man in Texas. The other man did the same with his children. Both men have been charged. The Free Press is not releasing the name of the Michigan father to protect the identity of his children, ages 9, 8 and 5, according to court records.

    (Page 3 of 3)

    Then there’s the case of Steven Demink, a Redford man a federal magistrate referred to as “a cyber predator of the worst kind.”

    Demink, 41, is accused of manipulating women in three states into molesting their children and letting him view the sex acts via webcam or photographs, according to court records. He has until Feb. 18 to plea, or face trial Feb. 28.

    “This is the dark side of the Internet,” said Brian Moskowitz, special agent in charge of ICE investigations in Michigan and Ohio. “There have always been people with a deviant sexual interest in children. It’s now easier for them to do what they do.”

    And they’re getting better at covering their tracks, said Moskowitz, who pointed out that today’s child pornographer is computer savvy, some changing URLs every few days to throw the feds off track.

    Meanwhile, the agents are bringing prosecutors the goods.

    In the Eastern District of Michigan, federal prosecutors in 2010 prosecuted 43 child porn cases — almost one a week — including 35 guilty pleas. They did not have figures for past years, but said that there has been a significant increase.

    “It’s far more serious, and the abuse and the suffering that these kids go through is incredible,” Mulcahy said.

    The court docket, he noted, speaks for itself.

    Take for example, John Belloli, 50, of Dearborn Heights, who is facing up to 35 years in prison for drugging a 7-year-old before engaging in sexual acts with the child and taking pictures of the acts. Belloli pleaded guilty in November.

    In central Michigan, Dr. Craig Tubbs, 50, is facing 46 to 57 months in prison for possessing child porn. He is to be sentenced Feb. 14.

    Tough cases to defend

    Defense attorneys are bombarded with requests to take on these cases, which are considered taboo among lawyers.

    Raymond Cassar, a criminal defense lawyer from Farmington Hills, currently has five child pornography cases, compared to his usual one a year. No doubt, it’s the Internet that’s driving the child porn trend, he said.

    “People are under the impression that because they’re viewing it in their home, they’re not committing a crime,” Cassar said.

    Admittedly, the cases can be tough for the defense, he said. Cassar represents Belloli, whose case has been dubbed among the worst by the government, he said, noting the victim and her whereabouts are known.

    “There is a living and breathing human being behind the case,” Cassar said. Often, he said, the evidence consists only of a photograph or a video.

    “In this case, the government says, ‘Wait a minute, we have a live victim, and this is something that may haunt her for the rest of her life.’ ”

    And that kind of evidence can be hard for a defendant to overcome, and a jury to forget.

    Contact TRESA BALDAS: 313-223-4296 or tbaldas@freepress.com

    Honolulu Prosecutor Says Hawaii Doesn’t Need A Human Trafficking Law

    Keith Kaneshiro

    Honolulu’s new prosecutor, Keith Kaneshiro, will not push to create a human trafficking law in Hawaii. However, in an interview with Civil Beat he acknowledged it’s a problem for the state.

    Kaneshiro told Civil Beat that last year’s attempt to create legislation was well intentioned, but misguided.

    “I think the people in human trafficking are genuinely passionate about the problem and they thought this was a way to go and attack the problem,” Kaneshiro said of a bill last year. “When the governor vetoed the bill, she had specific reasons to veto the bill. A lot of it was with the definition and also that there were existing laws that can cover the same conduct. So instead of looking at making a new law to cover the same conduct that exists in law, we’ll just go and work with the existing law.”

    Human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings for forced labor or sexual exploitation. Hawaii is one of five states without a law banning the practice.

    Seven human trafficking bills have been introduced this session. Kaneshiro says many human trafficking cases are handled on the federal side of the law, but for the cases the feds can’t cover, “we can always pick (them) up.”

    In the 2010 legislative session, a human trafficking bill that would have recognized some prostitutes as human trafficking victims was introduced and passed both chambers of the Hawaii Legislature unanimously.

    However, on July 6, 2010, former Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the bill, citing criticism it received from law enforcement, prosecutors and public defenders, who unanimously opposed it.

    Kaneshiro believes current prostitution laws can handle the bulk of human trafficking cases on the sexual exploitation side. His plan is to strengthen the laws.

    As part of his 2011 legislative package, the prosecutor is proposing tougher sentencing for prostitution offenders. He is also pushing to have the state recognize that when prostitutes are victims, government needs to give them adequate protection. Kaneshiro plans to include prostitutes in the witness protection program for the first time, “so they can get witness protection if they come and testify for the state and say that they were victimized.”

    His package calls to increase the penalties for prostitution by upgrading each degree of crime to the next level. For example, solicitors of prostitutes, or “johns,” will no longer be tried under a misdemeanor offense if the ofender has two or more prior convictions. If Kaneshiro gets his way, “habitual johns” will face Class C felony charges, which can result in five years of jail time.

    “There’s two types of human trafficking. One is laborers and one is prostitutes,” Kaneshiro told Civil Beat. “We’re looking at the prostitution angle. One of the concerns with human trafficking that we need to address is that sometimes, the prostitutes are not the criminals, they’re victims… Because they’ve been trafficked across state lines and they work and people profit from that.”

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    Some critics say tougher prostitution laws aren’t the answer to the exploitation of women. Instead, nonprofits like Harm Reduction Hawaii advocate for the decriminalization of prostitution. When Civil Beat asked Kaneshiro about this approach, he said it wouldn’t solve the problem.

    “There is some merit that you can regulate the health and the transmission of disease, make sure they get their health certificates and everything,” Kaneshiro said. “A good example is go to Nevada. Not in Las Vegas, but outside of Las Vegas, you have legalized prostitution. But human trafficking is biggest in Nevada. They bring in the prostitutes from outside for sex slaves.”

    But Harm Reduction Hawaii’s Executive Director Tracy Ryan disagrees with Kaneshiro’s analyses.

    “The only people that are saying that the high rates of human trafficking is occurring in Las Vegas are anti-trafficking advocacy groups who, in my opinion, have zero credibility whatsoever,” Ryan told Civil Beat. She said increasing penalties for solicitors of prostitution would be counter productive.

    “It makes things much worse than they are,” Ryan said. “It’s because the people who are selling sex are selling sex for a reason. And the reason is money. And they still need the money even if all of the sudden, there is no more business selling sex. So what do they do? What’s the alternative? Generally, the alternative is to turn to other crime when most of those others crimes, such as theft and drug dealing, have worse effects on the community than prostitution does.”

    Ryan said an alternative she has offered in the past was legislation that would have set up areas for prostitution. But, she said, “the problem with setting up zoning is if you’re going to have a tolerated zone, where’s it going to be? You get into a NIMBY (not in my backyard) thing.”

    She says that there is no reason why Kaneshiro couldn’t decriminalize off-street prostitution tomorrow. “Ninety percent of people who sell sex do not do it on the street… So why not decriminalize activities which are between adults and consensual and not complained about?”

    Ryan does agree with Kaneshiro’s take on adding a human trafficking law, however.

    “We have a law for that already,” Ryan said. “Promoting prostitution in the first degree is a perfectly adequate law. It doesn’t need to increase penalties. It would be nice if there were more prosecutions, which is the problem.”

    Before Kaneshiro’s special election victory, Civil Beat asked then-candidate Kaneshiro if he thought current law was enough to address human trafficking. He replied:

    “No. Victims of human trafficking should be included in the statewide witness program that provides for services to these types of victims. In addition, the laws on prostitution need to be simplified to clearly establish the prohibited conduct of human trafficking. The penalties for those involved should also be increased.”

    Based on his answer, he seems to be holding true to his campaign rhetoric, at least for the most part. He is trying to add victims of trafficking to the witness protection program and is also increasing penalties. As far as simplifying the laws, however, Kaneshiro doesn’t seem keen on tightening definitions.

    In discussing the 2010 bill vetoed by Lingle, Kaneshiro said: “They were caught up terming the crime human trafficking. They were caught up on that. The problem you have with that is, once you use that term, you have to have a definition for that term and in defining that term, you’re going to have all kind of problems. And it’s going to be litigation in how you define, ‘human trafficking’.”


    Human trafficking hard to prove, hard to stop

    CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Authorities know that thousands of men, women and children are trafficked into Texas. Proving it in a court of law is another matter.

    Cases involving human trafficking are hard to tease from prostitution and illegal immigration cases and are harder to prosecute unless a victim informs on the case. Investigators say victims are compelled into involuntary servitude, captivity or prostitution, according to an article in the Sunday edition of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

    “They may be victims of trafficking that do not even know it,” Sean McElroy of Homeland Security Investigations told the newspaper.

    McElroy handles trafficking and smuggling investigations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement‘s Houston office. He said many victims initially appear to be illegal immigration cases until weeks of interviews show that they entered the United States against their will.

    A study by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott found that human trafficking is far more common than the cases authorities have been able to prosecute. But Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland said quantifying the problem with any degree of precision is nearly impossible “by nature of the fact that it’s been in the shadows for so long. Police and other law enforcement agencies are trying to bring it out from the shadows.”

    Federal court records show no cases of human trafficking in 10 South Texas counties since 2000. Corpus Christi police said they cannot recall any cases where they were able to charge a suspect with trafficking, despite suspicions.

    “The unfortunate part is that we don’t have the statistics compiled for this area that maybe Houston or San Antonio have,” said Amy Storbeck, a nurse who heads a Corpus Christi anti-trafficking nonprofit called Blue Nation.

    Beginning this year, state law requires newly sworn law enforcement officers to take a basic course in human trafficking. Legislation has been proposed with the aim of equipping local law enforcement to crack down on human trafficking rings that lead to or pass through Texas.

    A measure proposed by state Rep. Todd Hunter would create a shared statewide database. The Corpus Christi Republican reports that the database would store information relating to human trafficking arrests and convictions and provide demographic data to allow local law enforcement to detect patterns.

    The attorney general’s study said the state’s busiest trafficking artery was the 900 miles of Interstate 10 that runs from El Paso to Houston, making both cities the state’s busiest trafficking centers.

    Traffickers also enter the U.S. from Mexico near Laredo and drive toward Houston, passing through Corpus Christi, McElroy said.

    Corpus Christi police recall a local massage parlor staffed by a group of Asian women that some officers suspected was clearly a case of human trafficking. However, none of the women cried out to police, leaving little evidence on which to build a trafficking case. Officers ended up shutting down the business and hoping that resolved the issue.

    “You don’t always get them on the real crime,” said Capt. John Houston of the Corpus Christi police vice and narcotics division. “We hear the tips. Someone is forced to work at a very low wage, working off a debt that never goes down. We know that exists here. It’s just hard to find,” he told the newspaper.

    Said Hunter, “We still depend largely on kidnapping and prostitution laws to address human trafficking cases. A missing or kidnapped child whose face appears on a milk carton could actually be the victim of human trafficking.”

    ___

    Human Traffickers Indicted

    Massive Case Involves 600 Thai Victims

    It seemed pretty straightforward: labor recruiters in Thailand approached impoverished rural farm workers—who made around $1,000 (U.S.) annually—and offered jobs on American farms for higher pay.   

    Many, hoping to provide a better life for their families, accepted the offer, which was made through an American company called Global Horizons, in the business of recruiting foreign workers to work in the U.S. agricultural industry. But once in the U.S., the Thai workers soon discovered a harsh reality: they worked for little or no pay, and they were held in place with threats and intimidation.  

    Eventually, their plight became known to law enforcement, and earlier this month, after a multiagency investigation, two additional defendants—accused of being part of the scheme to hold 600 Thai nationals in forced agricultural labor—were indicted in federal court in Honolulu. They joined six individuals who had been indicted last fall.

    Among those indicted? The CEO of Global Horizons, several Global employees, and two Thai labor recruiters.

    The latest indictment alleges a conspiracy among those indicted that began in 2001 and ran until 2007.

    How the scheme worked.

    Thai recruiters allegedly met with rural farm workers, promising them good salaries, lots of hours, decent housing, and an employment contract that guaranteed work for up to three years. All the workers had to do was sign the contract…and pay a “recruitment fee.”

    The recruitment fees were substantial…anywhere between $9,500 and $21,000. And even though they were given the option of paying a portion of the fee upfront and the rest while working in the U.S., the workers still had to borrow money to pay the smaller amount and up their family’s land as collateral.

    Meanwhile, back in the U.S., Global Horizons was soliciting client growers—at various agricultural conferences and through mailings—with offers to supply foreign agricultural workers.   

    Conditions were tough.

    According to the indictment, once in the U.S., workers found that the work was not as plentiful as they had been led to believe, the hours not as long, and the pay not as good (that is, when they were paid at all).  

     

    While working on farms in places like Hawaii and in several other parts of the country, they sometimes lived under brutal circumstances: at one place, workers were crammed into a large shipping container, with no indoor plumbing or air conditioning. Guards were sometimes hired to make sure no one escaped the living quarters. And workers sometimes witnessed threats of violence or experienced it first-hand.

    They were made to feel as though they had no way out: workers’ passports had been confiscated upon their arrival and they were told if they escaped, they would be arrested and sent back to Thailand, with no way to repay their debts and possibly leaving their families destitute.

    Human trafficking investigations like these are—and will continue to be—a priority under the FBI’s Civil Rights Program. During fiscal year 2010 alone, we opened 126 human trafficking investigations and made 115 arrests, with the assistance of our law enforcement partners often working together on task forces and working groups.

    But perhaps more gratifying, we were able to completely dismantle 12 human trafficking organizations. And resulting prosecutions led to $2.7 million in fines and restitution for the victims of human trafficking.

    Resources:
    – Press release
    – More on FBI human trafficking efforts