Former Gilroy sex trafficking victim receiving award

A human trafficking victim held in a Gilroy warehouse and abused sexually for nine months will receive the Healing Hearts award from Community Solutions on March 18 at the Morgan Hill Cultural Center at 17000 Monterey Rd.

Emelen Recillas will be honored with the award, which recognizes individuals overcoming significant barriers and challenges who are now leading healthy and productive lives, according to Perla Flores, director of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking programs for Community Solutions.

In 1997, Recillas was a 21-year-old immigrant when she came to the United States to work at a restaurant/bar in Morgan Hill which is now closed, Flores said.

“She was tricked into coming into the United States,” said Flores. “They told her she would be working in someone’s restaurant, but she was forced into a situation of sexual confrontation and prostitution.”

Flores said the 34-year-old Hollister resident was under the impression she would be earning her keep as a waitress, but was instead forced into prostitution with men at the establishment in order to repay her “debt.”

Flores said when Recillas wasn’t working, she stayed inside a dimly lit, padlocked warehouse with one barred window and 31 other women at 7373 Monterey St.

The building is now unoccupied.

Recillas found a way out of her situation nine months later when the restaurant was shut down, according to Flores.

One day, Flores said the truck that picked the women up for work every day didn’t show up, and Recillas later learned the bar was shut down.

Recillas never saw the restaurant owner again, according Flores.

Flores said Recillas later reported her story to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2009 after watching a TV special on human trafficking and realizing she had been a victim.

“It’s not just the typical restraints, or guards,” said Flores, explaining why Recillas didn’t just “escape” while she was at work. “There’s also the emotional component to it.”

Flores explained the man who recruited Recillas knew where she came from, knew her family and threatened to harm those she loved if Recillas ever fled.

“When they would call back home,” someone would monitor their phone calls,” said Flores. “And in their home county, law enforcement is corrupt … there are a lot of ways to control someone without having to shackle them.”

Flores said Recillas and the other captive women feared deportation if they went to the police.

“There are those tangible ways to control someone against their will, but emotional issues come into play as well,” she said.

Recillas is now eligible for the same benefits as a refugee, according to Flores, such as health and gaining vocational skills.

Flores said Recillas is proactive and determined to do whatever she can, but also explained law enforcement does not have enough evidence to charge anyone at this point.

According Sgt. Wes Stanford of the Gilroy Police Department no reports have been filed concerning these circumstances.

Calls made to the Morgan Hill Police Department pertaining to Chiquis restaurant were not returned at time of publication.

Community Solutions provides treatment, intervention in mental health, assisting victims in child abuse and domestic violence among other programs to help communities from South San Jose to San Benito County. Flores’ department works daily to raise community awareness about preventing domestic violence and human trafficking and interacts daily with victims.

Blair Tellers
Blair Tellers is a staff writer for the Gilroy Dispatch.

Communication challenges, human trafficking plague seafaring industry

By Sara Angle
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Seafarers worldwide have always faced a difficult life marked by long periods away from loved ones, but increased globalization has given rise to new challenges, including difficulty with communication and human trafficking.

These were some of the issues that regional directors of the Apostleship of the Sea discussed Feb. 14-16 during their annual gathering at the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.

Globalization has led to the development of more ports, and existing ports are seeing an increase in traffic.

The growth in the shipping and fishing industries has led to a greater demand for mariners, and the demand for manpower is so great in some parts of the world that personnel can be victims of human trafficking, said Father Romeo Yu Chang, regional coordinator of East-Far East Asia.

For example, in Thailand, many people do not wish to take on the strenuous and risk-filled job on fishing boats, so laborers are being trafficked in from other countries, he said in the region’s annual report.

Undocumented laborers are often victims of abuse and exploitation, and many of the workers “are enticed or lured or kidnapped to work as sea fishermen,” he wrote in the report.

The greatest problem historically faced by seafarers, who might spend 9-10 months at sea, has been the difficulty in communicating with family back home.

The Apostleship of the Sea helps seafarers by offering phone cards and Internet connections at port centers, and port chaplains often go onto the boats with laptops and cell phones for workers to use, said Deacon Albert M. Dacanay, regional coordinator for North America and the Caribbean.

A growing number of seafarers have access to new technologies that make it possible to reach home frequently and cheaply, he told Catholic News Service Feb. 15.

Because many seafarers now have access to Wi-Fi and smart phones, the apostleship is launching a beta test system for a social networking site that would allow seafarers and chaplains to keep in touch with each other.

The website would be a tool for communication between seafarers and their families, seafaring families with other families, and a method of relaying information about apostleship services to seafarers on the go. An iPhone application is also in the works.

The site would also help chaplains easily track ships and their crew to better serve them.

Connecting chaplains directly with seafarers in need is a hallmark of what Deacon Dacanay calls their “networking ministry.”

“The first thing you do when they come (is ask them) how long are you staying and where is your next port?” he said.

That way if the chaplain is unable to help the seafarer immediately, he can alert the chaplain at the next port of call to visit the crew member in need of continued assistance.

“We try to make it a very close family network for chaplains” so they can all look out for crew members in need, he said.

The increased ease of being in touch with family members has brought a greater demand for counseling and crisis intervention, said Redemptorist Father Xavier Pinto, regional coordinator for South India and the Gulf region. One-on-one time with members of the pastoral teams is becoming progressively more critical and important, he said.

Apostleship regional directors see this as an opportunity to expand their network, but because of a lack of resources, they worry that they will not be able to meet the demand, some said.

A globalized workforce also means crew members on one ship might be from many different countries. The multiethnic crews often have no way of communicating with one another, if only for companionship, and that can cause problems, said Deacon Dacanay.

Staff members at apostleship centers speak the language native to that region, and sometimes English, but many mariners that come to them are immigrants who do not speak either language, he said.

Another problem the apostleship works to alleviate is protecting the rights and living conditions of seafarers who are stuck on ships that have been abandoned by the captain due to bankruptcy or legal issues.

In his opening address Feb. 14 to the regional coordinators meeting, Scalabrinian Father Gabriele Bentoglio, undersecretary of the pontifical council, said ships abandoned at port with crews left on board “is one of the most visible effects of the global economic crisis in the maritime industry.”

The apostleship tries to provide for their basic needs, such as food and water, and assists with repatriation and efforts to recover unpaid wages, he said.

The Apostleship of the Sea, which provides spiritual care to seafarers and anyone whose livelihood depends on the sea, has set up centers and chaplaincies across the world to help seafarers wherever they may be.

For many people who are strangers in a strange new place, “the first place you visit is the church” because it’s someplace that makes you feel comfortable and welcome, Deacon Dacanay said.

When there is a chaplain at a port, “sometimes we take a picture with the sailors and we send it to their families and it keeps them assured that their husbands and their family members are kept safe and in good hands,” he said.

Deja Vu for Hawaii Human Trafficking Bill?

Sara Lin/Civil Beat

Hawaii lawmakers are determined to keep an anti-human trafficking bill alive this session. But there’s still a major rift between vocal victims advocates who want laws criminalizing sex and labor trafficking, and law enforcement that thinks existing laws are adequate.

The support of Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro seems key to any human trafficking bill’s passage. But the prosecutor reiterated Thursday morning to House lawmakers that he doesn’t think Hawaii needs a human trafficking bill. He stands by his original proposal to toughen existing laws to attack the demand side of prostitution to stop sex trafficking.

“I don’t disagree with what (the advocates) are trying to do. I’ve always been very active in prosecuting johns,” Kaneshiro said. “But we already have these concepts in our current law.”

Kaneshiro’s comments come one day before he’s scheduled to meet with Luis de Baca, President Barack Obama’s Ambassador-at-Large in charge of monitoring and combating human trafficking.


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.

The House Human Services Committee voted to advance House Bill 576, which would establish sex trafficking as a felony offense. At an informational briefing before the committee voted on the measure, trafficking survivors gave testimony.

Several of the victims were former prostitutes who talked about the shame of having been forced into prostitution and the stigma they felt afterwards.

As if to underscore the point, as one victim tearfully recounted being forced at gunpoint to prostitute herself for three months, Rep. Faye Hanohano looked disgusted and twice rolled her eyes.

Hawaii clearly has a human trafficking problem. Federal prosecutors in Honolulu filed the largest human trafficking case in U.S. history in September, involving more than 400 Thai farm workers who were kept on farms here and in other states as indentured labor.

Lawmakers introduced 11 human-trafficking related bills this session. Six bills sought to establish specific human trafficking criminal statutes. Four of those bills — three in the House, one in the Senate — are still viable.

Last year, the Legislature unanimously passed what would have been Hawaii’s first human trafficking bill. But Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the bill in July after law enforcement, prosecutors and public defenders opposed it, citing vague wording.

Clearly, that experience was fresh on legislators’ minds.

“I’d hate to have what happened last year — with the governor vetoing the bill — to happen again,” said House Human Services Committee Chair Rep. John Mizuno, who scheduled Tuesday’s hearing on HB 576. The measure was passed on to the Judiciary Committee with amendments.

But judging from Tuesday’s hearing, it could be deja vu for anti-trafficking advocates.

HB 576 is backed by the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, the same vocal victims advocate group that successfully lobbied for last year’s failed bill. This year’s bill is slightly different, but the same characters have lined up to oppose it again.

Deputy Attorney General Lance Goto said: “We do oppose this bill because it seeks to prohibit conduct already prohibited by the law.” The attorney general’s written testimony also indicates wording in the bill is again vague and confusing, and would make winning convictions more difficult.

Hawaii Public Defender John Tonaki seemed to side with Kaneshiro.

“I’m mainly here as an observer,” Tonaki said. “As Kaneshiro said, when you change things in the criminal code, you really have to be careful. You don’t want advocates to mix enforcement with problems in the law.”

“These cases can be very difficult to gather evidence on, so some of these may be enforcement problems rather than problems in the law,” Tonaki said.

Feds: Russian sex trafficking ring operating in Central Florida

By Amy Pavuk, Orlando Sentinel
11:53 a.m. EST, February 18, 2011
A federal grand jury in Orlando has indicted a dozen people suspected of working in a Russian sex-trafficking ring in Central Florida for more than a year.
The 27-count indictment, unsealed this week, accuses Roman Caraiman and Alexandr Postica of recruiting women to work as sex workers at massage parlors around the United States.
Federal authorities said Caraiman imported people from Russia and sought to bring women from other countries to the United States, all to work in the sex trade.
None of those indicted by the grand jury are U.S. citizens.
Several have been arrested, including Tatiana Belinschi, a 25-year-old who goes by the alias “Laura.” She was booked into the Orange County Jail this week and is scheduled for arraignment this morning in Orlando federal court.

 Several of the suspects were arrested outside Florida, including Postica and co-defendants Saida Babaeva, 28, and Alina Priadko, 24.
Also named in the indictment: Kateryna Krykovlyuk, Elena Shashurova, Vlada Blisciuc, Elena Abushinova, Irina Luchina, Aleksandra Liubina and Natalia Fedorova.
The indictment alleges that the 12 worked together in a commercial sex business in Orange, Osceola and Hillsborough counties since at least July 2009. Their activities continued through this month, the charges state.
Caraiman, Belinschi and Postica are accused of using at least one website to recruit non-U.S. citizens to work in the sex industry in America.
Authorities said Caraiman and Belinschi placed ads for massage services on the classifieds websites craigslist and backpage, so they could solicit customers.
Nine of the suspects paid a portion of their proceeds to Caraiman, who then shared his money with Belinschi and Postica, the charges state.
The indictment details dates, beginning in 2009, when the women are accused of offering to perform sex acts on an undercover detective in exchange for money.
Authorities say the sex ring operated outside of Florida as well.
In December, according to the indictment, Postica transported Babaeva from Ohio to Michigan to work, and Postica also transported Liubina and Fedorova from Massachusetts to Michigan, also for commercial sex work.
Babaeva and Priadko were both arrested in Ohio, jail records show. or 407-420-5735.