Canadian Teens Behind Human Trafficking Ring

June 14, 2012

In a sickening new twist in teen-on-teen sexual exploitation, three Canadian teens girls (two 15-year-olds and one 17-year-old) are charged with human trafficking by luring other teen girls through social media services, asking to meet up at a housing complex and then forcing them into prostitution.

According to ABC news, three separate incidents were identified in which three female victims, ranging from 13 to 17 years old, were lured to a housing complex in Ottawa and then forcibly driven to other locations for prostitution purposes.” …[Ottawa Police Staff Sgt. John] McGetrick said that “social media was a factor” in planning the initial meetings arranged between the suspects and the victims. He told ABCNews.com that the suspects and the victims were “vaguely known to each other,” but were not friends. “The meetings were intended to do an enjoyable activity, let’s say, hang out,” he said. “There was no ill-intention in the invite. Obviously things changed once that happened.”

Shockingly, police do not believe that adults were involved in the trafficking ring; it looks as if this was entirely the creation of the three girls.

In addition to human trafficking charges, these girls are charged with robbery, procuring, forcible confinement, sexual assault, assault, uttering threats and abduction, yet because they are minors, McGetrick believes the teens will be tried as juveniles and only face up to 3 years in prison.

This isn’t the first case of teens leveraging technology and online services to sexually exploit others, in 2010 a 17-year-old was arrested for pimping a hooker through Craigslist, and there are reports that teen girls in the UK deliberately set up meetings between pedophiles they’d found online and girls they didn’t like in the hopes these girls would be exploited.

But this case is, as far as we know, unique in the deliberation shown in befriending and grooming their victims, the logistical complexity of arranging these abductions, and the sophistication in finding men  interested in raping young girls and arranging the meetings with these ‘johns’.

Takeaway for parents

Teens virtually meet other teens online every day, and it can seem particularly innocuous when the teens are remotely connected as they apparently were in this case. Most of the time, these friendships are harmless, in many cases they have very positive and lasting benefits that should be encouraged. So how do you spot and mitigate risks to prevent tragedies like those reported here from occurring?

  1. Talk and keep talking. You should know and understand the services your teens are using and who their interacting with. That doesn’t mean reading all their comments, but it does mean making sure the conversations are healthy, and it does mean discussing situations where even when everything seems fine – as it surely did for the victims in this case – things may not be as they seem.
  2. Make sure your teen knows they can NEVER EVER meet someone or a group of people for the first time alone or in a private place. Meetings need to occur in public places when other people are around. Ideally you go with them to meet the other teen and that teen’s parents.  At a bare minimum you need to know where and when they’re meeting and how to contact the person their meeting up with, AND they should be required to check in with you on a set schedule.  This way, any missed call alerts you instantly to take action.

How you negotiate that your kids always tell you before meeting anyone is critical. With 4 young adult children I’ve lived this compromise with each of them during their teens.

They thought I was paranoid, but we framed it this way – they wanted to do something; and I needed to know they were safe. Then we negotiated a solution that both of us could live with. This gave my teens a way to do what they wanted – meet up – and minimized my anxiety.

In each case my teens were fairly sarcastic when they called to check in, and it was clear whomever they met up with knew exactly what the calls were about because in the background of the “hi mom, just want you to know I’m ok, the friend really is my age and not an old pervert” I could hear laughing, but I was more than fine with that, and I knew exactly where to find my teen, I knew they were ok, and equally important, the person they met knew I was monitoring their meeting.

Fortunately the vast majority of people we, and our teens, meet online are wonderful, respectful people who have represented themselves and their intentions honestly.

For the fraction of cases that are malicious, the talks and the safety rules need to be in place.

To learn more about human trafficking and the internet see my blogs:

To learn more about meeting online ‘friends’ in person safely see my advice for online daters, and buyers and sellers:

Linda


Gang Members Charged with Recruiting Teens Online for Prostitution

April 15, 2012

A new criminal case brings back into focus the role of the internet in gang activities as 5 members of the gang set ‘Underground Gangster Crips’ have been charged with sex-trafficking underage girls. The Crips is a massive gang with over 35,000 members organized into an estimated 800 individual gangs or “sets” in more than 30 states and 120 cities.

Court documents say the gang members recruited teen girls through Facebook, DateHookUp.com, in schools, and on Metro busses. In the course of pimping and trafficking these girls, the court records charge these gang members transported them across at least 4 states.  If convicted, each could serve life in prison.

Gangs have been leveraging the internet’s power to glamorize gang life, recruit, coordinate, commit crimes, and brag about their crimes, for many years. To learn more about gangs internet use and prostitution/human trafficking see my extensive coverage in these blogs: 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment – Emerging Trends and The Internet,   Gangs use of the Internet and Cell Phones  and Human trafficking Top Initiative for Incoming NAAG President Rob McKenna

According to court documents, in this most recent case just outside of D.C. if the girls tried to quit, they were threatened and subjected to violent and frequent beatings and threats. The ring leader, Justin Strom, 26, allegedly choked one girl when she said she no longer wanted to engage in prostitution.

The affidavit shows that in another occurrence, Strom made a 17-year-old girl use cocaine, cut her on the arm with a knife and then forced her to have sex with him. The girl was

The gang members charged allegedly recruited at least 10 girls – most of whom are 15 and 16-years-old – over the last three years often telling the girls they were pretty and could make money by having sex with men. Many girls were required to have sex with gang members as an “initiation”. The girls allegedly would share the proceeds with the gang — sometimes $50 or $100 per customer — afterwards gang members would supply the girls with drugs and party with them, according to court records.then taken to an apartment, where she was forced to have sex with 14 other men. Strom allegedly collected $1,000 that night. Sometimes, girls were forced to go door-to-door soliciting men for sex. Two gang members drove her home, and according to the affidavit she was told she “got what she had coming” and that if she told anyone they would “come back and kill her.”

These arrests add to a string of prostitution and trafficking charges against gangs in the D.C. area; Members of the gang Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, also have been accused in federal court in Virginia of prostitution-related charges involving juvenile victims.

The Underground Gangster Crips have a long and violent history in Fairfax County, allegedly committing rapes, armed robbery and selling drugs, according to court documents.

Speaking about the case, U.S. Attorney Neil H. McBride said “The sex trafficking of young girls is an unconscionable crime involving unspeakable trauma. These gang members are alleged to have lured many area high school girls in the vile world of prostitution, and used violence and threats to keep them working as indentured sex slaves.”

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II described the case as “every parent’s worst nightmare,” adding that it showed human trafficking can happen anywhere and is “a very real danger here in Virginia. By working together with U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride and our law enforcement partners, we will send a swift and strong message that this criminal behavior will not be tolerated in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Learn more in my posts Child Trafficking and the Internet and ‘Women to Go’ Shop Drives Trafficking Awareness in Israel; What You Can do in Your Community.

The sexual exploitation of women and children by gangs and other criminals isn’t just a problem in D.C., or L.A. or Chicago. The sexual exploitation of women and children as a revenue stream is occurring in towns and cities across the country. And every single decent person has a role to play – you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution when it comes to identifying and reporting the exploitation of women and children.

To get involved in the campaign against human trafficking, you can find more information and organizations in your area by searching online for human trafficking and your region. If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, or you yourself are a victim, get help by calling the Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888. Or Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s hotline 1-800-THE-LOST.

Location of the NCMEC posters:

Linda


Human Trafficking on Backpage.com Under Fire By Attorneys General

September 7, 2011

In a joint action by 45 attorneys’ general, online classified site Backpage.com has been called upon to end the “online clearinghouse” for human trafficking. Though the site claims to have strict anti-criminal policies, the AG’s have found hundreds of ads on Backpage.com’s regional sites that are clearly for illegal services. “It does not require forensic training to understand that these advertisements are for prostitution,” the attorneys general wrote.

Backpage has apparently taken over a large share of the human trafficking that Craigslist became famous for prior to the AG’s crackdown on that site – see my blog Seventeen State attorneys general Tell Craigslist to Drop Adult Services.

In a letter to the online classified site’s lawyers, the AG’s say the site is a hub for illegal sex ads and a magnet for those seeking to exploit minors. It points to more than 50 cases, in 22 states over the past three years, involving the trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors through Backpage. “These are only the stories that made it into the news; many more instances likely exist,” the attorneys general wrote. They also reminded Backpage of a 2010 request from nearly two dozen attorneys general asking that the adult services site be taken down.

The Backpage crackdown coincides with the ascension of Washington State attorney general Rob McKenna as this year’s president of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). McKenna’s presidential initiative is combatting human trafficking by holding traffickers and abusers accountable; mobilizing communities to provide hope and care for victims; and raising public awareness of the issue and reducing demand. To learn more about this initiative see the NAAG website Pillars of Hope: Attorneys General United Against Human Trafficking.

Here is an excerpt from McKenna’s Washington State AG website; “Traffickers who exploit runaways and other disadvantaged kids shouldn’t be provided with a powerful online clearinghouse. The only way for Backpage.com to completely stop child sex trafficking on its site is to take down adult services advertisements altogether and take aggressive steps to be sure such ads don’t surface elsewhere on the site.”

McKenna added that kids aren’t capable, legally or otherwise, to consent to be sold for sex. And regardless of a prostitute’s age, it’s difficult to know whether the person advertised is being coerced.

In many cases involving human trafficking on Backpage.com, law enforcement finds that minors are, in fact, often coerced. Prosecutors in Benton County, Wash., are handling a case in which teen girls say they were threatened and extorted by two adults who marketed them on Backpage.com.  One of the adults rented a hotel room in Kennewick and forced the girls to have sex with men who answered the online ads, for which Backpage.com charges $1 and up.

Backpage.com, owned by Village Voice Media, LLC, is the top provider of “adult services” advertisements. The multimedia company, which owns 13 weekly newspapers in the United States including the Seattle Weekly, admits its involvement in advertising illegal services. In a meeting with staff at the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, Village Voice board member Don Moon readily acknowledged prostitution ads appear on the Web site. And in a June 29, [2011] article published nationally by the Village Voice, the corporation criticized those concerned about child sex trafficking as “prohibitionists bent on ending the world’s oldest profession,” acknowledging that, as a seller of adults services ads, “Village Voice has a stake in this story.”

Join the AG’s in this fight against human trafficking AND against the practices of Village Voice Media – the parent company of Backpage.com

That previous paragraph leaves me gagging. It is sickening that the company not only freely admits its involvement in profiting from prostitution and illegal services, but defends their position by blaming those who would stop trafficking of victims as being “prohibitionists bent on ending the world’s oldest profession.”

Vote with your mouse. Don’t use Backpage.com, or any of Village Voice Media’s other properties

To be sure, Village voice and Backpage aren’t alone in the facilitation of trafficking victims. A quick check on the Seattle Times Personals pages, and the Washington Post’s personal pages shows ads equally explicit and suggestive of trafficking – as do many other personals sites.

NOTE: the Seattle Times/NWSource site also sells the email addresses and usernames of ‘interested parties’ to other “adult” sites ensuring you are spammed instantly.

Learn more in these blogs:

Linda


Human trafficking Top Initiative for Incoming NAAG President Rob McKenna

June 23, 2011

Human trafficking will be the top initiative for Incoming President of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), Rob McKenna.  Today he launched his “Pillars of Hope” Presidential Initiative and will be calling upon his fellow AGs to join him in the effort to make the case about human trafficking, help victims, prosecute traffickers and buyers and raise awareness to end demand.

This is a fantastic leap forward in the fight against this insidious crime that is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the US and the rest of the world, ranking behind the drug trade, but equal to the illegal arms trade in revenue.  Yet is also a crime that we as citizens can largely erase if we are aware of the signs, report suspicions, and reach out to help victims.

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is defined as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel another person to provide labor or commercial sex against their will. (Not included in this definition is the harvesting and trade in human organs, illegal adoptions, trading in child pornography, or voluntary prostitution)

Global Scope of human trafficking – Data from UNICEF

  • Adults and children in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution around the world: 12.3 million
  • Successful trafficking prosecutions in 2009: 4,166
  • Ratio of convicted offenders to victims identified, as a percentage: 8.5%
  • Countries without laws, policies, or regulations to prevent victims’ deportation: 104
  • Prevalence of trafficking victims in the world: 1.8 per 1,000 inhabitants
  • As many as two million children are subjected to prostitution in the global commercial sex trade.

Estimated National Scope of human trafficking – Data from 2001 study by Dr. Richard Estes and Dr. Neil Alan Weiner

  • 162,000 of homeless youth, and 57,800 children in homes (including public housing) are estimated to be victims of child prostitution.
  • 30% of shelter youth and 70% of homeless youth are victims of child prostitution.
  • 33% of street-level prostitutes are under 18, and 50% of off-street prostitutes are under 18.
    • Off-street prostitution includes massage parlors, strip clubs, and escort services.
  • The average age of entry into prostitution for girls, boys, and transgendered youth is 11-13
  • Pimps make $150,000-$200,000 per child each year
  • 75% of girls engaged in prostitution work for a pimp
  • 61% of the teen prostitutes say they were raped as children

“The youngest children bring the most money. They are the most hidden and abused victims” – Oakland police Lt. Kevin Wiley, an expert on child exploitation

The internet’s role in human trafficking

  • 76% of transactions for sex with underage girls are conducted via the Internet (Sources: Justice Department, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)

Several years ago the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) created three very powerful and very relevant posters that will hopefully help change this article from being one you read, to one you take action on.

Do Your Part. Reach out to organizations in your communities to learn how you can help.

Linda


‘Women to Go’ Shop Drives Trafficking Awareness in Israel; What You Can do in Your Community

October 31, 2010

Designed to drive awareness of human trafficking in Israel, a provocative campaign in a busy Tel Aviv Mall used an empty storefront to display models posing as trafficking victims. Each woman had a price tag and details of their age, weight, height, dimensions, and country of origin.

First reported on CNN, the organizers aim is to collect enough signatures to pressure the Israeli justice ministry to make it a crime for men to go to prostitutes as a next step in the fight against women trafficking, said attorney Ori Keidar, one of the founders of the task force against the problem.

“The legislation against the prostitutes’ customers will bring a reduction in the demand for prostitution and it will be a less lucrative business for crime organizations,” Keidar said. “This in turn will bring a reduction in the trafficking of women.”

Over the past decade, about 10,000 women have been trafficked into Israel, locked, beaten, raped, starved and forced to satisfy 15-30 men a day.

The fight against trafficking in Israel increased about tree years ago when Israeli police began applying significant resources to fight the abuse. Somewhat ironically, al Qaeda’s presence in the Sinai has inadvertently reduced trafficking as border patrols along the Israeli-Egyptian border, where most of the women are smuggled across, have increased.

“This legislation against the customers will bring a further reduction in trafficking and with a little more pressure we can make this go away” Keidar said.

“This [proposed] legislation against the customers will bring a further reduction in trafficking and with a little more pressure we can make this go away” Keidar said.

Human trafficking is a modern scourge primarily affecting women and children. It is defined by the United Nations as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

This modern day form of slavery is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, and is now tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry, after the drug-trade. The total annual revenue for trafficking in persons is estimated to be between USD$5 billion and $9 billion. The Council of Europe states, “People trafficking has reached epidemic proportions over the past decade, with a global annual market of about $42.5 billion.” The United Nations estimates nearly 2.5 million people from 127 different countries are being trafficked around the world.

Sadly, the internet plays a strong role in human trafficking where it enables pimps to ‘offer’ the women and children the control for rent or for sale. Recently news about several state Attorneys General’s pressure on Craigslist has brought media focus to the issue, but it is naive to look at this as solely a Craigslist issue.

Human trafficking occurs on virtually every dating and personals website – a quick check on the Seattle Times Personals pages, and the Washington Post’s personal pages shows ads equally explicit and suggestive of trafficking. And while it is easy to point a finger at companies with these services and demand stricter vetting processes (which should happen) there is only so much investigation a company can reasonably be expected to undertake to determine whether the ad is legitimate, or whether the person has been forced to place the ad.

Also needed is greater public awareness, increased law enforcement resources, and stronger penalties for ‘Johns’ (those seeking sexual services) and slave masters who hold people in forced labor, bonded labor (also called debt bondage) and child labor. The International Labor Organization estimates worldwide that there are 246 million exploited children aged between 5 and 17 involved in debt bondage, forced recruitment for armed conflict, prostitution, pornography, the illegal drug trade, the illegal arms trade, and other illicit activities around the world. In the U.S. they are often forced into au pair and housekeeping jobs.

To learn more about trafficking and the internet, read my blog Child Trafficking and the Internet.

Do your part to end trafficking – Apply the power of one

Several years ago I was speaking at a conference on human trafficking prevention, and a man in the audience approached me as I finished my remarks.  He was overwhelmed by what he’d learned in the conference and was looking for how he as an individual could make a difference.

It was a determination he carried back to his state and he began by working with local law enforcement groups to help them get a more personal sense of the tragedy and scope of human trafficking. He explained that prostitution is the only crime where we arrest the victims and let the perpetrators go free. As he built their knowledge and compassion, and made them aware of the resources they could leverage when they came across trafficking victims, more arrests were made of the johns and pimps abusing these women and children.

He also began organizing protests outside known ‘massage’ parlors, raising awareness of the plight of women forced to work under these conditions, and deterring clients from entering. At the same time, he worked with local newspapers to bring greater awareness of human trafficking to the public’s attention. In less than one year, this man’s efforts created an entirely different environment in his county, one where citizens had become vigilant and developed compassion for victims they had formerly dismissed as ‘prostitutes’, where police had significantly assisted victims and arrested abusers, and where ‘massage’ parlors no longer felt welcome.

There are about 3,100 counties in the U.S.

  • Imagine if just one person in each county took up the cause.
  • Imagine if law enforcement across the country was given deeper insight into the plight of these victims, an understanding that they ARE victims, and the tools and information needed to help these women and children get to safe shelters.
  • Imagine if pressure were brought to bear on lawmakers to make stiffer penalties for those exploiting these victims.
  • Imagine the difference it would make if everyone in your communities became more sensitive to this exploitation and vigilant in identifying cases where women and children are being bought, sold, and rented by the hour.
  • Imagine if every online citizen became more vigilant and sensitive to this horrific crime, and reported suspected cases to the websites and police.

Stop imagining. If we’re going to make a difference we all have to be that person. Make that difference. Save those lives, and convict those who abuse them, for the abusers truly are sex offenders.

Every pimp and every john who forces himself on a woman who is not free to choose otherwise, or on any child, is a sex offender.

To get involved in the campaign against human trafficking, you can find more information and organizations in your area by searching online for human trafficking and your region. In Washington state, the Attorney General’s website hosts information, as do many other Attorneys General’s sites. Many states host information on other government websites as well.

If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, or you yourself are a victim, get help by calling the Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888.

Linda


Seventeen State attorneys general Tell Craigslist to Drop Adult Services

September 5, 2010

I blogged last week about the pressure that is once again mounting against Craigslistby advocates against human trafficking and law enforcement officers – see Craigslist Under Fire Again for Child Sexual Exploitation – now the stakes have been raised further.

Craigslist’s failure to curb the trafficking and exploitation of women and children through their ‘adult services’ section has rekindled the wrath of attorneys general in 17 states – including Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia..

“Only Craigslist has the power to stop these ads before they are even published,” Kansas Attorney General Steve Six said in a statement Tuesday. “Sadly, they are completely unwilling to do so.”

Pressure against Craigslist first came to a head in 2008 when the service bowed to pressure from 40 state attorneys general to take measures against the blatant human trafficking and sex trade promoted on the site.

At that time, Craigslist changed their policies to require people wanting to post ads in their erotic services section to provide a working phone number and pay a fee for placing an ad; efforts the company believed would minimize the illegal activity on the site.

Under continued pressure, the company renamed their ‘erotic-services’ section to ‘adult services’ in May of 2009, and simultaneously stated they would shift to a manual screening process for ads in this category to ensure that postings would be reviewed before publishing.

Now, state officials say Craigslist is still not doing enough to stop the trafficking ads from appearing.  “Only Craigslist has the power to stop these ads before they are even published,” said Kansas Attorney General Steve Six said in a statement earlier this week. “Sadly, they are completely unwilling to do so.”

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal subpoenaed Craigslist in May, asking the Web site to provide proof it was holding up its promise to help stop ads for prostitution. Craigslist should provide its evidence in a few weeks, said a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley released a separate letter Tuesday that was sent to Craigslist officials and also called for the removal of adult services.You should continue to build on your success in connecting users to each other and providing a forum for the exchange of legal goods and services,” she said Tuesday.

Dropping their adult services section would be a financial blow to Craigslist; this year alone the projected revenue from adult ads is estimated to be $36 million. Surely increasing measures to filter out – and report – ads offering victims of human trafficking and the sex trade is a more palatable option. Time will tell if they take it.

Linda