Ohio to train investigators to identify human trafficking

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio plans to train the undercover agents who investigate liquor, tobacco and food stamp violations to identify and help victims of human trafficking.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced Monday that the Ohio Investigative Unit has formed anti-regional human trafficking groups to help youths and adults who may be potential victims.

The agents will be trained to identify and support potential human trafficking victims they may encounter through regular law enforcement work.

The initiative is part of ongoing work by the governor’s Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, created in 2012.

Ohio’s Department of Public Safety oversees the investigators. The agency said earlier this year the number of Ohio human trafficking cases reported to a national hotline has risen sharply, with the state now fourth in call volume.



ICE Agents Are Lurking At Human Trafficking Court

The news cycle may be dominated to an absurd degree by the Russia probe, but never forget that new terrors are insinuating themselves into life every day. On Friday, a WNYC reporter witnessed federal immigration agents in a Queens human trafficking courtroom, searching for a woman they sought to arrest.

The outlet reports that Legal Aid lawyers panicked when they saw agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Queens Criminal Courthouse:

The lawyers said they learned from the judge that ICE wanted a young Chinese woman in the Human Trafficking Intervention Courtroom. They said she’d been charged with working illegally as a masseuse, and was about to receive an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal after completing a program with a community group — a goal of human trafficking court.

The attorneys got their client out by asking the judge to grant bail, and hustled her from the building before she could be detained.

Others weren’t so lucky: An ICE spokesperson confirmed that officers arrested three people outside the courthouse, though no one inside.

ICE’s website lays out that arrests are not typically made (though there are exceptions) in certain sensitive locations, like schools, healthcare facilities, places of worship, religious ceremonies or during public demonstrations, like rallies or parades. However, it stipulates the courthouses do not qualify as “sensitive,” meaning arrests may indeed be made there.

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore is hoping to change that. In a statement to WNYC, she wrote:

“We are committed to the safety and security of all New Yorkers who use our courthouses throughout the state,” she said. “In a continuing dialogue, we have met with federal officials on a local and national level to convey our concerns and request that they treat courthouses as sensitive locations, similar to schools, hospitals and places of worship. We are meeting again next week with Homeland Security officials to further voice our concerns.”

ICE’s FAQ also testily answers the question of why it seems as though courthouse arrests are becoming more and more frequent.

In the past, local authorities were more likely to turn people over to ICE upon their release from jail, it says. Now:

Now that some law enforcement agencies no longer honor ICE detainers, these individuals, who often have criminal histories, are released onto the street, presenting a potential public safety threat. Because courthouse visitors are typically screened upon entry to search for weapons and other contraband, the safety risks for the arresting officers, the arrestee, and members of the community are substantially diminished. In such instances where ICE officers and agents seek to conduct an arrest at a courthouse, every effort is made to take the person into custody in a secure area, out of public view, but this is not always possible.


Photo: Getty Images 







Experts say they’ve seen human trafficking at “every high school in Northern Va.”

FAIRFAX, Va. –  “During my tenure as a detective working human trafficking we’ve identified a victim from at least every high school and several middle schools the Northern Virginia area,” explained Detective Woolf who has been working to combat human trafficking and gang activity in the region for years.

Experts say average age of entry for a human trafficking victim in Northern Virginia is 15, however Det. Woolf has worked with victims as young as 9.

“Most [trafficking victims] go to school everyday and sleep in their own beds. The trafficking occurs  when they get out of school until maybe 8 or 9 at night and often times parents think the teen is simply out with their friends, boyfriend, someone and doesn’t realize that their child is actually being exploited,” said Woolf.

Woolf said the large number of the traffickers he’s interviewed say they prefer to target upper and middle class teens in Fairfax County because they are easier to manipulate. Their lack of street experience makes them “more vulnerable.”

“These gang members, these individuals can coerce these individuals into doing whatever they want — it’s all based on relationships,” explained Deepa Patel, Executive Director of Trauma and Hope in Springfield. Patel works with sex trafficking victims, gang members and sex offenders.

Woolf says gangs have been increasingly shifting away from drugs, towards human trafficking — as the crime is lower risk and yields higher revenue.

“You really can’t hide that gun or that kilo of that cocaine whereas that amount of grooming coercion that goes into that victim is horrific,” explained Patel.

Drugs and weapons are one time transactions, human beings however can be sold over and over again.

Experts stress that instantly pointing fingers towards infamous gangs such as MS-13 and the Crips can be dangerous. Explaining that a substantial amount of trafficking occurring in Northern Virginia is being carried out by small local gangs, “the kind you can’t google.” Highlighting specific gangs with “name recognition” is inaccurate — allowing local gangs to traffic under the radar and in terms of ego, encouraging others to compete for street credit. Northern Virginia has over 200 gangs.

“The Department of Justice estimates that by 2020 trafficking will surpass not only the drug trade but arms sales,” explained Jodi O’Hern a Volunteer with “Just Ask Prevention.”

A  new law will take effect on July 1st requiring the Virginia Board of Education to develop guidelines to train school staff members on how to to prevent child trafficking.

O’Hern and Woolf have both worked in schools for years. As well as churches and other community outlets through the non-profit “Just Ask Prevention.” The organization’s mission is to educate the public about human-trafficking.

Woolf said the initiative earned its name after an investigation he worked several years ago when a 17 year-old trafficking victim was recovered from a Northern Virginia hotel. The girl had been trafficked for 3 years, despite having “parents, counselors, the juvenile justice system” in her life. “During those three years of being exploited nobody ever asked, she said if ‘somebody would have just asked her what was going on, asked her why she was behaving the way she was behaving that she would have loved to have told them that she wanted an out.’”

Experts say one of the most important things you can do is educate yourself on the issue of human trafficking and if something doesn’t seem right, “just ask.”

“85% of persons engaged in commercial sex in the United States are actually human trafficking victims, meaning they’re controlled by a trafficker,” explained Woolf – who says the statistic dispels the myth that “it is often consensual.




Human trafficking victims would get legal relief in Ohio Senate bill

Ohio victims of human trafficking might soon find legal relief from crimes they committed while being trafficked.

Senate Bill 4, which passed the Senate unanimously last month, would allow trafficking victims to apply to have records removed of some guilty convictions, dismissed charges or findings of not guilty.

The law now heads to the House, where it’ll go through committee testimony and likely a vote.

“If you’re a victim of this and you’re lucky enough to escape, you shouldn’t be penalized twice,” Senate President Larry Obhof said. “It makes more sense to give victims a fresh start.”

Human trafficking has been a growing focus of lawmakers and advocates alike. A 2012 report published by Celia Williamson, a trafficking expert from the University of Toledo, found that nearly 1,100 children under 18 were entrapped in sex trafficking in Ohio. An additional 3,000 were at risk of being trafficked that year. The attorney general’s office found 151 potential victims in 2016.

Obhof, a Republican from Medina, cosponsored the measure and is optimistic it will become law.

“We want to make sure we’re tearing down all barriers that would keep them from having a successful life,” said prime sponsor Stephanie Kunze, R-Hilliard. “We want to make sure they have hope in everything they’re doing.”

Current law allows for trafficking victims to apply for expungement of six specific crimes. Obhof said the bill expands that provision to include nearly any offense that can be connected to trafficking. It would also allow for past victims to retroactively apply for expungement.

Additionally, the bill would establish “intervention in lieu of conviction.” This wouldn’t establish any new intervention procedures, said Obhof spokesman John Fortney, but rather plug the person into the existing rehabilitation infrastructure.

“Assuming we can get a couple amendments in, we’re pretty much neutral on the bill,” said John Murphy, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association,

His group successfully pushed for changes that require the person seeking expungement of first and second degree felonies to prove the degree of duress they were under. Obhof said another amendment pursued by the prosecutors’ group made the process dependent on judicial discretion.

Judge Paul Herbert has long been an advocate of human trafficking victims’ rights. He said the measure would improve the lives of victims and help with the “remedy phase” after they break from the cycle of trafficking.

That cycle can often be difficult to break, the Franklin County Municipal Court judge said. One woman who was regularly in and out of his courtroom testified that she was molested as a child and subsequently turned to drugs. Her boyfriend, also the father of her child, coerced her into trafficking. Herbert said she faced several criminal charges before her record abruptly stopped eight years ago. When asked why, she told Herbert that the cycle was only broken because the man coercing her died.

Fortney said the main objective of giving victims a clean record is making it easier find employment. Beyond that, he expects the law to save taxpayers money by allowing people to become self-sufficient after “hitting the reset button on their lives.”

A criminal record can keep victims from acquiring employment, housing, and school loans, Herbert said.

Williamson testified in support of a companion bill in the House. She supposed the legislation for three main reasons: victims are often coerced or manipulated into committing crimes for their trafficker, a criminal record hinders their opportunities of employment, and the government has a civic duty to rescue and restore victims of crimes.



Houston Coffee Shop Provides Culinary Training For Human Trafficking Survivors

A 2nd Cup serves coffee with a mission to raise awareness about human trafficking.

Kaylen Simpson is the executive chef.
She helps with an aftercare training program that teaches trafficking survivors culinary skills to transition into a career in the food industry.

“There has been a lot of abuse associated with the food service industry, so getting the food service industry involved in something it’s had its hand in is really exciting to me; so kind of combating it at different ways,” Simpson says.

Simpson says the program involves a three tiered approach starting with employee skills like writing a resume and interviewing. The next tier is more hands on.

“And the next part will be focused on culinary skills really specific, from knife cuts, to food costing, to basic cutting skills, catering and things like that,” Simpson says.

The last tier will allow survivors to get externships with local restaurants.

Simpson says learning about food services provides people with a wide skill set and more opportunities in a large city like Houston.




Grad brings fight to end human trafficking from Uganda

From the day of her birth in Uganda, Agnes Igoye confronted a world where girls were not valued.

Igoye’s mother, having already given birth to two girls, was expected by relatives and neighbors to produce a boy. Agnes’s arrival on March 8 (coincidentally International Women’s Day) was greeted as a bitter disappointment that bordered on “scandalous,” said Igoye, M.C./M.P.A .’17. “And so, growing up in that atmosphere, when you’re not valued as girls, even education becomes [very difficult]. Many girls don’t get the chance.”

Thankfully, her parents knew the importance of education. Her father had put himself through school selling cassava roots, while her mother, a prodigy living in the bush, was “discovered” by missionary sisters who paid for her education. Both became teachers who bucked convention by insisting that their daughters (six of their eight children) get an education. It was an idea widely ridiculed.

As a child, Igoye was teased relentlessly for her interest in school, even called a prostitute by one man. Not sure what the word meant, but certain it wasn’t a compliment, Igoye said she made a promise then and there to her mother.

“I said, ‘I’m going to really work hard in life and succeed and embarrass this man!’” Igoye, 45, recalled with a laugh. “I didn’t know what success meant, but I just knew that I had to do the things that boys do.”

Igoye’s education came under threat in the late 1980s after religious militant Joseph Kony and his violent guerrilla group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), embarked on a violent campaign across Uganda and into neighboring countries. Kony and the LRA terrorized villages, including Igoye’s, killing and mutilating residents, burning and looting homes, and abducting children for sexual exploitation and soldiering. One of Igoye’s female cousins was a victim.

With gunfire outside their door, the family fled, leaving all their possessions behind to looters. They made their way to an encampment for some of the millions displaced by Kony’s reign. It was a traumatic chapter in her life that Igoye now says fueled her zeal to protect women and children from exploitation.

“Human trafficking is everywhere,” but it can have different manifestations and even different definitions depending on the country, Igoye said. “In Uganda, for us, human trafficking includes child marriage, it includes the use of children in armed conflict, it includes superstition … it includes removal of organs for witchcraft and rituals,” and it includes forced labor and servitude, street begging by children or karaoke performances and dancing for money.

Despite years of turmoil, Igoye finished high school and won admittance to Uganda’s only university at the time to study social science. She earned a master’s degree at Makerere University, then went to the University of Oxford as a Fulbright/Hubert Humphrey Fellow in 2010-11 to study forced migration. This month, she will graduate from Harvard Kennedy School as a Mason Fellow in the Mid-career Master in Public Administration Program.

After college, Igoye joined Uganda’s ministry of internal affairs as an immigration officer. While working at the border and at the passport office, where fraudulent documents passed regularly, she saw trafficking and transnational organized crime operations up close and wondered why the government didn’t seem to be taking them seriously and — though it wasn’t part of their job description — why immigration officers weren’t being trained to identify these violations and intercede. She persuaded the Minister of Internal Affairs that with proper instruction, officers could help root out traffickers and protect survivors being moved in and out of the country. He appointed Igoye Uganda’s first trafficking trainer and the first woman officer to hold an immigration command post. Since then, she’s taught close to 2,000 new recruits how to identify suspected traffickers and victims, and she helped develop and coordinate Uganda’s anti-trafficking efforts to meet international standards.

“There’s so many things to look out for because it’s not like they grab you and take you — [many victims] go willingly” and don’t realize they’re being trafficked, she said. Victims are taught by traffickers how to respond to law enforcement questions so that they avoid detection. Officers looking for telltale signs are essential.

While abductions do occur, most trafficking today is done by professionals who recruit through social media or enlist help from a potential victim’s family or friends. Too often, parents are tricked into thinking they are helping their children seize a golden opportunity to study abroad or secure a high-paying job in the U.S. or Europe.

“The challenge in Uganda is unemployment; people need to work. [Recruiters] lie to you that they got you this fantastic job, and when you get there, it’s not that job, it’s prostitution” or forced labor, perhaps in the Middle East, she said. Igoye is now the national training manager and deputy national coordinator of Uganda’s anti-trafficking task force.

In June, she returns to Uganda’s capital, Kampala, to open a much-needed support center for survivors of trafficking. Armed with a $50,000 award from fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg’s foundation, Igoye hopes the “Dream Revival Center” will help fill an aching void. Uganda offers few services for those who’ve been trafficked and too often, even if survivors do escape, they find themselves no longer welcome by family and friends or left without money or a place to stay. With no one to trust, victims call in the middle of the night to have Igoye take them to her home. But after two law enforcement colleagues were shot dead recently, Igoye says it’s not safe to take victims in.


Photo: Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Ivanka Trump leads human trafficking roundtable at White House

President Trump’s oldest daughter, who is also his official White House counselor, led a Wednesday roundtable on the topic. Per pool reports, she spoke about the Trump administration’s efforts to combat trafficking both in the United States and around the world.

In attendance: a bipartisan group of lawmakers, as well as representatives from several organizations that deal with human trafficking.

Ivanka Trump cited the National Human Trafficking hotline, saying there was a 35% increase of cases reported from 2015 to 2016.

“Combatting human trafficking and modern slavery is both a moral and strategic interest domestically and abroad,” she told attendees.

The roundtable was a follow-up to a February discussion about human trafficking, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.


Photo: Olivier Douliery, AFP/Getty Images

Slavery and human trafficking aided by ‘porous borders’

People trafficking into Wales is being made easier by its “porous” borders, the country’s slavery chief has warned.

Stephen Chapman raised concerns about the number of entry points with no checks.

He spoke out ahead of a week of action by Welsh forces after those at risk of human trafficking and modern slavery in Wales rose by 400% in five years.

Victims recorded through the National Referral Mechanism increased from 32 in 2012 to 125 in 2016.

To cope with growing numbers, last year 5,500 people were trained to identify potential victims, including police, emergency and social workers.

The figures refer to people “at risk” as they also include children of victims who could potentially be used as slaves as well.

Gwent, South Wales and Dyfed-Powys Police are taking part in an awareness week to help people spot the signs.

“We are aware and we are concerned about our porous borders,” Mr Chapman said.

“Whilst we have sea ports and we’ve got airports, there’s no check on who’s coming in by road, through our other border with England.

“And there are ports across Wales, where there is no one (making checks).”

He also said the Common Travel Area – where people moving between the Republic of Ireland and Wales do not need to show passports – brings “some difficulty”.

Recorded victims in Wales include UK nationals as well as people from Vietnam, Romania and Albania.

Another is a Nigerian-born woman called Blessing, who worked as a maid from the age of seven before being sexually abused and trafficked.

She said: “My auntie brought me here for a better life, that is what she said.”

However, after arriving in London, her life was controlled, with all money she earned going into her relative’s account.

She said: “It’s difficult because if someone doesn’t know they’re being trafficked, they would not know how to deal with it.

“Like my case I was thinking it was help.”

Blessing, who fled to Cardiff, said her situation made her feel “bad, sad and sorrowful”.

“I feel people had taken great advantage of my circumstances and situation. I want to forget about everything I’ve been through in the past – I just want to close that chapter,” she added.

he is currently waiting to hear if she will receive asylum.

Aid organisation Bawso, which is helping her, said its trafficking project helped 82 people in 2014-15, rising to 209 in 2016-17.

Its accommodation is almost full and spokeswoman Angelina Rodriguez said: “What we’re also seeing is a lot of people who’ve been through historical trafficking – so haven’t identified they’ve been victims of trafficking for a while and now they’re coming out and are saying ‘actually this is what’s been happening to me’.

“So we’re picking up a lot of cases not only in our supported accommodation but outreach accommodation in the whole of Wales.”

Wales’ policing lead for human trafficking and modern slavery, Gwent Police Deputy Chief Constable Julian Williams, said: “It is often called a hidden crime, a new emerging crime because it spans across so many areas of criminality.

“People who are trafficked into the country come here under false pretences, people who are in the country are engaged in sexual exploitation, labour exploitation and domestic servitude and it may span into criminalised areas such as child sexual exploitation or abuse, domestic abuse, money laundering or drugs.”



8 arrested in Texas human-trafficking ring that victimized children

Eight people face felony charges in connection with a human-trafficking ring, the Texas Department of Public Safety said Wednesday.

Multiple agencies were involved in the bust, which officials had been investigating for four months.

Daimien Garcia, 27, of San Antonio, is accused of trafficking a child, trafficking a person and the sexual assault of a child, according to a news release from DPS.

Elizabeth Martinez, 31, of San Antonio, faces a count of compelling prostitution of a minor.

Four suspects were charged with prostitution: Jose Gonzales, 35; Cody Flores, 24; Christopher Ramon, 23; and Lee Atherton, 39. All of them are from San Antonio, police said.

Miles Montgomery, 47, of Portland, Texas, is accused of the prostitution of a minor, and Keego Hullaby, 24, of San Antonio, was arrested on the trafficking of a child.

Mugshots for only three of the suspects have been released by authorities.

Police issued an arrest warrant for a ninth suspect, Gabriel De La O, 33, of San Antonio, for the trafficking of a child and trafficking of a person. Officers are actively seeking him.

Since January 2017, special agents with DPS’ criminal investigations division have been investigating human trafficking and prostitution taking place in Bexar County.

As is evident from the charges, some of the alleged victims are juveniles.

The DPS Highway Patrol, University of Texas Health Science Center Police Department, San Antonio Police Department and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office all assisted.


Photo: Ksat.com

Bill would allocate $50 million to help human trafficking victims

Last year, Charlotte, with its growing population and easy access to major highways, was recognized as a focal point in the war on human trafficking. The number of reported cases has jumped in North Carolina and around the country.

Last week, a Mecklenburg County lawmaker introduced a bill that would spend more than $56 million to help victims and to train students and law enforcement officers to recognize the signs of trafficking. At week’s end more than 40 lawmakers had signed on as co-sponsors.

 “What I discovered was a lot of legislators were aware it was happening in their districts, but had no idea what to do about it,” says Rep. Bill Brawley, a Matthews Republican and chief sponsor.

According to the anti-trafficking Polaris Project, 8,042 cases were reported nationwide in 2016 – 35 percent more than a year before. In North Carolina, 181 cases were called in to the National Human Trafficking Hotline last year, up from 112.

Brawley’s bill could help groups like the one run by Lanie George in Cabarrus County.

Herself a trafficking survivor, George named her non-profit “Redeeming Joy” after Anderson, whom she helped rescue from a hotel room four years ago. George helps new victims by providing beds and counseling on where to find mental health, substance abuse and trauma care. She has facilities to serve 12 women but the resources for just four.

“It’s absolutely getting worse,” she says. “I don’t know of any county I’ve visited in North Carolina that I haven’t seen trafficking going on.”

Victim-centered enforcement

Law enforcement officials’ higher reports of trafficking may reflect a growing awareness, not necessarily a growing problem.

“In the coming years, we hope to get a truer, more accurate picture of the crime,” says FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch. “Not all incidents are reported to law enforcement and not all reported incidents meet the legal standards of ‘human/sex trafficking’.”

The FBI is part of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Human Trafficking Task Force, a coalition that includes the U.S. Attorney, the district attorney, Homeland Security Investigations and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Photo: The Charlotte Observer