Human Trafficking

“Santa Clara County officials launched a campaign Tuesday calling on the public to be on the lookout for human trafficking victims.

“Human trafficking is a real scourge on our community, on our state and on our country. And it’s the kind of crime that tends to hide in plain sight,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said during a news conference Tuesday outside sheriff’s headquarters.

The campaign will feature ads on Santa Clara Valley Transportation Agency buses, bus shelters and light-rail vehicles with images provided through the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

The campaign will also feature a photo by Andrew “AJ” Wassell, a student at Valley Christian High School in San Jose, of a friend blindfolded by the American flag, Rosen said.

Wassell’s piece, titled “Blinded,” won first place out of more than 50 entries submitted in the district attorney’s office “Justice For All” artwork contest against human trafficking, Rosen said.

Human trafficking is an issue that needs to be tackled in the U.S. first before it can be dealt with overseas, Wassell said.

The campaign comes ahead of Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Feb. 7 when large crowds are expected to attend the big game.

“These large events have a tragic consequence of attracting and increasing human trafficking,” VTA general manager Nuria Fernandez said.

There are 1,880 county employees trained in identifying and reporting human trafficking incidents, nearly 900 of which are VTA workers, according to the county’s Human Trafficking Commission.

“I’m really confident that with the county working together, we’re going to find more victims in our area, we’re going to help more people and we’re going to stop people from abusing others,” Supervisor Cindy Chavez said.

The training started in January with VTA bus operators and maintenance personnel who are the “frontline” throughout the county and interact with the public on a daily basis, Fernandez said.

In June, a new operator was able to stop a man who was allegedly abducting a 3-year-old boy. The operator was driving a bus from the Milpitas Public Library two weeks after participating in a training session, Fernandez said.

There are a variety of signs people should look for in spotting human trafficking victims, who tend to look nervous, controlled and have little interaction with the public, said Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, director of the county’s Office of Women’s Policy.

Victims can be restaurant workers, fruit sellers at a neighborhood street corner or young women who appear uncomfortable with men, Rosen said.

On Nov. 17, sheriff’s deputies served search warrants at two Saratoga businesses, a restaurant and a salon, and arrested three people on suspicion of human trafficking, Sheriff Laurie Smith said.

Investigators rescued three human trafficking victims and three wage theft victims, according to the sheriff’s office.

The county’s human trafficking task force started its investigation into the case based on tips of human trafficking victims being brought from Spain, sheriff’s officials said.

Many victims are brought to the U.S. from other countries, but a majority of them are domestic, Peralez-Dieckmann said.”

Read more at: Patch

“Officers executed a warrant in West Bromwich in the early hours of Monday, November 30 and discovered the men – all Polish nationals – living in two cramped bedrooms.

All three were taken to a police station – but refused the offer of further support via the UK Human Trafficking Centre referral scheme – while a 24-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit human trafficking for labour exploitation.

He’s been bailed till next February, pending further enquiries, with bail conditions banning him from leaving the UK.

The warrant – carried out two days before the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery – is part of a complex operation that’s now seen 10 Polish nationals arrested on suspicion of being part of an organised trafficking gang.

Eight men – aged between 23 and 50 – plus two women aged 21 and 45 are on police bail while detectives investigate claims made by around 40 people that they were worked as slaves and threatened with violence – but it’s suspected they may have exploited up to 100 people over the last two years.

West Midlands Police Detective Chief Inspector Nick Dale, said: “The men are telling us they are paid £120 a week but have to hand over half the money in rent…so they are left with just £60. Clearly that’s not right; we now need to get to the bottom of their employment status, find out who arranged the work, and how they arrived in the country.

“It’s crucial for us to gain the trust and co-operation of victims…at a very basic level we protect victims and get them to a place of safety away from the influence of traffickers.

“If a member of my family in another country was being taken advantage of, working long hours for a pittance and being exploited, I would like to think authorities were working to help them and catch their abusers.”

At a second warrant – in a semi-detached house a short drive away – police found a Polish man who arrived in the UK on a coach alongside 20 other compatriots just eight days earlier.

The man told interpreters several other men had left for work at dawn but that his employment was yet to be arranged.

Officers found documentation in the address showing a bank account had already been opened in the man’s name – an account he said he knew nothing about.

“It’s a classic traffickers’ tactic,” added Det Chief Insp Dale. “Accounts are set up by traffickers for wages to be paid into but the workers are denied access to the account or in many cases have no idea it exists. The gang masters then pay the victims a small percentage of the salary cash-in-hand and siphon off the rest for themselves.”

Read more at: Express and Star

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (MDN) – A House committee is considering to crack down on human trafficking in Missouri.

The House Trafficking Committee said human trafficking is an under addressed problem in Missouri. St. Louis is ranked as one of the top 20 trafficking cities in the U.S by the F.B.I.

Related story: Mizzou, Wash U Work on Human Trafficking Map of St. Louis

Areas along Interstate 70 and 44 that have a high level of transportation see a larger prevalence of trafficking.

The Chair of the House Trafficking Committee and State Rep. 134 Elijah Haahr said the issue of human trafficking is an area the state government has not focused on in past years.

“Other issues like education and crime, those problems have risen up and the trafficking issue took to the back burner. Now what we’re trying to do is get caught up and find the areas that are weak and find what other states are doing to combat the issue to make sure we can get it back in the forefront,” Haahr said.

The committees proposal would put a stop to advertising of human traffickers. It is not illegal to advertise victims of human trafficking in Missouri.

Trafficking a victim is a felony crime.

Haahr said part of the rise of human trafficking in the Midwest is due to the rise of the Internet. Anonymous apps and websites have made it easier to traffic victims.

Haahr wants to see the government put a stop to these advertisements through the committee’s legislation.

“I filed this legislation last spring. It wasn’t able to get through the Senate due to the shut down. So, I think this is something that should move through the senate very quickly next year,” Haahr said.

Haahr also said the committee will also be filing a budget request in attempt to coordinate governmental and non-governmental groups on training for law enforcement and prosecutors. The training will help clarify what human trafficking is and how to tell when it’s happening.

There is no universal definition for human trafficking. The federal and state government have different definitions of human trafficking.

The federal definition of human trafficking includes prostitution, slavery and forced labor.”

Read more at: CBS St. Louis

“There is a continued link between the commercial cultivation of cannabis, modern slavery and people living without legal permission to remain in the UK, according to a new report by the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

The report, based on three years of data from police forces across the country, also shows that commercial cultivation is being used as a means to fund other criminal activity, including distribution of class A drugs and money laundering.

The cultivation of cannabis is deemed a commercial enterprise when it involves 25 or more cannabis plants, at any stage of growth, or when there is evidence of a cannabis farm, whereby the premises have been adapted to such an extent that normal usage would be inhibited.

On average, 250,000 cannabis plants, with an estimated street value of more than £62m, are seized by officers annually, though offences linked to the commercial cultivation of cannabis were down by 5% in the last year.

During the three-year period, some 6,010 offenders were identified as being involved in the commercial cultivation of cannabis. The majority of these were white northern European males, mostly British, aged between 25 and 34. There is also evidence of involvement by south Asian organised crime groups, as well as by Vietnamese nationals who are forced to work in cultivation by white British gangs.

The report states: “Despite research showing a move towards British nationals cultivating cannabis on a commercial scale, we continue to see links between residents without legal permission to remain in the UK and the cultivation of cannabis.

“Convictions suggest that individuals continue to be smuggled into the UK and employed as gardeners for large cannabis grows.”

It adds that victims continue to be exploited for the purpose of criminal activity. ECPAT UK, a leading children’s rights organisation campaigning to protect children from child trafficking and transnational child sexual abuse, continues to raise concerns about the criminalisation of children apprehended in raids on cannabis factories.

“Individuals, including children, have indeed been prosecuted as opposed to being safeguarded as vulnerable victims,” the report says. “There are clear examples of children being re-trafficked after coming into contact with law enforcement, with many going missing from local authority care.”

It is also revealed that more than 90% of cannabis farms are set up in residential buildings. Cannabis factories or farms are said to pose a serious risk of fire hazards to nearby properties from bypassing electricity meters.

The NPCC lead on cannabis, temporary assistant chief constable Bill Jephson, said: “Tackling the criminals at the source of wholesale cannabis cultivation remains a key priority for us. The report highlights the links with violence, class A drugs and other serious criminality including human trafficking and modern slavery.

“I hope that this profile will help police understand the latest trends in cannabis cultivation and further inform the public about the threat, harm and risk posed by those responsible for the commercial cultivation of cannabis.”

Read more at: The Guardian

— Law enforcement officials, students and others will discuss human trafficking and modern-day slavery during a town hall meeting with students at Cal State San Marcos University on Wednesday night.

Participants will gather into breakout sessions with experts to discuss the problem of human trafficking, and students will regroup into integrated action-planning sessions to explore options for addressing the problem. The event is not open to the public.

At both the dialogue sessions and the action planning sessions, consultants will be asked to offer their perspectives, experiences and ideas toward finding solutions.

Tom Jones, founder and director of The H.O.P.E. Project, an acronym for Healing, Outreach and Peer Empowerment, will be the keynote speaker. Jones is a survivor of molestation, rape and sex trafficking as a child.

Other speakers scheduled at the event include Danny Santiago, a special agent with the California Department of Justice and commander of the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force, and Summer Stephan, a chief deputy district attorney who sits on the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force.

Marisa Ugarte, executive director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor, and Carolina Martin Ramos, director of the Casa Cornelia Law Center’s Human Trafficking Program, also are scheduled to attend.

The town hall meeting is a collaboration between CSUSM’s Division of Community Engagement and the Global Studies Department in the College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences.

Scott Gross, CSUSM associate vice president of community engagement, said the university offers town hall meetings as a way of engaging students in civic discourse and helping them recognize their roles as agents of change

“Institutions of higher education have a responsibility to provide opportunities for students to see practical application of what they’re studying in their classes,” he said. “The town hall meeting is an excellent forum for that to happen.”

Read more at: San Diego Tribune

“For a long time, law enforcement drew little distinction between prostitutes and pimps. But that’s rapidly changing. Over the last few years, Los Angeles County prosecutors have been targeting pimps with human trafficking charges that can carry significantly greater punishment than pandering.

In 2014, the district attorney’s office filed human trafficking charges against 81 people — up from 25 in 2013 and 18 in 2012, according to a Times analysis of the office’s data. The office charged 40 people during the first six months of this year, the data show. Although forced-labor cases are also charged as human trafficking, the office said all but a few of the new cases targeted alleged pimps.

The shift is part of a larger sea change among law enforcement officials, who increasingly view women and children involved in prostitution as victims, not criminals. The district attorney’s office started a program last year to divert teens arrested on prostitution charges out of the judicial system and into tutoring and therapy.

Last week, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell announced the creation of a task force to provide relief to victims of human trafficking. He’s also ordered his deputies to stop arresting children on prostitution charges and this month the district attorney’s office and board of supervisors held a summit focused on ending human trafficking statewide.

“The crime is still against the law,” Creighton said, “but obviously we do everything we can to treat them as victims.” Human trafficking cases are inherently hard to prosecute, Creighton said, because the victims — whose testimony is crucial for a conviction — are often reluctant witnesses. Some change their accounts when on the witness stand, fearful of retaliation. Others refuse to cooperate from the start after years of being warned against working with authorities by their pimps and because they often still feel allegiance toward them.

Perceptions of prostitutes and pimps have evolved through the years. In 1887, The Times covered a “crusade against prostitutes” in San Bernardino, during which women arrested for the crime had to pay $500 or spend six months in jail. And in the early 1980s, when LAPD officers did a big prostitution bust in Hollywood, 137 people were arrested — only three of them men accused of pimping. During a news conference in January, Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said that, for years, popular culture shaped how people viewed the crime.

“In Hollywood, the term ‘pimp’ has been glamorized,” she said. “There are movies about pimps, showing them as benevolent. We have really changed our thinking on that.” The increase in charges filed in Los Angeles County falls in line with a national movement toward cracking down on pimps as the perpetrators of human trafficking, said Amy Farrell, a human trafficking researcher who teaches criminology at Northeastern University.

“This is a decided change we’ve seen around the country,” Farrell said.

Lois Lee, executive director of Van Nuys nonprofit Children of the Night, an organization dedicated to “rescuing America’s children from prostitution,” said talk of heightened focus on investigating and prosecuting pimps sounds mainly like bravado to her. Despite a shift in rhetoric in referring to girls as victims, not criminals, Lee said many are still housed in juvenile hall. “There’s this whole hoopla,” she said. “We got this bill, we got this and that. Where are the children? Where is the child living?”

Read more at: LA Times

“BRUSSELS – Technology, the saying goes, is a double-edged sword. But when it comes to human trafficking, that has yet to be proven. There is evidence that mobile phones, social media, instant messaging, and other modern forms of communication have given traffickers new tools for recruitment, coercion, and exploitation. But can technology – and apps in particular – help prevent vulnerable people from being lured and help victims?

Apps have penetrated nearly every area of modern life, from the consumption of news and entertainment to the management of health and finances. The European Union’s Human Trafficking Directive encourages the use of the Internet for “research and education programs…aimed at raising awareness and reducing the risk of people, especially children, becoming victims of trafficking in human beings.” Apps seem like a natural tool for raising awareness, providing information on destination countries, and offering opportunities to report human trafficking.

Indeed, developers have already created apps that can do just that. For example, Travel Safely, an application developed by the Romanian Ministry of External Affairs, was designed to provide Romanian nationals with information while they are abroad. Users can learn about conditions in the country to which they are traveling, including whether any travel alerts are in place. They can also use the app to alert the nearest Romanian consular mission in case of emergency, as well as quickly find out what to do in case of accident, illness, or the loss of documents. By opening a clear channel of communication, the app can help a trafficked person reach safety quickly.

Another example is Ban Human Trafficking, which uses a game to educate young people about trafficking and instructs them on how to recognize potentially dangerous situations. It also gives them an opportunity to report human trafficking when they encounter it. Human traffickers benefit from their victims’ lack of knowledge about working conditions in other countries and their ignorance of their rights while abroad. Education efforts that are accessible and interesting have the potential to undermine that advantage.

Other apps, such as CrimePush, allow victims of human trafficking to upload evidence: photos, audio files, or text, as well as report crimes as they happen.

And yet, no matter how well designed and potentially helpful these apps might be, it is important to ask whether they are effective in practice. Given the complexities of trafficking, can apps like these truly provide the assistance their users may need?

For starters, there is the question of whether the information provided by anti-trafficking apps reaches those who need it most. To be sure, potential victims of trafficking are as likely as anybody to have access to the Internet or a smartphone. But will those who are at risk of exploitation be aware of the existence of an app that can provide information about where they can seek help? Would someone heading abroad for work use an app that would alert them to signs that they may be about to be trafficked?

Then there is the fact that there is already a lot of information on the Internet and elsewhere about the risks of human trafficking. And yet, every day, people make the potentially risky choice of moving from their home to accept a job under questionable conditions. How likely is it that an app that does nothing to improve the material conditions in which people live (which is what drives them to take risks) will encourage potential victims to consider their options more carefully? Without addressing these conditions, can awareness-raising technologies make a difference?”

Read more at: Project Syndicate

” India has been confiscating the passports of human trafficking victims from the U.S., and is mandating that people carrying such passports name their exploiters, a cause of concern by U.S. officials.

In 2013, the U.S. State Department gave T-visas to former Indian employees of Signal International. T-visas are given – rarely – to victims of human trafficking and allow the carrier to return to the home country to collect family and return to the U.S.

According to previous India-West news reports, Signal workers from India had been recruited with false promises of a green card that would allow them to permanently remain in the U.S. Many workers – mostly welders and pipefitters from Kerala – paid more than $20,000 to recruiters in India to be able to work in the U.S., repairing the ravaged Gulf Coast which was decimated by Hurricane Katrina.

Once here, the workers were forced to live in cramped, squalid conditions that they were forced to pay for from their salaries. The workers also complained of substandard food and of being treated differently than Signal’s non-Indian employees.

The workers also received only 10-month guest-worker visas, instead of the promised green cards. The guest-worker visas meant that workers could not switch to a different employer, for fear of losing their immigration status.

After the workers escaped from Signal’s facilities in Mississippi in 2008, several lawsuits were filed against Signal. The giant shipping magnate settled all suits earlier this year for $20 million, the largest amount ever awarded in a human trafficking case ( Signal then declared bankruptcy, but also issued an apology to the workers, noting it had never meant to exploit them.

Reuters reported Nov. 4 that between July 2014 and March 2015, at least 20 passports of Indians stamped with T-visas were confiscated by authorities at Indian airports. The news agency cited Jean Stockdale, a church worker who helps trafficking victims apply for the visas from her base in New Jersey.

The confiscating of passports has stopped. But Indian government documents reviewed by Reuters show that New Delhi has imposed restrictions over the past 16 months on Indian passports stamped with T-visas. T-visa holders face long delays in renewing passports at Indian consulates. They also must provide confidential information to the Indian government that they had previously submitted to the U.S. authorities, including details about who had trafficked them, according to the documents, legal advocates and interviews with T-visa holders.

Legal advocates have claimed that India’s failure to recognize all T-visas and its attempt to seek confidential information on alleged traffickers raises the risk that victims or their families will face reprisals.

U.S. officials said they were concerned over India’s reluctance to recognize a U.S. congressionally mandated visa for people the U.S. government considers victims of human trafficking.

“We are deeply concerned by reports that some Indian nationals holding U.S. T-visas have experienced travel restrictions,” the State Department said in a response to questions from Reuters. “The current status of the policy is unclear, and we continue to ask the government of India at high levels in Washington and in New Delhi to fully repeal the policy.”

The Indian Embassy in Washington said in a statement in response to questions from Reuters: “Many individuals seek to misuse the trafficking visa route to emigrate to the U.S. Appropriate measures are taken in such cases.”

Read more at: India West

“For the seventh year, Blythe Hill will don the same dress every day in December to raise awareness for human trafficking. What started as one woman’s fashion challenge has now become a global push for change—and the momentum behind Hill’s cleverly titled campaign only seems to be growing. One may wonder how a dress sparks a conversation about a heavy topic like human trafficking, but like the Movember moustache prostate cancer campaign and the ALS ice bucket challenge, the campaign is “bigger than a dress,” Hill told Associations Now.

Human trafficking is an issue a growing number of people care about, but many don’t know how to help, said Hill, founder of the Dressember Foundation, who added that wearing a dress as part of Dressember is a “fun, light, and easy” way to engage in a campaign that seeks to restore dignity and freedom to trafficking victims.

This year, 85 percent of funds raised by participants during the month will benefit the human rights organizations International Justice Mission and A21. For the past two years, the sole beneficiary was IJM. Michelle Quiles, senior director of partnership for IJM, said the nearly $500,000 donated to the organization last December was enough to fund about 100 rescue operations that ranged in size from one individual to 500 forced labor slaves.

“When people hear about sex trafficking … they feel heartbroken, paralyzed, and don’t know what to do,” Quiles said. Hill’s clever way to raise awareness for the issue through her passion for fashion allows women around the world to express their femininity while working to “protect the dignity and femininity of other women around the world,” she added.

Prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, some 1,700 individuals had signed up to partake in Dressember. Last year there were 2,500 participants. Hill said she expects the number of participants this year to continue to rise, noting most signups occur in the last few days of November. Staff members at IJM will also participate, Quiles said.

Hill wears the same dress all month, noting that Dressember is not an excuse to go shopping. The “whole idea is to use what you have to make an impact,” she said. Participants can share dresses with sisters, friends, and roommates, or style the dress differently daily. Some male participants have worn dresses or kilts daily, Hill said. Others pledge to wear a dress for a day if they reach their fundraising goal or opt to wear a bow tie the entire month.”

Read more at: Associations Now

“SARATOGA — On the border of this leafy Silicon Valley suburb of million-dollar homes, chic salons and eateries, one of at least four Spanish human-trafficking victims slept in a coffin-size room with the lights on all night — to keep the roaches at bay.

Another was forbidden to leave the Saratoga beauty salon where she toiled for what authorities say was almost nothing, even though that meant going without food for as long as nine hours. Yet another got blisters on his feet from putting in 60-hour weeks without pay at a tapas restaurant where the owners rake in $35 for a plate of gourmet ham.

Santa Clara County prosecutors Friday charged their alleged oppressors — a 44-year-old woman and the two men she lived with — with three felony counts of human trafficking and one count of wage theft in a rare criminal case involving allegations of labor exploitation. Although trafficking in human labor is much more common worldwide than sex trafficking, it rarely surfaces — particularly in affluent communities like Saratoga and west San Jose.

“People think human trafficking only happens on the east side at shoddy restaurants or sweatshops,” prosecutor Paola Estanislao said. “This case is a good reminder it can happen anywhere.”

Suspects Esther Narbona-Sanchez, 44; Paulino O’Farrill, 47; and Pedro Barea-Riva, 44, were arrested Tuesday at their ranch home near Westgate mall in San Jose and held without bail. Since then, their Saratoga businesses, including their restaurant TapaOle in Saratoga’s Quito Village Shopping Center on Cox Avenue and the Utopik Salon on Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road, have remained shuttered. If they are convicted, they would face a range of possible punishments, from probation to more than 10 years in prison.

So far, the victims include three women and one man who range in age from 21 to 38. But the investigation is continuing by a human trafficking task force made up of the prosecutor, an investigator from the District Attorney’s Office, three sheriff’s deputies and an FBI agent. The prosecutor said Friday there are at least 15 more potential victims.

The group recruited workers from Spain, she said, starting about four years ago, and put them up in two sheds, as well as a tiny anteroom at the back of their house with cracks in the wall where cockroaches would scuttle through. In one case, an associate in Spain recruited a hair stylist, but the rest appear to have been hired through a popular Spanish website called “milanuncios,” which runs classified ads.

According to a law enforcement source, the suspects are a threesome in an open relationship. The criminal charges, as well as the nature of their relationship, shocked neighbors who live on Duvall Drive. There were few signs that workers were being housed in substandard conditions behind the beige house with burgundy shutters and a fenced-in yard.

Narbona-Sanchez was often seen with her 2-year-old twin sons, who are now in the care of Child Protective Services. “Oh my God, this is so sad,” said Yukari Shaw, a bookkeeper who lives nearby. “I read about nail salons, but I didn’t realize it could happen right across the street.” In retrospect, neighbor Joe Sanchez said, things changed at the house, where he once took care of cats while Narbona-Sanchez and Barea-Riva were in Europe.”

Read more at: Mercury News