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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Human traffickers tough to prosecute

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Saturday, May 07, 2011 08:50 am
Human trafficking has become a $30 billion-a-year business worldwide.It's difficult to prosecute. Victims who illegally entered a country are often reluctant to come forward, afraid they will be deported and lose what little money they are making. Like domestic violence victims, they are frequently in contact with their captors 24/7.

Friday afternoon, Raio G. Krishnayya, an attorney and executive director for Indianapolis' Center for Victim and Human Rights, spoke during a forum at Catherine Kasper Place, sponsored by Crime Victim Care (CVC) of Allen County. The event was a part of CVC's ongoing monthly meetings to address the needs and problems of refugees in Fort Wayne.

Krishnayya founded his center, which works with clients in immigration matters related to crime victimization or human rights violations. Center representatives accompany clients to proceedings, interviews or meetings and also work with law enforcement agencies and prosecutor offices to protect and enforce federal and state crime victim and human rights.

Krishnayya spelled out the problem with grim statistics, explaining the limitations the legal system has for going after human traffickers. What he had to say hit even closer to home Friday in light of U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett's announcement Wednesday of the dismantling of a multistate prostitution ring with Indianapolis and Fort Wayne ties. Women from Mexico and Central America were smuggled into the country to work in brothels in multiple states, including Indiana , Illinois, Ohio and Michigan, for the past few years.

“The Indiana state human trafficking law has only been around since 2007,” Krishnayya said. But despite the law, victims don't come forward.

“So why don't we hear about this more often?” Krishnayya asked the audience.

Krishnayya said victims don't always seek help because they are afraid the situation may go from bad to worse, and they are afraid of retaliation. Prosecuting the offender is a secondary thought on their part; they are worried about survival.

“Our organization provides legal services to the victims of crimes. Victims' worlds are far more complex than testimony and trials. They worry about housing, medical and job issues; that's what we deal with. Our interest is to buttress the victim from the other pieces that are gong on in their lives; we handle it from a legal perspective,” Krishnayya said.

Using data from the State Department Trafficking in Persons report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office and U.S. Department of Justice, Krishnayya drew a picture of how pervasive the problem is. He cautioned that part of the problem in looking at numbers is that few victims file a complaint, so the numbers are really very deceptive; like domestic violence, human trafficking is underreported.

“For all these cases we see reported there are probably many more out there that are not being reported,” Krishnayya said.

Human trafficking is legally defined by three things: force, fraud and coercion. There are no clear-cut cases, so it's hard to investigate, Krishnayya said. And to prove use of force you almost need to see someone chained to a basement floor, living in trailers or emaciation. Every situation is different. With coercion you have to prove the person feels he or she will be harmed for trying to get away. Nowadays, traffickers threaten the victims with being picked up and deported as illegal aliens. What frequently happens is the victims will become victims of the system when they inadvertently break the law, such as driving without a license, drunken driving or child molestation because they don't know the age of consent.

Even when a victim seeks help it is a long process. Krishnayya's agency will try to get a trafficking visa so the victim has the right to stay in the country while legal action is being taken against the trafficker. This ensures the victim will not be deported. However, there is no guarantee of getting the visa and they need identification documents, a full case work up, and it takes time. The victim must be willing to cooperate for a very long time.

“This is not a one-time process and every step has risk of retaliation. Law enforcement can protect them, but there is no shelter for them. What will they do for those two years before the case goes to trial? This is why these cases very often are never prosecuted,” Krishnayya said.

Juveniles are one of the most at-risk populations for being exploited. They are the easiest to control and the most unlikely to come forward.

Worldwide, 1 million children are victims of human trafficking. There is a high reward for trafficking a human. The trafficker can expect $1,100-a-month profit per victim.

Krishnayya believes more cases could be prosecuted if the laws were changed. Currently a criminal case must be tried before a civil suit. The civil suit could return money to a victim, making it worth his or her while to come forward. If the law were changed so both processes could happen at the same time, Krishnayya believes it would speed up the process and make it worthwhile to report trafficking.

In the United States there have only been 59 convictions for sex trafficking and 10 for bonded labor. The chance of being prosecuted for human trafficking is 1 in 250 people. The annual cost to victims in unpaid and underpaid wages is $20 billion.

“It's a high-profit, low-risk enterprise; why wouldn't they do this?” Krishnayya said.

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