Last year 20.9 million people were subject to human trafficking worldwide, and Fort Wayne is not immune, according to an expert who spoke in Fort Wayne on Wednesday.
Of that number, 14.2 million were involved in labor trafficking while 4.5 million were victims of sex trafficking. A disproportionate number of women are affected, with 55 percent involved in labor trafficking while 98 percent are involved in sex trafficking.
Bridgette Carr, a professor of law at the University of Michigan, directs a Human Trafficking Clinic there. At the clinic, law students provide free legal services to the victims of human traffickers. Carr presented a training session on human trafficking at the YWCA Diversity Dialogue on Wednesday.
The Michigan clinic is the only one Carr said she knows of in the United States that provides free legal services to victims of human trafficking. Currently clients from seven different states are receiving help. Human trafficking is all around us, Carr said, even here in Fort Wayne.
Carr said under the law, human trafficking is defined in two different ways, one involves sex trafficking, the other labor trafficking. Sex trafficking is defined as a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which a person performing the act is under 18. Victims can be found in massage parlors, brothels, strip clubs and escort services.
Labor trafficking uses force, fraud or coercion to recruit, harbor, transport, obtain or employ a person for labor or services in involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery. Victims can be found in domestic or janitorial jobs, working as nannies or maids, in sweatshop factories, construction sites, farm work and restaurants and involved in panhandling.
For example, Carr said if someone transported a woman to Sweden for $1,500 and then told her she must work for the transporting doing as the person asks to pay off her debt that would be labor trafficking. Had the woman chosen a job of her own free will and then paid the person back, that would be legal.
The crime of human trafficking, Carr said, occurs through exploitation of the victim. Physically moving the victim is not a requisite. The Trafficking and Violence Protection Act protects both non-citizens and citizens.
Human trafficking can be very profitable. Carr mentioned a case she was involved in with a beauty salon that used a group of underage hair weavers. When the ring was finally broken $400,000 in cash was found in a house with another $350,000 hidden in an air vent.
Carr said she currently has a case involving five children who were brought to the U.S. by a man who used the children to clean his house, cook, wash his car, and polish his shoes. When they were done with that he would take them over to his multiple girlfriends' houses where they would do the same thing and the girlfriends would pay him for the children's services. The operation was discovered when a teacher thought the children looked like they had been abused and got child protective services involved. What they discovered was far worse. The children had been given false identities when they were brought into the country so even their visas and green cards were illegal. The case has been in the system for the past three years, and Carr said it should come to trial in August.
According to Humantrafficking.org data from 2007, 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, were trafficked to the U.S. annually. Despite the high numbers and recent laws against human trafficking on state and well as federal levels very few cases are ever successfully prosecuted.
Carr said until the system stops treating the victims like criminals it won't change. Women are being told in some cases if they don't testify they will face prostitution charges.
Carr said she was involved in one case where a public defender wouldn't allow Carr to talk to a client, a 14-year-old girl who was being trafficked. The attorney said the girl had voluntarily had sex and needed to pay for her behavior. Carr said it's not OK for a man to rape his 14-year-old niece.
“What is it about $100 on a night stand that changes that view?” Carr said.
Carr said the behavior between a woman and her pimp is very similar to a domestic violence case. In cases of domestic violence, it is not uncommon for a woman to go back to her abuser several times before she finally leaves. In addition, there is a shortage of places to put victims once they are rescued. Most of the shelters for trafficking victims are designed for girls under 18 who are United States citizens; however, many of the people being trafficked are over 18 and non-citizens.
“Most of my clients don't want to be rescued; they tell me to get the (expletive) away,” Carr said.
But Carr is still hopeful that things will change. She said people must remember in prosecuting one of these cases that the prosecutor has a number of things at his or her disposal. It might be easier to put the trafficker away on something that isn't a trafficking charge. She gave the example of girls being prostituted that all had matching tattoos on their necks, a brand from their pimp. Most of the girls were under 18. Under the law in that state to get a tattoo you have to be 18 unless you had consent of your parent. None of these girls had consent so the prosecutor was able to put the pimp away on multiple counts of battery.