Friday, December 14, 2007

Inspiration from Dallas

Dallas has been hailed as a city with a model response to the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Sgt. Byron Fassett leads the Child Exploitation Squad and has been instrumental in finding new and effective ways to identify victims, interview them and work together with social service providers to ensure that the victim is safe and on the path to healing. Read the following article for more information on the work being done in Dallas.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

An Underground Issue? Really?

Billboard off of I-95 in Broward County

When considering the risk factors that lead to a child being commercially sexually exploited, we may think prior history of abuse in the home, poverty and other likely suspects. The greatest risk factor, however - and one we typically gloss over – is DEMAND. Wherever there is an adult sex industry, there are children being exploited within it. The demand for buying sex and societal acceptance of it culminates in a double standard that allows and encourages men (1 out of 7 men to be precise) to purchase (often) a woman for sex without judgment, while the “prostitute” is dehumanized and treated as a morally and legally inferior citizen. This dehumanization of “prostitutes” in general leads us to be desensitized to the fact that children are being exploited in this industry and thus ignore the problem.

Most men soliciting children for sex are not pedophiles. They are situational abusers. They may not necessarily seek out children to buy, but if they are available and they happen to be under 18, they simply don’t care, as long as they meet their criteria for appearance. And in today’s world, we know two things: that sex is available for sale and that young is sexy.

This billboard shouts out from the side of I-95 in Broward County. Prostitution is illegal, but this advertisement clearly shows its acceptance. People often say that child prostitution is hidden underground, and that’s why it’s a difficult issue to tackle. This is clearly not the case. Children are walking the streets being sold alongside all the adults you see. They are listed on Craig’s List as 18 years old when they are not. Their photos are being shown in magazines and sent to entice men to travel abroad for sex. It is clearly not an underground problem. It’s an ignored problem.

We are seeing children being exploited in the sex industry every day, but since we are so desensitized to the adult sex industry, we don’t even stop to consider if that young looking girl is really an adult. Makes you wonder about this billboard.

CSEC Working Group

CSEC Working Group meetings will be held on a quarterly basis
2:30pm - 4pm
@ Kristi House


If you are not currently a member of this group,
please contact Sandy to check on space availability and confirm the time and location.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Atlanta's Child Prostitution Business is Booming

This 2006 article shows us how Atlanta is dealing with the problem of commercial sexual exploitation of children and similarities that you will find here in Miami.  He also mentions some Miami specific information.

"Hooray!  Atlanta is in the running to be No. 1!  Let's have a parade.

Uh, maybe not.  Our city has earned a distinction, but it's hardly one we crave.  According to the FBI, Atlanta is among 14 cities vying for child prostitution capital of America.  We're up there with such hot destinations as Tampa, Miami and Washington, D.C."  - John F. Sugg 4.26.06

Click here to read the full text of the article:

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The following article is a great example for law enforcement. We need to start recognizing commercially sexually exploited children and teens as victims and stop criminalizing them. In a recent meeting with the Miami-Dade Juvenile Assessment Center, we were told that they see children arrested for prostitution frequently. Not only that, but children arrested for prostitution do not qualify for the diversion program, a program that essentially allows a delinquent child to enter a program to receive assistance and rehabilitation in lieu of formal criminal proceedings. However, if a teenager BUYS sex, even if from another child who engaged in prostitution, that person DOES qualify for the diversion program. What kind of sick irony is that?

19 June 2007
U.S. Law Officers Take New Approach To Combat Prostitution
Maryland police treat trafficked persons as victims, not criminals

By Lea TerhuneUSINFO Staff Writer

Sex trafficking is a global issue, illustrated by an unidentified Ukrainian girl freed from her abductors in another country. (USAID)

Washington -- A new trend in U.S. law enforcement is the way police handle prostitution, at least in Montgomery County, Maryland. Investigators go after pimps who smuggle people for forced prostitution, while extending a helping hand to their victims, the prostitutes.

“The way we treat prostitution is completely different from when I first came up here,” Montgomery County vice squad Detective Thomas Stack told USINFO. “It was go out, pick them up, take them over to jail, that was it.” But not anymore, he said. “We treat every person as a victim, and it’s important that we should do that. Everyone is a victim first.”

Stack and his partner, Detective Leland Wiley, recently assisted in the successful prosecution of six people for crimes including transporting illegal immigrants from New Jersey and New York to engage in prostitution and money laundering. The investigation was coordinated among local police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Internal Revenue Service.

Stack and Wiley described how Elsy “Yolanda” Aparicio and her family transported hundreds of women, mostly from Mexico, over several years to Maryland to service a primarily Latino clientele in brothels set up in apartments. The women were charged $70 for food and $40 for condoms each week; of the $30 the women received for 30 minutes of sex, they kept $15 to take back to their “padrotes.”

“Padrotes are pimps. They are responsible for the actual trafficking aspect, getting the girls over here to the States, and they lure them in the usual ways, [promising] marriage or domestic work around here at a restaurant,” Wiley told USINFO. But when they get here, they are forced into prostitution.

The padrotes threaten to kill the women’s families in Mexico or shame them by disclosing they are prostitutes. The women are beaten and abused by the pimps, and are often victims of violence in brothel robberies. Gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, extort payments or simply rob the brothels of cash. Each woman can bring in hundreds of dollars a day.

The detectives recounted cases of girls kidnapped or duped into coming to the United States. One girl, kidnapped from her remote village by a family of traffickers when she was 15 years old, was thrown in a basement and repeatedly raped by the father and brothers for a month before they put her in a brothel. She eventually was trafficked into the United States. After authorities discovered her, she took advantage of the assistance offered and has turned her life around. After being exploited for more than a decade, she now has a job, studies English and awaits her T-visa, a special visa given to trafficking victims in exchange for their cooperation with law enforcement officials.

Many victims do not cooperate out of fear or misplaced loyalty to their pimps. “Our success rate is not very high in getting females to admit that they are victims,” Stack said, but it is “not through lack of effort.” Although women are interviewed with sensitivity and offered help, he said, most remain mistrustful of police.

A number of nongovernmental organizations work with police to assist victims. Polaris Project and Ayuda are two such support groups. (See related article.)

The detectives say most of their cases today involve illegal immigrants trafficked for sex or labor. According to U.S. Department of Justice figures, an estimated 17,500 foreign nationals may be trafficked annually into the United States.

Wiley told USINFO, “When you say ‘trafficking,’ people think it’s an international issue. It’s not, it’s a domestic issue, too.” Runaway teenagers are frequent victims.

Much investigative work is done on the Internet. “It is absolutely out of control on the Internet,” Stack said. Instead of streetwalking, prostitutes and pimps now advertise on Craigslist or other Web sites.

Stack and Wiley speak at police academies, colleges, to firefighters, building inspectors and community groups on how to recognize the signs of trafficking. They say education is an important tool. Their informants range from paid contacts to apartment house managers and alert citizens.

Local and federal agencies work together -- if state lines are crossed, the FBI becomes involved. Federal penalties are stiffer. “These guys who are doing these heinous crimes,” who “force these women into prostitution” deserve long prison sentences, Stack said, “and they should get every day that’s coming to them.”

Hollywood contributes to the problem, Stack said. Films such as Hustle and Flow that glamorize pimps are used in the sex trade. “That’s a recruiting video for the pimps,” Stack said, adding that pimps make the girls watch movies and read books to learn the trade.

“These girls, for the most part, they are the victims … because they are trafficked into this country and they are forced into prostitution,” Stack said.

For more information, see Human Smuggling and Trafficking.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

Monday, October 22, 2007

FREE Trafficking Workshop

Modern-day Slavery Exists in SE Florida: Why, How, Where?

SaturdayNovember 3, 2007
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Florida Atlantic University - Boca Raton
Social Sciences Bldg., Room 250
Guest Speakers:
NOLA THEISS, Co-Chair of the Lee County Florida TaskForce on Human Trafficking
Deputy Chief Robert Schwartz

Event Sponsored by:The Institute for Universal Human Rights, Inc, The Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, The Florida Regional Community Policing Institute, The Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Questions: or 954-966-2997

Sunday, September 30, 2007

"I don't want to do this anymore."

I accompanied the police on an "innocence lost" sweep last week. They were looking for commercially sexually exploited kids, not to arrest them, but to help them, and I was riding along to do some local research. It only took us ten minutes of driving through "the tracks" to come across a young-looking local girl. She claimed to be eighteen, though she was obviously younger. She wasn't dressed or acting in any particularly obvious manner, in fact her dress was rather plain and conservative, and her manner was calm, scared, child-like. When we approached her, she was with another young woman and they were talking to a middle-aged man in a truck in the parking lot of a motel, likely the "john". He had a few drinks so the cops cuffed him for a little while then sent him home in a cab.

What struck me about this girl is that she was still very new to "the life". She had run away from the residential shelter she was placed in to remove her from a home with an abusive father. It had been three weeks, but I'm sure it only took about a week of living desperately in the streets to be recruited by a pimp. When we found her last week, she was seemingly being trained by the other young woman. The closer the police came to uncovering her real age, the more anxious she became. The worse fate, of all the possibilities, it seemed, was to be returned to her father, especially in this way. After some investigation, it was found that SHE WAS ONLY FOURTEEN YEARS OLD. As we spoke to her, the pain in her eyes was evident. "I don't want to get arrested," she said. "My father can't find out," she lamented. But when she said "I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE," with a voice laced with despair, I just wanted to scoop her up and rescue her from her pain. Who knows what abuse she was suffering at the hands of an exploitative pimp. I searched my brain desperately for options, but was at a loss. There is no solution here yet to the problem of commercially sexually exploitated children.

We are just begining to make needed changes here in Miami and to build on the momentum created by other national and international initiatives. Kristi House is taking the lead and partnering with Girls Educational and Mentoring Services in New York City to replicate their best practices in engaging and helping victims of CSEC. I am proud to say that a coalition of service providers and law enforcement agencies has just been formed to address the needs of commercially sexually exploited children locally. We will work tirelessley to ensure that any child being exploited in sex industry; forced into street prostitution, dancing in our so-called "adult entertainment clubs" or being sold on Internet forums such as Craig's List will find the help and support they need to escape and stay safe. And next time we hear a fourteen-year-old tell us "I don't want to do this anymore", we will be able to reply, "well, here are your options."


Letter to the Editor re: Barry Kutun

When the former North Miami City Attorney Barry Kutun story first broke several months ago, his lawyers were quick to call his actions against a 16-year-old commercially sexually exploited child a “victimless crime”. The language used by his lawyers and the press, alike, has not since challenged this perception. A teenage girl being exploited in the sex industry is a victim, she is a commercially sexually exploited child; she is not a “teen prostitute”. The latter term carries age-old stereotypes and stigma and implies a level of agency that does not exist for the girl.

Consider these facts:

* The average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is twelve years old.

* There are currently up to 300,000 children being exploited in the commercial sex trade in the United States, thousands of which can be found in Miami.

* 80-90% of girls involved in prostitution are under the control of pimps, who often use violence and coercion to extract obedience and do not allow the girls to keep the money they earn.

These are children who, oftentimes, end up on the streets after exiting an abusive home and are quickly found and recruited by pimps looking for vulnerable youth to exploit. Escaping “the life” is incredibly difficult for most, as they are held in virtual slavery.

If a 66-year-old man had sex with a 16-year-old girl, it would no doubt be considered child sexual abuse. Once money is exchanged, however, we begin to see the child as a free agent. We need to wonder why Kutun is able to walk away with nine months of house arrest and doesn’t have to register as a sex-offender. Is it because, as his lawyers state, this was “an aberration in an otherwise stellar career” or because we really believe that “he’s not some street thug or criminal” and that our perception of an exploiter, laced with race and class stereotypes, is exactly that?

Kutun doesn’t fit into the nice little box that we like to categorize sex offenders. He’s not a creepy, under-the-bridge pedophile; he’s likely a situational abuser. He just doesn’t care if she is under eighteen, as long as she has features that are attractive to him, namely, she is young looking. This is not an aberration; in fact, it’s all too common among men of all stations. The biggest risk factor for children becoming exploited in the sex industry is the demand. One in seven men has been found to have purchased sex at least once in their lives and the demand for younger girls is on the rise. Remember, the average age of entry into prostitution is twelve.

The commercial sexual exploitation of children is not a hidden crime. It exists in plain sight and we choose to ignore it. Nicholas Spangler’s article in Saturday’s Herald made only marginal reference to the victim in the case, calling her a “16-year-old prostitute” who was only mentioned as a piece of evidence against Kutun. Her welfare was completely ignored by the press.

Likewise, her welfare was trivialized by the sentences handed down on Kutun and Orenbuch, the girl’s pimp. The commercial sexual exploitation of children is a crime of human trafficking, which is a federal crime carrying a fifteen-year sentence. The victims don’t have to be foreign nationals, they don’t have to be transported, and they don’t have to prove force, fraud or coercion. If they are minors being engaged in the sex industry, they are victims of trafficking according to law.

If we continue to dehumanize the child victim through our indifference and the way in which we speak about commercial sexual exploitation, the victims will continue to have limited access to needed services and the abusers will continue to go free or get significantly reduced sentences. We need to start making some changes. We need to understand that commercially sexually exploited children are victims of trafficking and of child sexual abuse and should be treated as such.