Friday, March 28, 2008

Children in the sex trade are victims, not criminals

Tallahassee Democrat * March 26, 2008

Sun-Sentinel * April 1, 2008

Wendi J. Adelson and Sandy Skelaney

Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has received a fair share of sympathy for what some perceive as cruel and unusual punishment for bad choices that did little harm to anyone other than his family and himself.

Some say that prosecuting Spitzer to the full extent of the law for consensual conduct between adults would force arrest of all the "johns," which would overwhelm the legal system.

Left out of that debate, however, is that we already flood the system with prostitution arrests, but usually only the prostitutes are punished. This classic double standard further disempowers women and girls who may be victims of controlling and violent pimps.

Another provoking question that arises from the Spitzer fallout is what should happen to prostituted minors. Research has shown the average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is 13 years old. That means that many of the girls assumed to be adult prostitutes are actually children who are being commercially sexually exploited.

Introduced in the Legislature this year is Florida HB 605 (sponsored by Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, and Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami), which offers some protection in a state that some experts consider ground zero in human trafficking. The legislation seeks to eliminate the "force, fraud or coercion" requirement for a child to prove that he or she was induced to perform a commercial sex act. This bill's passage would bring greater protection for prostituted children in this state, and it marks an important first step in addressing the needs of trafficked and prostituted children.

Children are extremely vulnerable and more easily manipulated and controlled by pimps and exploiters who often use violence to extract obedience. Shockingly enough, most criminal statutes around the country fail to distinguish between adult prostitution and the prostitution of children.

Those urging criminal law reform need to address whether the thousands of children who are prostituted should be treated as victims, the way the federal statute covering human trafficking treats them, or as criminals, the way many state statutes treat them.

In 2000, Congress enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) to "combat trafficking in persons, a contemporary manifestation of slavery whose victims are predominantly women and children." With the TVPA in effect, it became indisputable that victims who might otherwise have been in violation of U.S. law (because of engagement in prostitution) are to be treated not as criminals, but instead as victims of crime.

Under the TVPA, sex trafficking of a minor is treated like statutory rape. However, counting the victims has proven very difficult. New York and Chicago estimate that there are between 5,000 and 10,000 children being exploited in prostitution in each of their respective cities.

We also know that there are as many as 2.8 million homeless youth in America today, one-third of whom will be solicited to sell sex within 48 hours of leaving home. The numbers are staggering, and there has yet to be a targeted study done in Florida that would reveal the numbers of children being exploited in the sex industry that exists in our back yards.

In Miami, there were 22 arrests of children for prostitution in 2007, but this number pales next to the 500 prostituted youth who were served by agencies. Several reasons explain why the number of prostituted children is larger than the arrest numbers would indicate.

First, children are usually picked up for other prostitution-related crimes such as loitering, disorderly conduct and other minor misdemeanors. Many prostituted children are also mistakenly arrested and processed as adults because of the difficulty in accurately determining their age. Runaway teens are often placed in detention.

It is also more difficult to charge someone with prostitution, because the amount of evidence needed to prove the crime is higher for prostitution than it is for disorderly conduct, for example.

Therefore, while it is almost impossible to possess exact statistics on the population of commercially sexually exploited children, it is known that the number is a large one.

Florida law, under HB 605, can begin to address this vulnerable and growing segment of the population.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Check out this upcoming special on Oxygen Channel…

Who Cares About Girls: Sex Workers or Victims?
Sun, Mar 30th 9:00 PM

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Foes of Sex Trade Are Stung by the Fall of an Ally

New York Times
March 12, 2008


As New York’s attorney general, Eliot Spitzer had broken up prostitution rings before, but this 2004 case took on a special urgency for him. Prosecuting an international sex tourism business based in Queens, he listened to the entreaties of women’s advocates long frustrated by state laws that fell short of dealing with a sex trade expanding rapidly across borders.

And with his typical zeal, he embraced their push for new legislation, including a novel idea at its heart: Go after the men who seek out prostitutes.

It was a question of supply and demand, they all agreed. And one effective way to suppress the demand was to raise the penalties for patronizing a prostitute. In his first months as governor last year, Mr. Spitzer signed the bill into law.

Now the human rights groups, which credit him with what they call the toughest and most comprehensive anti-sex-trade law in the nation, are in shock. Mr. Spitzer stands accused of being one of the very men his law was designed to catch and punish.

“It leaves those of us who worked with his office absolutely feeling betrayed,” said Dorchen Leidholdt, director of Sanctuary for Families Legal Services, one of the leaders of the coalition that drafted the legislation.

The law, which went into effect Nov. 1, mainly deals with redefining and prosecuting forms of human trafficking, which Governor Spitzer called “modern-day slavery.” It offers help to the women who are victims of the practice, rather than treating them as participants in crime.

But it also lays the groundwork for a more aggressive crackdown on demand, by increasing the penalty for patronizing a prostitute, a misdemeanor, to up to a year in jail, from a maximum of three months.

That was a key shift in approach for New York State, and one the governor and his top aides seemed to support wholeheartedly, said Ken Franzblau, now director of the law’s implementation at the State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Generally, the law and its enforcers focus on pimps and prostitutes, and treat customers as an afterthought.

“If you eliminate the demand, you eliminate the problem,” said Mr. Franzblau, who worked for years with Equality Now, a women’s advocacy and human rights group that had long urged prosecution of the Queens sex tourism business operating as Big Apple Oriental Tours.

“In fact, the demand is really the lower-hanging fruit,” he added. “The johns are really afraid of being caught. The idea is that if we get some real penalties, and get D.A.’s to insist on them, we really could create a deterrent to this.”

For Equality Now, and a core of high-profile supporters that included Gloria Steinem and Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, the Big Apple Oriental Tours case was a frustrated seven-year campaign for prosecution that became a turning point. Even after Mr. Franzblau posed as a would-be customer, gathering what was described as “smoking-gun evidence,” the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, declined to prosecute.

Mr. Brown maintained that under state law he had no legal jurisdiction over acts of prostitution that took place in Thailand and in the Philippines, even if those acts were being promoted by a travel business operated in New York.

Mr. Spitzer disagreed. Newly re-elected as attorney general, he began an investigation, slapped the business with a civil action that shut down its Web site, and in February 2004, won a grand jury indictment of the two operators in Dutchess County, where they lived. He proclaimed it the first criminal charge against a sex tourism business based in the United States.

But the case stalled, and despite another indictment in 2005, it has yet to reach trial.

Efforts to clarify and overhaul New York’s penal code on prostitution and human trafficking seemed stuck in legislative gridlock.

“We had tremendous difficulty trying to get this law passed, year after year,” said Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of Equality Now. “Our only hope was for Eliot Spitzer to be elected governor.”

“He understood,” she added. “He got it, unlike hundreds of other politicians and law enforcement officials that we talked to.”

She and Ms. Leidholdt said the governor put his muscle behind the legislation, detailing top aides to work with sponsors of piecemeal bills that had languished, to consult with a coalition of human rights and women’s groups, and to lobby labor unions whose support was won through provisions addressing the trafficking and exploitation of workers.

Peter Pope, one of Mr. Spitzer’s point people on the bill, declined to comment through the governor’s press secretary, Errol Cockfield.

The law explicitly made sex tourism and its promotion a crime, resolving the jurisdictional debate that had mired the Big Apple prosecution for so long. But more important, Ms. Bien-Aimé said, it demonstrated a comprehensive approach to the larger issues.

“One of the goals of the human trafficking law was the acknowledgment that demand is a critical factor in sex trafficking,” she said. “And as a result of that, it increased the penalties for patronizing a prostitute across the board, whether or not the person is trafficked.”

Too often, Ms. Bien-Aimé maintained, the public imagines a huge divide between the kind of glamorous call girl depicted in a movie like “Pretty Woman,” and the lurid, violent world of trafficked women in a film like “Eastern Promises.” But they are all part of a commercial sex industry that buys women’s bodies, she said, citing studies that put the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States at 14.

“There’s no sliding scale in the exploitation of women,” she said. “Either you exploit a woman in the commercial sex trade or you don’t.”

Because Mr. Spitzer seemed to agree, she said, “he was our hero.”

Monday, March 10, 2008

NY Governor Eliot Spitzer Tied to Prostitution Ring

Just when we thought NYC police officers forcing minor girls into prostitution was the height of hypocrisy, we learn that NY Governor Eliot Spitzer is linked to a prostitution ring.  He was apparently a client of a high-end escort service that did business in New York, Paris, London and Miami.  There are a few points that really need mention in this regard:
(1)  As the former NY Attorney General, Spitzer oversaw the prosecution of at least two prostitution rings by the state's organized crime task force, which reports to the attorney general.  I try to imagine how useless our trafficking or organized crime task forces might be if they were being led by someone who benefits from trafficking and organized crime... 
(2)  Spitzer transported the prostitute from NY to DC.  The feds haven't yet brought up formal charges, but he can potentially be charged under the Mann Act, which is essentially the statute US Attorneys use to more easily prosecute cases of human trafficking.  It carries stiff penalties, up to 15 or so years in prison.  That's big.
(3)  Most importantly, is it no surprise why the blood, sweat and tears of several New York anti-trafficking agencies, including GEMS, was all for naught when the proposed NY Safe Harbor Act failed to pass last year?
As reported in an editorial in the New York Times, "Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York and his colleagues in the Sate Legislature got deserved kudos earlier this year for passing a law that provides aid and protection to victims who are smuggled into this country and forced to work as sex slaves.  Unfortunately, the sex trafficking law did nothing to protect the growing numbers of American-born children, as young as 12 or 13, who are forced into prostitution by street pimps.  
During the last term, the Legislature failed to pass a bill that would have provided those protections.  Under the Safe Harbor Act, children who are too young to legally consent to sex would no longer be charged with prostitution and would no longer be treated as criminals.  The courts would instead be required to provide them with counseling, medical care and the long-term shelter they end to reclaim their lives." (NY Times 9/15/07)
It was reported by Safe Harbor advocates that some members of the Legislature were only slightly interested in hearing the young survivor's testimony, perking up when she named off some clubs she used to work at in a manner that suggested that they were flipping through their mental rolodexes to remember if it was one of the many that they have patronized in the past.  There may be a few rational arguments one can make against a bill of this nature, but I'd bet money that some to many of the nay votes had to do more with Legislators' de facto acceptance of the sex industry and their view of American children in prostitution as bad kids making a bad choice (and thus not "innocent victims" like foreign victims of trafficking), than any well thought out reasoning.  It makes you wonder what Spitzer was thinking through all these deliberations.  "Dang, I can't wait to get home and call 'Kristin'.  This is getting real boring."
What really burns me up is that you can educate people.   You can educate them with interesting information in an interesting way.  You can give them all the horrendous facts they need so that there is no denying that most of the girls involved in prostitution have a traumatic life.  Many are minors, even if they don't say so.  Many are getting beat and raped regularly, even if they cover their bruises with makeup and put a smile on their faces.  Many don't get to keep a dollar of the money they make, even though they brag about living the glamorous life in the public eye.  Granted, the high-class circuit may not be as oppressive as the street prostitution rings, but it is oppressive nonetheless. It's all a facade.  We never kept that a secret from you.  They really need our help, not our judgment, not our complacent acceptance of "the world's oldest profession".  What burns me up is that you can make the reality of the trauma blatantly clear...and they just don't give a damn.  
Now who knows how the girls working for VIP Escorts were  treated or whether there were any minors involved.  It doesn't matter.  When the political will is non-existent, bills fail.  Period.  Is it any wonder now where the will went when the Safe Harbor Act failed?