Monday, November 24, 2008

South Florida prostitution ring busted, feds say,0,3411650.story

By John Holland and Luis F. Perez

South Florida Sun-Sentinel
November 22, 2008

They spent the hours between the beatings and threats and forced sexual encounters cloaked in suburbia, stashed invisibly in quiet family homes.

Now they are free, and the ring of smugglers who prosecutors say kidnapped them in Mexico and shuttled them to brothels across South Florida to service as many as 100 clients per week are behind bars.

Federal agents this week charged five people with operating a prostitution gang that targeted girls as young as 14, smuggled them across the border and forced them into a "modern day form of slavery," the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Arturo Rojas-Gonzalez, Timoteo Reyes-Perez, Rosalio Valdez, Fidel Gonzalez and Elodia Capilla Diego are being held without bond on charges of federal sex trafficking. They will be back in court next week; the investigation is continuing.

The arrest affidavits outline the victims' lives spent bouncing between homes and brothels in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Homestead, Miami and elsewhere, always watched over by vicious handlers. At least one was held captive for nine years.

According to the affidavits:

The women collected $25 per encounter. Nearly all of the money went to their pimps. Some called the men their husbands, but all said they lived in constant fear that they or their families back home would be harmed.

The plot began unraveling in January when a victim started cooperating with law enforcement agents. From then until this week, investigators talked to more victims and tracked the smugglers.

The first woman to come forward had been kidnapped in Mexico in 1999, smuggled through Arizona and wound up on the streets of New York.

"She had no freedom of movement whatsoever, and was closely watched by her husband and his associates," Immigration & Customs Enforcement agent Mildred Laboy wrote in the criminal complaint. "She attempted to escape several times, but was unsuccessful and severely beaten for her attempts. She also attempted to take her life on numerous occasions."

Eventually she was ushered to South Florida, joining an organized and elaborate network of "stash houses" where the women were kept. Often, the cover included families, some with children, living in the same house. The women were imprisoned there until they were shipped out to spend up to a week in various brothels, a 15-year-old girl told investigators.

On June 23, law enforcement officers stopped a van carrying three of the women near Naples.

"All three women had small notebooks containing phone numbers and dates," the affidavit said, along with "tallies indicating how many customers they had seen on the particular date."

Officers let the group go, but federal agents installed a global positioning system tracker on the van. Investigators traced it to a Homestead home where the teenager lived and to "some of the brothels that Victim 2 has identified."

On Wednesday, agents searched a home occupied by Valdez, "who matched the descriptions of the pimp running the locations," agents wrote.

They found passports and luggage belonging to the victims, along with $2,000 in cash. Inside Valdez' car agents found "20-50 condoms and a commercial size bottle of lubricant."

With the first batch of arrests complete, prosecutors Friday released a statement that served as a reminder of the dangers the women faced: the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office had been brought into the investigation, because of fears that the beatings could turn into murder.

John Holland can be reached at or at 954-385-7909.

Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Friday, November 21, 2008

Kristi House Chosen to Participate in World Congress III

Kristi House Children’s Advocacy Center Program Coordinator Sandy Skelaney was chosen as one of fifteen delegates from the United States to join nearly 3,000 people from five continents in Brazil for the World Congress III against the Sexual Exploitation of Children. It will be taking place November 25 to November 28 in Rio de Janeiro.

The World Congress is organized by the Brazilian Government in partnership with ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), UNICEF and the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The First World Congress took place in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1996 and the Second one was in 2001, in Yokohama, Japan.

Kristi House began its initiative in 2007 to coordinate a system of care for children being exploited in prostitution and pornography in Miami-Dade County. Commercial sexual exploitation is a severe form of human trafficking affects up to 300,000 American children and thousands of foreign nationals annually. The connection between child sexual abuse and CSEC is strong with estimates as high as 80 to 90% of child victims of sex trafficking having been sexually and/or physically abused in the home.

Kristi House’s Sandy Skelaney has emerged as a local leader on this issue by creating the Commercially Sexually Exploited Children’s Project at Kristi House. The program combines a prevention curriculum aimed at empowering and raising awareness among at-risk girls, with intervention and rehabilitation services that assist those who are in need of case coordination and therapy.

Throughout the three-day World Congress, workshops and intensive discussions will focus around five key areas: forms of commercial sexual exploitation and its new scenarios, legal framework and accountability, integrated cross-sector policies, initiatives of social responsibility and strategies for international cooperation.

Congress organizers see it as being practical, solution-driven and innovative; promoting a genuine dialogue and exchange of good practices; setting practical targets; and fostering new cooperation between governments, civil society and the private sector. The outcomes document that will be created and agreed upon by world governments will be a tool to guide the pubic and private sectors in preventing and caring for all children being exploited in the sex industry.

"Sexual exploitation of children is a crime against humanity, and one that knows no boundaries," said Sandy Skelaney. "American and foreign-born children are being exploited by the hundreds in our own backyards, right here in Miami. The damage it causes to its victims is hard to over-estimate."

According to the 2007 UN Study on Violence Against Children, sexual exploitation of children and adolescents is on the rise. In addition, trafficking in human beings - many of whom are children - is now considered one the most lucrative and fastest growing transnational criminal industries, worth some US$ 10 billion a year to its perpetrators according to some estimates.

Founded in 1996, Kristi House has served more than 7,000 victims of child sexual abuse and their families. Thousands more are reached every year with education and prevention outreach programs. Services include case coordination/case management, therapy, comprehensive assessments, transportation, advocacy and emergency assistance. Visit for more details.

Click here for more information about the World Congress III against Sexual Exploitation of Children and instructions on how to watch the Congress online.

UNICEF highlights CSEC problem in the US

I feel somewhat vindicated. The public response to the commercial sexual exploitation or sex trafficking of American children has evolved a great deal in the past seven years. When I began focusing on this issue, the plight of American children being exploited was largely ignored. International trafficking was the hot issue drawing attention from young advocates, governmental agencies, and media outlets, money from funders and shock and horror from Joe the plumber. Studies were done; the UN was involved and most people understood, with a little education, that a victim of international human trafficking was, in fact, a victim.

Not so for the domestic victim of sex trafficking. Advocates for children who were being exploited in the sex trade here in America began to raise their voices, and after many long years, it appears that people are begining to recognize that these children are not delinquents who are committing crimes of prostitution willingly. They are in fact victims who are often manipulated and controlled by pimps and subject to great deals of violence on a daily basis. Many of the elements involved in prostitution that American girls find themselves in are the same for international victims, only we tend to see international victims as having no choice and no agency, while domestic victims choose this lifestyle. This ethnocentric and infantalizing view of foreign-born victims has been central to the formation of our policies and funding on this issue for many years. Domestic victims "choose" a life of violence and exploitation just as much as the international victims do. It's about time we began seeing that domestic victims of sex trafficking here in our own backyards are just as deserving of services, money and simple empathy as international victims.

I am happy to see that UNICEF, as an agency of the United Nations, recognizes that domestic sex trafficking of minors is a problem within the United States, and that the American government has been taking an increased interest in the issue over the last several years. I feel like all the hard work done by a relatively small group of advocates and survivors in a rapidly growing field is finally paying off. We have a long way to go, but this is a good sign of things to come.



Friday, November 14, 2008

FREE Online Conference: Combatting Demand for Sex Trafficking

Until the demand for commercial sex is eliminated, sex trafficking will continue unabated. Join the global audience that will examine ways to combat demand for sex trafficking during an online conference Tuesday, November 18th, 2008 from 2:00pm - 4:00pm EST.

Details are below, as is the link to the online registration and instructions. The conference is hosted by the Initiative to Stop Human Trafficking at Harvard University's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Please forward this invitation to your professional and personal contacts and consider organizing a group of colleagues to watch the conference together.

LinaLina NealonManager Modern-Day Slavery Project *working title*Hunt Alternatives Fundoffice: 617.995.1943 cell: 617.448.5864 fax: 617.995.1982 www.huntalternatives.orgProvoking change...for good

Online Event: Sex Trafficking: Best Practices to Combat Demand

Sex Trafficking: Best Practices to Combat DemandNovember 18, 2008: 2 - 4 pm (EST)

~Online event. Registration required, and free of charge.~

The trafficking industry flourishes due to the persistent demand for commercial sex. Robust demand unleashes powerful market forces: the opportunity for profit ensures a steady supply of pimps and traffickers, and there is no domestic or foreign shortage of women and girls in desperate circumstances who are vulnerable to exploitation.

What is being done to address the consumer side of this human rights issue? This online conference will focus on the best practices to combat the demand of sex trafficking. The discussion will be moderated by Michael Shively, Ph.D., Senior Associate, Center on Crime, Drugs, and Justice, Abt Associates, Inc.

The panel will feature:
Donna Hughes - Ph.D., Professor and Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Carlson Endowed Chair, Women's Studies Program, University of Rhode Island
Sgt. Lavonnie Bickerstaff - Bureau of Police, Pittsburgh, PA
Stephanie Davis - Policy Advisor on Women's Issues, Office of the Mayor, City of Atlanta, GA

For more information about this free online event, visit our event page at: