Categories for State Government

Mississippians Can Report Suspected Human Trafficking On New Website

November 11, 2021

Mississippi has launched an anti-human trafficking website aimed at supporting victims and providing citizens with a way to report suspected trafficking.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell said human trafficking is occurring in small towns across Mississippi.

“We want the public to be our eyes and ears and help us when there are victims of human trafficking, people that they suspect may be victims,” Tindell said. “Giving them a means and a way to report that information and recognize those victims when they come across them.”

Globally, human trafficking affects 12 to 27 million people, from adults to children, who are held in slavery, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Tindell said often times in Mississippi some families get caught up in drug use, leaving children neglected. In some cases, the children are used as commodities for drugs for family members, he said.

The department has been working with the governor’s office, state attorney general and the legislature to pass laws addressing the criminality of trafficking and how to help victims in their road to recovery.

Read the full story by Gabriela Szymanowska on The Mississippi Clarion Ledger.

Budget Breakdown: MN Makes Sex Trafficking A Violent Crime, Funds New Anti-Trafficking Post

August 10, 2021

Lawmakers have approved changes to Minnesota’s sex trafficking laws that were requested by the Central Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force, including Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall.

The task force had discovered the limits of existing laws after three years of cracking down on trafficking.

One new change will classify sex trafficking as a violent crime.

The changes were added to the state budget and approved in June.

They fall into five categories. Here’s a brief summary of those categories from Kendall:

  • “Increased recognition of trafficking as a violent crime and danger to public safety — these crimes regularly involve violence, and the danger to victims and others is high;
  • Statutory maximum sentences needed to be increased to recognize that many traffickers already have significant criminal histories;
  • Increased consequences for sex buyers, recognizing that demand drives trafficking, where trafficking occurs (public or private place) should not be a factor, and there should be increased consequences for repeat offenders;
  • Increased protection of victims and children through higher supervision and crime levels for solicitation of children 15 years old and younger;
  • Increased penalties to deter trespassing at emergency shelter or transitional housing.”

Read the full story by Nora G. Hertel on SC Times.

California, Other States Eye Reduced Penalties for Prostitution to Fight Sex Trafficking

August 8, 2021

Gov. Janet Mills of Maine recently faced a dilemma — whether she should sign a bill reducing penalties for those who sell sex. Maine would have been the first state to fully decriminalize prostitution, as discussions intensify across the country about the potential for fighting human trafficking by decriminalizing prostitution and soliciting.

In San Diego, anti-trafficking advocates and law enforcement sources are aware of the efforts to legalize prostitution. It’s being advocated for sex workers who want the same rights as any worker in the country.

California is also facing another showdown of sorts: Senate Bill 357, which would no longer punish those found to have been “loitering in a public place with the intent to commit prostitution.”

Maine, like San Diego, sits at the intersection of human trafficking across state and international borders. That state’s bill had elements that anti-trafficking advocates support: reduced penalties for people who have been sold into the sex trade along with support in the form of social services and opportunities.

It would have also increased punishment for pimps and traffickers who coerce often vulnerable people into the underground network.

Gov. Mills, however, vetoed the legislation after a local organization opposed it, pointing out that pimps could take advantage of the new system.

Read the full story by JW August on Times of San Diego

Supreme Court Decision Could Mean Increase In Labor Trafficking Of Farmworkers

July 29, 2021

In June of 2018, two Monterey County site inspectors visited a Salinas cannabis farm, where they encountered a small group of farmworkers who they suspected had been trafficked.

The farmworkers, who spoke no English, took off running when Monterey County Resource Management Agency officials approached them. They couldn’t go far, though — the cultivation site was fenced in. The farmworkers seemed terrified, the county’s prosecuting attorney later said.

Their behavior was unusual enough that inspectors called the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, who sent deputies to investigate.

It soon became clear the dozen or so Hmong farmworkers, employed by labor contractor Levi Trimmigration, were living in substandard housing: metal shipping containers furnished only with camping equipment. They had no running water, no ventilation and slept on camping cots.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, California is one of the most prominent sites of human trafficking in the U.S. In 2018, of the nearly 11,000 cases reported nationally, more than 1,600 came from California. About 150 of those cases were reports of labor trafficking.

Read the full story by Kate Cimini on Cal Matters.

Texas Bill Aims To Crack Down On Human Trafficking By Using ATMs

April 18, 2021

AUSTIN, Texas (KWTX) – State lawmakers have proposed legislation in Austin have proposed a bill that would crack down on human trafficking using automatic teller machines.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson from Houston proposed House Bill 2629, which would create a registry of so-called “white label” ATMs, those that are not owned or operated by financial institutions.

Rep. Thomson said illicit businesses are typically cash-only, so business owners will buy ATMs online, and place them in the lobby of an illegal massage location. “We’ve been fighting human trafficking in this state for a very long time,” Thompson said.

Not only that, said Caroline Roberts with Children at Risk said the ATMs become a money laundering tool as well. “They are taking the cash made from human trafficking and prostitution, and putting it back in the ATMs,” said Roberts, “For the customers to then withdraw to purchase more illicit sex.”

Read or watch the full story by Robyn Geske on KWTX.

Ohio Attorney General: Anti-Human Trafficking Operation Nets 179 Arrests

December 24, 2020

Ohio’s attorney general said Monday that a statewide human trafficking crackdown last week netted more than 170 arrests and also helped locate children who were missing.

Attorney General Dave Yost said his office joined federal, state and local law enforcement in Operation Autumn Hope.

“The success of Operation Autumn Hope is measured not only in the number of arrests but in the lives that were rescued from this evil,” Yost said in a statement. “Every agency on this team looks for the day when no person is bought and sold in Ohio. Don’t buy sex in Ohio!”

The Attorney General’s Office said the goal of the operation was to rescue victims of human trafficking and refer them to social services, apprehend those seeking to have sex with a minor, arrest male johns seeking to buy sex, and recover missing and exploited children.

During the operation, 179 people were arrested from a variety of unrelated cases and 109 human trafficking victims were located and/or referred to social services, Yost’s office said.

Also, children who were considered missing were helped.

To read the full story by Parker Perry on The Dayton Daily News: Click Here

Missouri Among Top States For Prosecution Of Human-Trafficking Cases

September 25, 2020

Missouri was among the top 10 states last year for the number of defendants it prosecuted in human-trafficking cases, according to an annual report.

The Human Trafficking Institute’s 2019 Federal Human Trafficking Report looks at data from every federal human trafficking case U.S. courts handle each year. Its findings provide a summary of how the federal system holds traffickers accountable for exploitative conduct, according to its authors.

Missouri is fortunate, said Nanette Ward, a co-founder of the Central Missouri Human Trafficking Coalition, in that prosecutors here decided several years ago to focus on disrupting human trafficking in Missouri. There was a time, Ward said, when Missouri led the nation in the number of federal cases being processed.

In more ways than one, Missouri acts as a crossroads in the center of the country, she said.

“We have conditions that occur everywhere,” she said, “such as child abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and hits on the child welfare system.”

On top of that, the state has multiple north/south and east/west highways that pass through.

“We have all the makings of trafficking being possible,” Ward said.

Trafficking happens everywhere, she pointed out, but added that agricultural and tourism industries are major supporters of Missouri’s economy. Either industry could lead to instances of forced labor.

In 2018, Missouri lawmakers approved House Bill 1246, which combats human trafficking by requiring placement of posters containing resources to assist victims in many public buildings statewide.

The posters contain a national hotline number, 888-373-3888. Victims can also text 233733 (BEFREE) to the number or visit the National Human Trafficking Resource Center website at traffickingresourcecenter.org.

The hotline is available 24 hours per day, confidential and accessible in 170 languages.

To read the full story by Joe Gamm on The News Tribune: Click Here

Potato Slaves: The Cost of an H-2A Visa in Texas

September 8, 2020

Workers at a potato processing plant in Texas face abuse by their employers but choose to stay silent out of fear of losing their H-2A visas. Most are unaware they’re even victims of forced labor, or that the fees they’re required to pay to their supervisors for a visa are illegal. They don’t trust the authorities either, and fear retaliation for speaking out. It’s a reality faced by some 36,000 people a year in this border state.

Pablo suffered through countless hardships to avoid losing his temporary work visa and job at a potato plant in Dalhart, in the Texas Panhandle. One day, he said his boss, Xavier López Palacios, hit him so hard in the leg that he was left with a limp. On others, Pablo was pressured repeatedly to work faster.

Palacios, who was in charge of the warehouse until June, also shouted insults at Pablo and threatened to call immigration agents to deport him; under strict orders, Pablo worked up to 22 continuous hours. Once he was so tired that he accidentally fractured his hand. In spite of the doctor’s orders, López Palacios —who has denied the aforementioned accusations—wouldn’t allow Pablo to rest, he said.

Pablo’s name has been changed and some of his personal details were omitted to guarantee his and his family’s safety, and to avoid retaliation.

To read the full story by Patricia Clarembaux & Almudena Toral on Univision: Click Here

Chris Smith: Pandemic Puts Trafficking Victims At Higher Risk

May 13, 2020

Excerpts of remarks by U.S. Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Bureau Meeting Webinar
Monday, April 27, 2020 10:00 a.m. EST

President Tsereteli, Secretary General Montella, and all my distinguished colleagues on this webinar, it is good to see you and I hope that everyone is staying healthy.

As lawmakers, all of us are focused almost exclusively on combating the coronavirus pandemic and seeking ways to mitigate its horrific impact.

The United States has about a million confirmed cases of COVID-19 with over fifty-five thousand deaths.  My state of New Jersey alone has well over one hundred thousand confirmed cases with over 6,000 dead.

Your constituents in each of your countries, like mine, have suffered enormous devastation and loss.

And now we know that the pandemic puts human trafficking victims at higher risk.

As the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues, and prime author of five U.S. laws to combat this exploitation including the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, I strongly believe we need to be seriously addressing:

Increased victim vulnerability—higher risk—especially for women and children,
The situation of both current victims and survivors of trafficking,
The heightened insecurity of victims in 2020 and beyond as government and philanthropic resources will likely be diminished,
Ensuring a sustained and robust criminal justice response during and after the pandemic, and more.
First and foremost, we must renew and reprioritize the fight against human trafficking.

Traffickers are not shut down—they haven’t gone on a holiday.

Victims still need to be rescued.

Survivors still need assistance.

Vulnerable people have been made even more vulnerable by both the virus and its deleterious impact on the global economy.

When things start to open back up, traffickers may even have an easier time finding, deceiving, coercing and exploiting victims.

New patterns of exploitation are already emerging due to increased online activity, greater use of social media, and social distancing practices. This makes it even more clear that we need to take into account how new technologies affect our efforts to combat human trafficking.

Teleworking and social distancing practices appear to be changing some of the dynamics of trafficking for sexual exploitation, shifting to and increasing various forms of trafficking online. For example, there is disturbing evidence of an increase in demand for online pornography and therefore an increase in the potential for online sexual exploitation of trafficking victims.

According to U.S.  Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons John Richmond, with whom I spoke at length on Friday, the pandemic has made the “vulnerable more vulnerable”.

He said there are anecdotal reports from several countries within the OSCE, that online child sexual abuse and access to websites that host such exploitation have increased.

He noted that traffickers appear to be shifting labor trafficking victims into work related online commerce, and sex trafficking victims to online sexual exploitation.

Sex buyers are quarantined like everyone else and are turning to online venues. Sites are hosting videos of trafficking victims, sexual abuse of children, and rape.

Because of the pandemic, victims are likely to be facing increased abuse and are less likely to be rescued. Victims may be quarantined with their traffickers, and, as a result of quarantine and social distancing practices, are now less likely to come into contact with people who might assist or rescue them.

How many victims and survivors are homeless?

To read the full article by David Wildstein on The New New Jersey Globe: Click Here

How Important Is Clemency For Trafficking Victims? Let One Tell You

April 26, 2020

Readers of this newspaper and its editorials will know the name Robbie Ann Hamilton. On Jan. 11, Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Gov. Greg Abbott granted Hamilton, a North Dallas survivor of sex trafficking lured into the life at the age of 15 while suffering from drug addiction, a full pardon for petty crimes committed decades ago while she was being sold for sex.

In announcing the pardon, Gov. Abbott rightly described Hamilton, now 58 and a brave advocate and mentor for victims of trafficking, as “a testament to the principle that our lives are not defined by how we are challenged. Rather they are defined by how we respond to those challenges.” She demonstrated, he said, “the internal fortitude to turn her life away from being a victim of human and sex trafficking and toward a life of redemption and improving her community.”

So, we ask, who better than Hamilton to understand the legal and moral significance of the governor’s Feb. 20 announcement that he, in coordination with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP), had established a “customized clemency application specifically for survivors of human trafficking or domestic violence”? Under the new protocol, Texas inmates and those seeking clemency will be allowed to cite their experiences as victims of sex trafficking, coercion and violence when requesting relief from the BPP.

Last week, Hamilton explained to us what a meaningful and historic change this new path toward clemency is for survivors like herself, but also in the way our state criminal justice system views trafficking victims, the great majority of whom are forced to commit the crimes that keep the global $150 billion human-trafficking industry — two-thirds of which is sex trafficking — in business.

To read the full story on the Dallas Morning News: Click Here