Tag Archive: Polaris

AI Is Helping Us Combat The Economic Problem Of Human Trafficking

May 31, 2020

When we think of human trafficking, we often think about the despondent faces of women and children who live in slums all over the world. What if human trafficking is much closer to home than we think? In 2019, Markie Dell, stood on the TEDx stage to recount her experience of being a domestic human trafficking victim. She was an awkward teenager who was groomed by a girl that she befriended at a birthday party. She was subsequently kidnapped, drugged, sexually violated, intimidated at gunpoint into dancing in strip clubs for an entire year. 

She didn’t know that she was a human trafficking victim until a police officer handed her a book called, “Pimpology”. Then, she knew that she was being human trafficked. 

According to the Polaris Project, most human trafficking victims are trafficked by their romantic partners, spouses, family members, including parents. In the U.S., in 2018, there were 23,078 survivors identified and 10,949 cases of human trafficking. Even then, these cases are often drastically underreported.

Barbara Amaya ran away from home at the age of 12 after family members would not believe her reports of abuse from her own family. She was picked up at Dupont Circle, Washington DC by a couple that sold her to a human trafficker in New York. The trafficker reprogrammed her and trauma bonded with her. He kept her for 10 years working for him. 

In her TedTalk, she said, “Does it matter, if it’s one person or a million? Are you not going to care because it’s a lot of children versus just one?”

To read the full article by Jun Wu on Forbes: Click Here

Advocates Fight Traffickers Who Continue To Thrive Despite Pandemic

May 18, 2020

CLEVELAND (CNS) — Advocates fighting human traffickers are alerting children, parents and vulnerable adults that the coronavirus pandemic has pushed traffickers into new venues, potentially endangering more people to being exploited.

Seemingly innocent online venues are becoming popular places for sex traffickers to groom unwitting children and entice adults facing financial turmoil because of the pandemic. The danger is leading the advocates to call for funding of anti-trafficking programs in any new federal legislation in response to the public health crisis.

The pandemic’s impact on labor trafficking is less certain, but the advocates warn that people desperate for work may be prone to employment schemes in which they are cheated out of promised wages.

What is known, according to the Polaris Project, which operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, is that buyers of sex are as active as ever, pandemic or not.

“Anecdotally, we have heard from survivors that trafficking victims are now being forced to participate in remote, web-based sexual activity or pornography and that the marketplace for those activities has grown,” the organization said in an April 17 post on its blog at polarisproject.org. “It’s important to remind buyers of these materials that a person on a webcam or in a pornographic video is as likely to be a trafficking victim as a person selling sex in any other environment.”

That poses dangers for children especially, said Jennifer Reyes Lay, executive director of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking.

“With the restrictions and limited mobility and physical distancing, the fear is that particularly children, but anyone who can be a potential victim, is going to be more targeted through online sources,” she said.

“Electronic communications and social media networks have become more important than ever,” Lay told Catholic News Service. “We are trying to think of creative ways to reach people and get the message out while they’re at home.”

Tracking the inroads of traffickers into new online venues is difficult. They are able to move silently through online sites frequented by children, who are spending more unsupervised time surfing the internet while at home. Once identified, traffickers quickly move on, hiding out in cyberspace waiting for the next young person to show up.

Concern among the advocates largely rests in online pornography.

“There is a huge demand for pornography online right now,” said Hilary Chester, associate director for anti-trafficking programs with Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “People (traffickers) are going to try to meet that demand. There are real concerns about people being coerced into it, not realizing they are being recorded.”

While it is difficult to track the emerging trends in the actions of traffickers, experience has shown they are adept at maneuvering around their trackers and their motivation is money.

“Once they realize somebody’s on to them, they’ve switched,” said Charity Sister Sally Duffy, a member of the End Slavery Cincinnati, an anti-human trafficking coalition.

Tori Curbelo, manager of education, training and advocacy for LifeWay Network in Forest Hills, New York, described traffickers as opportunistic.

“Their services follow supply and demand,” she explained. “Our hunch is the more demand, the more traffickers will try to meet the needs of individuals online.”

The chairmen of three USCCB committees recently called on Attorney General William Barr to “confront the ongoing harms wrought by the pornography industry and to protect its victims.”

In an April 30 letter, they urged Barr to enforce obscenity laws, open criminal investigations of pornography producers and website owners, and carry out “national leadership in encouraging states and localities to develop rigorous policies against the industry.”

Pornography, they said, is the “antithesis” of Pope Francis’ reflection during a March 27 prayer service in the throes of the pandemic in Italy that “affirmed our common ‘belonging as brothers and sisters’ in the midst of crisis” deserving of human dignity and respect.

To read the full article by Dennis Sadowski on Catholic News Service: Click Here

Airbnb Expands Pledge To Fight Human Trafficking Amid Hospitality Industry Struggles

March 26, 2020

Airbnb is expanding its commitment to fight human trafficking with anti-trafficking nonprofit Polaris as the hospitality industry faces a series of lawsuits claiming it’s not doing enough to curb the crime.

The work is pressing: Nearly 25 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, according to Polaris. Human trafficking can include everything from sexual exploitation to forced labor.

Of 383 U.S. sex trafficking cases that listed where a commercial sex act took place, 81.5% were at a hotel, according to a 2018 study from the Fairfax, Virginia-based Human Trafficking Institute.  

Airbnb has reportedly seen a variety of sex trafficking crimes at rentals: A runaway teenage girl coerced into sex acts; a 29-year-old man arrested following an underage girl found at a rental in Utah; and an alleged increase in cases in Toronto.

A chief problem in tackling human trafficking is that it is a data-poor field. “What we know about is likely the very tip of the iceberg in all forms of trafficking,” Caren Benjamin, chief communications officer at Polaris, told USA TODAY. Polaris has operated the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline for over a decade and worked on nearly 11,000 cases of human trafficking in 2018.

Airbnb’s new plan is an expansion of work that started in 2018, when the company worked with Polaris to create a training curriculum for Airbnb’s safety agents and crisis managers across the world. These employees handle safety concerns regarding reservations — whether trafficking allegations or weapon concerns, they are trained to deal with sensitive situations. This 2018 effort included training on everything from spotting signs of exploitation to how to best work with law enforcement.

To read the full story by David Oliver on USA Today: Click Here

Traffickers Exploiting Student Visas At Global Level, Reports Reveal

February 17, 2020

International students are at risk of workplace exploitation, and even more alarmingly according to a series of reports, of student visa routes being targeted by human traffickers.

Reports by the US Department of State, Polaris and The Times of London paint a picture of human traffickers are using student visas on a global scale to take advantage of vulnerable people.

A US Department of State report – the 2019 Trafficking in Persons – released last June found that student visas are potentially used to traffic people in Australia, France, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, Taiwan, Cyprus, the Philippines and Tunisia.

“Whatever way traffickers can find to organise transport into the country for which there is no legal way in – as in the case with Vietnamese students in the UK – they will use,” Jakub Sobik, communications manager at UK-based NGO, Anti-Slavery, told The PIE News.

Soubik was referring to The Times‘ investigation published in November which reported that gangs were using Tier 4 visas to traffic Vietnamese girls into the UK via independent schools.

“They [traffickers] will also make use of anything that allows them to control people,” commented Sobik.

“While education might not be the largest mechanism to recruit or entice people, it is certainly a method that is used,” he confirmed.

To read the full story by Will Nott on The PIE News: Click Here

A Simple Debit Card Can Help Fight Human Trafficking, U.N. Banking Group Says

November 22, 2019

NEW YORK, Sept 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Dozens of banks have signed up to a U.N. program to offer trafficking survivors accounts and debit cards, organizers said on Friday, providing tools they may lack if their captors stole their financial identity or ruined their credit.

The banking coalition, launched during the annual General Assembly meeting of the United Nations this week, includes a dozen leading banks in Austria, Canada, Great Britain and the United States.

It aims to help survivors who find traffickers hijacked their financial identity for money laundering or other crimes and spoiled their credit record.

“Having access to legitimate financial services is something many people take for granted,” said Sara Crowe, director of data analysis at the U.S.-based anti-trafficking group Polaris, in a statement.

“For too long, survivors of trafficking have faced challenges like having to cash checks at places that deduct large fees because they can’t get a basic checking or savings account.”

The scheme is among a number of projects proposed by the Liechtenstein Initiative, a year-long effort to harness the might of the global financial industry in the effort to battle human trafficking.

To read the full story by Ellen Wulfhorst on Thomson Reuters Foundation: Click Here

Hotel Industry Unites On New Campaign To Fight Human Trafficking

July 22, 2019

WASHINGTON – The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) launched a new national campaign to unite the industry around a single, comprehensive approach to fight human trafficking. The No Room for Trafficking campaign builds on the hotel industry’s long-standing legacy and commitment to combat human trafficking. Already each year, thousands of hotel employees are trained. With this campaign, AHLA builds on the industry’s record by convening the entire industry with the goal of training every hotel worker.

“No Room for Trafficking sends a loud and clear message: we will not tolerate human trafficking in the hotel industry,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA. “Thanks to our dedicated associates, our industry already has a strong record of combatting trafficking and supporting survivors. There is still much more to do, and our commitment to training and education will continue to make a difference.”

The hotel industry has long recognized the critical role it plays in ending the scourge of human trafficking, and through innovative techniques and employee training has played an instrumental role in identifying, reporting and stopping instances of human trafficking.

AHLA kicked-off the campaign at a strategic roundtable today bringing together industry leaders, government partners, law enforcement and national trafficking prevention partners to underscore the industry’s efforts around human trafficking.

Since trafficking networks often rely on legitimate businesses – many in the tourism supply chain – to sustain their illicit and illegal operations, hoteliers are uniquely positioned to identify and disrupt this terrible practice. Hoteliers can play an important role in combatting trafficking through raising awareness, improved coordination with law enforcement, and ongoing workforce training.

The No Room for Trafficking campaign outlines four core pillars to bring the hotel industry together and build upon current efforts:

  • Elevate issue awareness through increased education, resources and training for all hotel employees;
  • Assess protocols, procedures, and technologies to confirm training effectiveness and employee vigilance;
  • Educate by developing strategic intervention and disruption strategies to identify and report suspected trafficking situations; and
  • Support by furthering partnerships with leading national human trafficking and law enforcement organizations to establish industry standards and support survivors.

As part of the campaign, AHLA is providing new resources and materials for members, including the following:

  • Action Plan for hoteliers to implement that includes training staff on what to look for and how to respond; displaying human trafficking indicator signage; establishing a companywide policy; ongoing coordination with law enforcement; and sharing success stories and best practices.  
  • Companywide anti-trafficking policy template for members who may not already have a policy in place that incorporates key elements and recommendations from AHLA partners End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT-USA) and Polaris.
  • Strategic partnerships with leading national prevention partners including ECPAT-USA, Polaris, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST), SafeHouse Project, the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and many others.
  • Member Resource Guide that provides information on ways to implement the AHLA action plan, including where to access employee training and partner resources, downloadable signage, strategies to connect with law enforcement, ways to report instances of trafficking and how hotels can support survivors.

In addition, AHLA in partnership with the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), will host a series of regional events throughout the year leading up to Human Trafficking Prevention Month in January, to raise public awareness and facilitate collaboration with policymakers, law enforcement and hoteliers on best practices for policies, procedures and training  to enhance our human trafficking prevention efforts.


To read the full story by Vicky Karantzavelou on Travel Daily News: Click Here

Stand Up For Powerless Women: Advocates For Sex Trafficking Victims Are Few And Far Between

April 11, 2019

March 8 is United Nations-designated International Women’s Day, which has roots in the fight for better and safer working conditions in the U.S. This year, many global corporations are marking the day with events celebrating women’s education and parity in the workplace.

While many professional women are exalted, let’s consider thousands who aren’t, including those who are commercially sexually exploited and trafficked right here in New York City.

The charging of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution after twice visiting a Jupiter, Fla. “rub and tug” massage parlor shone a bright light on a world of commercial sexual exploitation.

Astoundingly, according to the anti-trafficking group Polaris, the U.S. is home to some 9,000 such establishments, and experts say many of the women who staff them are exploited and trafficked.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as modern-day slavery involving use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain labor or commercial sex acts.

That’s what’s happening in many massage parlors across the U.S., says Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based human rights attorney. “There’s no way to know without investigation whether a place is legitimate, or if someone is a trafficking victim in any individual case, [but] absolutely, a lot of them have been abused and deceived.”

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements raised awareness of sexual harassment in Hollywood and beyond. But the outrage for women on the lowest rungs of the economic and educational ladder is far harder to find.

Shandra Woworuntu of Queens-based Mentari USA, who is dedicated to helping women escape commercial sexual exploitation (advocates reject words like “prostitution” as dehumanizing), and receive job training, survived the massage parlor underworld herself.

Trafficked at age 24 from Indonesia with the promise of a job in the hotel industry, Woworuntu was held at gunpoint and sexually trafficked in “many places up and down I-95.”

To read the full story by Heather Robinson on The Daily News: Click Here

Help Victims Of Sex Trafficking Start New Lives

March 18, 2019

(CNN)About 4.8 million people worldwide — roughly the population of Ireland — became victims of sex trafficking in 2016, according to the International Labour Organization.

Sex trafficking is commercial sex induced by force, fraud or coercion or performed by a minor.

Though US figures can be hard to pin down, 7,255 sex trafficking victims were identified in 2017by the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Countless victims simply can’t reach out. But you can help.

Help victims escape

Learn to recognize the signs of trafficking. If you suspect someone is a victim, call 1-888-373-7888 or text “help” to BeFree, 233733. This call center is operated by the nonprofit Polaris and provides immediate support and local and national resources, 24 hours a day. You can submit anonymous tips online here.

Aid their transition to a new life

When victims can escape a trafficker, they don’t have many options. Some only have their clothes and limited job skills. They often lack social or family support and have nowhere to go.

Compounding that, experience in the commercial sex industry leaves some victims with alcohol and drug addictions and some with criminal records.


To read the full story by Christopher Dawson on CNN: Click Here

Not in our Neighborhood: Emergency Nurses Respond to Human Trafficking

February 4, 2019

Can a blanket question about personal safety be effective in identifying cases of human trafficking or domestic violence?

Renea Wilson, MSN, RN, CEN, director of the emergency department (ED) at Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka, Kan., didn’t think so. She believed her hospital was treating patients who were being trafficked and felt her department could do more to intervene.

Wilson’s instincts proved correct. Polaris, a Washington, D.C.- area nonprofit dedicated to the global eradication of human slavery, has identified Topeka as a hotspot for human trafficking.

The U.S. Department of Defense reports that human trafficking — transporting people across state or international lines, typically for forced labor or sexual exploitation — is one of the world’s fastest growing crimes, and the health care community is moving to respond. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June released new diagnostic codesfor designating suspected and confirmed cases of trafficking, and the American Hospital Association has made human trafficking one of the four pillars of its Hospitals Against Violence campaign.

Aware of this kind of nationwide attention, and motivated by the needs of her community, Wilson spearheaded an effort in 2015 to do a better job of identifying and responding to victims of human trafficking and of domestic violence as well. Elements of the initiative included staff education, coalition building, and development of a personal safety screening tool.

To read the full story on Campaign for Action: Click Here