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Archive for the ‘Human Trafficking’ Category

Esohe Aghatise, lawyer, PhD., founder, and director of Associazione Iroko Onlus in Turin, Italy, discusses job options with a Nigerian victim of sex trafficking. Photo by Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department.

After amendments were considered, senate bill 1951 passed unanimously in the Massachusetts State House on June 30.  Senate bill 1951 is the senate version of the anti-human trafficking bill in Massachusetts.  The bill went to the state representatives where they decided that the bill should go into conference.  Now three members from each branch will meet to write a unified bill that will go to their respective branches to be voted on.  They will look at the two bills (SB 1951 and HR3483), and debate which aspects of the two bills that should remain in the unified bill.

This is where we, as the general public, need to tell conference committee members and leadership from the two branches what we need in this state to fight modern day slavery.  We don’t want a weak bill to come out of conference that does not address the fundamental issues of human trafficking while the politicians bask in their own praise about tackling human trafficking.

Some of the important aspects of the bill include preserving the establishment of a John school that will address the demand side of the problem.  A study by ABT revealed that the John school in San Francisco reduced recidivism by thirty percent with little cost to the city.

Other areas of concern include preserving language to train not only law enforcement officials, but also social service providers and the general public.  More non-government organizations should be part of the task force because they understand the hurdles that victims need to overcome to be able to stand on their own.

The safe harbor clause should cover all victims, not just minors.  Is it fair that a human trafficking victim that was enticed at aged 15 and caught at aged 18 by the police should be charged with a crime?  A criminal record could potentially prevent that victim from getting the job he or she needs to free themselves of a life of crime.  This is also why decreasing the penalties for selling sex by adult women should be considered as well.  It has proven effective in Sweden.

The human trafficking trust fund as outlined by the senate bill should be preserved.  More money will find its way to social service providers that will help victims.  The senate version also does a better job in protecting victim rights and services.  Some of that language can be found in Section 39K of SECTION 11 and Section 20M of SECTION 24.

I have drafted a letter that I have written myself that could be used to lobby members on the conference committee.

The members of the conference committee are:  Senator Mark Montigny of New Bedford, Sen. Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, Sen. Jennifer Flanagan of Leominster, Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty of Chelsea, Rep. Sheila Harrington of Groton, and Rep. Elizabeth Malia of Jamaica Plain.  The speaker of the Senate is Therese Murray of Plymouth.  The speaker of the House is Robert DeLeo of  Winthrop.

If there are other aspects of the bill that you think is important, feel free to include them as well.  Your voice needs to be heard.  It is important that we contact them as soon as possible.  The State House will break for a summer vacation this Friday,  July 29, so we need to call, e-mail, and write as much as we can before then.

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As you may have heard, the Massachusetts state of representatives passed a human trafficking bill unanimously.  HR.3470 is the bill that is supported by AG Martha Coakley.  It criminalizes the activity, creates a taskforce, and allows for the court to order restitution to victims if they win the case.  While this is certainly a step in the right direction, we need to do more for the victims.  If we do not provide the services that they need, I believe that it is highly likely that they will fall back into slavery.  S820/S1921 sponsored by Mark Montigny will provide more services for victims.  We should ask for as much as we can now to be in a stronger bargaining position if we have to compromise.

S1921 appears to be S820 without the minimum sentencing and with a more defined Safe Harbor clause.  Safe harbor would allow prostitutes under the age of 18 to be considered victims and not a criminal if they are picked up by the police during a raid. This is important because they may have a criminal record that would be detrimental in living an independent life.

Human trafficking is as much a domestic problem as it is an international one.  Many girls who are caught up in this problem are runaways or those who have been kidnapped like the Quincy teen who was forced into slavery this past May.

My real concern is that traffickers will continue to be let go even if the Coakley bill does become law.  To prove that it is a trafficking case, you have to prove that the trafficker coerced the victim.  The victims’ testimony is critical in proving coercion.  Without it, the trafficker may get off with a lesser crime.  Without services, the victim may be less likely to testify in court because they may be forced to earn money back in the trade to support themselves. If it is a labor trafficking victim (agriculture especially), they may not even remain in the state.  This is one way I feel like we can get more victim services back into the bill to show the legislators that they may still fail in getting traffickers locked up.

We could ask for a line item that would provide money for a safehouse.  As it stands in S820, it would be subject to appropriation.  Another concern I have is that the Coakley bill mentions corporations would be subject to the new law.  Small businesses like nail salons, massage parlors, and restaurants are the ones that are often the ones that enslave their workers.  When I think of corporation, I think of Wal Mart, Marriott, or McDonalds, not the Korean Massage Therapy or Hadley Massage Therapy.  I want to make sure that those businesses too will be subject to the new law.

Here are the members of the senators on the ways and means committee.  Steven Baddour,  Jennifer Flanagan, Michael Moore, Karen Spilka, Brian Joyce, Thomas McGee, Richard Moore, and Gale Candaras have cosponsored Montigny’s S.820 bill at the start of the session. It is just as important to thank them and ask for their continued support for the bill.  S820 could go before the ways and means committee soon.  I hope that some of you would have the time to contact a few members of the ways and means committee to ask them to support 820 because victims deserve more.  Senate President Therese Murray should also be called/ written to.

I have drafted my own letter that I’ve sent to members on the committee.  This is the letter that Not For Sale, an organization I’m also a part of, is asking their members to send this letter.  Feel free to include your own personal reason why you think more victim provisions is important in the human trafficking bill.  In fact, that would even be better.

Thank you for your help in this important cause.  A hollow victory is not enough.  We must pass a bill that will give the victims a chance to stand on their own.

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The Polaris Project rates the 50 states of the United States based on their human trafficking legislation

The Polaris Project included Massachusetts as part of the dirty dozen of states because Massachusetts is weak on human trafficking.  Massachusetts is one of 5 states that do not have any human trafficking legislation.  We currently have legislation that could change that.

Senate Bill 58 has morphed into Senate Bill 2589 which is weaker than the previous bill but it is still a step in the right direction.

The new bill was passed unanimously by the senate and has been referred to the House where it was then referred to the Joint Committee on Rules where it currently sits.

It can still be moved forward in an informal setting if no one in the house objects to the bill.  It is now in the hands of the house.  However, the State House needs to vote on it by the end of the year.

The Ways and Means Committee curtailed anything that cost money so they changed the taskforce to a commission and probably cut down on programs like health and job programs.  They lost the minimum mandatory sentencing for the crime of human trafficking but they also increased the sentencing.  The trust fund will still be established.  It will be largely funded by money seized from traffickers.

I encourage to write or call your state representative and to members of this committee.  I have put together a draft letter that you can use.

Remember to vote tomorrow, Tuesday Sept. 14, in the Massachusetts primaries.

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The summer recess is fast approaching and Massachusetts Senate Bill 58, an act relating to anti-human trafficking and protection, still sits before the Senate Ways and Means Committee.  It was passed favorably by the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities on July 15, 2009.  Over the past year, it has been waiting to be approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.  The bill will have to be reintroduced if it does not get approved by July 31. This means that Massachusetts would still be one of only 6 states that do not have human trafficking legislation.

I encourage you to write to the senators in this committee to encourage them to vote in favor of this bill.  I have written a draft letter that you can use to write out yourself or to e-mail.  Feel free to shorten it or include your personal reason why you think this bill should be passed.  You can also call them and simply ask them to support Senate Bill 58. This takes 5 minutes out of your day.  The members of the committee are found here. They will pay attention if 5 of you contact them on the same topic.  You can make a real difference.

WGBH recently did a 4 part report on human trafficking in New England.  You can read and listen to the report here.

I also recently learned that Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore are passionate about human trafficking. The Demi and Ashton Foundation facebook page has a tremendous amount of resources that you will pop up in your feed if you like the page.  I encourage you to like it to learn more about the problem.

Help me get Senate Bill 58 passed by contacting the members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.  Thank you.

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Children like this young girl are prized in the carpet industry for their small, fast fingers. Defenseless, they do what they're told, toiling in cramped, dark, airless village huts from sunrise until well into the night. Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department

Monday January 11 is International Human Trafficking Awareness Day.  President Obama has also declared that January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month culminating on National Freedom Day on February 1, the day the 13th Amendment was sent to the states for ratification.

You can raise awareness about the problem of human trafficking by letting your friends and family know about the problem in your facebook status.

For example you can post:

“is raising awareness about the problem of human trafficking on human trafficking awareness day (Jan. 11). Human trafficking is another name for slavery. The US State Department estimates that 17, 500 people are trafficked into the US annually. They can be maids or tomato pickers
in Florida. Copy and paste this message and update your facebook
status to raise awareness about this issue.”

You can clean up the wording to make it work for you.  You can include other actions like contacting your US representative or senator to ask them to join the Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus.  You can suggest to buy fair trade chocolate for your loved one for Valentine’s Day because it is slave free.  Kristin Branson, a graduate student at UC San Diego, compiled a comprehensive list of slave free chocolate that you can use as a guide while shopping for your loved one.

You can comment to your own status update and post links with more information about human trafficking with the homepages for Free the Slaves, Not for Sale, or the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. You can also post the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons’ 2009 report on Human Trafficking or the 2009 report put together by the United Nations.

You can also read survivors’ stories at the Polairs website.  You can read about a 15 year old Catholic girl from a Detroit suburb who was enslaved for two years by “Daniel”.  His cousins had photographed her being raped by Daniel and the pious girl didn’t want others to know about her rape so she did anything that they asked.  They drugged her and had her service their friends.

In other human trafficking news, the BBC recently reported that forced prostitution and human trafficking has become rampant in China as a result of the one child policy there.  Researcher Wang Guangzhou found that in some provinces, there are 130 boys born for every 100 girls.  Females are aborted because of the cultural preference for males and the belief that a male would be more likely to take care of a farm than a female.

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Slumdog for $400, 000

Slumdog for $400, 000

Apparently $400, 000 can buy you a Slumdog Millionaire actress, at least that’s what a British journalist found out when he posed as a potential buyer from the Middle East according to AP.   This just shows you how much slavery is a problem in India.  They are desperately poor and seem to have little regard with women, a perfect mixture for slavery.

What does it take to end slavery?

A. Political Will

B. People power in the form of a grassroots movement

C. Economic opportunity

D. All of the above

Everyone can join in the movement to end slavery.  We’ve done it before in the 19th century, and we know what needs to be done to make that happen.  It has to start on the ground with ordinary people like you and me.  Be part of the movement today by writing to your state senator about Montigny’s bill which would finally put human trafficking legislation into the Massachusetts lawbooks.

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Workers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers stage a silent silent theater depicting the brutal details of the latest slavery case at the steps of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee.  Photo by Jacques-Jean Tiziou

Members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers stage a silent theater depicting the brutal details of the latest slavery case at the steps of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee. Photo by Jacques-Jean Tiziou

It’s been a whirlwind last few days.  There was the screening of Holly at Suffolk University Law School on Thursday, and then there was Amnesty International’s Annual General Meeting.  Amnesty members staged a rally for immigration rights at City Hall on Friday.  I’ll try to write more when I have time about the AGM.

The main reason why I’m writing is that there has been a major development for the slavery/ trafficking cause in Florida.  The Coalition of Immokalee Workers met with Gov. Crist to talk about the working conditions of tomato and orange pickers in Florida.

After the meeting, the governor told the Naples Daily News that he was “deeply moved by what they had to say and we want to help them as much as we possibly can.”

Later that week, Governor Crist stated his support for the workers in a letter where he makes the following points:

  • “I have no tolerance for slavery in any form, and I am committed to eliminating this injustice anywhere in Florida…”
  • “I support the Coalition’s Campaign for Fair Food, whereby corporate purchasers of tomatoes have agreed to contribute monies for the benefit of the tomato field workers. I commend these purchasers for their participation, and I encourage the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and its members to participate in the campaign so that these monies can reach and provide assistance to the workers…”
  • “I look forward to working with you and your organization in the future to advance these important causes.”

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a grassroots organization that has fought for the rights of tomato and orange pickers in Florida.  These workers are mostly Latino men who are at times trafficked into the country to pick the tomatoes for our fast food burgers and fajitas.

They have successfully put pressure on Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, and Whole Foods to raise the wages of the tomato pickers that are contracted to work on their supplier’s fields.  They are now working on a letter writing campaign targeting Chipolte Mexican restaurants.  Please join in and help fight another form of trafficking by downloading this letter and sending it to your local Chipolte branch.

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