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January 27, 2019

Experts share tips on ending human trafficking, aiding victims, as problem grows worldwide

On Jan. 29, six days before the New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Rams at the Superbowl in Atlanta, the city will be the site of the ATL End Human Trafficking Summit, a citywide effort to help end human trafficking.

Major sporting events like the Superbowl are a magnet for traffickers who bring in women and underaged girls to host cities and countries in organized sex rings.  

And while the upcoming summit will shine an important spotlight on the problem, human trafficking isn’t confined to such high-profile events.

Trafficking occurs every day around the world and in U.S. cities large and small. With more than 40.3 million people victims of what some call modern-day slavery, it is happening from Indian country to restaurants to nail salons to the hospitality industry. Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are victims of human trafficking each year in the United States through sex trafficking and forced labor.

And even though human trafficking is a crime under international, federal and state law, the problem continues to grow.

“The only way to attack this problem of human trafficking is through a collaborative effort of local, state and regional law enforcement and the courts,’’ said Magistrate Judge Leo Brisbois of the U.S. District Court of Minnesota.

Brisbois served as moderator of the program “Trafficking in the World of Chance: Human Trafficking in the Casino Industry and Beyond,” held Jan. 25 at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Las Vegas.

The problem isn’t confined to any one area. As program panelist Davina Durgana, senior researcher for the Walk Free Foundation, noted in 2016, of the 40.3 million people around the world who were victims of human trafficking, 24.9 million were in forced labor in domestic work, sex trade, construction, manufacturing, fishing industry and electronics, among others.

With the ABA meeting in Nevada, panelists spoke on trafficking in the local area, where casinos, hotels and other hospitality organizations are particular targets for traffickers.  

Human trafficking in the form of underage girls for the sex trade is prevalent in Indian country, said William Bronson, director of special projects for the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev. He said the federal government is focusing a spotlight on tribes and last year Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto introduced the End Trafficking of Native Americans Act of 2018. “The purpose of the bill is to increase intergovernmental coordination to identify and combat human trafficking within Indian lands and of Indians,” Bronson said. The legislation is still pending, though Bronson is hopeful the new Congress will take action on the bill.

George Jenkot, vice president of security and surveillance for the Native American-owned Firekeepers Casino in Battle Creek, Mich., says tribes who own casinos are more affluent and not as susceptible to some of the problems among tribes of lesser means. And because of the resources, Jenkot said his casino has been proactive in tackling the problem of human trafficking and set up a task force to study the problem in the hospitality industry. One of the things his company did was establish a program for employees to report suspected trafficking without fear of being fired.

“We started a culture of reporting that involves the workers, their supervisors, the in-house security team and the tribal police department,” Jenkot explained. “Thereby, everything gets checked in real time and all persons have a real chance of seeing what’s taking place.”

Nevada is the only state in the nation that has legalized prostitution, though it is not legal in some of the larger counties in the state (including Clark County, where Las Vegas is located), according to Judge Linda Bell of the Eighth Judicial District Court of Clark County in Las Vegas. “Interestingly, 11 of our rural counties do have legal prostitution, but even so 90 percent of the prostitution in our state takes place in Las Vegas, where it is a very serious issue for us.”

Human trafficking, Bell said, is a Nevada problem for sure. “But it an issue that impacts all of us wherever we are from.” She said judges often feel they can’t really have an impact or make a difference because they don’t make the prosecution decisions. “Sometimes there is this myth that we can’t do very much to impact a problem like this but there are some things we can do as judges,’’ she said.

Bell outlined five ways those in the legal profession can make a difference:

  1. Be aware and understand the issue. “If you can evaluate someone who is in front of you who is the victim of human trafficking, you can make better informed decisions about how you handle that person,” she said. “It’s really important sometimes to look beyond what the charges are in front of you and look at the people in front of you.”
  2. Understand the complexities of the relationship between the victim and the trafficker. “For example, in sentencing someone who has been charged as a trafficker, it is important to understand that victims have a really hard time separating from their trafficker,” Bell explained. “So, it might be that a prison sentence is appropriate to give the victim the time to restart her life and to have some forced separation because she may not do that on her own. The more you understand this complex dynamic between the trafficker and the victim you can make better decisions.”
  3. Be aware of laws specific to human trafficking in your jurisdiction. She cited new laws in Nevada that have provisions for restitution for victims, such as victims being able to sue their traffickers, allowance for video depositions so victims can avoid facing their abusers, among others.
  4. Be aware of the resources in your jurisdiction. There are alternatives to jail. “Sometimes use of other resources or programs will give the victims a much better chance of moving forward and to be able to break that cycle,” Bell said.
  5. Consider starting a specialty court or programs dedicated to helping people involved in trafficking. The juvenile system is not the best place for victims of trafficking but unfortunately that is where they land. “But rather than putting one of these young ladies into the juvenile system, consider putting them into one of these programs where the courts, public defenders and prosecutor’s office can work with them and make sure these children have all the resources they need,” she said.

The program was sponsored by the ABA Judicial Division.