January 22, 2019

Midyear 2019: Experts explore measures to end trafficking at casinos, as abuse rises worldwide

Human trafficking thrives around the world despite growing awareness of the problem.

Globally, an estimated 40.3 million people were victims of human trafficking — or modern-day slavery as it’s known – on any given day in 2016, according to the latest statistics compiled by the Global Slavery Index. In the United States, between 14,500 and 17,500 people are victims of human trafficking each year.

In Las Vegas, the problem centers around casinos and hotels. These industries “often employ less-visible employees including cleaning, cooking, janitorial, service and other staff who are vulnerable to labor exploitation and human trafficking, particularly when there is lack of clarity over legal jurisdictions and protections for these crimes,“ says Davina Durgana, a statistician from Great Falls, Va., whose award-winning work is dedicated to ending human rights abuses.

Durgana is among experts who will be participating in the American Bar Association Midyear Meeting program, “Trafficking in the World of Chance: Human Trafficking in the Casino Industry and Beyondheld on Friday, Jan. 25, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in Caesar Palace’s Forum Ballroom 15-16. Moderator U.S. District Court Judge Leo Brisbois of the District of Minnesota will lead a panel in a discussion of the human trafficking and its role in the casino industry. Panelists will explain how to identify victims and what steps can be taken to end the growing problem.

Durgana works for the Walk Free Foundation, an initiative fighting to end modern slavery, forced labor and human trafficking, and has developed leading global models to assess risk and vulnerability to modern slavery.  The foundation and its allies face an uphill battle. Durgana says human trafficking generates a profit of $32 billon every year and is the third-largest international crime industry behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking.

Yet, as awareness grow, so do the efforts to address the problem. “There are many organizations working to combat this crime in the United States,” Durgana says. “Great advocates and nonprofit groups such as the Polaris national hotline, connecting victims to trained law enforcement; the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, advocating for the labor rights of all; and GoodWeave International, working to end exploitation in supply chains, among many others.”

Fellow panelist George Jenkot, who is vice president of security and surveillance at Firekeepers Casino and Hotel in Battle Creek, Mich., says due to the presence of state and federal regulations, the casino industry doesn’t seem to have substantial risk when it comes to people being trafficked for labor situations. “For hotels, however, recognition of guests who may be victims can be very important,” he says. “Because of this, we have developed training programs and lines of communication that seem to be working.”  

Jenkot says he will discuss awareness of persons being trafficked, effective routes of communication to help possible trafficked people and the best way to handle suspicions of nefarious activity in the hospitality environment. “There are certain red flags you can look for,’’ Jenkot says. “Like a person speaking for another person or someone who doesn’t seem to have awareness of where they are or what day it is are some examples of these indicators.

“My hope is that people develop an understanding that the issue is both huge [global] and local, there are probably trafficked people in virtually every area of the country,” Jenkot added.

According to the Department of State, the top three states with the most human trafficking activity are California, New York and Texas. California Against Slavery reported that three of the 10 worst child sex trafficking areas in the United States are San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Traffickers use violence, threats, deception, debt bondage and other manipulative tactics to force people to engage in commercial sex or to provide labor or services against their will. While more research is needed on the scope of human trafficking, here are a few key statistics:

  • The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally.
    • 81 percent of them are trapped in forced labor.
    • 25 percent of them are children.
    • 75 percent are women and girls.
  •  Statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline and Polaris BeFree Textline show:
    • More than 49,000 cases of human trafficking have been reported to the hotline in the last 10 years.
    • The hotline annually receives multiple reports of human trafficking cases in each of the 50 states and D.C. 
    • The number of human trafficking cases that Polaris learns about in the U.S. increases every year. 
    • 24 percent of texting conversations on the Polaris BeFree Textline were from survivors of human trafficking compared to 14 percent of phone calls on the hotline. Read Polaris 
    • The hotline receives an average of 150 calls per day. 

Durgana says the upcoming ABA program is “a great opportunity to discuss the importance of measuring and understanding human trafficking with the many U.S. legal stakeholders that may be able to collaborate with researchers on best practices to estimate victims in their jurisdictions.”

“We have had success in several developed European countries and would like to present our findings and methods in the hopes of improving U.S. national and state slavery victim estimates,” Durgana says. “Better data and information on these populations will best equip policy-makers, advocates, lawyers, judges and others as they advise, determine, and implement critical interventions on this issue.”

Joining Durgana and Jenkot on the program will be Judge Linda Bell, Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County Las Vegas; William Brunson, director of special projects for the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev.; and Cristina Silva, deputy chief, Criminal Division at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada in Las Vegas.

The program is sponsored by the ABA Judicial Division.