Hostages of Child Prostitution – LA Times 10/7/2011

Girls from California are forced to sell themselves in Las Vegas. “My quota — I had to at least make between $500 and $800 dollars a day. If I didn’t, I had to stay out until I did,” she said.

By Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times

Marisela Quintero read the headline. She winced, as if she’d been punched.

Emma had been killed.

Emma was 17. She had recently been arrested on prostitution-related charges in a Motel 6 parking lot, wearing a skin-hugging tank top, high heels and booty shorts. She’d flashed a fake driver’s license and, in her purse, carried eight latex condoms and a bottle of vodka.

Quintero, the county’s only social worker assigned primarily to child prostitutes, couldn’t get her to admit her real name at first. Emma had been too terrified, but not of what might happen in court. What would her pimp do if he thought she’d turned on him?

Eventually the court sent her back to her family in California. That was two weeks ago. Now, the news story said she had been shot to death, with no suspects named.

Had it been a mistake to send Emma away? Did her pimp think she had snitched?

The possibility was not far-fetched. These men were masters at manipulating and dominating the teenagers. They sweet-talked the girls in shopping malls and Greyhound terminals, bought them pedicures and wigs, plied them with drugs and gave them the attention they craved. Once ensnared and working as prostitutes, the girls could fall victim to pistol-whippings and gang rape — sometimes, even worse. It was all part of what Quintero and others bleakly called “the game.”

Quintero feared for her next client, Maria, who was more tightly tied to her pimp than Emma had been.

Maria was 16.

Las Vegas is a major hub of child prostitution with an international reputation for depravity.

A recent study by the nonprofit Shared Hope International said 224 girls and two boys accused of prostitution-related offenses churned through the juvenile court system here during a nearly two-year period. About a third were from California. Almost a fifth were younger than 16, and many said between five and 15 men had purchased their sexual services each night they worked.

After their first arrest, girls were usually detained for about two weeks. Quintero met them then.

Success was measured by how long Quintero could keep them away from the pimps. The more time spent in group homes or with supportive relatives, the better the odds that they wouldn’t sprint back to the streets. And maybe they could be persuaded to testify against the men who corrupted them, who demanded money and sex and sometimes the honorific “Daddy.”

Still carrying the story of Emma’s death, Quintero entered the interview room at the Clark County juvenile detention center. Maria — high cheekbones, blond highlights, toothpaste stain on her county-issued blue sweat shirt — began to vent. Her neglectful and abusive family. Her rape by a family friend. “My mom said I was lying,” she told Quintero. “Whatever.”

Maria was 12 when she “chose up” with her first pimp, who gave her marijuana and waved around $100 bills he promised she’d make. After that came a blur of drugs and vicious men and arrests.

Then she met the pimp she now considered her boyfriend. She giggled describing how he’d gently teased her. Later, he punched and raped her, she told Quintero, but apologized nearly every time. Two years ago they had a son.

Maria’s latest arrest came as she trolled for men one morning at the Planet Hollywood casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Quintero mentioned Emma’s killing. Maria picked at her eyebrows.

“I’m not scared to die anymore,” she said.

It was surreal, Quintero thought. She’s 16 and doesn’t care.

“Do you still feel a bond with your son?” Quintero asked.

Maria’s face softened. “Yeah, I love him so much.”

It was an opening. Quintero suggested placing the boy with one of Maria’s siblings. She also tried to gauge where Maria could stay without fleeing, as she had so many times.

“You’re smart. You have all that potential,” Quintero said.

Silence.

“I’d hate to read about you in the paper.”

“If someone wants me dead, they want me dead,” Maria shot back.

The next day, Quintero slipped into Courtroom 18, where Judge William O. Voy presided over the weekly juvenile prostitution calendar. Maria waited in a hallway.

Girls shuffled in, their hair in ponytails, their faces scrubbed of makeup, their fingers stripped of acrylic nails. The parents who showed up squirmed. When mothers and daughters hugged, their faces were woeful, as if both were apologizing.

In Las Vegas, the girls are treated as victims, not criminals, a relatively new tactic. Solicitation charges are usually dropped in favor of less severe offenses. Then Quintero will consult with prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, group homes and the girls’ relatives to recommend to Voy where the girls should go next.

That can be tricky. The girls struggle with multiple problems: drug addiction, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder.

On this morning, in February 2009, Emma’s slaying seemed to hover over the proceedings. Emma had shown promise when she revealed her identity. Voy had approved her release to California. Now she was an example of what could go wrong.

Maria walked into the courtroom, her expression sheepish. She’d been here before, vowing to turn around her life.

Voy called on Quintero. Where should Maria go?

“At this point, regardless of what we do, it’s going to be a risk,” Quintero said. She turned up her right palm, as if to say, what choice do we have?

Put Maria in the group home, Quintero said next. Reevaluate things in a few weeks. Voy agreed. Maria smiled.

Then Quintero talked to Maria and scribbled notes: shoes, 9; pants, 9; shirts, M/L.

Maria had nothing of her own besides socks and a blouse, potentially giving a pimp an opening to woo her with niceties. So Quintero pawed through V-necks, corduroys and bags of underwear at an on-site donation center. She packed a bag: hair spray, razors, lavender shampoo-conditioner, “Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul,” and a flowered journal because Maria liked to write poems.

Quintero tried to shake off her misgivings: With a bag of stuff, was it easier for Maria to run?

A week later, in Voy’s courtroom, the judge was grim. The night after Maria’s hearing, she ran off. Quintero never found out if she took the bag.

“God, that worked good, huh?” Voy said, almost to himself. “She lasted until 8:30.” Long pause. “The kid’s wearing me out, man. I’m sorry. She’s going to end up dead.”

Over the next few months, Quintero did some detective work. One of Maria’s relatives helped track down her Myspace page.

Maria was still alive. But she’d returned to prostitution. Her profile displayed lots of cleavage and a fake age: 24.

Quintero emailed her: “Hey, girl. I hope you’re doing okay…. I’m still here if you need anything. Take care.”

Quintero was not quixotic. Her own childhood in California showed that people could exceed their surroundings. Her parents had sneaked into the country illegally, but eventually became citizens. Her mom worked in housekeeping, her dad at a factory that made shower doors. For a time, they could afford only gang-ridden neighborhoods in Carson.

Quintero became the first person in her family to earn a college degree. Now she was 28, married and a mother, working with teens who needed a family but instead found a pimp. Quintero sometimes found them exasperating, but often inspirational too. They had survived so much.

Maria soon wrote back. She was fed up with her pimp and felt suicidal. “I BELIEVED THAT HE LOVED ME AND AFTER WHAT HE DID TO ME THIS TIME I THINK THAT ITS TIME TO LAY IT DOWN AND GO ON HOME TO MY GOD.”

“You have so much to live for!!!” Quintero replied. “Your son needs his mom. Let me help you…. Where are you?”

Not long after, Maria called, her bravado back. She had been traveling, she said nonchalantly. Everything’s fine.

She cut off contact.

Quintero wasn’t surprised.

A pimp uses every psychological trick to weld a girl to him. He has her tattooed with his name. He gets her pregnant. He convinces her that prostitution is an act of romantic devotion. He claims hotel bellmen conduct surveillance for him — so don’t run. But he rarely uses his fists. That might sideline her from the game.

Trying to sever the bond was next to impossible. Victories for Quintero were usually smaller and messier. But they happened.

Quintero had another client at the lockup: Annie — 13 and pregnant.

Investigators wanted her to testify against a pimp, who might be the father. She wasn’t sure.

Annie toyed with her hair, which she had untwisted from petite braids. Her own mother meant well, counselors concluded, but had poorly supervised the girl and her siblings. She went to school infrequently, told counselors she’d experimented with drugs.

Annie was in detention after snatching a cellphone from a woman on a bus. Police suspected she and at least two other girls had been sexually abused, if not “turned out,” by a pimp. All three were slated to testify against him on multiple counts of pandering and sexual assault.

Annie’s lower lip pouted. Other girls in detention said testifying meant betrayal. If dragged into court, she huffed, “I’m not gonna say nothing.”

But she did, begrudgingly.

The day of the hearing, in April 2009, Annie wore one of Quintero’s maternity tops — the donation center had no shirts to cover her belly — and munched on potato chips and cheese crackers.

Inside Courtroom 8C, the suspected pimp sat at the defense table: a 6-foot, 160-pound, dark-skinned man in his late 20s with thick braids, a mustache and an empty stare. He’d told Annie she was pretty and seduced her in his Cadillac. She’d recruited one of the other two girls to work as a prostitute for him.

Annie climbed onto the witness stand, near a pot of yellow flowers. The prosecutor asked for graphic details of the times she and the man had sex. Her replies came in near-whispers.

“First I was sitting and then I started lying down and I guess I just had sex.”

You were 13?

“Yes.”

Annie tucked in her limbs and used one hand to hide much of her face.

When she finished an hour later, Quintero followed her to the hallway. Annie’s face was ashen. She plopped on a bench. Another girl who’d testified ran over and asked: Did he look at you?

“I don’t know. I didn’t look at him.”

“He smiled at me,” the other girl said, with a hint of giddiness.

“Oh,” Annie replied flatly.

Annie was soon placed in a new facility for pregnant teens, with her own bedroom, bathroom and white crib, but she ran home to her mother a few weeks later. Quintero saw her briefly before she delivered a girl.

Quintero took comfort in the outcome at court: The pimp pleaded guilty to child pandering and was sentenced to at least three years in prison.

It was December. Nearly a year had passed since Emma’s death, and Maria had disappeared. Quintero sat in the back of Voy’s courtroom. The court marshal stuck his head out the door and called for a teenager who’d come to the courthouse voluntarily.

It was Maria. She was in a brown sweater and ripped jeans and had loosened her hair to hide scarring she hadn’t had months ago. Her eyes were weary.

Maria was accompanied by her mother. She’d recently moved back home, she said, because she wanted to see her son and had some legal issues to settle. She told Quintero she was thinking of turning over her pimp to police. When Maria said his name now, it was as if she were spitting.

Was she sincere?

At least she wasn’t dead. Quintero knew that might be all she could hope for. After the hearing, Quintero asked Maria where she’d been for 10 months.

“You know, around,” said Maria, who quickly changed the subject.

A short time later, Maria vanished. She reappeared briefly in September 2010, when she was brought into court on a warrant. She said she’d rented an apartment and found work as a dancer.

Quintero hasn’t heard from her since.

This story is based on several months of observing Marisela Quintero and her clients under the condition that the girls be identified using pseudonyms. The Times does not typically identify the alleged victims of sex crimes or persons under 18 who are charged with crimes.

Times reporter Ashley Powers also reviewed numerous court records, including arrest reports and hearing transcripts, and interviewed Quintero and her husband, Noe; Judge William Voy; Susan Roske of the county public defender’s juvenile division; Alexis Kennedy, an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, co-writer of the Shared Hope International study; representatives from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the county district attorney’s juvenile division, and experts in child prostitution.

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Identification of Human Trafficking Victims in Health Care Settings

This is a long article that looked for patterns to better identify victims of child trafficking, when they receive medical care.

by Susie B. Baldwin, David P. Eisenman, Jennifer N. Sayles, Gery Ryan, Kenneth S. Chuang

Health & Human Rights Journal Vol 13, No 1 (2011)

Background

An estimated 18,000 individuals are trafficked into the United States each year from all over the world, and are forced into hard labor or commercial sex work. Despite their invisibility, some victims are known to have received medical care while under traffickers’ control. Our project aimed to characterize trafficking victims’ encounters in US health care settings.

Methods

The study consisted of semi-structured interviews with six Key Informants who work closely with trafficking victims (Phase I) and 12 female trafficking survivors (Phase II). All survivors were recruited through the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, an NGO in Los Angeles, and all were trafficked into Los Angeles. Interviews were conducted in English and six other languages, with the assistance of professional interpreters. Using a framework analysis approach that focused on victims’ encounters in health care settings, we assessed interview transcript content and coded for themes. We used an exploratory pile-sorting technique to aggregate similar ideas and identify overarching domains.

Results

The survivors came from 10 countries. Eight had experienced domestic servitude, three had survived sex trafficking, and one had experienced both. Half the survivors reported that they had visited a physician while in their traffickers’ control, and another worked in a health care facility. All Key Informants described other victims who had received medical care. For domestic servants, medical visits were triggered by injury and respiratory or systemic illness, while sex trafficking victims were seen by health professionals for sexually transmitted infections and abortion. Trafficking victims were prevented from disclosing their status to health care providers by fear, shame, language barriers, and limited interaction with medical personnel, among other obstacles.

Discussion

This exploration of survivors’ experiences in health care settings supports anecdotal reports that US health care providers may unwittingly encounter human trafficking victims. Increasing awareness of human trafficking, and modifying practice to facilitate disclosure, could improve victim identification.

Introduction

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, a global industry of exploitation that generates billions of dollars in international profits each year.1 The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”2 In the US, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 and subsequent TVPA reauthorizations codify human trafficking as a federal crime, create protections for victims, and strengthen the ability of the government to combat human trafficking internationally.

Though it is difficult to collect concrete data regarding the extent of human trafficking, the US is known to be a major trafficking destination.3 The State Department estimates that 18,000 women, men, and children are trafficked into the US each year from dozens of countries.4 Many victims arrive in the US through three main trafficking hubs: Los Angeles, New York City, and Miami, but as of 2004, forced labor victims had been identified in at least 90 US cities in 31 states.5, 6 In addition, thousands of US citizens, mostly women and children, are trafficked within US borders, primarily for sexual exploitation.

Once in the US, trafficked victims are absorbed into underground, unregulated sectors of the economy, where wage, health, and safety law violations routinely occur.5 In addition, thousands of US citizens, mostly women and children, are trafficked within US borders, primarily for sexual exploitation. Often, trafficking victims work as enslaved domestic servants or as forced laborers in the restaurant, agricultural, or manufacturing sectors. Trafficking victims are also coerced into prostitution, pornography, and other sectors of the commercial sex industry. Regardless of the form of their exploitation, people who are trafficked suffer intense abuse that often results in physical and mental illness.7

Encounters in the health care setting may offer opportunities for identification of trafficking victims. Based on a sample of 21 victims from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, The Family Violence Prevention Fund reported in 2005 that 28% received medical care while in their trafficker’s control.8 The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the federal agency responsible for assisting trafficking victims, supports the notion that health care providers can facilitate the identification and rescue of trafficking victims. In 2004, HHS initiated a campaign to increase awareness of human trafficking among professionals, including health care workers, who may unknowingly interact with trafficking victims in their daily work.9 According to subsequent HHS reporting based on information from law enforcement and service providers, health and dental clinic workers and emergency room personnel have served as sources of victim referrals.10

Despite such reports, few empirical data exist regarding trafficking victims’ interactions within US health care settings, and key questions require further examination. Are there certain settings, patient presentations and behaviors, or perpetrator characteristics that together may help identify a patient as a victim of human trafficking? What barriers prevent health care professionals from identifying trafficking victims? To better understand trafficking victims’ use of health services, this qualitative study explores and characterizes encounters in health care settings, as reported by trafficking survivors living in Los Angeles.

(Read the rest of the article and resources cited at the attached link)

http://www.hhrjournal.org/index.php/hhr/article/view/409/636

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Project Exodus Defends Victim

Two months ago Project Exodus was approached by a mother in duress. Her daughter, a victim of human trafficking, had been arrested for a crime that she was forced to commit by her pimp and abuser. Though the mother initially contacted us with the simple hope of attaining some advice, after hearing her situation we decided to support her.

In a big move for our organization, we decided to pay for a lawyer to represent the victim in criminal court. We felt that God had put this mother and victim in our path and that we were being called to give aid to them. Our hope by giving the victim a lawyer was to be able to defend her and prove that she was in fact a victim of a crime and not a criminal.

Though Project Exodus completely believes the innocence of the victim, proving that innocence is much more difficult in a court of law. What further makes the case difficult is the relative rarity of human trafficking cases that go in front of a court. Using human trafficking as a defense is difficult if the court is not familiar at all with human trafficking and its dynamics. For security reasons we cannot go into the details of the case but what we can say is that from the start we were facing an extreme uphill battle. God has been with us this entire time and true miracles have been happening but we still need help.

On Wednesday, 7/27/11, the court will make the final decision in regards to the future of the victim. If our defense holds, she will be put on probation. If it fails, she faces up to 20 years in prison. Our defense has been made, our letters have been read, and now we wait.

While we cannot be sure of the outcome of the trail, what we can be sure of is that we worship a God of justice who loves victims in a way we cannot even imagine. We also know that whatever we ask for in prayer, God will answer. Our God is a God who fights for justice on behalf of the oppressed. He is our sanctuary in times of need. He is our light in darkness. He is our hope when there is no hope to be found. In this time of need, we turn to God and ask him to hear our prayers.

We are asking that everyone please join us in a time of prayer for this victim of human trafficking. We ask that you please pray for God to move in the heart of the judge and let the judge understand the situation of our victim. We ask that you pray for the victim and her mother, that God gives them comfort in this time of trial. We ask that you pray for the trafficker of our victim, that he may realize the error of his ways and repent. We pray for justice. We pray for hope. We pray for freedom.

In addition to prayer, if you are willing and looking for further ways to become involved, we are asking for further support. In order to hire the lawyer, Project Exodus had to pay $2000. While this is an amazing deal for a laywer, the amount represents a considerable amount of money for our organization. If you feel led, we are asking you to consider supporting the trial by donating to Project Exodus. While we have already paid the money, the money donated will help regain our financial standing and allow us to invest in much needed surveillance equipment for our operation teams.

www.Project-Exodus.org

 

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Forever Found’s 1st Annual Benefit Dinner & Silent Auction

Forever Found’s 1st Annual Benefit Dinner & Silent Auction. This event will raise continued support for children victimized by sexual slavery.

Key Speakers: Francis Chan & Phil Ludwig

Musical Performance by: Shannon Sergey, Forever Found President

Come prepared to bid on irresistible auction items!

WHEN: Thursday, September 22, 2011

6PM - Registration & Cocktail Hour

6PM – Silent Auction Open

7PM – Dinner & Program

Where:   Wood Ranch Golf Club   301 Wood Ranch Parkway    Simi Valley, CA 93065

Complimentary Valet Parking, Business or Cocktail Attire

www.foreverfound.org/

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State PTA Convention in Long Beach Raises Awareness

The annual California State Parent Teacher Association Convention hosted a workshop to raise awareness.  Volunteers from schools all over California learned about how child trafficking is a growing crime and how pimps lure junior high girls into prostitution.
A San Diego Detective shared that 80% of the young girls pimped on the streets in San Diego were obtained from California schools.  This was surprising, because many people assumed they were imported from Mexico.

He also shared that a girl may need to be rescued several times, because the pimps are extremely controlling and effective in re-acquiring the girls from state agencies.

The Detective helped workshop attendees understand that the girls are victims of manipulation and that the pimps are the real criminals.  Twelve year old girls don’t naturally decide to start a career as a prostitute.

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