Human trafficking a growing global problem

Dover session will teach ways of recognizing victims

In 2001, the federal government made human trafficking a top civil rights
priority. Since then the U.S. Department of Justice, often working with
local law enforcement agencies, has stepped up the investigation and
prosecution of human traffickers.

- According to Justice Department figures, from 2001 through 2005 the
Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices prosecuted 287
traffickers, almost a 260 percent increase over the 80 prosecutions
started during the prior five years. Of the 287 traffickers, 228 were
charged with allegations of sex trafficking.

- During the period of 2001 through 2005, the Civil Rights Division and
U.S. Attorneys’ Offices opened 480 new investigations into human
trafficking, about 325 percent more than the 113 opened in the previous
five years.

- To date, federal prosecutors and other law enforcement personnel have
helped 732 victims remain in the United States to assist with law
enforcement efforts.

- Overall, 926 trafficking victims from 55 countries have so far been
helped by the Civil Rights Division and other law enforcement personnel
to be eligible for refugee-type benefits under the 2000 Trafficking
Victims Protection Act.

Sources: Justice Department, Civil Rights Division

Human trafficking — the modern version of slavery — is a
multibillion-dollar-a-year criminal enterprise, ranking behind drug
trafficking in global crime statistics.

Some victims of human trafficking are probably working in Delaware,
experts say.

“There’s no doubt that there is human trafficking in every state in the
union,” said Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Molloy of Fort Myers,
Fla. Molloy has prosecuted several human-trafficking cases. “If you have
an agricultural industry, for example, or large numbers of undocumented
workers, you have slavery.”

Delaware has a large agricultural sector and other businesses — such as
food service and construction — that lend themselves to human
trafficking, but there have been no specific charges brought to date in
the state, U.S. Attorney Colm Connolly said.

“Some local law enforcement agencies have brought matters to us that they
thought could be human trafficking, especially in areas such as
prostitution rings, but further investigation did not bear that out,”
Connolly said.

Despite the lack of evidence human trafficking is a problem in the state,
one advocacy group is organizing a training session Wednesday in Dover to
promote ways to recognize potential victims and signs.

Attendees at the event will include police, social workers, hospital
personnel and others who come into contact with the state’s immigrant
population. It is not open to the public.

A number of experts have said that police and prosecutors are not trained
well enough to recognize obvious signs and to deal with victims.

“You need to know how to interview these victims, because they are
frightened,” said Anna Rodriguez, the founder of the Florida Coalition
Against Human Trafficking. “They have been coached in what to say and
threatened repeatedly.

“You have to understand that it can take weeks, even months, to get the
full story from victims,” she said, because traffickers typically use
force, fraud or coercion to rope people into slavery.

In some cases, they kidnap children and women from remote villages in
Central America and then tell the victims that their families will be
killed if they refuse to comply with the traffickers’ demands.

They often rape, beat and confine their victims to control them.

“It’s amazing that we have to even talk about human trafficking in the
21st century, but we do because it’s a huge issue and it’s growing,” said
Cecilia Cardesa-Lusardi, executive director of the Wilmington-based
Voices Without Borders.

Cardesa-Lusardi’s group is sponsoring Wednesday’s training session.

“The fact that no cases have surfaced in Delaware could be a matter of
education,” according to Christina Miller, coordinator of the Archdiocese
of Philadelphia’s anti-trafficking project. “People need to know how to
recognize these cases.”

In other areas of the country, a wide range of people are being taught
how to recognize signs of human trafficking.

In Florida, Rodriguez said, health inspectors are asked to report when
they see mattresses in the back rooms of restaurants or other signs that
someone is being forced to live there.

Meter readers for water and power companies are also trained to look for
signs people are being held against their will, Rodriguez said.

If a meter reader sees a mobile home with locks on the outside to keep
people inside, she said, “they know to call us and we will investigate.”

Cardesa-Lusardi and other organizers of Wednesday’s conference want to
establish a similar process here that will enable police and community
members to work together.

“We talk about human trafficking as a concept that is so abstract that we
sometimes fail to make a connection as to how it affects us here,” she

At the conference, she said, “we want to dissect human trafficking in
terms of the ways in which people are brought in as victims and the way
they are exploited through commercial sex, pornography and as labor.”

In many cases, fraud is used to trap victims into slavery, and phony job
offers are a major recruiting tool, experts said. Usually this involves
women and children who answer advertisements promising jobs as
waitresses, maids and other occupations overseas. Once they arrive in
their new country, they are trafficked for prostitution or domestic

“That is a classic example of human trafficking and we’re seeing the same
pattern all over the United States, especially with European women,” said
Terry Coonan, executive director of the Center for the Advancement of
Human Rights at Florida State University. “They answer an ad, sign a
contract, and when they get here they find that the job doesn’t exist and
they are forced to do something else.”

Many European women who are tricked into slavery are victims of Russian
gangsters, he said.

“Human trafficking is a multibillion-dollar growth industry because,
unlike drugs, which are gone as soon as they are used, humans can be
recycled,” Coonan said. “Because they can continue to be exploited,
they’re a better investment for the traffickers.”

Copyright © 2006, The News Journal.

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