Category Archives: domestic trafficking

What I learned from Lucy Liu


While I lived in Cambodia, I heard that MTV was starting a counter-trafficking campaign. I was intrigued by the idea. So much of the program, in so many parts of the world, is victims not realizing their vulnerabilities and others not knowing the warning signs to spot and report trafficking. Still, I never concretely see any of the productions, nor did I seek them out.

Recently I heard Lucy Liu speak and saw a trailer to one of the rights-free short documentaries that MTV had produced. I also learned a bit more about their production methods, their impact via independent research, and how they are making the films accessible to a section of society that does not have cable.

Here is the video (split into three parts).  Overall, I was pretty impressed– I hope you take the time to watch.

Find out more at MTV Exit.

In the News: Chilean cops fired for links to (child) prostitution ring


As taken from the Latin American Herald Tribune:

Senior Chilean Cops Fired for Links to Prostitution

SANTIAGO – President Michelle Bachelet’s government fired four high-ranking members of Chile’s PDI investigative police for alleged ties to a prostitution ring that exploited underage girls.

Among the officers forced into early retirement is Hector Soto Candia, the PDI’s erstwhile inspector-general, who was in charge of probing allegations of police involvement made by one of the victimized girls in October 2007.

The PDI chiefs in Santiago and the coastal city of Valparaiso were also ousted.

Last Friday, the PDI suspended five of the six detectives mentioned in a television expose of police links to the prostitution operation managed by Carlos Parra Ruis, known as “Charly.”

The PDI acted within days of the airing on Chile’s Channel 13 television of a documentary, “Charly’s Angels,” detailing alleged police collusion with the pimp.

Channel 13 launched its investigation after hearing from former police deputy inspector Hector Guzman, who claims he was fired for investigating Charly.

The broadcaster said that several police detectives were regular customers at the two brothels run by Charly: the Hotel Louisiana and the Cabaret Pandemonium, both in Valparaiso.

Those detectives were allegedly protecting Charly’s operation, taking payment in the form of sessions with drugged girls.

Some of the girls also said they were taken to the police barracks to have sex with officers.

While the prostitution ring was eventually broken up by PDI officers from the Santiago division assigned to Valparaiso, Channel 13 said that neither police leadership nor prosecutors were willing to investigate the charges about cops’ collusion with Charly.

The television program prompted the Human Rights Committee in the lower house to summon Defense Minister Francisco Vidal, PDI director Arturo Herrera and Deputy Police Secretary Ricardo Navarrete to testify on the scandal.

On Monday, Deputy Interior Secretary Patricio Rosende said that given the “explosion of charges” which followed the Channel 13 expose, prosecutors had been asked to “get to the bottom of the matter, to exhaustively investigate and do it quickly.”

Why look abroad when we still have slavery in the US?


I have worked on human trafficking issued both in the US and abroad.  Clearly, my first run-in with the world of slavery and trafficking was as a Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova; however, domestic trafficking within the US and trafficking too the US are clearly on my radar.

When I studied trafficking in Chile, many people asked me why I focus on it in Chile when it is such a huge problem in the US.  Many others continued to give me a laundry list of other problems the US has.  I agree. They do. We do.  I have worked with victims in Missouri.  I have studied cases and case law from around the country.

And, today, I am sharing a piece by Nicolas Kristof on the plight of trafficked, prostituted, “thrown-away” girls in the US in the New York Times.

Op-Ed Columnist

Girls on Our Streets


Published: May 6, 2009

Jasmine Caldwell was 14 and selling sex on the streets when an opportunity arose to escape her pimp: an undercover policeman picked her up.

The cop could have rescued her from the pimp, who ran a string of 13 girls and took every cent they earned. If the cop had taken Jasmine to a shelter, she could have resumed her education and tried to put her life back in order.

Instead, the policeman showed her his handcuffs and threatened to send her to prison. Terrified, she cried and pleaded not to be jailed. Then, she said, he offered to release her in exchange for sex.

Afterward, the policeman returned her to the street. Then her pimp beat her up for failing to collect any money.

“That happens a lot,” said Jasmine, who is now 21. “The cops sometimes just want to blackmail you into having sex.”

I’ve often reported on sex trafficking in other countries, and that has made me curious about the situation here in the United States. Prostitution in America isn’t as brutal as it is in, say, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Cambodia and Malaysia (where young girls are routinely kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured by brothel owners, occasionally even killed). But the scene on American streets is still appalling — and it continues largely because neither the authorities nor society as a whole show much interest in 14-year-old girls pimped on the streets.

Americans tend to think of forced prostitution as the plight of Mexican or Asian women trafficked into the United States and locked up in brothels. Such trafficking is indeed a problem, but the far greater scandal and the worst violence involves American teenage girls.

If a middle-class white girl goes missing, radio stations broadcast amber alerts, and cable TV fills the air with “missing beauty” updates. But 13-year-old black or Latina girls from poor neighborhoods vanish all the time, and the pimps are among the few people who show any interest.

These domestic girls are often runaways or those called “throwaways” by social workers: teenagers who fight with their parents and are then kicked out of the home. These girls tend to be much younger than the women trafficked from abroad and, as best I can tell, are more likely to be controlled by force.

Pimps are not the business partners they purport to be. They typically take every penny the girls earn. They work the girls seven nights a week. They sometimes tattoo their girls the way ranchers brand their cattle, and they back up their business model with fists and threats.

“If you don’t earn enough money, you get beat,” said Jasmine, an African-American who has turned her life around with the help of Covenant House, an organization that works with children on the street. “If you say something you’re not supposed to, you get beat. If you stay too long with a customer, you get beat. And if you try to leave the pimp, you get beat.”

The business model of pimping is remarkably similar whether in Atlanta or Calcutta: take vulnerable, disposable girls whom nobody cares about, use a mix of “friendship,” humiliation, beatings, narcotics and threats to break the girls and induce 100 percent compliance, and then rent out their body parts.

It’s not solely violence that keeps the girls working for their pimps. Jasmine fled an abusive home at age 13, and she said she — like most girls — stayed with the pimp mostly because of his emotional manipulation. “I thought he loved me, so I wanted to be around him,” she said.

That’s common. Girls who are starved of self-esteem finally meet a man who showers them with gifts, drugs and dollops of affection. That, and a lack of alternatives, keeps them working for him — and if that isn’t enough, he shoves a gun in the girl’s mouth and threatens to kill her.

Solutions are complicated and involve broader efforts to overcome urban poverty, including improving schools and attempting to shore up the family structure. But a first step is to stop treating these teenagers as criminals and focusing instead on arresting the pimps and the customers — and the corrupt cops.

“The problem isn’t the girls in the streets; it’s the men in the pews,” notes Stephanie Davis, who has worked with Mayor Shirley Franklin to help coordinate a campaign to get teenage prostitutes off the streets.

Two amiable teenage prostitutes, working without a pimp for the “fast money,” told me that there will always be women and girls selling sex voluntarily. They’re probably right. But we can significantly reduce the number of 14-year-old girls who are terrorized by pimps and raped by many men seven nights a week. That’s doable, if it’s a national priority, if we’re willing to create the equivalent of a nationwide amber alert.

Shame on you Craigslist! (or NOT)


Craigslist is a great free service for buying, selling, and locating all types of things. You can rent an apartment; you can discuss your taxes. You can read the missed connections*. And, apparently, you can buy sex– sometimes from underage trafficked children.

The first time I heard about this was in 2006 in San Diego at the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Traumas Annual International Conference.  The second time was this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on March 6th.

At the conference on violence, abuse and trauma, I attended a session by the FBI’s office on online child pornography and trafficking. Our presenter taught us a lot about online predators of children, how they are bring tracked, and how the kids are being rescued.  Some of what they do includes facial recognition for missing and vulnerable children.  He showed us how in some cases they had found myspace pages for 14 year old girls and then correlated them to young 18 year olds being pimped online.  He also talked about how much cooperation it takes to do this kind of work (federal law enforcement, local law enforcement, internet companies, parents, watch groups, etc.).  I specifically remember him saying how quickly facebook responded to all requests for information and how quickly they took down inappropriate material when alerted.

The MJ Sentinel article talks about how a cook county sheriff “filed a federal lawsuit against the Web-based classified site Thursday, saying Craigslist promotes and facilitates prostitution on a massive scale.”

Yes, I think that it is horrible that people are being pimped on craigslist.  Obviously from my blog, I am very interested in ways to combat trafficking of people and prostitution of minors… still, I am not sure this is the way to go about it.  Craigslist is being used because it is there.  If it is taken down, they will simply move to a different website.  Perhaps the next one won’t be so quick to comply with requests.

I guess the point is that trafficking is a system.  Prostitution is a system.  You need to attack the entire system in order to break it down, not just a tangential medium.

*For those who don’t know missed connections, it is funny. It is a section to find people you missed and like. Recent postings in Milwaukee include:

White truck next to Saturn 7:20 AM – w4m – 34 (BP – Downtown Sussex)

I was the gal pumping gas on the same island when you emerged from your truck wearing a Dickies work coat and holding a huge cup of coffee. Pardon the look on my face, I never expected you to be so darn handsome!


We were both at Supercuts earlier this afternoon. You were wearing a uniform for an airline carrier. I had noticed your glances towards me and I am sure you had noticed me. I had overhead you telling your stylist that you will be leaving shortly for a flight. If by chance you do see this, would you be interested in meeting for coffee? Tell me what airline you work for or where you were flying to so that I know that it is you.


I feel strange posting this as I’ve never done anything like this before. I would never want to make you feel uncomfortable or cause any disruption for you but I just want you to know I think you are the coolest and most beautiful girl I’ve laid eyes on. I believe when you feel that way about someone you have to at least say something. Then again I can’t do that at work so here I am. What hint can I give you – well you drive a car which model begins with S. Take a chance and email me.

How one woman took lemons and is making really loud and life changing lemonade


I learned about Somaly Mam when I was living in Cambodia and working against human trafficking in the region. She is a local name and a local hero.  I can’t imagine what a person feels when they live through what she has survived. I often wonder how these children have the strength to persevere. But the fact that Somaly more than survived, that she grew up to be a savior for children in her position with the strength to speak out and stand up, is amazing.

New York Time columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote on Sept 24:

My Thursday column is about one of the bleakest aspects of global poverty, human trafficking, and about somebody who shows that it is not the hopeless cause people sometimes think it is. Somaly Mam runs a foundation in her name to fight trafficking and has just published a powerful autobiography that I highly recommend.

One of the things I’ve seen in development is that Western-designed efforts aren’t always as successful as they should be, while the best approach is to support local people who know the local terrain. That’s why it’s so wonderful to see people like Somaly providing leadership, with Westerners serving as Sherpas.

It is definitely worth it to check out Kristof’s interview with her.

Also, Mongkol, a Cambodian studying in the US, writes about how she made an appearance on the Tyra Banks show.  He includes the videos of the show and his own comments.

“Never forget: Justice is what Love looks like in public”


Please take two minutes and twenty two seconds to watch this trailer and educate yourself.

There are 27 million people living in slavery…some of them are in your backyard…

As a backyard abolitionist, we want to inform you of an opportunity coming to your city. As you may have heard, Not For Sale has been involved in the production of a new documentary film called Call and Response. Appropriately nicknamed a “rockumentary”, Call and Response features performances from today’s most talented musicians who have been inspired to respond to the human trafficking crisis, and we are inviting you to join the movement. The film will be premiering all across America throughout October; we have included a link to the locations, dates and times of screenings in your city.

In addition to the screenings, certain cities have organized candlelight vigils to precede the event; this includes San Francisco, Orange County, Washington D.C., and Minneapolis. If you would like to purchase tickets for these cities, please follow the appropriate link:

San Francisco:
Washington, D.C.
Orange County

For other locations, check out:

If you would like to host a vigil in any additional cities, feel free to contact us for more information.

We encourage you to invite your friends, family, coworkers, and anyone else you know to attend the screening. If they don’t know about human trafficking this film is a perfect introduction; if they do know, it’s a perfect way to show support for the cause.

Another good reason to invite your friends is that ticket sales will be directly benefiting Buddies Along the Roadside. Created by a remarkable Thai woman named Kru Nam, Buddies is a safe house for trafficked children strategically located in the Golden Triangle, a major hub in human trafficking industry. Ticket sales from Call and Response will provide important funding for this project.

You are needed in the fight against modern slavery.

Look for screenings in the following cities:


Reporting suspicions of possible missing child or child trafficking: Part II: How


This is a continuation of Reporting Suspicions of Possible Missing Child or Child Trafficking: Part I: My Story.

First of all, please get out your cell phones and program in the following numbers:

National Center for Missing And Exploited Children: 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678)

Human Trafficking Information and Referal Hotline: 1.888.3737.888

Non-emergency Police Number in Your Area: Sorry, can’t help you here… you will have to look this up

I hope that you never have to use these number for your own child or for anyone else… but if you do, often it is important to have the numbers immediately.

Also, if you feel something is wrong– trust your gut.  At worst, you could be wrong.  At best, you could save a life!  I wish I had done more in my case– I wish I had gotten someone to check the guy out and not called after the fact.  Don’t give yourself that type of doubt: call.

Here are some red flags that people can be aware of…

Common Work and Living Conditions
The Individual(s) in Question:

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous / paranoid behavior
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up “law enforcement”
  • Avoids eye contact

Poor Physical Health

  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)


  • Claims of “just visiting” and inability to clarify where he/she is staying / address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

Children in particular

  • Is sexually explicit or mature beyond age
  • Is seen being touched by adult in provocative manner
  • Is being promised things by adult
  • Does not seem to know the person(s) he/she is traveling with

If you see any of these red flags or have a “bad feeling” or “gut feeling”, call and make a report to the numbers above.

Reporting suspicions of possible missing child or child trafficking: Part I: My story


Last week I was in Chicago doing some sightseeing.  On the way up to the Sears Tower, I took notice of the group behind me and felt uncomfortable.  Something in my gut told me something was wrong.  The group consisted of: One adult white middle aged man, One Eastern European girl approximately 15 years old, One Asian girl approximately 6 years old.  For me, these were the red flags:

  • None of the people seemed to know each other very well.
  • The man asked the teenager if she had been in a tall building before and she responded that a man in Vegas took her up a tall building.
  • The man was promising the children he would take them on trips and buy them dinners.
  • During the 15 minute movie they showed, he had his arm around the little girl and was stoking the back of the teenagers neck.
  • The girls seemed uncomfortable.

So, here is the dilemma…. what do you do in this case?  I mean, there was nothing more than my gut that told me something was wrong.  To make matters worse, I had no cell reception at the top of the tower.  Sometimes I worry that I see too much into other people’s action because I work in the field of counter-trafficking and counter-child-prostitution, but S also said he felt like something was wrong.

In the end, I made sure that I had photos of each of them in case I was right. I also tried to listen in on conversations and to talk to the girl (admittedly, a small effort, because I just started chit-chatting about some souvenirs she was looking at– she responded and quickly moved away).  When we got down, I called the National Center for Missing Children to make a report.  They suggested that I also call the local Chicago Police.

Here is the first problem: I didn’t have the numbers in my cell phone and I wasn’t sure who to call (please see part II for how to report and please program these numbers into your cell phone).

Here is the second problem: The Chicago police I spoke with did not take me seriously; in fact, they yelled at me.  Since I am still frustrated by this part of my conversation, I am going to tell you about it.  I called the police (non-emergency number) after talking to 2 other national hot lines.  Needless to say, one hour had elapsed.  Here is how the conversation went.

Police Woman 1: Hello. Chicago police, how may I help you?

Me: Hi. I would like to report some suspicious activity between a man and two children at the Sears Tower.

Police Woman 1: Are you there now?

Me: No. It was about 5:30 pm.

Police Woman 1: Then why are you calling now?

Me: Because I already made a report to the National Center for Missing Children and they suggested I make a local report as well.

Police Woman 1: So, what do you want me to do?

Me: Make a report.

Police Woman 1: Okay, I will transfer you to a district one officer.

Police Woman 2: Hello.  How can I help you? (please note, no one had given me their name at this point)

Me: Hi. I would like to report some suspicious activity between a man and two children at the Sears Tower.

Police Woman 2: Are you there now?

Me: No. It was about 5:30 pm.

Police Woman 2: Then why are you calling now?

Me: Because I already made a report to the National Center for Missing Children and they suggested I make a local report as well.

Police Woman 2: Did you report this to a security guard?


Police Woman 2: Why not?

Me: Because it didn’t occur to me at the time and I don’t know what they could have done.

Police Woman 2: Did you call emergency?

Me: No. I had no signal.

Police Woman 2: Did you talk to the man?

Me: No.  (side note: talking to the man is NOT a good idea.  He could be dangerous)

Police Woman 2: So, what do you want me to do?

Me: Make a report.

Police Woman 2: Well, I don’t know what I would do with a report.

Me: You have a department dedicated to human trafficking and child victims of sexual abuse.

Police Woman 2: No, we don’t.

Me: Yes you do. You have a grant from the Department of Justice.

Police Woman 2: No we don’t.

Me: Yes you do, your police officers came to a training in St. Louis!

Police Woman 2: Fine, what do you want the report to say.

….. I described each person and what happened and what the red lights were. I gave the best description I could of each person down to eye color, nationality, things said (for example the older girl came from a country where money was different colors)…

Police Woman 2: How much did the man weigh would you say.

Me: I am bad at estimating, but my fiancee thinks he was about 100 kilos.

Police Woman 2: 100 what?

Me: Kilos. Kilograms.

Police Woman 2: 100 pounds?

Me: No. Kilos. Its a different unit of measurement… my fiancee is from Chile…. I am sure whoever reads the report can google the conversion rate.

Police Woman 2: Yea, I can’t do that. I am gonna leave it blank.

…. (more description)…

Police Woman 2:Do you want to add your phone number to this?

Me: Yes please, it is 414

Police Woman 2: (interrupting) I am sorry, I can’t take a non-local number.

Police Woman 2: Can I put you on hold.

(on hold for at least 5 minutes)…

Police Woman 2: I am going to transfer you to our special victims unit.

Me: Thank you.

Police Man 3: Hello. This is Detective So-and-so.

Me: Hello. Did they transfer over my report with this call?

Police Man 3: No. Don’t know what you are talking about.

Me: Okay. (Deep breath) I would like to report some suspicious activity between a man and two children at the Sears Tower.

Police Man 3:Oh, that is in district one, let me transfer you there.

Me: NO!!!! I have already talked to them… I would like to talk to a specialist in child victims or trafficking victims.

Police Man 3: Okay, what did you see?

Me: (entire story again)

Police Man 3: Well, we will get the report from District one on Monday.

Me: The woman taking the report refused to take some information including my phone.

Police Man 3: Do you want me to take your phone?

Me: Yes please, its is….

Police Man 3: Okay, someone will call you

I have to say— I am not holding my breath for a phone call. I told each policeman that the reason I was calling and not just leaving the report with the National center for missing and exploited children is that Sears Tower takes a picture of each group going up.  Sadly, no one was interested.

*** For the record, this is just me venting. It is not intended to dissuade people from calling and making reports.  It is amazing the number of victims who have been freed because a neighbor, a person in line, or a stranger felt that something was wrong and reported it.  I am sure this will not happen in my case, because i was not lucky enough to get someone on the other end who got what I was trying to say.  If nothing, this just reiterates the need for police training on issues of human trafficking and child prostitution***

Human Trafficking News from around the globe


Because this site has not had trafficking information recently and because I am too tired from all my site and friend seeing to write about it, today we will do a short run down of a few of the recent news stories on human trafficking:

  • From Canada Human Trafficking charges added to prior charges of child prostitution and pimping for Canadian couple.  More here.
  • According to the Times of Malta, human traffickers are more organized this year. This article looks a little at the trends and also highlights some recent tragedies. More here.
  • In Australia, legislation has been sent to parliment that would extend the current law that allows for prosecution for sex trafficking to include prosecution for labor trafficking as well.  More here.
  • IOM has started to work with Russian pop star Valeriya  as a goodwill ambassador to teach people about human trafficking. She says she is drawing on her past as a battered wife to help people break free. More here.
  • Ireland’s Department of Justice is planning a campaign on human trafficking for the country. Their main message is that it can happen anywhere. More here.
  • Bangladesh meeting underscores need for more concerted effort to confront human trafficking especially in rural areas. More here.
  • President of Nigeria pledges to fight human trafficking in his country. More here.
  • 20 young Filipino girls were rescued from human trafficking in the capitol of Manila.  This is a case of domestic trafficking. More here.
  • Belize police who were charged of human trafficking in February of 2007 had their case thrown out of court when police failed to produce a file.  The commissioner was so convinced of their guilt though that he had them re-arrested. More here.

Inside Africa


If you get CNN, it is really worth checking out Inside Africa this weekend.  They are doing a special on slavery and human trafficking.  Reports include the move from child beggars to adult prostitution, the woman who is suing her government (story below), and how modern day slavery works in Africa.