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.