Posts Tagged: Human Trafficking

Learning About the Realities of Human Trafficking

A lot of the events our Sections put on at 16 Beacon are truly eye-opening, and this week’s presentation on The Realities of Human Trafficking in Massachusetts—sponsored by the Delivery of Legal Services Section and the Boston Bar Foundation, and featuring panelists from the Polaris Project—falls into that category.

The program was hosted by Lavinia Weizel of Mintz Levin, co-chair of the BBA’s Human Trafficking Committee.  You may recall reading about Lavinia—and her co-chair (and Mintz colleague) Alec Zadekin our Issue Spot blog recently, in connection with their efforts to create a streamlined process to allow defendants to vacate convictions for offenses related to their status as trafficking survivors—a proposal the BBA Council recently endorsed.  While that issue was raised during the event, the broader focus was on the various forms of sex- and labor-trafficking that are most common in Massachusetts and specific ways that attorneys can be part of the safety net for survivors.

Our first presenter was Beth Keeley, Chief of the Human Trafficking Division in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and former head of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bureau.  She started with some recent history on the issue, dating back to the enactment in 2000 of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which strengthened pre-existing laws.

While Massachusetts was “late to the game,” passing a state law only in 2011, Keeley argued that it’s a particularly strong law, in that—with no requirement to prove force, fraud, or coercion— it’s easier to make a case.  She also said that our statute, unlike many others, puts the focus on the trafficker/exploiter’s mens rea, rather than on the mind of the victim.

The key to enforcement, Keeley stated, is to follow a multi-disciplinary approach, with prosecutors, investigators, and victim-witness advocates all on staff at AGO, working with the State Police’s dedicated trafficking unit, the District Attorneys (many of whom also have dedicated prosecutors focusing on the problem), and social-service agencies.  Her office is able to use its statewide jurisdiction to pursue defendants across counties, treating their operations as criminal enterprises in order to maximize the impact by identifying and taking down networks.

To date, AGO has mostly gone after sex-trafficking, but they are building up their enforcement in labor-trafficking.  While the former is found most often in massage parlors, brothels, and the Web, the latter shows up in construction, domestic and cleaning work, and the service sector in general.  Still, one always needs to be mindful, in any enforcement action, of the concerns of victims.  They frequently suffer from poverty, abuse, and addiction—all factors that make people vulnerable to traffickers in the first place.  And—although the law provides them with an affirmative defense, and prosecutors, starting with AG Maura Healey, have pledged not to do so—they may be fearful of being prosecuted themselves for offenses they committed, such as sex for a fee or working without documentation.

At the same time, advocates are always striving to raise public awareness of the problem, including the role that demand plays, and exploring what else can be done beyond prosecution—educating law enforcement, holding trainings, working with labor leaders, providing pro bono representation, and advocating for enhanced funding.

We next heard from Rochelle Keyhan, who leads the Polaris Project’s strategic initiative to eliminate illicit massage business (IMB) trafficking in the US, and Francheska Loza, formerly of Foley Hoag LLP and now Polaris’s Disruption Strategies Community Organizer.  Keyhan talked more about the patterns she sees, and the 25 different types of trafficking that Polaris has identified—all of which call for distinct responses.  In the IMB sector, for example, victims tend to be older women from outside the country, often undocumented—especially from China and Korea, cultures where these activities trigger high levels of shame and self-blame, making it even more difficult to come forward to law enforcement.  They frequently fear authorities, carry high debts, lack full awareness of their rights, and are under threat from their abusers.

Two other common loci are bars and strip clubs, where an excessive cover charge may be hiding the illegal activities.  Victims there tend to be younger and come from Latin America—or US-born Latinas.  As with workers in IMB, they are usually targeted based on extreme economic need, and the networks frequently have roots in Latin America.

Labor trafficking can be found in such venues as karaoke bars and nail salons.  These cases, which are often interconnected with sex trafficking, can be easier to prosecute because victims are more willing to come forward and to reveal details to investigators.

Polaris’s disruption strategy, a focus of Loza’s work, includes research, creation of a safety net for survivors, partnership with other stakeholders, and the use of culturally-competent and trauma-informed interpreters.  It’s also critical to try to find connections among survivors, for purposes of identifying networks, since trafficking operations are generally much more sophisticated than a typical pimp’s.

The methods of control used by traffickers, which are important for people to be aware of in identifying possible operations, include:

  • isolation and confinement
  • economic coercion
  • threats directed at the victim or their family
  • intimidation and abuse, including sexual/emotional abuse

So.  Armed with all this information, what can you do to help crack down on trafficking?  Some advice from our panel:

  • Buy smarter.
    • Be suspicious of cash-only businesses, very low prices for services, or when a provider is adamant about getting a large tip.
      • Victims may be receiving little or no base compensation, making it an urgent matter that they maximize the income they generate through tips.
    • Other red flags include…
      • Excessive surveillance cameras.
      • “Body work” establishments. Massage therapists must be licensed, but using this term is a way around regulation.
    • Read online reviews:
      • Many users are up-front in describing the illegal services they’ve bought.
    • Alert someone.
      • Call the property owner, the police, municipal officials, or the Polaris hotline.
    • Call your elected representatives about making the issue a priority.
      • While you’re at it, you can ask your state legislators to support vacatur for survivors.
      • At the local level, ask about strengthening ordinances, since some cities and towns lack the authority to shut down or even investigate a business
    • Take on cases pro bono.
      • Again, you may be able to help with vacatur: Even absent the BBA-endorsed streamlined approach now under consideration in the Legislature, there exists a procedure (albeit lengthy and convoluted) to vacate convictions if the defendant was under the duress of a trafficker.

Finally, watch our Issue Spot blog for updates on the progress of vacatur legislation, and keep an eye on the BBA calendar for more events on human trafficking.

—Michael Avitzur
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association

Beth Keeley (Chief of the Human Trafficking Division at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, far right) makes opening remarks at the event. She’s joined on the panel by Lavinia Weizel (Mintz Levin, BBA Human Trafficking Subcommittee Co-Chair, far left), Rochelle Keyhan and Francesca Loza (Polaris Project).

CEASE Network Combats Human Trafficking in Boston

Last week, representatives from Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) – Boston spoke to attorneys on the prevalence of human trafficking in Boston. As a topic not widely discussed, it’s easy to assume human trafficking does not happen in our city. However, 14 is the average age of young women in Boston entering the sex trade and over 20,000 ads for paid sex are posted monthly in Boston alone. Lieutenant Donna Gavin (Boston Police Department) and Dhakir Warren (Demand Abolition) belong to the CEASE Network and presented these statistics along with their approach to combat demand. Through “buyer beware” campaigns, they hope to dissuade buyers, primarily older, married men with expendable income, from searching for and purchasing sex online.  Warren noted that when one sex trafficker is arrested, four more will pop up to take over the lucrative business. By curbing demand, CEASE hopes to halt the business altogether.

A recent Boston Globe article quotes Lieutenant Gavin and features a young woman whose story is like so many of those who are swept into the sex trade. For a glimpse of what’s happening in Boston, read the article here.

If you were unable to attend the program at the BBA and would like to view a video recording, please email Cassandra Shavney at [email protected].

Attend an Upcoming Public Service Program at the BBA!

Start your new year by attending one of the BBA’s upcoming public service programs. From pro bono trainings to informational brown bags, there’s sure to be a program that interests you. Take a look below!

No Buyers, No Business. Combatting Human Trafficking by Targeting the Demand
Monday, January 23, 2017, 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM
At this program, you’ll learn the role of demand reduction in combatting commercial sexual exploitation, the scope of the issue of commercial exploitation in Boston, local efforts deployed by CEASE Boston to combat demand, and the role prosecutorial innovation can play in support of efforts to increase the consequential penalties for the purchase of illegal commercial sex by buyers.

Pro Bono Training: How to Prepare a Bankruptcy
Tuesday, January 31, 2017, 3:30 PM to 7:00 PM

This training will inform attendees how to take on pro bono bankruptcy cases and represent pro bono debtors.

Pro Bono Training: Representing Debtors in Small Claims Court
Thursday, February 9, 2017, 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM

The panelists will discuss the launch of the Lawyer for the Day Fair Debt Collection Clinic in Small Claims Court at the Boston Municipal Court Central Division and how attorneys can volunteer at the clinic.

Addressing Human Trafficking in Massachusetts

Recent comments by Attorney General Maura Healey on Boston Public Radio demonstrate the extent of human trafficking in the Commonwealth. Often unseen, the AG’s Office reports that 1 in 5 men in the state have tried buying sex online. Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) Boston, a network of organizations devoted to ending human trafficking, is trying to stop the demand by targeting buyers. Through their strategy, they hope to hold sex buyers accountable and provide educational insight into the additional effects of human trafficking. On Monday, January 23rd at 12:30 PM, the BBA will host a program with speakers from CEASE Boston to further discuss the program’s objectives and strategies. We hope you’ll join us to hear more on this pervasive issue.

Click here to read more on the reports from the AG’s Office. To RSVP for the BBA program, No Buyers, No Business. Combatting Human Trafficking by Targeting the Demand, please click here or email Cassandra Shavney at [email protected].

BBA to Welcome Prominent Human Trafficking Speakers in September

Photo courtesy of U.S. State Department

Photo courtesy of U.S. State Department

The bottom line is that this is no time for complacency. Right now, across the globe, victims of human trafficking are daring to imagine the possibility of escape, the chance for a life without fear, and the opportunity to earn a living wageWe hear you, and we will do all we can to make that dream come true.”      – John F. Kerry, Secretary of State

On Monday the U.S. State Department released its annual Trafficking on Persons Report, which ranks 188 countries on their efforts to combat trafficking.  The report aims to assist international organizations, foreign governments, and nongovernmental organizations to examine where resources are most needed.

Want to know what you can do to help? In an effort to raise awareness about this important issue and to prepare attorneys to assist victims of trafficking, the BBA is holding a training on Wednesday, September 30th from 4-6 pm called “Justice for Trafficking Victims: Civil Litigation, Vacatur, Criminal Restitution and the Pro Bono Bar.”

We are honored to host Martina Vandenberg, the President and Founder of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center in Washington, DC. She will join local expert, Julie Dahlstrom, a Clinical Legal Fellow at the Boston University School of Law Human Trafficking Clinic, for this much anticipated program.

Don’t miss this important and compelling program. Click here to learn more.

BBA Launches Subcommittee to Improve Delivery of Legal Services to Human Trafficking

Last June lawyers filled the BBA's conference center to learn about human trafficking. In an effort to continue the conversation, the BBA has created a new Human Trafficking Subcommittee.

Last June, lawyers filled the BBA’s conference center to learn about human trafficking. In an effort to continue the conversation, the BBA has created a new Human Trafficking Subcommittee.

Did you know that January has been proclaimed National Human Trafficking Awareness Month?  In acknowledgement of that, we’re calling your attention to a new BBA subcommittee launched this month with an overarching mission of assessing and improving the delivery of legal services to victims of human trafficking in the Greater Boston region.  Over the next few months the subcommittee will work on establishing goals and prioritizing projects, with a specific focus on working in collaboration with, and support of the myriad other efforts in the field.

So why the new subcommittee? As our readers might remember, we published a post last June about the successful Human Trafficking Symposium hosted by the BBA’s Public Interest Leadership Program. That event, “Human Trafficking: A Call to Action,”  drew a crowd of over 125 professionals to the BBA headquarters where speakers gave a snapshot of the legal, law enforcement, and community-based work being done to combat the crime within the Commonwealth.

The BBA has continued to explore issues surrounding human trafficking in the time since the success of Symposium and strongly believes the BBA, and its qualified and focused Human Trafficking Committee are uniquely positioned to impact the delivery of legal services to human trafficking victims.

Alec Zadek and Erin Albright have been selected to lead the committee as Co-Chairs. Alec is an associate at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky, and Popeo, P.C., where he represents victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking through Mintz Levin’s various pro bono initiatives.  Erin is the Anti-Trafficking Coordinator at the International Institute of New England and the Regional Program Director for the private operating foundation Give Way to Freedom.  Her work focuses on coordinating a network of service providers to provide comprehensive services to survivors of trafficking, and working with multidisciplinary teams to improve collaboration.

Stay tuned to Beyond the Billable for information on how you can be involved in supporting survivors of human trafficking.