Latino Immigrants, Foster Children at High Risk for Sex Trafficking

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Cara Kenefick
CTLatinoNews.com
Every year, thousands of women find themselves at the mercy of human-traffickers. Trapped, they are the puppets of their pimps who sell them to anyone willing to trade sex for cash. Connecticut in particular has seen a rise in human trafficking activity in recent years, which Latino immigrants and foster children are especially susceptible to.
Several bills have been proposed in the state legislature this session to curtail human trafficking, as well as crack down on traffickers, but time may be running out as the end of the session rapidly approaches on June, 5.
Two bills proposed by Sen. Martin Looney aim to help victims of human trafficking and implement harsher punishments for criminals who take advantage of those victims. One bill proposes to prohibit liquidating the money or property of accused traffickers before their conviction to freeze their assets, and then compensating victims from the proceeds of their assets forfeited after their conviction. The bill also proposes to require truck stops and places with liquor permits, such as bars and exotic dancing establishments, to post information on and phone numbers to state and federal anti-trafficking hotlines.
Looney’s other bill proposed a general statute amendment, which would allow fines imposed on victims for engaging in human trafficking to be remitted, as well as allowing the state to be able to bring public nuisance abatements against anyone who uses, owns, leases or maintains a property to engage in human trafficking.
There’s a higher level of public attention and awareness,” he said. “The good thing is there is more knowledge in order to deal with the problem, but at the same time it’s a bad thing because there is an alarming level of this type of thing going on.”
A “second chance act” proposed by Waterbury Rep. Jeffrey Berger would pardon victims who have been charged with prostitution as a result of being trafficked.
If the bills do not pass by the end of this session, the process will start over again and they will need to be reintroduced. “I’m hoping we can get something done by June,” Looney said.
Major human trafficking activity in Connecticut was brought to the forefront in 2008, when sex-trafficking ringleader Corey Davis was sentenced in Bridgeport, Conn., for his involvement in the exploitation of up to 20 women, some of whom were minors, according to FBI records. The victims were lured into prostitution under the false promises of modeling contracts and high-class living, the report said, but instead were forced into dancing at strip clubs around the tri-state area.
Davis allegedly isolated and controlled his victims through physical force, all while cashing in on the sex acts they were forced to perform. He plead guilty to several sex-trafficking charges and admitted to recruiting minors for prostitution.
According to Alicia Kinsman, of the Connecticut Coalition Against Trafficking (CTCAT), human traffickers exploit the most vulnerable of individuals, including immigrants who have come to the United States in fear of violence and exploitation in their home country, and foster children. Immigrants are especially unfamiliar with American law enforcement and their rights, thus putting them in a perfect situation to be exploited, she said.
She said she has seen several clients from Central and South America use CTCAT’s services as victims of human trafficking.
It’s important for individuals to know their rights,” she said. “No matter what your immigration status, no one has the right to exploit you.”
CTACT offered services to 30 victims last year, and the number has grown every year since its inception in 2006. Kinsman said that CTACT has already screened 11 potential victims as of the end of April and positively identified five. She expects to work with at least 30 survivors by the end of this year.
Kinsman said current legislation proposed on the state level has bolstered awareness on the issue and the plight of the victims.
While Kinsman said she did not think the bills will eradicate human trafficking completely, she said any legislation that takes the incentive away from the crime and makes it less profitable is a step in the right direction.
Since 2008, the Department of Child and Families estimate 100 children have been victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. Of them, 98 percent were involved in child welfare services.
Findings from the Chronicle of Social Change revealed that Hispanic children make up more than 20 percent of foster children in the United States, a figure that has swelled in the past two decades.
Research showed that in 1990, eight percent of foster children were Latino. In 2010, that number had more than doubled, at 21 percent.
Last week, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Co-Chair of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, held a Congressional forum focused on how foster children are especially vulnerable to sex traffickers.
During the forum, Blumenthal stressed the importance of remembering that human trafficking is not just an international issue, but a national epidemic. According to release he said, “A comprehensive and dedicated effort is required to meet the needs of our nation’s most vulnerable youth and we need to ensure there is effective coordination among all of the systems designed to serve the needs of these children.”
Bass called the amount of foster youth involved in child trafficking “truly alarming”.
. . . It’s time for a wake-up call to combat this problem,” she said in the release. “If we continue to think of child trafficking as only a problem abroad, we do so at the expense of thousands of children within our own borders who are at risk of becoming trafficking victims . . .”
(Photo by Ira Gelb via Flickr)

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