Working collaboratively to end human trafficking

Both the National Association of Women Judges and the American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence have worked for many years to address what is referred to as “modern day” slavery – human trafficking. Recently the American Bar Association’s Judicial Division (JD) established a Task Force on Domestic and Sexual violence and Human Trafficking. The JD Task Force, among other things, will work on the issue of reentry of victims including the expungement of records related to their victimization and the creation of a tool kit for judges. Now these three entities are working together to address human trafficking.

This collaborative effort seeks to combine the work each entity has been doing. The NAWJ’s Human Trafficking Committee’s work has included a human trafficking survey, a survey regarding collaborative specialized courts, and communication from United Against Slavery (UAS) regarding its work on human trafficking. UAS provides a global platform to bridge the gap among anti-trafficking stakeholders to collaboratively address challenges affecting efforts to combat human trafficking. UAS is collecting data on behalf of stakeholder groups to raise money for an endowment fund for providing resources for shelters around the globe, collecting data from more than 23 stakeholder groups for its upcoming National Outreach Survey, including Judges, Attorneys, Law Enforcement, Survivors, and Former Foster Youth. There is a difference in the level of care that can retraumatize survivors and it is important to hear from all of those contributing to or impacted by those situations, including successes and failures.

Fourteen congressional members are waiting for the data to be released. Of particular interest to the UAS are the challenges being faced in the courtroom. For prosecution and law enforcement, unlike most crime categories, victims of HT do not identify themselves as victims. If they are in a judge’s courtroom for juvenile or family or criminal matters, judges may not know if they are victims. Legal practitioners have to be trained detectors of victimization. When there is a case for expungement, practitioners must be trained as professionals to deal with trauma victims, especially because they may present as not sympathetic. Once they are detected there needs to be a follow up. With respect to services, if a victim is acting out or running away, it is difficult to provide the right services.

United Against Slavery will be releasing a Governors' report on human trafficking, which covers all 50 states.

Here is a summary of a case UAS shared. Olivia finally got her day in court, after waiting three years for her social security to be approved. She was homeless at times during this lapse in time. She sat with her attorney in the courtroom, March 8, 2019, to speak with the judge about her SSI. She had to provide her employment for a long time period and the judge had been made aware that she was an adult trafficking victim for 11 years.

The judge had a vocational expert on the phone who referenced DOT (Dictionary of Occupational Titles) and provided his expert opinion on various hypothetical scenarios in which Olivia could/could not work. The judge started going through her employment records and they assigned a monetary value to what she earned in those jobs. He came to her 11 years as a trafficking victim and he asked her questions about how much she made, either $1,000 a month, a week, or how much did she make. Olivia responded, "Judge it doesn't work that way." The judge kept pressing her to find out how much she made during her "employment" as an escort. "Sir, I wasn't employed. If I looked the wrong way, I was beat up." The judge asked the vocational expert to search the DOT for escort so he could estimate the money Olivia made in her employment as an escort, while being sex trafficked. Olivia was noticeably taken back as the judge wouldn't listen to her as he continued to press her for how much she made as a trafficking victim. "Sir, I don't call spreading your legs, employment." In the end, the vocational expert found the DOT Code for Escort.

In Olivia's words, "I’m so upset. The judge literally was trying to put a dollar value on my SLAVERY. Last time I checked, that was real similar to pimping. It’s like ‘so you were being exploited, but how much did you benefit when you were exploited?’”

As UAS noted, there is a difference in a judge determining fair wages for a trafficking survivor when determining a civil case versus determining SSI.

As UAS stated, “Quality data fuels resources and funding. It's time to equip and empower stakeholders with the tools they need to work effectively and pursue policy changes to enforce those changes.”

There was some recent good news for survivors: the case of Cyntoia Brown who was serving a life sentence for the murder of a Nashville man in 2004. According to Brown, after a childhood marked by abuse and drugs, she was raped and forced into prostitution by a pimp, and ended up killing one of her rapists out of self-defense when she was just 16 years old. Despite her youth, she was tried as an adult and given a life sentence. The details of her crime and trial—including the fact that the man who had paid for sex with her was 43 years old, started circulating, catching the attention of A-list celebrities. However, even before the renewed interest, her trial inspired a documentary and was a factor in a major change in how the state of Tennessee deals with child prostitution cases. After 15 years in prison the Tennessee Governor commuted Brown’s sentence and she will be released in August.

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June 2019Volume 24Number 5PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)