The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

AUGUST  2011






Human Trafficking is Target in Arizona; Problem is Growing
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With indentured-servitude cases, for example, authorities often don't know they have a trafficking case until the victim winds up in trouble somewhere else. Like everything smuggled through Arizona, indentured workers or sex slaves don't necessarily know either their final destinations or what lies ahead for them.

If stopped in Arizona, they might not identify themselves as victims of anything. It's only when they get where they're going and are pressed into service that they realize their predicament, said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona.

"All of a sudden, the person who is being smuggled doesn't become a trafficking victim until they get to Detroit or wherever," Allen said.

If victims do not recognize themselves as such, it is harder for police to identify and help them.

Amira Birger, 25, a former teen prostitute, never crossed paths with police in her two years in the sex trade. It took years before she recognized herself as a trafficking victim.

Her plight began at age 16 when a friend took Birger to a swingers club. A day later, she was taken to the apartment of a man they met at the club. Then she was shuffled to another home where she was forced to sleep behind a couch for two weeks without showering or changing clothes.

Birger said her way out from behind the couch was to have sex with men at her pimp's direction, and she moved on to perform sex acts in a massage parlor near 11th Street and Indian School Road.

"A year ago, if someone asked me if I was trafficked, I would have said, 'No,' because I really felt like I was a prostitute," she said. "Then I read one of the girls' stories (about a trafficking victim) and I was like, 'Whoa, that sounds like me.' "
Trafficking statistics

No one is sure how many victims like Birger there are. There are few hard numbers to prove what is now largely anecdotal.

Authorities conservatively estimate there are at least 100,000 teen sex-trafficking victims in the U.S. at any one time.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which annually handles more than 34,000 criminal cases, said only 36 were submitted for prosecution under Arizona's trafficking statutes between 2005 and 2011.

Allegations against a 20-year-old Phoenix man, Al Green IV, demonstrate the problem of relying on statistics to show the impact of trafficking. Phoenix police claim Green complimented a girl at a bus stop and convinced her to become his girlfriend - a common tool for traffickers to insert themselves into a victim's life.

Once in the relationship, Green threatened the girl's family and forced her into prostitution in Phoenix and California, according to police records. Green was arrested in October and charged with five felonies, including kidnapping and transporting a person for prostitution. While his case mirrored some of the worst-case scenarios cited by anti-trafficking advocates, Green was not charged under any of three state statutes designed to prosecute traffickers.

Green's case will never show up in trafficking statistics. And because cities and states identify and treat victims differently, the patchwork of crime classifications makes it impossible to crunch and compare statistics.

For such reasons, reliance on the few statistics available can be risky, said former U.S. Sen. Linda Smith of Washington, who founded Shared Hope International, which crusades for law enforcement to take a unified approach to sex-trafficking prosecutions.

Smith conceded the lack of meaningful data makes her campaign more difficult.

"If we had 100,000 slaves anywhere, we would be marching in the streets . . . if we really believed it," she said.

Awareness efforts

Police and prosecutors largely rely on non-governmental organizations to heighten public awareness and deal with the aftermath, particularly when the focus is victim rehabilitation.

Because sex trafficking has the highest public profile, its victims get the most attention from non-profit groups.

Girl Scouts' focus on education about trafficking is in line with curriculum focusing on other forms of domestic violence, said Barb Strachan, a Girl Scouts program manager. It falls at the end of a continuum of violence against women and girls that the Girl Scouts is committed to changing, she said.

"Most people look at sexual exploitation and prostitution as a choice. It's lack of choice," Strachan said. "By the time it gets to street-level prostitution, you're looking at a broken, beat-up woman with no soul. If we cannot reach them as children, it's even more difficult."

Anti-trafficking goal

Advocates increasingly focus on images of young girls being snatched from shopping malls and coerced into a sordid street life to jar a largely unsympathetic public into caring about the problem.

Stories like those clearly exist. But girls in Phoenix typically enter prostitution between 14 to 15 years old, and far more often victims have had troubled family lives as well, sometimes suffering abuse or dysfunction.

That does not diminish their status as victims, but it does reduce the public's sympathy, Smith noted, and gives perpetrators cover.

"Making her 'kind of a criminal' means he's not as culpable," she said.

The ultimate goal for anti-trafficking groups is to prompt a sea of change in public thinking. If they succeed, the men - fathers, soldiers, business executives - arrested in Phoenix last week during an underage-prostitution sting will be viewed not simply as johns, but as trafficking co-conspirators.

*Editor's Note - Human Trafficking can touch any community in the nation. Statistics on how it has affected Cleveland and Bradley County are sketchy at best. To read more about Human Trafficking in Tennessee, please follow this link
. If you wish to view the 2011 State Department Trafficking Report, it can be viewed here.