Human trafficking survivors are often convicted of the various crimes that their traffickers force them to commit during their enslavement. The resulting criminal records present on-going barriers to independence and healing as survivors struggle to obtain employment, and free themselves from the stigma and embarrassment of a criminal record. This issue led to the passage of the New York State Vacating Convictions Law in 2010 – the first of its kind in the United States – stating that if one can successfully connect a survivor’s crimes to their experience with trafficking, a motion can be filed to vacate such Following the passage of this legislation, 23 states have passed similar laws.
Human Trafficking Advocacy from The International Institute of Buffalo
The International Institute of Buffalo (IIB) Survivor Support Services Director Amy Fleischauer has been at the forefront of this issue in Western New York – helping to provide long-term support for survivors in, or locating to, the region. In August 2016, Fleischauer’s staff supported a client while a legal team successfully filed a motion to vacate a prostitution-related crime from the survivor’s record. This was the first case of its kind in Buffalo and a huge step forward for trafficking survivors in the area. The team, including University at Buffalo Law School Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic, Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo (LABB) and the Legal Aid Society in New York City, worked diligently to submit an exemplary motion given its precedent-setting status. IIB has identified at least 15 other survivors who may benefit from post-conviction relief, aiming to grow legal partnerships to have similar motions filed on their behalf.
“We discuss this process with survivors from the very beginning and make sure they know that IIB will be supporting them for the long-haul, not just a few days,” explained Fleischauer.
Though vacatur laws have the potential to help many survivors, there are several challenges within the process. Fleischauer explains that some survivors are reticent to engage in this process and utilize this service. After years of involvement with the criminal justice system, as a witness against their trafficker or defendant based on being arrested on trafficking-related crimes, survivors are fatigued, traumatized and cautious of engaging with the justice system again. For most, , this would entails reliving the trauma of their victimization, Fleischauer explains that due to survivors’ skepticism of the service, many do not believe that successfully vacating a long list of convictions is even a possibility. In response, IIB and their legal partners provide intense education around the legislation and the process.
This service also presents the challenge of acquiring a probono or public interest legal team. Attorneys are identified based on their interest, resources, capacity, and preparedness for a time-consuming and sensitive process. Fleischauer explains that the Legal Aid Society in New York City continues to educate local attorneys on this legislation, pinpointing those who are able to take on these challenging, yet life-changing cases across the state and throughout the country.
Despite common challenges, IIB is committed to continue supporting survivors through this process. Fleischauer notes that survivors are enduring the fight for their independence and this legislation is changing that battle drastically. “We’re focused and committed to the persistence of evaluating survivors’ long-term needs. We continue to be proactive and constantly assess our clients for safety and stability,” she said.
On June 30, as part of the US Government’s ongoing efforts to combat human trafficking, the US State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. The Report is an important barometer that provides global insights and evaluates countries’ efforts to combat human trafficking in terms of protection, prevention, prosecution, and partnerships.
The 2016 report cites several victories that show great improvement in the US approach to human trafficking. The government enhanced outreach and training programs, increased engagement with survivors, and bolstered policies on human trafficking. One example is the enactment of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, which eliminated an exception of allowing imports into the US of goods produced by forced labor. The report also noted that adult survivors of human trafficking are no longer required to cooperate with law enforcement, as forced collaboration could be negative and detrimental to their development progress. As of March 2016, adult survivors can now choose when or if they work with law enforcement.
Despite the year’s numerous successes, many areas still need improvement. Report findings indicate that the US Government disproportionately focuses on sex trafficking cases – with prosecution of labor trafficking cases decreasing from eight percent in 2014 to two percent in 2015. This is symptomatic of a broader issue where the focus on sex trafficking far exceeds that on labor trafficking. Freedom Network USA aims to change this, advocating that all survivors of human trafficking deserve justice.
The report also cites the low utilization of Continued Presence (CP) for human trafficking survivors. This form of immigration relief gives foreign national survivors benefits and temporary status to live and work legally in the US while the trafficking investigation or prosecution proceeds. This was implemented to bridge the gap for survivors who leave a trafficking situation and apply for immigration support, such as a T-Visa. Freedom Network USA will continue to advocate for more oversight and consistent implementation efforts.
Overall, the TIP Report is an important window into global progress and setbacks in eradicating human trafficking. Freedom Network USA Policy Committee Co-Chair Erin Albright explains that Freedom Network USA can tailor its advocacy efforts to specific agencies and move forward on working towards enhancing problem areas from the TIP Report. “It provides a good springboard for our advocacy efforts because it highlights what has been done over the year, as well as what areas need work,” she said. The Freedom Network USA has submitted a brief written response to the State Department, which can be accessed here.
To learn more, contact Freedom Network USA National Coordinator Melinda Smith at email@example.com
With a successful career dedicated to ending human trafficking, Susan French is an advocate for strategic victim-centered prosecutions. French is a human trafficking civil attorney and expert, formerly a federal prosecutor for 14 years with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). During the early 2000s, she worked as a prosecutor in the United States v. Kil Soo Lee – the largest human trafficking case ever prosecuted by the DOJ. Now, 15 years later, individuals who worked on this case and survivors reunited in Hawaii to commemorate their escape from their oppressive situation. This massive undertaking changed how human trafficking is addressed in the U.S. The following is a recap of the landmark case and French’s involvement.
United States v. Kil Soo Lee
Beginning in late 1998 in American Samoa, former owner of the Daewoosa garment factory, Kil Soo Lee, was recruiting workers from China and Vietnam to pay between $3500-$7000 in exchange for employment. Approximately 250 employees were hired to work in poor conditions with minimal pay and food. In the following months, the laborers worked long hours and were subjected by Lee to countless acts of abuse, confiscation of their documents, and actual restraint in the factory compound where they lived and worked. On November 28, 2000, the oppressive exploitation culminated with Lee directing the Samoan factory workers to beat the Vietnamese and Chinese workers stating that if anyone died “no problem.” A 20 year old Vietnamese woman was beaten so badly that she lost an eye. The High Court of American Samoa removed Lee from the factory in November 2000, yet the workers remained with no money or means to leave. The DOJ soon interceded, prompting French and her team to travel to American Samoa to facilitate emergency services for the victims and to set up an exit plan.
French describes the early stages of the investigation as challenging and extremely demanding. With no money to transport the victims off the island, she and DOJ prosecutors coordinated with U.S.-based nonprofits and Vietnamese churches that provided plane tickets and sponsors for victims. Of the 250 victims, 206 were provided immigration relief and sponsors in the U.S. This included 16 who had been deported to Vietnam as a result of Lee’s actions but brought back to the U.S. for trial and provided immigration relief and allowed to stay. FBI agents and the federal prosecution team traveled around the U.S. to conduct full interviews with the 206 survivors. Approximately 16 testified at the federal jury trial in Honolulu.
The case lasted nearly two years, including a four-month jury trial . Lee was charged with compelling the work and services of approximately 250 Vietnamese and Chinese garment workers through threats of force and the actual use of force under the involuntary servitude statute in addition to multiple other criminal violations.. In 2003, Lee was found guilty on most all counts and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Two co-conspirators pled guilty, cooperated, and also served time.
French expressed that the case did not end with the verdict. This investigation put the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 to the test. The legislation criminalized human trafficking in the U.S. and is dedicated to restitution, covering unpaid wages, value of work provided and medical costs. French, along with the DOJ and agents working on this investigation, continued to reach out to survivors – doing everything in their power to ensure they had the resources enabling them to move on.
Susan participated in the reunion last week and reported, “The reunion was a celebration. I loved that although some of the Hawaii organizers said dress casually, everyone was dressed up. I believe the reason is we want to present at our best for our friends. That is how I see this group – proud, dignified, speakers of the truth who knew they were being wronged and decided to speak up. When they tell me thank you for all you have done and all that you have made possible for me and my children, I simply say it is you who honor me and those who have known you because you each have made change possible in your own lives.”
For more information on victim-centered prosecutions, read Susan’s article in the most recent publication of the Anti-Trafficking Review.
The Freedom Network USA is offering a practical 4-part training and technical assistance series to case managers and social workers working with trafficking survivors. The series will provide an overview of trauma-informed care and explore areas for implementation throughout the service delivery cycle.
Trauma-informed services are those in which every aspect of direct service delivery, as well as the formal organizational policies and informal organizational practices that affect that direct work, are influenced by an understanding of the impact that past and current trauma has on a client’s experience of services. It follows that a client’s approach to services significantly influences their investment in, commitment to, and goals achieved throughout service delivery.
This webinar is made possible by OVC TTAC. More information on the schedule, presenters and individual session topics can be found here.
Through its direct counseling services and promotion of social change and community education, My Sisters’ Place (MSP) is a leading advocate for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking in Westchester County, New York. In 1976, the organization formed around grassroots efforts to raise awareness and prevent intimate partner violence. Today, MSP’s mission is to engage each member of society in our work to end domestic violence and human trafficking, so that all relationships can embrace the principles of respect, equality, and peacefulness.
After New York State passed anti-trafficking legislation in 2007, MSP received funding as the designated provider of human trafficking services to survivors in Westchester County. Rebecca de Simone, director of the human trafficking program, describes the program as a collaborative effort involving comprehensive case management, counseling and legal assistance. MSP is fortunate to have an in-house legal services department which works with clients to pursue immigration relief and provide referrals for civil matters.
Securing housing for clients is difficult for many service providers engaged in anti-trafficking efforts. To help meet this need, MSP provides emergency housing for clients and their families for up to 180 days. While in shelter, clients can continue to access MSP’s advocacy, counseling and legal services and be linked to outside providers to help meet their individual needs. When clients are ready to exit shelter, counselors provide support during and after their transition into the community.
A recent trafficking case exemplifies the critical impact of MSP’s services. A diplomat brought a client from her home country to the US – forcing her to cook and clean for up to 20 hours a day with no breaks, wages or access to sufficient food. Following months of mental and physical abuse, the woman contacted MSP, who then worked with their law enforcement partners to relocate her to an emergency shelter. During her time in shelter, the client received counseling and medical assistance, while setting her own goals with the support of her case manager. The client was also able, with the help of her case manager, to obtain transitional housing in New York City. In addition, she has recently received a T visa, and continues to receive counseling and support service from MSP.
Looking to the future, MSP plans to work with a range of partners – specifically immigration groups – to expand the organization’s referral procedures. Ms. de Simone states that MSP wants to build upon the ongoing actions of other organizations, and ultimately work together to achieve the common goal of ending human trafficking and domestic violence. Freedom Network USA is proud to support the work of MSP and grateful for their contributions.
For more information on My Sisters’ Place, contact Rebecca (Becca) de Simone at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As first discussed in May, global human rights organization Amnesty International has released a policy in response to the high rates of human rights abuses experienced globally by sex workers. Based on two years of in-depth research, the policy calls on states to decriminalize consensual sex work and recommends actions that will best protect human rights for all. The full report can be accessed here.
This bold policy statement is both timely and significant. Sex workers are at a high risk of human rights abuses around the world – including rape, violence, extortion, discrimination, and trafficking. Amnesty has concluded that states must take action to address harmful stereotypes that drive marginalization and exclusion, repeal and refocus existing laws that compromise human rights, and ensure that sex workers have equal access to justice, health care, and other public services, with equal protection under the law.
An important thread through this policy is Amnesty’s willingness to be transparent and public in its position. Kate D’Adamo, national policy advocate at the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center, noted that more organizations like Amnesty should speak out. “Taking a public stance is incredibly important,” she said. “If every country in the world became decriminalized tomorrow, that’s a step. But it also needs to be hand-in-hand with a larger conversation about how we talk about the sex trade.”
The policy also brings to the forefront the critical distinction – and ongoing debate – between legalization and decriminalization. Whereas legalization of sex work includes a government’s structure for licensing and regulation of the industry, leaving sex workers limited in where, when and how they work decriminalization simply removes all criminal penalties for sex workers and their consensual customers. Currently, New Zealand is the only country to implement decriminalization. Throughout the United States, in contrast, criminalization of all parties is the norm. Amnesty does not necessarily oppose legalization, but instead advocates that governments must ensure that the system respects the human rights of sex workers and identifies examples of ongoing human rights abuses against sex workers within localities that have implemented legalization. Importantly, Amnesty clearly states that decriminalizing consensual sex work can and should include robust criminal penalties for sex trafficking.
Freedom Network USA Executive Director Jean Bruggeman adds that decriminalization frees up resources for people who need service, support and options. “By criminalizing the actions of sex workers, we make it harder for them to find other sources of income,” she said. “This also allocates money to the criminal justice system which could instead be providing sex workers and trafficking victims the services and support they need to expand their options for housing, employment and education.”
Freedom Network USA salutes Amnesty International’s policy and report release, and stands in support of the decriminalization of consensual sex work. Amnesty’s research across the globe reflects our experience with trafficking victims here in the US. We are committed to pursuing policy choices that provide everyone with a path to justice, safety, and opportunity.
To learn more, contact National Coordinator Melinda Smith at email@example.com.
Every January the Department of State requests feedback from stakeholders in the anti-trafficking field to prepare its annual Trafficking in Persons Report. As a coalition of direct-service providers, Freedom Network USA members are uniquely situated to advocate for policies that affects survivors directly. In preparation of the official report this summer, we are reviewing the tenants of the feedback we provided. Themes included
- Increasing restitution and vacatur provisions within the law and policies
- Gaps in the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA)
- Improving services for vulnerable populations
- Misconceptions about human trafficking in the US
- Increasing collaborations with law enforcement – including issuing contiunued presence
You can find the entire statement here – 2016 FN TIP Comments
Freedom Network USA released a statement today in support of Amnesty International’s recent call on states to develop policies to decriminalize consensual sex work. The Freedom Network USA believes that decriminalization would protect the rights and safety of all sex workers, including those being trafficked into the sex trade. Our statement can be accessed here.
“It is critical that we bring consensual sex workers out of the margins, providing the services, support, options and protection needed by all workers. It is only when consensual sex work is safe that victims of sex trafficking can be more quickly identified and supported,” stated Freedom Network USA’s Executive Director, Jean Bruggeman.
The policy recommendation is accompanied by data collected over a two year period from those working in the sex-trade, community organizations, victim service organizations and other stakeholders from various regions across the globe. You can read Amnesty International’s findings and find out more about their policy recommendations on their website.
The Freedom Network USA released their 2016 Member Report earlier this month in conjunction the 14th Annual Freedom Network USA Conference in Chicago. The report documents services provided to human trafficking survivors across the United States by our organizational members from 2013-2014.
Members provided demographic information on the 2332 total approximate clients
served by their organizations during the two-year period. The report includes information on the age, country of origin, gender, and type of trafficking experienced by these survivors. Freedom Network USA members serve clients trafficked into all forms of labor, from all over the world, of every age and gender. Additionally, in comparison to our inaugural Member Report released in 2014, specific national data trends emerged highlighting who is reaching services, what types of services are most sought by clients, and what types of services are being delivered by member agencies.
As direct service providers, our expertise is derived from working directly with survivors on the ground. This gives us a unique perspective and opportunity to cite case examples of the real-life impacts that policy has survivors’ lives. This report highlights topics and trends that we see as gaps in service or identify critical issues that need to be addressed in the anti-trafficking movement. In most cases, these highlights in the report are accompanied by the story of a survivor that helps to ground our position in the lives of those we serve.
We hope the report contributes to the national understanding of the diversity of trafficking and the needs of survivors in the United States. We will continue to advocate for policies that are rights-based in order to meet the individualized needs of each of the survivors our members’ serve. The full report can be accessed here –Member Report
FN Executive Director, Jean Bruggeman and Board Member, Dan Werner (SPLC) wrote an opinion piece that ran on The Hill’s website this week. They argue that Congress should reject the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act (S. 2225) rider to the 2016 federal spending bill. This legislation calls for changes to the H-2B program, including provisions that would triple the size of the program, reduce protections for workers, and decrease oversight of employers. The Freedom Network USA Education Fund rejects these changes that will undercut wages of U.S. workers and increase the risk of exploitation and trafficking of foreign guest workers and U.S. workers alike.
As Jean and Dan point out, “a bipartisan group of senators wants to expand this flawed program while reducing not only wages and regulatory oversight but also transparency and employer accountability for recruiting abuses. The legislation also would free employers to more easily hire foreign workers without first seeking U.S. workers to fill the same jobs.”
And some Senators agree. Last week a group of Senators submitted a letter to Senate leaders reiterating that the Democratic majority will not allow a spending bill to pass with harmful policy provisions attached. They pointed out that not these changes to the H-2B program are harmful, and instead call for comprehensive immigration reform.
Congress must act by December 11th to avoid a government shutdown. This rollback of worker protections should not be included in any omnibus or stop-gap measures. Call your Senators and Members of Congress today and tell them to say no to the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act.
You can read the full editorial here. Thank you to our allies and advocates working in the immigrant and worker rights’ movements that helped bring this issue to the forefront.