Blu­men­thal wants stricter fed­eral laws

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Clare Dig­nan

NORTH HAVEN — Hu­man traf­fick­ing is known as an is­sue over­seas, but is preva­lent in Con­necti­cut, as well.

At Quin­nip­iac Uni­ver­sity Mon­day, Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, D-Conn., gath­ered with vic­tim ad­vo­cates, stu­dents, at­tor­neys, sur­vivors and ho­tel rep­re­sen­ta­tives to dis­cuss ef­forts to com­bat sex traf­fick­ing.

Blu­men­thal seeks to pass leg­is­la­tion that would make it dif­fi­cult for In­ter­net sites to host ad­ver­tise­ments for sex traf­fick­ing. The Stop En­abling Sex Traf­fick­ers Act, aims to make it il­le­gal, know­ingly or with reck­less dis­re­gard, to as­sist, fa­cil­i­tate or sup­port sex traf­fick­ing, and to amend the sec­tion of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions De­cency Act that pro­tects on­line plat­forms from li­a­bil­ity caused by user con­tent.

“Hu­man traf­fick­ing thrives on vul­ner­a­bil­ity, whether it’s eco­nomic, so­cial or cul­tural,” Blu­men­thal said. “It’s among the most per­ni­cious and in­sid­i­ous of crim­i­nal ac­tions.”

Hu­man traf­fick­ing is legally de­fined as the “re­cruit­ment, trans­porta­tion, trans­fer, har­bor­ing, or re­ceipt of per­sons by im­proper means (such as force, ab­duc­tion, fraud, or co­er­cion) for an im­proper pur­pose in­clud­ing forced la­bor or sex­ual ex­ploita­tion,” ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Jus­tice.

“It has reached pub­lic con­scious­ness in a way it has never done be­fore be­cause peo­ple now see it as real and ur­gent,” he said.

Tammy Sneed, di­rec­tor of girls’ ser­vices at the state De­part­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies and a mem­ber of the Con­necti­cut anti-traf­fick­ing re­sponse team, said they re­ceived 202 unique re­fer­rals of pos­si­ble vic­tims of hu­man traf­fick­ing in the state in 2016 and have pre­dicted re­fer­rals in 2017 will sur­pass last year’s num­bers.

“For any­one who thinks it’s just hap­pen­ing abroad, it’s right here and it’s be­com­ing more and more preva­lent,” Blu­men­thal said.

Most youths co­erced into sex traf­fick­ing in Con­necti­cut are from the state and stay here, said Erin Wil­liamson, U.S. sur­vivor care pro­gram di­rec­tor of Love 146, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that works to abol­ish child sex traf­fick­ing. The ma­jor­ity of vic­tims here are iden­ti­fied and ex­ploited here and never leave the state.

Theresa Leonard, founder of Op­er­a­tion Un­der­ground Rail­road and a sur­vivor of child sex traf­fick­ing, said some women did not know they were ex­ploited or traf­ficked, ei­ther as a child or an adult.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing, ev­ery per­son has taken a piece of me,” she said. “Ev­ery man who has touched me has taken a piece of me. But to­day through heal­ing, ev­ery­thing has been re­turned.”

Ho­tels and mo­tels are most of­ten the site of hu­man traf­fick­ing and ex­ploita­tion, Sneed said, and in­ter­net sites most of­ten are how vic­tims are sold.

Mar­riott Ho­tels re­cently man­dated a train­ing for its em­ploy­ees that teaches them how to in­den­tify and re­port hu­man traf­fick­ing. Tu Rin­sche, di­rec­tor of cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity of Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional Inc., said ho­tels are be­ing ex­ploited for in­volve­ment in hu­man traf­fick­ing and just pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion on the is­sue can be crit­i­cal to dis­cov­er­ing traf­fick­ing cases.

Sec­ond-year law stu­dent Tay­lor Ma­took is one of 30 law stu­dents at Quin­nip­iac Uni­ver­sity work­ing on the Hu­man Traf­fick­ing Pre­ven­tion Project, a free train­ing for ho­tels and mo­tels that teaches em­ploy­ees at all lev­els how to spot signs of hu­man traf­fick­ing and how to re­port it. The ini­tia­tive is the same as the train­ing Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional has es­tab­lished in all its ho­tels.

Some signs of hu­man traf­fick­ing ac­tiv­ity in ho­tels and mo­tels in­clude peo­ple who are not sched­uled to be stay­ing there go­ing in and out of a room, guests pay­ing for rooms nightly and with cash, and a “Do not dis­turb” sign left on a door for a num­ber of days.

“They might be see­ing one sign, and see it ev­ery day and not think it’s out of the norm,” Ma­took said. “But if more em­ploy­ees re­port the one sign, and some­one else re­ports an­other sign, then we’re build­ing a nar­ra­tive to iden­tify hu­man traf­fick­ing. All the signs are im­por­tant and one might not be enough but all the signs are enough.”

Through the ini­tia­tive, Ma­took and oth­ers have pro­vided five train­ings at the uni­ver­sity to var­i­ous ho­tels and want to start a con­ver­sa­tion about how hu­man traf­fick­ing oc­curs through in­ter­net-based house ren­tal or va­ca­tion ren­tal ser­vices, she said.

Brian Si­bly, lead pros­e­cu­tor on the prose­cu­tors of hu­man traf­fick­ing task force, said fight­ing the is­sue re­quires aware­ness of it by prose­cu­tors, law en­force­ment, pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers, judges, so­cial work­ers and ev­ery­one in­volved in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

“The prob­lem is do­mes­tic where ev­ery city, ev­ery town within Con­necti­cut is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it.” he said.

Clare Dig­nan / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

U.S. Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, D-Conn. met at Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity with stu­dents, at­tor­neys, sur­vivors and ho­tel rep­re­sen­ta­tives to dis­cuss ef­forts to com­bat sex traf­fick­ing.

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