Toronto Star

Trump’s sex traffickin­g stories inaccurate, experts say

Border kidnapping­s are rare, with most victims arriving on visas obtained by trafficker­s


U. S. President Donald Trump has been painting a wildly inaccurate picture of human traffickin­g in his effort to sell a border wall that would not make a meaningful difference in fighting the problem, experts on traffickin­g say.

Over the past two weeks, Trump has repeatedly told lurid stories about women being “thrown into the back seat of a car, or thrown into a van with no windows, with no form of air,” and smuggled over undefended parts of the border with “tape over their mouths, electrical tape.”

“They tape their face, their hair, their hands behind their back, their legs. They put them in the back seat of cars and vans, and they go — they don’t come in through your port of entry, because you’d see them. You couldn’t do that,” he said in his speech to the American Farm Bureau on Monday.

Six traffickin­g experts from around the U.S. told the Star that they had met no victims who had suffered anything like the experience Trump described.

These experts said such border kidnapping­s might occur on rare occasions but are, at most, extremely uncommon — a tiny fraction not only of all U.S. traffickin­g cases, many of which involve U.S. citizens who never cross a border, but of the subset of cases involving women brought in through Mexico.

A high proportion of trafficked Latin American women, the experts said, come into the country legally, on U.S. visas. Others enter illegally but are not bound and gagged, nor driven in vehicles through remote unfenced areas.

“Either he’s watching action films or he’s watching some other type of movie that involves handcuffs and tape over people’s mouths. But in neither case is it based in any reality of what individual­s helping traffickin­g victims see,” said Lori Cohen, director of the Anti-Traffickin­g Initiative at Sanctuary for Families, a New York service provider for sex traffickin­g victims.

“His depiction of human traffickin­g is practicall­y unrecogniz­able to those of us who have spent decades in the trenches combating these abuses,” said Martina Vandenberg, president of the Human Traffickin­g Legal Center.

“I have never had a case where someone’s mouth was taped up and they were brought across the border in the way the president described. Could it ever happen? Of course. But I’ve worked hundreds of human traffickin­g cases, and what the president describes, that’s just not what my life looks like in this work,” said Bridgette Carr, director of the Human Traffickin­g Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School.

Trump has also claimed that a border wall could “eliminate” human traffickin­g from Mexico, or at least “90, 95 per cent; a tremendous percentage would stop.” This is not even close to accurate, the experts said, given how trafficker­s use the visa system.

Many victims, they said, arrive on visas fraudulent­ly obtained by trafficker­s. Others are exploited after they independen­tly arrive in the U.S. on visas.

None of these people would be helped by a wall.

Even in cases where women fall prey to trafficker­s before they reach the border, experts said, they are rarely if ever gagged in vehicles for the journey.

Rather, they are subjected to either verbal coercion, such as threats against their families, or promises of a hopeful future.

“It is far easier to lure victims with false promises of a better life in the United States,” said Vandenberg. “Why kidnap someone when you can convince them to travel willingly?”

Many of the women are persuaded they are coming to the U.S. to earn a good living or live in a loving home, either through legal ports or as typical unauthoriz­ed immigrants on foot. Then, upon arrival, they learn that the job does not exist or that the supposed romantic partner was lying to them.

Trump said last week that traffickin­g victims “can’t fly in, obviously, for obvious reasons.” Experts say that is not true. Bill Bernstein, deputy director of Mosaic Family Services in Dallas, said his organizati­on has served approximat­ely 400 foreign-born traffickin­g survivors. “Most have entered the country through legal means, such as airports or other legal ports of entry,” he said. He added: “Coercion, rather than physical force, is most often used to control those who are trafficked.”

Cohen has worked closely with victims of trafficker­s from Tenancingo, Mexico, a hotbed for sex traffickin­g. In13 years at her organizati­on, she said there was “only one client I know of who was driven across the border from Mexico.”

One anti-traffickin­g activist in San Antonio, Dottie Laster, said she had perused her files and found 12 cases in which victims reported they did have their mouths covered. She said she believes a border wall would be one of many helpful tools against traffickin­g.

“I’m for throwing anything in the way of trafficker­s that trade on rape and torture for money,” she said.

Others disagreed, saying a wall would merely cause certain trafficker­s to take more risks and impose higher debts. And they noted that Trump’s own policies have quietly made life harder for the traffickin­g victims.

His administra­tion has cut the number of “T” visas that protect traffickin­g victims from deportatio­n when they agree to work with law enforcemen­t. It has also decided to routinely require people whose “T” applicatio­ns are denied to appear before an immigratio­n judge, the first step in deportatio­n proceeding­s.

If Trump is serious about addressing traffickin­g, Cohen said, he should abandon policies that “play into the hands of the pimps.”

“I have never had a case where someone’s mouth was taped up and they were brought across the border in the way the president described.” BRIDGETTE CARR UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

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