These recent human trafficking cases illustrate common indicators of human trafficking, as well as efforts by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Blue Campaign to protect victims and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Amira was a Palestinian transgender woman living on the streets in a city in the West Bank. She was a sex trafficking victim who had been blackmailed and threatened when she tried to leave. When she was 19 years old, she fled to Israel because of her fear of persecution as a member of the LGBTQI+ community and sought recognition as a trafficking victim. However she was deported because of her illegal immigration status. A year later, she again fled the West Bank and returned to Israel where authorities arrested her on immigration charges and detained her for three months. With the help of an Israeli NGO, authorities granted Amira a temporary stay permit, but did not give her a work permit. Officials also did not recognize her as a trafficking victim, which would have afforded her a work permit, housing, legal aid, and other forms of assistance under law. She constantly lived in fear of deportation when her residency permit would expire. After months of living in various NGO shelters without the right to legally work or make money of her own, she died by suicide. Several Israeli NGOs continue to provide assistance to Palestinian LGBTQI+ individuals who flee the West Bank, but they face challenges assisting this community because of discrimination and lack of legal protection frameworks for this vulnerable population.
PHILIPPINES – QATAR – UNITED KINGDOM
Malaya’s husband became very sick and could not work in their home country of the Philippines, so she sought work abroad to support them both. An employment agency found her a job as a domestic worker in Qatar, where her employer paid her less than the agreed upon salary in her work contract and refused to give her time off. The employer refused to allow Malaya to leave her job and physically and emotionally abused her. Finally, her employer took Malaya to the UK to work for his sister where she was also trapped in domestic servitude, not allowed outside, and had to sleep on the floor. One day while her employer was asleep, Malaya escaped to a nearby church where members of a Filipino workers’ union provided her shelter and referred her to victim services.
Preying on the Vulnerable
At a Halloween party in Oxon Hill, Md., the trafficker met a 12-year-old runaway who asked for his help in finding a place to stay. Instead, the trafficker – a long-time member of the notorious MS-13 gang – forced the young girl into the commercial sex trade the very next day. For more than 3 months, he held her captive, coercing her to have sex for money multiple times a day at a variety of businesses, homes, apartments and hotels in Northern Virginia. Rescuing the victim and successfully prosecuting the perpetrator was the result of collaborative efforts by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations' (HSI) National Gang Unit (NGU) with assistance from the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force. Traffickers prey on victims with little or no social safety net. Children and young adults without safe, stable family relationships are uniquely vulnerable.
From Trust to Trafficking
In Chicago, from 2008 through 2010, a trafficker recruited and groomed three women from the Ukraine and one from Belarus to become part of his "Family." He offered them jobs, a place to live and lured each one into a romantic relationship with him. After gaining their trust, he confiscated their passports and identity documents. Then, he forced them to work long hours, often beating, mentally abusing, extorting and sexually exploiting them. HSI led the investigation in coordination with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force. Blue Campaign’s victim-centered approach ensured that the women received necessary victim assistance services. All four women testified as government witnesses at the trial.
False Promises of the American Dream
Three confirmed victims, along with 10 potential victims, were rescued from a sex trafficking ring operating in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The victims were enticed from Mexico and elsewhere to travel to the U.S. with false promises of the American dream. Once here, the women were cut off from their families. They were threatened and forced to commit sex acts throughout the Southeast—one victim reported she was routinely beaten by her trafficker. The trafficking ring even allegedly arranged to hold one of their victim’s children hostage in Mexico to ensure her compliance as a prostitute in the U.S. The investigation, known as “Operation Dark Night,” was lengthy, and was a true coordinated effort by key players supporting Blue Campaign. Operation Dark Night was led by HSI, with assistance from the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); CBP Air and Marine Operations; the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations; the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department; the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office; the Garden City Police Department; and the Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team.
Brothers in Crime
For more than 7 years, from 2003 through 2010, three brothers operated a sex trafficking ring in which they lured young Mexican women – some only 14 years old – and forced them to work in the sex trade in Mexico, New York and other areas within the United States. The victims were required to turn over all of their earnings and threatened with violence against their families. They were also directed to send money to the brothers' family in Mexico, using wire transfer service companies. Sums ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars were transferred at a time, always under fake names. The three brothers frequently relied on each other to watch over the victims when any of them traveled back and forth to Mexico. For this investigative initiative, the U.S. and Mexico collaborated to bring high-impact prosecutions under both U.S. and Mexican law to more effectively dismantle human trafficking networks operating across the U.S.-Mexico border, prosecute human traffickers, rescue human trafficking victims and reunite victims with their families.
10 Years of Trickery and Torture
For more than a decade, from 1998 to 2011, members of the Granados-Hernandez sex trafficking organization smuggled young women from Mexico illegally into the United States, forced them to work in the commercial sex trade in New York and collected profits from their activities. When the victims arrived in New York, they learned – most for the first time – that the Granados-Hernandez 's organization intended to sexually exploit them for money. When they refused or resisted, the women were beaten, sexually assaulted and told that their families would be harmed. After they were rescued, a vast network of organizations and individuals provided services and advocacy to these victims, including: Safe Horizon; Sanctuary for Families; the Urban Justice Center; the New York City Bar Justice Center; The Legal Aid Society, Civil Division (Bronx); My Sister's Place; Bennu Legal Services; the Hispanic Advocate, Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migracion and numerous local attorneys and law firms.
The Youngest Victims: The Victims’ Children
A human trafficking victim was reunited with her child, who had been rescued in Mexico from a trafficking organization. The mother and child had been separated by the organization for over 10 years. After substantial post-conviction investigation and international coordination, the child was located and reunited with the mother. Through the coordinated work of HSI and the Eastern District of New York’s anti-trafficking program, 14 children have been reunited with their mothers, all of whom had been trafficked.
Imprisoned in your Neighborhood
The trafficker, a former resident of Georgia and a citizen of Nigeria, traveled to her home country in 2001 and enticed a 17-year old girl to come to the U.S. to work as her nanny. Once here, she abused the girl, beating her for not cleaning well, for not responding fast enough to her crying child, and for talking back to her. A witness to the abuse, a friend of hers, helped the victim escape. The defendant was not deterred and traveled back to Nigeria to lure a second victim, who was subjected to the same treatment and abuse. Eventually, the second victim also escaped. This case was investigated by HSI, the FBI and the State Department's Diplomatic Security Services. It was complicated by the fact that the defendant left the country during the investigation. The defendant was found and arrested at a Houston airport as she tried to re-enter the country. The defendant was prosecuted and convicted on eight counts by a federal jury.