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What Can Be Done To End Human Trafficking?

What Can Be Done To End Human Trafficking?
What can we do to end human trafficking in our community and around the world? We speak to experts about the most common forms of slavery, and what's being done to prevent it in San Diego and throughout the globe.

Soroptimists International of San Diego will host a "STOP Trafficking" event on Tuesday, January 19th at 5:30 p.m. at the Kings Inn in Mission Valley.

Professor Tiefenbrun will be participating in a panel discussion on "Torture In And By The United States of America" on Friday, January 29 at 3 p.m. at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. As schoolchildren, many of us learned that the modern world had conquered the age-old crime of slavery. The idea that one person could own or indenture another had been eradicated across the globe. But like many things you learn in school, we now find it ain't necessarily so. Slavery in the 21st century goes by the name of human trafficking and it is estimated to be the second largest criminal industry in the world, right behind drug trafficking. Considering how big an industry it is, it's surprising how little it gets talked about. January is designated as Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and we will be talking about the subject for the rest of the hour. I’d like to welcome my guests. Susan Tiefenbrun, professor of law, and Director of the Center for Global Legal Studies at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. She is also author of the new book "Decoding International Law Through the Humanities." And, Susan, welcome to These Days.


SUSAN TIEFENBRUN (Law Professor, Director of Center for Global Legal Studies, Thomas Jefferson School of Law): Thank you for inviting me.

CAVANAUGH: And Judy Lawton is here. She’s a member of the Soroptomists International of San Diego. Judy, thanks for being here.

JUDY LAWTON (Soroptomists International of San Diego): Well, thank you for having us.

CAVANAUGH: And we are expecting a third guest, Marisa Ugarte, executive director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, which works to eradicate human trafficking. She will be joining us shortly. So, Susan, Professor Tiefenbrun, what – when we say human trafficking do we actually mean slavery? What does the term mean?

TIEFENBRUN: Well, human trafficking is defined in many different international instruments and it basically is the recruitment, the transportation, the harboring or retaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion and for the purpose of subjecting them to involuntary servitude, debt bondage, peonage, and the word is actually used in the law, subjecting them to slavery. We know it’s slavery when we see it because the people who are trafficked are not paid, they are forced to work in conditions they don’t anticipate, and they can’t leave. They cannot escape. Many of these women are tied to a bed at night and forced to stay inside a room all day and all night, never being allowed to leave.


CAVANAUGH: Now there seems some reluctance in the international community to actually use the word slavery. Why is that?

TIEFENBRUN: It’s very strange to me. I’ve been fighting that for many years, since 2002, since every international instrument that defines human trafficking actually includes the word slavery. In 1905, we passed the Mann Act in the United States, which called it white slavery, and that was the beginning of the realization that women who are kidnapped, forced to do work that they don’t want to do or that they are not paid for or that they are subjected to inhumane conditions while they work, these women are slaves. They are bought and they do not get paid. A woman can be—and many of these women, if not more than half of these women, are children under the age of 18. They are bought for anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000. And when they are kidnapped and purchased, they’re thrown into a brothel, gang raped, indoctrinated, forced to confiscate their illegally obtained visa and passport documents for which they are told that they now owe the trafficker, well, anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000. That’s called debt peonage. And so when – once they start working, they never get paid because everything they earn goes to the brothel owner. And these brothel owners are frequently in complicity with the police and with the immigration officers at the border. And by the way, a woman or a boy or a girl does not have to cross a border to be trafficked. She just has to be taken against her will by force, fraud or coercion and forced to do labor that she did not expect to have to do and forced to do labor for which she is not paid.

CAVANAUGH: And we are talking about men and boys as well, is that correct?

TIEFENBRUN: Absolutely. And we’re talking about many different forms of this forced labor. For example, I just wrote an article on child – the use of child soldiers in many countries in Africa. The little boys and little girls from the age of four to the age of 18, these are children, defined – a child is defined as anyone under the age of 18, are kidnapped, forced to do work in what they call a paramilitary organization, forced to kill with the use of small weapons. The girls who are kidnapped and forced to be in these horrific conditions and indoctrinated with brutality, these girls are frequently kidnapped not so much for the purpose of killing but for the purpose of servicing the little boys and the lords in these child soldiering situations, and they make babies so that you can have more child soldiers. This is a horrific situation, the loss of an entire generation of children. But this is a form of trafficking because these girls have to service the men sexually, and they’re beaten, they are treated with violence, they’re not allowed to escape, they are not paid for their work. You know, that’s slavery. It’s got every element defined in the act of slavery. And I’ve never quite understood why the objection.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Susan Tiefenbrun. She is professor of law, and Director of the Center for Global Legal Studies at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. My other guests are Judy Lawton, member of the Soroptomists International of San Diego. And joining us now, Marisa Ugarte is executive director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, which works to eradicate human trafficking. And, Marisa, welcome to These Days.

MARISA UGARTE (Executive Director, Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition): Oh, thank you. Welcome – Thank you for having me in the show. I really appreciate it.

CAVANAUGH: Now, what can you tell us about the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition and the goals of your organization?

UGARTE: Well, one of the things that we do is work in exactly some of the stuff that the, you know, the person that was speaking because I can’t see who it was, and we work on it binationally. Our goals is to prevent, intervene and eradicate the commercial comma – commercial sexual exploitation of men, women and children. And one of the things that I wanted to clarify, peonage is referred to the agricultural fields and obviously we have a vivid example of that in Vista where, you know, the women and the men are both forced into different kinds of endeavors, you know, from prostitution to – and both, men and women, in also agricultural fields, avocado fields and orange groves, everything that it is in, you know, our neighborhood up there.

CAVANAUGH: Right, you’re in – you’re referring to an international human trafficking ring that was recently sort of busted up by law enforcement, is that correct?

UGARTE: That’s correct. And we’ve been working on that case and just so you know, that case was linked to the first case that the SCC had in 2001 with the same traffickers and finally, finally this guy Salcid (sp) La Popotla being found guilty. It means a sentence not short of 15 years to start with. And that is going to teach a big lesson to the international traffickers.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Marisa, being a border community here in San Diego, I know that many people have heard of human trafficking but they might think of it as something that is going on in other places of the world but as this arrest of this trafficking ring that was operating right here in San Diego, what does that tell us about how often this crime is taking place in our own community?

UGARTE: Well, you know, it is taking place in – every day and international and what we call domestic, too. The State of California under AB-22 and then the newly approved law by the governor, AB-17, which allows us to take all the assets from pimps and traffickers, shows you that we have both domestic and international. Where do we find these victims? Well, if you look closely, there are about 31 pages of escort services in San Diego. We got a vast number of pimps running El Cajon Boulevard and other areas. We have them in National City, we have them in Spring Valley. There isn’t a place where the change is not happening and, as you very well know, human trafficking has taken the second place away from arms dealings.


UGARTE: So it’s trafficking – I mean, drug trafficking and then human trafficking in the second place.

CAVANAUGH: I want to call out to our listeners and ask them to join our conversation if they’d like. Do you think that you may have run across a situation where people have been held against their will as workers or house servants? Give us a call with your questions or comments. Our number here is 1-888-895-5727. Our subject is human trafficking. We’re talking about it because January is designated as Human Trafficking Awareness Month. My guests are Professor Susan Tiefenbrun and Marisa Ugarte. And Judy Lawton is here with us. She is with the Soroptomists International of San Diego, and I know, Judy, you have taken on this cause with your organization. Why is this a topic of interest for you?

LAWTON: Well, anything that deals with improving the lives of women and girls is of interest to us. And human trafficking is a Soroptomist of the Americas—which is our foundation—project, and we are going to be having a meeting on Tuesday evening, next Tuesday on January 19th, with Dr. Tiefenbrun as our speaker, and we would like to invite people to come and join us.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I’m wondering, though, from listening to the professor, is it your idea, do studies back it up that this is largely a female problem? A problem that affects women and girls, Judy?

LAWTON: I think people think of that first, don’t you? I mean, really it makes sense that when you think of prostitution and, certainly, there are little boys and men that are involved in that but I think that you generally want to lead to it’s a woman first. And anything that pertains to women, I mean, we want to just bring this forward and we want to take the lid off of it, so to speak, and make people aware that this is going on.

CAVANAUGH: Professor Tiefenbrun, if I may, tell us where the victims of human trafficking come from. I understand there’s a chain of events that takes place.

TIEFENBRUN: Well, it’s a very old international crime and, internationally, a human rights violation, as you know. There are three different locations that you really have to understand. First, it’s the source country where the women or the little girls and little boys are located. Source countries are primarily poor countries or countries that are war-torn, countries involving women on the move. Whenever you have women and children on the move, you have a very vulnerable population. And, of course, poverty stricken countries have desperate people, and women and children suffer most when there is an economic crisis. So source countries are poor countries. That’s where these women and children and little boys come from. They are then transported through a transition country. Let’s say, for example, a person, a woman in Ukraine will be kidnapped and transported through and from the Ukraine into and by car into Italy, for example. And now Italy is – the countries they pass through from the Ukraine, maybe through Yugoslavia into Italy, that’s the transition country and Italy, the richer country, is the destination country. So all the rich countries, Japan, the United States, Western Europe, those are the countries where these trafficked women are located. And how do they get there? Why aren’t they stopped crossing borders? They’re frequently not stopped because the immigration officials turn a blind eye, they’re being bribed. The organizations that do the trafficking are supported by rich international crime rings like the mafia, the Yakuza in Japan, the Six Gangs in China. This is a worldwide, international, lucrative business. People make as much as $32 billion a year on – off the bodies of women. And the statistics are very misleading because we’re talking about a very uncomfortable business here, which is raping women. So I’ve got statistics that I’ve been following since 2002 on this subject. There are currently anywhere from 4 million to 27 million people trafficked across – all over the world. But what many of our Americans and many of our San Diegans don’t realize, there are 50,000 women trafficked in the United States every year, in the United States, and many of them are coming from Mexico. They are forced into work they didn’t expect to do and not paid, and as Marisa Ugarte, who I know very well, we’ve spoken at different conferences. Marisa, I’m Susan Tiefenbrun, you and I have spoken many, many times, and I…

UGARTE: Hi, Susan, how are you?

TIEFENBRUN: …applaud the work that you’re doing. Marisa Ugarte’s organization is a very serious and important organization, doing very important work. And, of course, KPBS is doing the most important thing which is to raise the public awareness of the existence of trafficking in our country. It’s like drugs. It starts over there but it comes to here. So the United States has taken a leadership role in trying to prevent the crime, to protect these women and children who should be treated not as criminals but as victims, and finally to prosecute the perpetrators. You spoke about 15 years, Marisa, but actually in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which is a U.S. law that Clinton signed in 2000, that Bush reauthorized three times during his administration, and he even signed onto another law, a related law called the Protect Act, which says that if a United States citizen engages in sex in a country where it is even legal to do so that U.S. citizen will be caught and prosecuted in the United States. This was Bush’s attempt to protect children and to prosecute these perpetrators.


TIEFENBRUN: It’s 30 years now.

CAVANAUGH: …we have to take a short break. We will continue this conversation and speak more with Susan Tiefenbrun and Marisa Ugarte and Judy Lawton about Human Trafficking Awareness Month. And our number, if you’d like to join the conversation, is 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We’re talking about, really, slavery in the 21st century. It goes by the name of human trafficking. January is designated as Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and we are talking about the subject. Susan Tiefenbrun, professor of law, and Director of the Center for Global Legal Studies at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, is my guest, as is Marisa Ugarte, executive director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, which is working to eradicate human trafficking, and Judy Lawton, a member of the Soroptomists International of San Diego. And we’re taking your phone calls. If you have a question or a comment about something you’ve heard, if you have a question about something you’ve seen in our locality that seems strange to you, people may be being held against their will. Give us a call, 1-888-895-5727 is the number, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Judy, I want to ask you a little bit more about the Soroptomists being involved in this particular issue. You’ve been involved in the fight against human trafficking for a number of years.

LAWTON: We have.

CAVANAUGH: And this is – this also affects Soroptomists organizations across the Americas, is that correct?

LAWTON: Across the Americas and across – and really globally. There are Soroptomists groups throughout the world and there are, for instance, in Southern California, there are about 55 clubs in our region. In our district, there are maybe 15 clubs. And we, in our group, have had rallies and tee shirts and Balboa Park strolls and just trying to talk to people with – pass out papers and signs. And the Vista Soroptomists Club just had an event up in Vista and it was a walk-a-mile and it was a very successful event. And it’s just – we need to raise awareness that this is such an incredible problem. I mean, I’m listening to these women speak and it just – it never ceases to amaze me, I mean, it’s just awful.

CAVANAUGH: And, Marisa, it’s really telling that that event was held in Vista because you were just talking about the fact that there was actually an international human trafficking ring that was broken up in that city here in San Diego County.

UGARTE: Yes, that’s correct. And I was present at the event and it was a wonderful event. Kimberly Hunt from Channel 10 TV was there to speak. Kay von Neville did a marvelous job to getting about 200 people to do the walk. And building aware (sic) and recognizing, you know, the problem is one thing. Incamintation of the laws is the other one and also understanding that it’s not just in Europe that this occurs but that a lot of the mafias, the organized crime, do goes through South America, Central America and, obviously, into the U.S. That’s why tomorrow we are starting, today, training and working document, which is called Uniting the Americas, so we, as the Americas, including of course the United States, can recognize and work on the problem of human trafficking and what it really entails. We…

CAVANAUGH: And, Marisa, excuse me, but as part of that – because I really do want to get this out there, you have – part of that training involves looking for the signs that would indicate whether a person might be a victim of this crime. And you have a list of things that might be indicators that you might be dealing with someone who’s being held against their will. Tell us about that.

UGARTE: Well, one of the things is in servitude, let’s put it that way. A maid is not allowed to go out of the house. There’s no signs of ever her leaving. Construction, when a van goes and pick up some people and brings them in and somebody’s collecting their checks, that’s not a good sign. Restaurants, and you will see a lot of the workers in behind, doing the kitchen work and other stuff and also being transported from one place to another to work in different restaurants that these people own or have businesses with. Subcontractors, if you’re a business person, be very careful with your H2 visas, which allow you to work in the United States. I would really be very careful about that. And why? Because the passports of these people that are coming from the Philippines, they could be coming from anywhere, are going to be removed and the threat, force and coercion will be there. Be very careful with G visas because some of them will be pretending to come here as investors but they’re really not. And so those are those that you may have with documents. Then, of course, you have all the trails that the drug traffickers use that are now being used by the people traffickers into the United States. And you also have to be careful to really understand where a smuggling case turns into a trafficking case.

CAVANAUGH: We have a number of people who would like to join us, join the conversation. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Liz is calling us from Ramona. Good morning, Liz, and welcome to These Days.

LIZ (Caller, Ramona): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, how can we help you?

LIZ: I just want to share an experience that I had some months ago at a manicure-pedicure spa. We have several in Ramona and many of the manicurists are Philippine or some other country. Their English isn’t very good. I did not get the woman’s first name. She said to me twice, I’m afraid of my boss, in her broken English. And I said, what? She said, I’m afraid of my boss. And her boss is a man. We have a couple of shops in Ramona where the bosses are men. Just wanted to share that story that I wouldn’t be shocked or surprised if there wasn’t something happening in those environments.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you very much for the call. I’m wondering, Professor Tiefenbrun, if this were to happen, what does someone do?

TIEFENBRUN: It’s the – It’s interesting that you mention the manicure-pedicure salons all over San Diego. I frequently think about and look for the signs of the trafficked women working in these places. First of all, you know, that’s one form of trafficking but the incident has exacerbated the problem because people look for jobs, people buy brides overseas, and all this internet availability of services frequently is actually a cover for a human trafficking ring. So you have to be very, very careful. What do you do, is the question you asked.


TIEFENBRUN: This – The woman who is whispering to the client that I’m afraid of my boss, she’s lucky in the sense that she’s living in the United States where police officers have been trained to identify the signs of a victimized trafficked woman. And they’re not going to just throw her into a detention cell awaiting deportation. According to the Victims of Trafficking Protection Act, as Marisa knows so well, we have a duty to protect these women, to throw them in shelters if we have to, and to prevent the crime. And she can seek help from the police and get a lawyer to protect her, and bring the trafficker to court. But it isn’t easy. It’s much – it’s easy to recommend that but she’s very scared because of the tactics that these traffickers use. They will say if you leave and seek help from the police, I will kill your family in the Philippines. And…


TIEFENBRUN: …they have a network to do that. And women are afraid to get out of their enslavement because they’re afraid to bring violence upon their family in the source country where they came from.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Joe is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Joe, and welcome to These Days.

JOE (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. How are you?

CAVANAUGH: Very well, thank you.

JOE: Thank you. Do you just want me to kind of comment as to why I called?

CAVANAUGH: Yes, please, if you would.

JOE: Okay, sure. I have a little bit of experience with some of this. I just – A little over a year ago I briefly got involved with an organization called Breaking Chains based out of here in TJ. And there’s a gentleman there that risks his life almost daily rescuing children who are, as the last gal who was speaking commented that a lot of these kids or women are put in slavery and they are afraid to get away because their families are placed in danger or they’re threatened that if they do leave that they’ll go back and harm their families. But there’s times where this gentleman has gone in literally with lock cutters or bolt cutters and has rescued children as little as, you know, half mile from the border here in San Diego, rescued kids that are chained to a bed in a room, and this stuff goes on every day. And I have two young children myself and at night, every night as the sun goes down, I think, oh, my gosh, what’s going on tonight? You know, these poor kids. And what he’s explained to me is that there’s a lot of awareness, a lot of awareness campaigns, you know, which are great but what seems to be is lack of action, you know. In the U.S. we seem to be very aware of what’s going on but we watch the news and turn off the news and say, wow, that’s too bad and then we go back to our dinners and I think that’s part of the problem.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Joe. Thank you for that comment. And, Marisa, what is the main difference between human trafficking in San Diego and Tijuana? Is the problem the same in both cities?

UGARTE: Well, actually, yes, I mean, it does cross the borders. I want to tell you that in San Diego there’s a human trafficking task force that does exist. We have an emergency response team here with us in San Diego, with the SCC. We respond to the calls of law enforcement 24/7. The SCC does have an office in Tijuana. And you need to make a consideration, the sex tourism that goes along into, you know, the other side of the border is very difficult to address because of some laws like flagrancy, which obviously, you know, an officer of the law, I mean, a lawyer knows very well. Now the 2003 protect act gives people up to 50 years. We have a case in Tijuana of a guy named Arthur Linlang (sp) who was found with over four million photographs of pornography with children.


UGARTE: We, again, the infrastructure for shelters is there. One thing is to address the homeless at-risk populations and another one is to really understand the child trafficking. Where do we have it in San Diego, is sometimes in foster care, group homes, that’s where the recruitment goes, even in the juvenile hall. And there are recruiters that are local and there are the international ones. And we do have a phenomena going on which is called reverse trafficking. And though I understand, you know, that there is, you know, people out there like Breaking Chains, there are people who are totally dedicated since 1985 to make a difference on the children and to prevent it. But, again, the difficulty and dissimilarity is implementation of the laws that I was saying.


UGARTE: The 2003 Protect Act is very difficult to implement because of the flagrancy law, so this is why we’re looking into different alternatives to see how we can flag down the pedophiles and the pornographers and everybody else and send them back to the states at least with a statement saying this is persona non grata.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Let me ask Susan, Professor Tiefenbrun, let me ask you, you know, there was this undertone to what we just heard from our caller about what can individuals do. We have the international agreements, we have the acts that the United States have done, we have law enforcement ready to respond, but is – what can we do as people, just, you know, just living our lives to help bring an end to this crime?

TIEFENBRUN: Well, this is a very, very good question. I think the first thing we, as adults and as parents, can do is to teach our children to recognize signs. Whenever you have poverty and children looking for work—it’s particularly bad right now because there are very few jobs—make the children aware of the danger, of the lure, of a job offer in a foreign country. Modeling is a very common cover for a trafficked woman. I’ve even seen situations where an agent of a trafficking organization can befriend a woman, become her fiancé, and send her abroad just to get her thrown into the brothel and be enslaved. So awareness, teaching your children to recognize the signs of a deceptive agent, and just making women more self-sufficient. Hillary Clinton was the first to really draw attention to micro-loans to give women in foreign countries, in Mexico, and in the United States, the ability to work and to earn enough money so that they are not attracted by the lure of these traffickers who promise good jobs, work in a restaurant, work as a nanny, work as a model, when these women and children only find that they’re being thrown into a brothel, gang raped, and unable to escape. So give women, and children who are able to work, micro-loans to start their own business, to get a job. Make them aware of the haulers of this trafficking. Don’t keep them ignorant.

CAVANAUGH: Susan, I’m…

TIEFENBRUN: And just encourage media to address the issue. I was very…

CAVANAUGH: We are out of time, Susan. I’m so sorry. I’m going to have to stop you there but we got out a lot of good information during our talk here this morning. Susan Tiefenbrun, professor of law, Director of the Center for Global Legal Studies, and author of the new book "Decoding International Law Through the Humanities." Judy Lawton, member of Soroptomists International of San Diego. And Marisa Ugarte is executive director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition. I want to thank you all so much for speaking with us today. I want to thank everyone who called. We didn’t get time to get all your calls, talk to you on the air. Please do post your comments at And I want to let everybody know, all the events you heard about, you can find on our website, Thank you for listening and stay with us for hour two of These Days here on KPBS.