March 02, 2006

Advocacy group to conduct training session on HT in Delaware

Human trafficking a growing global problem.

Dover session will teach ways of recognizing victims
The News Journal

Human trafficking -- the modern version of slavery -- is a multibillion-dollar-a-year criminal enterprise, ranking behind drug trafficking in global crime statistics.

Some victims of human trafficking are probably working in Delaware, experts say.

"There's no doubt that there is human trafficking in every state in the union," said Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Molloy of Fort Myers, Fla. Molloy has prosecuted several human-trafficking cases.

"If you have an agricultural industry, for example, or large numbers of undocumented workers, you have slavery."

Delaware has a large agricultural sector and other businesses -- such as food service and construction -- that lend themselves to human trafficking, but there have been no specific charges brought to date in the state, U.S. Attorney Colm Connolly said.

"Some local law enforcement agencies have brought matters to us that they thought could be human trafficking, especially in areas such as prostitution rings, but further investigation did not bear that out," Connolly said.

Despite the lack of evidence human trafficking is a problem in the state, one advocacy group is organizing a training session Wednesday in Dover to promote ways to recognize potential victims and signs.

Attendees at the event will include police, social workers, hospital personnel and others who come into contact with the state's immigrant population. It is not open to the public.

A number of experts have said that police and prosecutors are not trained well enough to recognize obvious signs and to deal with victims.

"You need to know how to interview these victims, because they are frightened," said Anna Rodriguez, the founder of the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking. "They have been coached in what to say and threatened repeatedly.

"You have to understand that it can take weeks, even months, to get the full story from victims," she said, because traffickers typically use force, fraud or coercion to rope people into slavery.

In some cases, they kidnap children and women from remote villages in Central America and then tell the victims that their families will be killed if they refuse to comply with the traffickers' demands.

They often rape, beat and confine their victims to control them.

"It's amazing that we have to even talk about human trafficking in the 21st century, but we do because it's a huge issue and it's growing," said Cecilia Cardesa-Lusardi, executive director of the Wilmington-based Voices Without Borders.

Cardesa-Lusardi's group is sponsoring Wednesday's training session.

"The fact that no cases have surfaced in Delaware could be a matter of education," according to Christina Miller, coordinator of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's anti-trafficking project. "People need to know how to recognize these cases."

In other areas of the country, a wide range of people are being taught how to recognize signs of human trafficking.

In Florida, Rodriguez said, health inspectors are asked to report when they see mattresses in the back rooms of restaurants or other signs that someone is being forced to live there.

Meter readers for water and power companies are also trained to look for signs people are being held against their will, Rodriguez said.

If a meter reader sees a mobile home with locks on the outside to keep people inside, she said, "they know to call us and we will investigate."

Cardesa-Lusardi and other organizers of Wednesday's conference want to establish a similar process here that will enable police and community members to work together.

"We talk about human trafficking as a concept that is so abstract that we sometimes fail to make a connection as to how it affects us here," she said.

At the conference, she said, "we want to dissect human trafficking in terms of the ways in which people are brought in as victims and the way they are exploited through commercial sex, pornography and as labor."

In many cases, fraud is used to trap victims into slavery, and phony job offers are a major recruiting tool, experts said. Usually this involves women and children who answer advertisements promising jobs as waitresses, maids and other occupations overseas. Once they arrive in their new country, they are trafficked for prostitution or domestic slavery.

"That is a classic example of human trafficking and we're seeing the same pattern all over the United States, especially with European women," said Terry Coonan, executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University. "They answer an ad, sign a contract, and when they get here they find that the job doesn't exist and they are forced to do something else."

Many European women who are tricked into slavery are victims of Russian gangsters, he said.

"Human trafficking is a multibillion-dollar growth industry because, unlike drugs, which are gone as soon as they are used, humans can be recycled," Coonan said. "Because they can continue to be exploited, they're a better investment for the traffickers."

Contact Mike Billington at 324-2761 or

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