I don't normally push my show here on Daily Kos; there's a time and a place for that, and for the most part, this ain't either.
But recently IN DEEP focused on human trafficking in America, and frankly the topic is bigger than my concern about indulging in self-promotion. The victims are exactly the people we fight for in so many of our political engagements: lower class (in our allegedly "classless society"), constrained by poverty, disenfranchised, voiceless. I had some grasp of the subject - a distancing, matter-of-fact, glancing familiarity, I realize now - before we did the show. It's in fact so much more pervasive, more complicated than I imagined.
Rather than rewrite the words of any of the participants, I'm posting below the fold the entire transcript of the show. Please feel free to distribute it (with attribution, please) however and wherever you think it will do some good. We have so very much on our plates right now, pre-election, in the midst of voter purges, so many of us unemployed ... but these people must not be forgotten.
This is In Deep, I’m Angie Coiro, and our topic, this hour is Human Trafficking.
[Audio track. Unidentified Woman’s Voice]: The next morning, I went to an office where I sat down for an interview with a woman. The interview had lasted about 10 minutes when two men entered the room and dragged me away to a car. I was screaming and resisting. I was taken somewhere blindfolded, then raped many times and beaten because I was resisting. I was drugged with heroin. All my things were taken and I was forced to wear sexually provocative clothes. I was forced to do prostitution in Ljubljana for about 4 months. I was repeatedly threatened in order to obey them, especially by the life and freedom of my little sister. And, I was constantly reminded how easy it is for them to put her in my place.
AC: That is a voice from a United Nations hearing on human trafficking and, as horrific as that story is, I’m afraid I can’t tell you that it’s rare. Human Trafficking is all around us. It ranges from a single prostitute on the corner, who answers to a pimp, all the way to large networks that stretch across international boundaries. People who are smuggled in, if they make it in alive because of the conditions that they are smuggled in. They are forced into working as labor, be it in sweatshops or private homes, or as prostitutes. Obviously, they don’t have any police protection, because so much of this is done undercover. And many of them, as you just heard, from the woman addressing the United Nations, they are trained that their own lives and the lives of their loved ones are in danger if they disobey.
So, how extensive is the problem of human trafficking and what is being done about it? What can be done about something that’s almost as old as prostitution itself? We have quite a number of people set up to talk to, this hour, about many aspects of this. And, I want to introduce our main guest who is the author of a new novel, called Step Over Rio, Martha Braniff is with us here on the line, and Martha is joining us from Houston. Hey, Martha.
Martha Braniff: Hey Angie.
AC: And I’m going to address you as Marty, because I know that’s your preferred name.
MB: Thank you.
AC: Marty is the co-founder of the Texas Court Appointed Special Advocate Association and she’s also worked with the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association and, Step Over Rio is her first novel. She founded Houston’s Child Advocates, Inc.
So, Marty. You’ve taken a lot of your nonfiction knowledge and nonfiction experience and put it into novel form. I want to ask you about the woman that we just heard and the experience that she describes. These are the kinds of instances that you have discovered happen over and over again, whether the ultimate outcome is that person becomes a prostitute or that person becomes, basically, an indentured slave.
MB: That is correct. And, as far as the women and girls who are trafficked – the voice of that woman sounded a little bit older – but, the average age of a trafficked, young girl is twelve to fourteen. And that’s true internationally and domestically. So, when these children are taken, they are raped many times over and then, most of them are forced to work the streets or work in what one of the prosecutors in Houston calls a “Rape Barn,” where they’re literally in stalls, in a warehouse, somewhere. And, they have to turn a minimum of fifteen tricks a day. And, if they don’t, they are beaten. Of course, you just mentioned that their families can be threatened and other people that they care about that are even girls who are with them, can be threatened. The girls who are in this kind of situation witness other girls who resist being seriously tortured and even murdered. So, it is a horrendous situation. Over eighty percent of the sex-traffic victims, nationally and internationally, are women, and over fifty percent of those are girls, age twelve to fourteen.
AC: When we talk about the girls coming in at that age, let’s focus for a moment on those who come into the country, how are they getting in here?
MB: Well, like in my novel, they’re getting in, in trucks, they are escaping poverty and bad situations in Central and in South America and in Mexico. The image of these people wading across the Rio Grande is probably a little outdated, now. Most of the transportation is across the border in trucks. If they’re coming into the states from international sources, I can tell you for Houston, the Houston Ship Channel, bringing them in in those giant cargo boxes –
AC: Oh, right. Yeah.
MB: - is another source. The primary hubs for trafficked kids, internationally trafficked people, not just children, are San Diego, Houston, New York, and Miami. Places that have big ports and also are close to the border.
AC: One of the things you and I discussed as we were preparing this show really underlines what a commodity these people are, as opposed to being treated as humans. They are commodities. And, that is: For those who need to come through any kind of checkpoint, if they have to scatter, when the smuggler gathers them all back up together, it’s not really all that important to the smuggler that each and every one be present. Some of these people can be left behind and die in the desert.
MB: Yes, they can. And, if you talk to border control agents, you hear really horrendous stories about people that have died, usually of dehydration. The other thing is, at least from the agents at the State Department that I worked with, the fact that a “Coyote”, or a human smuggler, brings a group in and if one of the kids or adults, but many times it’s a younger person, makes them angry, they’ll just leave them. They’ll just throw them out, if they try to rape them, and, the girl, usually it’s a girl, resists, they’ll just leave them. They don’t care. Because there’s an unlimited number of these kids that are waiting back in their countries to get in here.
AC: And, the person who’s doing the smuggling is kind of making money at every turn. First of all, they make the money when they’re smuggled because the families believe they are paying for their child, in some cases, to get into a better living situation and a good work situation, a better economy. And, then, of course, they have the chance to get paid on the other side if they’re selling the person or, if they’re keeping them as a prostitute, they’re going to get paid again and again and again.
MB: Absolutely. In fact, the Mayor’s anti-gang director here, who’s now in Houston, Sherriff Garcia, said to me, “When you sell a drug, you sell it once. When you sell a kid, you sell her over and over and over.” So, the Cartels, of course, figured this out fairly quickly. The cartels are very involved in this, as are street gangs, are other crime entities in the United States and some very legitimate people, who are funding this from afar.
AC: Marty Braniff is the author of a new novel that’s out, Step over Rio. It is fiction, but it is based on her very real life knowledge of the human trafficking trade. Marty, let’s talk for a minute about who gets trafficked. You’ve already talked mentioned, kind of parenthetically, that it’s not always girls, it’s boys, too. It’s not always kids, it’s adults, too. So, it seems like almost every walk of life can have someone involved here. Let’s talk about adults, who are being smuggled. Are they targeted for labor? Are they sweatshops? What are adults targeted for?
MB: The adults that are brought into this country are targeted for ranches, citrus fruit plantations, restaurants, factories. We saw that factory, I can’t remember, somewhere in the Mid-West, it was a big meatpacking factory that was closed down. It was operating almost all with trafficked victims. And again, it’s the same thing, Angie. Their families are threatened. And the other thing they do with the families, say if some adults, just laborers, are coming into the country, and being trafficked in, they think that when they get here they are going to earn money and have freedom. But, what they find out is that they have to pay room and board. They usually have to pay the trafficker back more money than they’ve already paid them and they are literally enslaved. They are not allowed to leave the compound, the ranch, the restaurant, wherever they are working. One of the agents, here in Houston told me that that they found a bunch of teenagers in a big trailer behind a restaurant here and they were handcuffed to their beds. So, they work their shift, they go back, and they literally are treated like animals. And so, those are the main industries. Oh, the other one is massage parlors. But, that usually translates into the sex trade.
AC: So, Marty. You’re talking about the restaurants that employ these and the ranchers that employ these. So, there are quote, unquote, legitimate companies and legitimate people who are very much part of what otherwise is an entirely criminal enterprise.
MB: Yes. And, I heard, but I can’t remember the name of the company that owns a huge number of citrus plantations. But, there were several raids where trafficked people were found working on the plantations. And the CEO of the company’s response was “Well, we just use a labor broker, who brings these people in. They all have visas. We think they’re legal. And, so, we don’t have anything to do with that.”
AC: So, it’s plausible deniability is what we’ve got.
MB: Exactly. And, they are able secure a forged document so that the majority of the people that are brought in to work in these larger enterprises, particularly, have got forged documents.
AC: This really points to how difficult it is to wrap your mind around the whole of human trafficking. Because we’re talking about the cartels and we’re talking about the organized businesses. But, human trafficking is also the local pimp, who’s three prostitutes out on the corner. As you put it to me, human trafficking is forced use of a human against their will. That’s what that comes down to.
MB: Exactly. Exactly.
AC: When we see a prostitute out on the street, do you have any idea what the odds are that she’s in a trafficking situation – that she’s doing this against her will?
MB: If you see an underage prostitute, the odds are probably one hundred percent that she is being coerced into doing this either by having been addicted to drugs, like the woman who spoke at the United Nations said, or by a total brainwashing. What they’re finding with these girls is that they are literally brainwashed, like they would have been if they had been in a concentration camp. So that they are so – what would be the best word? – Fused. Fused to the perpetrator, the pimp, that they are doing what they are told. They are completely beaten down. And, what we are going to end up seeing in the future, because there are now, finally, some excellent shelters being opened for these kid, we’re going to have to really learn a lot about what the recovery process is for a person who’s been in that kind of situation. Because, it’s truly like a concentration camp.
AC: Marty Braniff is my guest and we’re talking about human trafficking. And, there’s more to come with Marty and a little later down the line, a policeman who deals, every day, with human trafficking. I’m Angie Coiro.
[Audio Track]: My name is Masha Allen. I’m thirteen years old and I lived near Atlanta, Georgia with my mother Faith Allen. When I was five years old, Matthew Mancuso, a Pittsburg businessman, who was a pedophile, adopted me. I was rescued, almost three years ago when the FBI raided his home in a child-pornography setting. After I was rescued, I learned that during the five years I lived with Matthew, he took hundreds of pornographic pictures of me and traded them over the internet. Thank you.
AC: And that’s another angle of human trafficking. You’re listening to In Deep Radio, I’m Angie Coiro. My guest: Marty Braniff. Her book is called Step over Rio. Marty, that’s a whole other element, now. This is someone who was adopted, so she wasn’t kidnapped, she wasn’t brutalized, she wasn’t smuggled across a state line, and yet, she was being used, against her will. In this case, it’s gone digital. This is a digital form of human trafficking. Is there any indication that law enforcement and investigative groups have caught up with that?
MB: I don’t think they have caught up with it, but you need to ask someone else about it. I do know that, for them to get a handle on these internet sites, particularly these child porn sites, is extremely difficult and I have read several accounts of FBI agents going undercover and it takes them months to get into these sites, because you actually have to, in order to get involved in it now, post all your own kiddie porn first. And, then they have to look at it. These people are extremely sophisticated and very, very well educated in how to protect themselves, so that to run a sting or a scam on one of those sites is really difficult. I know that Nicholas Kristoff and several other journalists have been discussing the Backpage issue, which is still going on, where young girls are being advertised on Backpage, even though the Village Voice says that they are taking measures to stop it.
But, you read about these cases where, particularly, U.S. kids are being sold on Backpage, and it’s still quite prevalent. Backpage is the largest, shall we say, purveyor of opportunities to get ahold of an underage prostitute.
AC: Wow. And, that’s one link we will NOT put on our web site, here at In Deep. But, there was something else I definitely want to bring up with you and that’s the disparity in treatment between the people who are being used for sex and the people who are being used for labor. And, this is Rachel Lloyd:
[Audio Track of Rachel Lloyd]: As a nation, we’ve graded and rated other countries on how they address trafficking within their borders and yet have effectively ignored the sale of our own children within our own borders. We’ve created a dichotomy of acceptable and unacceptable victims, wherein Katya from the Ukraine will be seen as a real victim and provided with services and support, but Keshia from the Bronx will be seen as a ‘willing participant’, someone who’s out there because she ‘likes it’ and who is criminalized and thrown in detention or jail.
AC: She put that so well, Before we do the show, you and I were talking, Marty, about the fact that a child is caught in a sweatshop situation or found out in a field, they’re being treated as a victim. If someone that very same age has gone through the very same process and ended up as a prostitute, they’re just as likely to be treated as a small criminal and end up in detention. And, that’s a point of view that is only slowly coming around. They’re starting to be seen as victims, too. There are some really exciting things happening here in Houston. I think it’s the first in the country. One of our juvenile judges has created what they call the Girl’s Court. And, they are looking at these cases very carefully as these young kids are coming into the juvenile system and they are going to be able to refer – only thirty, though – but, thirty girls to this new shelter that is being established here through a joint effort of several of the churches and some of the other advocacy organizations. It’s called Freedom Place and you might want to get online and check it out. It’s probably going to be the largest shelter in the United States. The tragedy is that it’s only going to hold thirty girls. But, the fabulous thing is that it’s going to be a model and a first step for it to happen other places. There are shelters nationwide, but I don’t think any of them are going to have this outstanding referral system that the courts are going to use, because the judges are becoming very aware of the fact that the children who are trafficked are usually not willing participants. And so, if they are brought in as prostitutes, they are probably not a willing prostitute. The other thing that we know is pimps target children. And, they know kids, who have been in foster care, kids who are runaways, have very little family support systems. And so, those are the kids they’re going to go after. And, the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association is very aware of the situation in terms of the kids that are served by the Court Appointed Advocates across the country. These kids are high risk, because they’re in foster care and they have more of a tendency to run away, because they’ve come from such horrendous families. So, it’s really sad that, after a child’s been brutally abused at home and then put into the system, that then they get abused by society.
AC: Let’s talk a little bit about the economy around this. Later in this hour we’re going to talk to an actual economist who talks about the way the money flows. But, I just want to ask your impression as a person who studied the phenomenon of human trafficking. And, you’ve seen the way it has its tendrils into legitimate companies as we discussed earlier. Do you get the sense that if human trafficking were to end tomorrow the entire face of the economy would change? It sounds like it’s so – from the price of food to what’s happening on the street and where our legal money goes and where our rehabilitation money goes, it sounds like it has such an impact on the world economy.
MB: I really believe it does. And, my sense of this is that that is probably one reason why certain corporate entities do not want to see any of our immigration laws toughen because there are vast benefits from having not only traffic labor but cheap labor in this country. In terms of, if it was obliterated, there would be a huge segment of the sex trade that would lose all of the victims that are being sold. So, I do know that, even in 2003, when I started writing my novel, the agents at the State Department told me they thought that human trafficking was the second largest crime in the world, second only to drug trafficking. I believe today, that that’s a statistic that they are holding firm on. In some internet sites, they say that it’s tied with arms trafficking. But, regardless, it is billions and billions of dollars, every year. That’s the selling of these people. That’s not even counting economic benefits that are gained, that you just mentioned, after they’ve been sold.
AC: We’re talking to Marty Braniff. Our conversation on the air is finished. I am going to talk to her a little more online, and if you’d like to hear that web extra, meet us up at indeepradio.com. We’re going to talk to a law enforcement officer next. I’m Angie Coiro. This is In Deep.
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This is Angie Coiro. We’re continuing our examination of human trafficking, this hour and we were glad to have Marty Braniff, in the last couple of segments. And, coming up, we are going to be talking to Elizabeth Wheaton, who focuses on the economics of human trafficking. But, it’s important to get a look at human trafficking through the eyes of someone who deals with it every day. And, that’s why we’re bringing to you Lieutenant George Koder. He is with the Clearwater Police Department Human Trafficking Task Force, in Florida. We have a link to their work on our web site on indeepradio.com. Lieutenant, thanks for joining us.
George Koder: Thank you for having me.
AC: Where you are working, human trafficking largely takes the form of prostitution in terms of what you deal with day to day?
GK: Those prostitution cases are the ones that we see. We originally started looking at human trafficking for labor cases, but we also uncovered sex trafficking of immigrants, as well as U.S. citizens.
AC: Is it difficult for you to realize when you’re looking at a woman, or a man, who’s selling their services on the street, whether you are looking at someone who is an informed adult, who is taking on the risk of breaking the law, themselves, or someone who is actually in a slaver situation, where they’re being forced to do this? How do you make that call?
GK: That’s the big challenge. Most people, if you are to be victimized of a crime, you are going to call 9-1-1 and law enforcement’s going to react to your call. We’re going to come out, you are going to cooperate to give us information to help solve the crime. Whereas, these victims, very rarely do they escape and very rarely do they call 9-1-1. They are in fear of law enforcement. They are in fear of their trafficker. They have some type of vulnerability in their system and their personality that says “I’m not going to call.” And, so, it makes it very difficult for us to uncover. So we have to go and find these victims and we typically do that through tips from citizens or things that we observe.
AC: Do you have both uniformed and plain clothes people in this? I can imagine that some of these people have been so trained that they are not to talk to the police, that seeing a uniform might scare them, right away.
GK: Oh, absolutely. So, training is a big part of our task force, both for the public as well as for law enforcement. Uniform patrol sees things on the frontlines and citizens see things in their neighborhoods or businesses that they go to. So, one of our main objectives in our task force is to do awareness training to citizens as well as law enforcement. We have a variety of things that we do through our partners, through local colleges and universities. So, we have some online training for free, we do one-hour training groups at the Rotary Clubs and church groups, up to a four-hour block of training, up to an eight-hour block of training, and we even have a three-day advanced investigator course that we helped develop. So, there’s a lot of different aspects to it and that’s a big part of my job to do that community awareness and training with law enforcement.
AC: Could you think of one particular victim that the task force has worked with and kind of walk me through that person’s story so that we can understand how they got where they were, how the task force intervened, and how you helped them – what became of them?
GK: Sure. One of our first cases, it’ll be a sex trafficking case of a juvenile who was an immigrant. She was from a poor village in Central America. The trafficker recruited her from her family to say that he was a person who had bars and restaurants in America, he was very successful, convinced the family to give the girl up to come to America to work in a bar or restaurant. Once she got here, everything changed and she was forced to work in a strip club and forced into prostitution and sex trafficking as a teen. She was basically a sex slave of that trafficker as well as other men. She was pregnant and they dumped her off in Clearwater because they didn’t want to have to deal with a pregnant girl. She just was not of use to them. We rescued that girl and she was cooperative and we were able to - through other evidence and another victim that was uncovered in another city- were able to connect the dots and got the conviction on this trafficker, who’s now in Federal prison. Through the help of our non-governmental organizations, we got her a T Visa and she’s been able to stay in the country, working toward her citizenship.
AC: Wow. That brings up so much. I’m thinking, when you rescue the victim, it’s almost like the beginning, rather than the end of the story, because you are probably dealing with people who have wildly varying levels of education, whether they can speak English, whether they have a salable skill so they can become part of the market here. And that’s where the NGO’s come in?
GK: Absolutely. We can’t do this without them. Law enforcement, we’re not built to take care of a victim for long term. In that particular case, or in other cases, we take care of victims for up to a year as it goes through prosecution. And, they’re provided food and shelter and medical care and legal care from some of our attorneys that work in the NGO world to get them through the visa process and to get them status in the country. So, there’s a whole host of organizations that we recruit and partner with. Right now, our task force has well over three hundred names and organizations that we partner with, because if I find somebody in the middle of the night and I need somebody’s help to help this victim, I want to have a network of services available to help this person when they are at their most needy. Because we get these victims when they have just the clothes on their backs. They have no place to go.
AC: I’m talking to Lieutenant George Koder, Clearwater Police, Human Trafficking Task Force. I wonder when you’re dealing with the various kinds of human trafficking victims, do you have a grasp on what percentage of these are the victims of individuals, “cowboys,” small-time operations, and how many of them are part of a larger network? For example, the story you told, you connected it up with another victim in another state.
GK: That’s hard to say. There are cases throughout the country involving just “mom and pop” organizations to traditional organized crime, where it’s the Mexican cartels or Asian organized crime, Russian organized crime. So, it’s hard for me to put a percentage of that. But, we’ve seen cases involving “mom and pops” and we’ve seen cases involving an organized group that was working out of four different cities in the state of Florida, constantly moving women from place to place, that had brothels set up in different cities and was fairly organized to keep the girls from not knowing where they’re at and keeping law enforcement not able to track where they’re at, because they keep moving them. But, certainly some of the research, I’ve said that organized crime is becoming very popular, human trafficking is becoming very popular with organized crime because you can resell a person over and over again, where a gun or drugs is sold and it’s consumed and it’s gone.
But, a person, you can use a woman for labor during the day and sex in the evening. And you can use them seven days a week. And, there’s a lot less risk to the trafficker for prosecution with human trafficking than there is drugs.
AC: What happens when a woman ages out of her usability as a sexual commodity? If the task force doesn’t intervene, what becomes of her?
GK: There’s a variety of things. It’s so underground, that could just find some other place to live with them. Maybe another family or friends that they’ve encountered
AC: What happens when a woman ages out of her usability as a sexual commodity? If the task force doesn’t intervene, what becomes of her?
GK: There’s a variety of things. It’s so underground, that could just find some other place to live with them, maybe another family or friends that they’ve encountered as they get dumped off. Sometimes, they’re recruited to work in the organization. If they feel like they have nothing else to do and nowhere to go, then they become a part of the organization as a trafficker and they control the other women. So, sometimes they become criminals. They leave the life of victim and become the criminal as they get older. We certainly have had cases where the traffickers are women. Everybody thinks that they’re going to be men, but there are women traffickers, who control the other girls and are part of the organization.
AC: It’s interesting. That brings in all the psychological considerations that, once you are abused it opens you up to becoming the abuser. So, it sounds like another manifestation of that.
AC: Well, this has just been illuminating. I really thank you for the time, so much. And, I appreciate the work that you are doing down there in Clearwater. And, we will put a link to your work up on our web site. Thank you.
GK: Thank you, so much.
AC: That’s Lieutenant George Koder. He’s with Clearwater Police Human Trafficking Task Force.
AC: You’re listening to In Deep. I’m Angie Coiro, and you’ve just heard yet another voice from the frontlines of human trafficking. We’ve been talking this hour about the way that human beings get sucked into a market that they’d had no choice in. They move into sweatshops. They move into labor situations, in many situations. They’ve moved into prostitution, be it local, national, international. It’s time to turn our attention to the money around this issue. How does the cash flow? Are there huge organizations involved? What about when it’s just one person and three prostitutes? We’re bringing in Dr. Beth Wheaton. She’s an economics lecturer at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, Texas. And, she’s been studying labor economics and economic development, focusing on child labor and the economics of human rights. She is the founder and president of Equip the Saints. Now, that’s a non-profit consulting organization that works to strengthen non-profits, worldwide. And, last year, Equip the Saints created the North Texas Human Trafficking Database. And, Equip the Saints acted as liaison between law enforcement and non-profit groups involved in working against human trafficking. Beth Wheaton, welcome to the show, thanks for joining us.
Beth Wheaton: Thank you, so much, for having me on.
AC: I think, the thing that we worked so hard to grasp, through this hour, in fact, even putting this hour together; we really struggled to get our hands around the intricacy of human trafficking. Just to introduce the topic, you’re talking about something that ranges from a person who has a small prostitution ring to international groups that smuggle people across country lines. So, let me ask you first, how does one even go about tackling the economics of this issue? How do you define the economics of human trafficking?
BW: I’m sure that you’ve talked, throughout the show, about a person becoming vulnerable. And, when you’ve got a person that’s vulnerable, then that person is open to exploitation. We talk about, in economics, exploiting a resource. In this case, they’re exploiting a human being. And, a human being can be used in all different services. And, because of that, a human being’s services are very valuable. And, that puts a dollar figure on a human being. If you can have full control of the human being, you can make a lot of money from that human being in whatever way that you decide to use that person.
AC: It’s funny to think of it as a market-driven commodity. Do we look at the prices of human labor or human prostitution? If we look at it as a commodity, do the prices fluctuate? Is there some element of bidding between different factions? Is it that much a duplicate of a regular economic system?
BW: You have to say so. Talking about economics, you are talking about supply and demand. And, if you’re talking about: You’ve got a large supply coming in, of the same sort of labor then you’re talking about the prices going down. If you’re getting a differentiated product, in this case, different people, perhaps some different types of people to be prostitutes, then you can talk about getting higher prices for some characteristic of that person. So, it is just amazing how much it is really a product, that that person that is being trafficked, is being sold as a product.
AC: I’m wondering how one goes about trying to understand the structure of the money, the movement of the money and the use of money, when so much of this is underground. I mean, even to figure out if we’re talking about local prostitution, finding out how many pimps there are, finding out how much money changes hands. Much of this happens undercover. So, how does one go about getting a grasp on how the money works?
BW: I think it’s the same way that we’ve looked at drug trafficking, throughout the years. A lot of times, what you’re following is you’re following money. All of a sudden, money shows up different places and you follow that money backward and figure out where in the world it’s coming from. And so, in a similar way, I think, a lot of what they’re trying to do with human trafficking, is following the money, finding out where that money is coming from, that it doesn’t seem, to be coming from a legitimate business, or a business that doesn’t look legitimate, and figuring out where that money came from. And then, finding out what generated that money. And, often times, in this case, human trafficking. Just as the numbers in drug trafficking, they’re based on when they catch those drugs. Think about the amount of drugs they’re not catching. So, they’re estimates. And, in the same way with human trafficking, they’ve got to be estimates. So, catching this much of it, this much is reported, and having to make estimates based on that. So, numbers are very tough because they’re based on estimates. And, they’re the best estimates that the government, different agencies, can come up with, but they’re estimates.
AC: I’m talking to economics lecturer, Beth Wheaton, about the money behind human trafficking. You know, Beth, I think a lot of people were shocked out of any delusions they had that this is all dirty money, dirty places, hidden people, at the end of March, this year, when it came out that Goldman Sachs actually owned sixteen percent of the web site Backpage.com. And Backpage.com is recognized as one of the leading print and internet media for people to do trade in human trafficking, largely prostitution, but potentially others, as well. What does that hint to us? What does that tell us about the intermingling of so-called legitimate money with these shadow organizations and shadow people?
BW: Speaking about Goldman Sachs, if you are talking about any very large organization like that, realize that the number of investments that that organization has. An investment like this would probably be very, very small, on the total investments that they have. That is not to say that they are not responsible for that investment, but to say that, when that investment was put into place, obviously it was something that was lucrative. Probably not going to the point of saying, “Hey, it’s lucrative and we need to look further, way on down the line and say, hey, this is prostitution and potentially human trafficking.” So, you get to a very fuzzy line, I’m afraid, when you’re talking about those investments and saying, well, they are putting money there and saying yes, it’s okay for the human trafficking to happen. There’s no way. Goldman Sachs, their reputation would not stand for that. That this has come out, you can trust that there are people there that are absolutely shocked that this was made and that this is happening. And so, I can imagine that there will be an entire revamp of looking at their investments from this point on, just as has happened in so many different places, with sweatshops and that sort of thing.
AC: I’m glad you brought up sweatshops; because that’s the next area I want to go with this. If we look at what happened with Goldman Sachs, making headlines because of this, their involvement with Backpage was decried, even while people at the same time were saying, just as you did, they don’t know every little thing they’ve invested in and every little subset of thing that that invests in, but there are a number of gray areas where the so-called legitimate market mixes in with human trafficking. For example, the sweatshops are employed, or contracted by so-called legitimate companies. What are some of those other gray areas where the legitimate financial world and the economics of human trafficking get mixed together?
BW: I’m afraid you would have to start questioning from your very skin outward. And, so saying, the products that you use. Where do those ingredients come from? Are they produced by people who are free to provide their labor? Or are they used by slave labor? Your clothing. Are they produced in sweatshops, where the conditions are horrible, and people are paid very little? Or, are they produced in some place where people again have legitimate labor? The food that you ate any time, today, the tea or the coffee that you consumed, each of those things, the chocolate, each one of those things very possibly had some slave labor in it, somewhere in the world. Perhaps not in this country, although we have fruit and things like, surely. So, any time that you’ve got very large labor populations, people that need jobs, you’ve got this vulnerability and, it’s very possible that someone’s going to take advantage of that, whether it’s just providing jobs at very low labor and perhaps not the best working conditions, to absolute slave labor conditions.
AC: That kind of points to what I referred to at the beginning of our talk, which is the amorphous nature, trying to get a handle on what really constitutes human trafficking. If you have people who are forced by market conditions to pick strawberries and their ultimate net is two or three dollars per hour, but they’re ostensibly free people, who are part of the free market, you really can’t call that human trafficking. So, at what point does that cross the line into saying they have no other choice, this does impinge on their rights to move about and be a free person? Where is that line?
BW: The laws are getting better, because, the definitions are getting better. And so, if you are going to go into it and say, what is human trafficking? What is human smuggling? Where are the lines? Those are legal lines. And, the definitions, I’d say, they’re getting better. U.S. definitions. International definitions. Some countries don’t really have definitions for the human trafficking, but, figuring out, if you’re talking about lines and if you’re talking about definitions, how good are the definitions to define is this person just being used for low-skilled labor? Or, are they in a slave condition? And, as they say, it’s a legal definition and, being an economist, I can’t go much into the legal part of it, but it’s very much in the law as written, this is what constitutes human trafficking, this is human smuggling, and here’s the difference between them.
AC: Talking to Elizabeth Wheaton about the economics of human trafficking. And, she’s also the founder of Equip the Saints and that organization has the mission of strengthening non-profit organizations, including work with the North Texas Human Trafficking Database. That’s something that Equip the Saints has created. And, let’s go to that, Beth, Equip the Saints worked as a liaison bringing together law enforcement and non-prof’s, working against human trafficking. And, the notes I have from you is that’s during the Super Bowl, in Irving, Texas. What’s this connection between human trafficking and work during the Super bowl? It’s hard to grasp,
BW: Any time that you’ve got a very large event, a big conference, or something like the Super Bowl, athletic events, if you’re talking soccer and the world cup, any of those times that you’ve got very large events like, then there’s entertainment. And, part of that entertainment that law enforcement found is prostitution and a good part of that is trafficked. I don’t know the percentage of that, but they do say that part of that is trafficked. It is a time when they’ve got a large population together for the purpose of a meeting, and then time afterwards for entertainment, or an event and then time in there for entertainment and that entertainment can be with prostitution, and the same part of that with human trafficking. And so, the concern has been, with those large events, that whenever this happens and they see this prostitution increasing in the area, that part of it that they are seeing is human trafficking being brought into the area for the purpose of use as traffic victims.
AC: So, when you brought these two groups together, the law enforcement and the non-profit groups, what did they do? What were their actual accomplishments, trying to deal with prostitution during the Super Bowl?
BW: The interesting thing was, the law enforcement were really dealing with prostitution and issues and then dealing with any human trafficking related with that. And, in Texas, we had several groups, FBI, kind of all around. State and Federal groups, working on the prostitution and human trafficking issues. Not to mix those two, but to say that they were working on both issues. And then, we had non-profit organizations, who are anti-human trafficking. There must have been about twelve of them in various different activities that they were doing around the Super Bowl. Some of it was awareness; some of it was walking the streets trying to locate potential human traffic victims, just all sorts of different activities to kind of raise awareness and to find victims. Understand those two; if you are trying to do them at the same time, they conflict. And so we had non-profit organizations conflicting with each other because their goals were different. We had law enforcement, who were just trying to keep everything under control. You’ve got the Super Bowl and a million people, plus prostitution coming in, and then these non-profits, on top. And so, we try to be the communication, one between law enforcement and these non-profits and then, within these non-profits, just to try to make sure there was good communication; that they weren’t stepping on each other’s toes and that they were able to, kind of, we’re doing this, hey, do you want to join us, with this? Or, whatever that was.
We created a database of what the non-profits were doing, where they were going to be, their activities, so the law enforcement had that. So, they could always call me and say, hey, we’re going to be in this area, we need the non-profits out.
AC: I’m trying to ask one more question and you verged right into the territory I wanted to talk about. One of the things that Marty Braniff discusses is the difference between human trafficking as slave labor and human trafficking as prostitution and how the victims of these two areas are treated differently. More and more, we’re seeing some awareness that those who are caught as prostitutes, if they are in a slave situation, it’s not appropriate to go lock them up or treat them as a delinquent, that they need to be treated as a victim. Are you seeing that awareness in Texas, as well?
BW: Yes. We are. And, more and more working on safe houses, places where they can go and receive counseling, receive services to help create a new life, learn how to balance a checkbook. Especially the ones, who are brought into it very young, don’t even have these skills. And, some might think that they had to go back to prostitution because it’s the only thing they know. A lot of services, working to create a lot of services and a lot of safe houses, counseling centers for victims of human trafficking, yes, we see quite a lot of that.
AC: Dr. Beth Wheaton is an Economics Lecturer at Southern Baptist University in Dallas, Texas. We’re going to put up a link to Equip the Saints on our web site at indeepradio. Com
Beth, Thank you very much.
BW: Thank you.
AC: And, that’s the end of our show for this week. Thank you for joining us. Our Executive Producer is Gordon Whiting. Our Engineer is Matt Fidler, with particular production help on this show from Cindy Meyers, Jill Fiddler runs our office. Our interns are Forrest Phillips, Kristen Stevens and Meaghan Mena. Our theme is by Big Troubles, closing theme by David Gans. You can visit our site for web extras from GottaLaff and more. We’ll see you right here, next week. Thanks for joining us. I’m Angie Coiro.