Monday, December 10, 2012

Human Trafficking in Chicago's Massage Parlors

Brothels that front as massage parlors are closer to you than you think – they are located down from your streets and in your neighborhoods. The following news story from the Center Square Journal attests to the prevalence of coerced commercial sexual services, both adults and minors, in the massage parlor businesses in Chicago:

Report: Human Trafficking Pervasive in Massage Parlors
By Sam Charles | Friday, December 7, 2012
According to a report published by the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and Not In Our Name!, a group made up of massage therapists against sex trafficking, the culture of massage parlors is conducive to sex trafficking in the United States. A recent report by Center Square Journal identified several area massage parlors where sexual favors are allegedly offered by mainly East Asian immigrants.
Check a map of the reviewed massage parlors here.
“Human traffickers are using the massage industry as a cover and a way for sex trade customers to identify and connect with paid sex opportunities, often times with women who have no other choices,” the report stated.
The study, released earlier this year, concludes that one of the driving factors behind sex trafficking is the constant demand for it. “Johns,” those who pay for sexual favors, are driving the industry, the report said.
“This group constitutes the demand for sexual acts from women, men, transgendered individuals and children,” the report stated. “Purchasing sex is often an act of asserting power and control. Buying sex from another person dehumanizes the victim because it puts a price on a person’s self-worth.”
According to the report, In 2008, nearly 67 percent of prostitution-related arrests in Chicago were of prostituted people, 34 percent were of customers, and only 1 percent were of pimps.
“This approach fails to address the root cause of prostitution: the demand,” the report said.
Most of the massage parlors in Brown Line Media‘s coverage area operate out of smaller spaces, typically below residential spaces along busy streets.
According to the report, commercial front brothels that claim to specialize in Asian techniques operate by pretending to offer legitimate services (i.e. massages, acupuncture, etc.), but actually primarily provide commercial sex. The victims are most often Asian women, both documented and undocumented.
None of the six massage parlors in Brown Line Media‘s coverage area that allegedly offer sexual favors commented on the sites’ reviews.
All of the establishments in Roscoe View Journal and Center Square Journal‘s coverage area that allegedly offer clients sexual gratification also currently hold a Chicago Massage Establishment License, according to city records.
Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs is responsible for granting licenses and inspecting businesses that seek and are granted Massage Establishment Licenses. To acquire a license, massage parlor proprietors must be fingerprinted, pass a background check, employ only those with personal massage licenses and provide copies of all massage therapist licenses issued by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation for every employee or prospective employee. These inspections, according to the department website, are administered before the license is initially granted and every two years when the license is renewed, in addition to periodic random inspections.
According the department’s website, “Message establishment operators should not allow its employees, agents or independent contractors to touch, or offer or agree to touch the sexual or genital area of any person. Engaging in any of these acts makes the Massage Establishment licensee strictly liable for revocation or suspension of the license.”
The report acknowledged that trafficking may be difficult to see in the open, but there are several tell-tale signs of massage establishments that engage in human trafficking, such as:
  • Suggestive or blatantly sexual advertising.
  • An expired or nonexistent license.
  • Darkened, obstructed, or covered windows.
  • People coming and going at odd times.
  • Mostly male clientele utilizing the establishment.
  • Predominantly Asian women, of diverse ethnicities and nationalities, including Korean, Thai, Chinese, and ethnically Korean-Chinese citizens performing the services.

Monday, December 3, 2012

President Obama Raises Human Trafficking on Visit to Asia

President Obama made his first post-election visit abroad two weeks ago to three countries in Southeast Asia. He spent November 18th in Thailand and held a joint press conference with Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. On November 19th, he journeyed to Burma and met with Burmese President Thein Sein and Member of Parliament who was formerly under political house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi. He then attended the East Asia summit in Cambodia on November 20th and met with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This trip was significant not only because President Obama was the first U.S. president to visit Burma and Cambodia, but also because he raised the priority human rights issue of human trafficking in his conversations with leaders in each of the three countries.

This visit echoes in action the address that President Obama gave at the Clinton Global Initiative in September, which he focused entirely on human trafficking in the form labor and sex services, both in the United States and globally. He began describing human trafficking as such:

“It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity.  It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric.  It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets.  It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.  I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name -- modern slavery. “

Recognizing that it is a tragedy that “modern slavery” should exist in the U.S. but acknowledging that the U.S. has resources and technical knowledge to be a leader in the anti-trafficking movement, the president called to attention these anti-trafficking initiatives that his Administration has designed:

·         Executive order strengthening protections in federal contracts: The U.S. is strengthening adherence to its zero-tolerance policy on human trafficking within government contracts in the U.S. and overseas.
·         Tools and training to identify and assist trafficking victims: Government employed professionals from the local to federal levels who are most likely to cross paths with trafficking victims will be provided human trafficking training.
·         Increased resources for victims of human trafficking: Social services and legal assistance for trafficking victims will be expanded so they will have increased access to help. The T-visa application and prosecution of the victims’ traffickers are being streamlined to expedite processing times.
·         Comprehensive plan for future action: The first strategic action plan to strengthen services for victims of trafficking and the first domestic human trafficking assessment tool to track trafficking trends in the U.S. is being developed by federal intelligence agencies.

President Obama's speech at the CGI 

The President calls upon members of every community to be educated on human trafficking and join in on the existing efforts to combat this worldwide epidemic. In the same address, he urges Congress to renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which he says, is “something we should all agree on”, whether Democrat or Republican.

On his visit, President Obama commended Burma on the extensive progress made toward its transition to democracy and addressing sex and labor trafficking in the last two years. Burma has repealed the 1907 Towns and Villages Act, which condoned government use of forced labor and has enacted the 2012 Wards and Village Tracts Administration Act, which criminalizes all forms of forced labor. It has also signed a child soldiers action plan with the UN to release child soldiers from the Burmese military. These are just a few signs of evidence for Burma’s advance in human rights.

President Obama meets Aung San Suu Kyi (Official White House photo)

 In his subsequent conversations with the Thai and Cambodian leaders, President Obama affirms that the technical knowledge and practices developed by the U.S. and its partners in anti-trafficking efforts will be shared with all three countries. The bilateral partnerships between the U.S. and these countries signify cooperative efforts to share ideas and learn from each other how to tackle this issue. However, human trafficking is not a standalone issue; therefore, the U.S. will work with the Thai, Burmese, and Cambodian leaders to improve education, revamp public health systems, and focus on human development from childhood.

This visit seems to have provided added momentum for the anti-trafficking movement in Asia. With such a huge focus on trafficking as President Obama begins his second term, those already engaged in anti-trafficking work are looking forward to greater development in advocacy and services for victims as well as abusers being held accountable to their crimes. It is a tremendous sign of progress as the covert operations of human trafficking are being exposed and awareness of the issue has gained prominence in the last decade.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Who is a Victim of Human Trafficking in Chicago?

In 2003, a New York Times identified Chicago as a national hub for human trafficking. Chicago’s airports, including one of the world’s largest airports, the O’Hare International Airport, and the major crossings of large interstates make entry for traffickers and victims much more accessible. These victims are then dispersed from this major Midwest location to neighboring states, cities, and towns. Not to mention that with the percentage of foreign-born individuals at 21.1%, trafficking victims could look like any number of immigrants in the city. However, it’s important to note that trafficking victims can be both non-U.S. citizens and U.S. citizens. In addition, Chicago as a vibrant tourist attraction keeps demand high as people travel in and out of the city.

Here are some more facts and statistics that call for the urgent need to address human trafficking in Chicago:

  • In the state of Illinois, most of the Latin American and Asian trafficked victims are found in the Chicagoland area.
  • Chicago hosts an abundance of large scale events that attract traffickers to bring victims to cater to event attendees.
  • 16,000 to 25,000 women and girls are trafficked each year in Chicago. One third of them get involved in trafficking by the age of 15 and 62% by the age of 18.
  • In Cook County (in which Chicago belongs), massage parlors and strip clubs front sex trafficking businesses.
  • The labor trafficking takes advantage of the large immigrant population in Chicago. This includes forced begging and soliciting, domestic servitude, and forced labor in restaurants.
  • Between December 2007 and June 2009, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received 257 calls from Illinois, which ranks fifth on highest number of calls after Texas, California, New York, and Florida.

Illinois currently has legislation in place that that aims to protect and not criminalize human trafficking victims. The Trafficking of Persons and Involuntary Servitude Act of Illinois went into effect in 2006, proclaiming it an offense for trafficking persons for forced servitude including minors, increasing access to health and social services for victims, and imposing severe penalties for traffickers. During the same year, the Illinois Predator Accountability Act was enacted to allow sex trafficked victims to sue their abusers and anyone who profited from their activities. Furthermore In 2010, the Illinois Safe Children Act was signed into law, thus being one of the first states to implement comprehensive legislation that trafficked children under 18 will be protected from criminal prosecution.

This article describes the criminalization of prostitution in Chicago that relegates sex workers to felony status. Even when they want to exit the sex industry, they are hard pressed to find legitimate employers who will hire ex-felons. If they are denied a self-supporting job and public services, they often return to sex work as their only immediate source of income and survival. While I interned as a case worker last year for a social service agency, I saw numerous ex-felons come through our job readiness training program. Although we could refer them to several appropriate employers, the job options were extremely limited. Sex workers should be given more opportunities for self-advancement, including education, supportive services, social services, and broader job options. There is no use in labeling an individual as a felon and then expect them to contribute to the job economy if they cannot access formal employment opportunities.

In 2011, the Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Crimes Act was signed into law, enabling sex trafficking victims who were convicted as prostitutes to clear their criminal records of forced commercial sex acts. Children and many non-consenting adults who are forced to perform commercial sex acts are not actually engaging in prostitution; instead, they are falling victim to abusive individuals who exploit their age, lack of options, and social isolation for profit. They need protection and the right to resources and provision of necessities like clothing, food, transportation, and counseling that will help them to rebuild their lives. Despite these legislative victories, victims still need specialized services to help them get back on their feet. Trafficked victims did not choose to be slaves. Often those in the sex industry have been coerced into the life and do not need their dignity stripped further by being labeled as criminals.


October 2012 Community Forum Outcome Document

AATOP Community Forum Outcome Document
October 24, 2012

The Asian American Trafficking Outreach Project (AATOP), a program launched by the International Organization of Adolescents (IOFA) held its first community forum on October 24, 2012 at the Hull House Museum. This forum was the first meeting to connect organizations from the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community of Chicago that have interest and expertise in the issue of human trafficking. Over forty attendees ranging from college students to professionals in the fields of advocacy, health, legal, education, and social services came together to hear about AATOP and contribute to the discussion about outreach to victims of human trafficking in underserved API communities.

IOFA provided a general introduction to the initiative, explained the scope of human trafficking in the United States and Chicagoland area and provided guidance on how to identify trafficking victims. Shelby French (IOFA Executive Director) and Sehla Ashai (IOFA Anti-Trafficking Program Specialist) segued into a description of AATOP’s goals and target activities. Esther Liew (IOFA AATOP Program Development Intern) presented research from IOFA that demonstrated little evidence that API trafficking victims are being identified or provided support by a sample of API-serving organizations in Chicago. Using this as a launching point, Shelby invited the attending organizations and individuals to partner in AATOP efforts at various levels of participation. Both IOFA and participating organizations will bring together expertise from different fields with the goal of effectively reaching API trafficking victims and agencies that serve this demographic.

We proceeded to a discussion session that addressed these questions:

  • Do you believe that human trafficking is a critical issue facing API communities?
  • Do you think human trafficking is being addressed adequately in API communities?
  • What are the challenges to building public awareness and concern about human trafficking?
  • What are the opportunities?
  • Which API communities are at greatest risk?
  • Who needs to be involved to ensure success and sustainability of AATOP efforts?
  • What are the specific challenges and opportunities in relation to outreach into this particular community?
  • What are some culturally appropriate models or methods of outreach to victims of similar crimes?

The discussion explored attendees’ understanding of the challenges to serving trafficked victims and generated suggestions of how they themselves can contribute to AATOP efforts.

Feedback points included:

Human trafficking is a critical issue facing API communities
  • Psychological coercion of human trafficking can be damaging.
  • Service providers in attendance have spoken and worked with trafficked individuals but have not realized it.
  • Trafficking is a big problem in the Vietnamese community. The Vietnamese American Community of Illinois has received calls eliciting support for trafficked victims. It has also conducted anti-trafficking programs for the Vietnamese community.

Fear of removing self from trafficked situation
  • Some victims come to the U.S. not knowing anybody.
  •  They get minimal provisions in the trafficked situation, but if they leave, they are stepping out into the unknown where there may receive no protection at all. It is scary to be in a trafficked situation, but scarier not to know what is out there, so not many trafficked individuals leave.
  • A shelter living situation is not incentive enough for victims to leave.

Building a connection between organizations that potentially serve API trafficking victims
  • If staff do not know how to identify a trafficking situation, they will not know what to do when confronted with it.
  • Benefit of having a coordinated network: direct service providers builds relationships with victims and with other collaborating organizations. Victims will choose service providers that they trust to advocate for them. They will be less fearful of presenting their trafficking situations to a police or lawyer if they have a professional who supports them.
  • Organizations serving trafficking victims should know how to connect and coordinate with organizations in victims’ home countries in case repatriation is necessary.

Labor trafficking
·         The difference between trafficking and labor exploitation is blurry. What constitutes as exploitation in one culture is not the same in another; what is “normal” in one culture is not in another.
  • Some people do not understand the difference between labor exploitation and trafficking, so we need to be clear when explaining the distinction between the two.
  • Outreach work into labor violations and employment issues face resistance because victims and social service organizations do not want to go against businesses. Victims may deny that there is a problem.
  • Some of the largest labor trafficking cases have involved Asian workers. Labor trafficking preys on the language gap of victims. There is success when workers are organized to advocate for recognition of labor trafficking. However, it is difficult to organize domestic workers because they are isolated from each other.
  • There is currently no law association with whistle blowing or “qui tam” (a writ whereby a private individual who assists in a prosecution is entitled to a percentage of the recovery of the penalty as a reward for exposing wrongdoings) to empower workers to advocate. There is little incentive for victims to challenge labor trafficking employers because of the burden of litigation and re-traumatization. Using litigation for outreach has not been successful, but has been successful when used for compensation.
  • If there is an affluent defendant, the case will go to trial because reputation is at stake.

AATOP’s priority
  • AATOP’s priorities are threefold: identify victims, gather services so they are accessible to victims, and train organizations. Victims face a dilemma if there is nowhere they can receive services. Connections are currently non-existent, so we must put a network together.

Recommendations for moving forward
  • Victims or people who have identified a human trafficking victim can call the 24/7 National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-3737-888) for assistance.
  • Members of the AATOP network can also call IOFA at 773-404-8831 if a victim is identified and wants to be connected with law enforcement and/or legal and social services in the area.
  • It will take awhile to get the API community used to the concept of trafficking outreach, so relationship-building with participating organizations and specific communities is very important.
  • Have conversations with the API community to familiarize them with human trafficking.
  • Organize community leaders to provide a safe space for victims to meet and talk
  • Survivor participation: we want to hear from survivors, ask them questions, and receive direct feedback to inform our programs.
  • For those working with older refugee/non-US citizen girls under pressure to get jobs/are working, have conversations with them about work: work hours, language barriers, fear of being fired, what has raised questions for you, etc.
  • AATOP is in the process of translating trafficking outreach tools into culturally appropriate terms so agencies can use them.
  • AATOP can use resources from Look Beneath the Surface, a culturally appropriate trafficking campaign.
  • Divide up by target ethnic communities and by expertise to contribute to AATOP efforts: legal, social service, capacity building, etc. For example, the Chicago Bar Association can help with the legislative portion.
  • Strength in numbers:  the more organizations we get to come on board, the more the issue will be moved to the forefront.
  • Positive peer pressure: launching point for a shift in thinking and beliefs of other organizations.
  • Train law enforcement to identify API trafficking.
  • College students can be advocates on campus with their student organizations.

Next steps for AATOP
  • Send out a survey inquiring the interest and participation level of potential member organizations
  • Maintain open communication with member organizations through the AATOP blog, listserv, and quarterly newsletters
  • Compile a list of member organizations
  • Have phone calls or meet with member organizations to check in on AATOP progress on their part, then provide help where necessary
  • Recruit for the AATOP steering committee
  • Recruit more AATOP member organizations by reaching out to more API-serving organizations in Chicago and inviting them to participate in AATOP
  • Recruit non-organizationally affiliated community members to be supporters of AATOP
  • Hold ethnic-specific meetings with community members and interested organizations
  • Awareness building and public education
  • Victim outreach
  • Training and capacity building of existing organizations and resources
  • Ongoing technical assistance to organizations
  • Enhance legal and social services for victims
  • Establish and coordinate cultural competent referral networks
  • Research and evaluation of target activities 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

First community forum a success!

The first community forum hosted by the Asian American Trafficking Outreach Project (AATOP) last week saw over 40 attendees! Those who were present ranged from college students to professionals in the advocacy, health, legal, and social service fields. This was the first opportunity for us at IOFA to introduce AATOP to potential partners in a group setting and invite them to join us in driving AATOP efforts. We are excited to already have some organizations on board with us!

Shelby French, IOFA's director introducing AATOP at the forum

We asked the group these following questions to generate ideas for next steps as we move forward in producing outreach and training materials in collaboration with our partners:

  • Do you believe that human trafficking is a critical issue facing API (Asian and Pacific Islander) communities?
  • Do you think human trafficking is being addressed adequately in API communities?
  • What are the challenges to building public awareness and concern about human trafficking?
  • What are the opportunities?
  • Which API communities are at greatest risk?
  • Who needs to be involved to ensure success and sustainability of AATOP efforts?
  • What are the specific challenges and opportunities in relation to outreach into this particular community?
  • What are some culturally appropriate models or methods of outreach to victims of similar crimes?
These questions generated useful discussion that we are compiling into an outcome document. We look forward to sharing the results with you!

Monday, October 15, 2012

AATOP's first collaborative community forum

Asian American Trafficking Outreach Project (AATOP), a program of the International Organization of Adolescents (IOFA) is excited to hold its first community forum on next Thursday, October 24 at the Hull House Museum! This forum will be the first meeting place to connect organizations with an invested interest in human trafficking in the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community of Chicago. As a member-driven coalition, the forum will help begin the dialogue of addressing API needs as human trafficking victims and garner community support for anti-trafficking sentiment and programming. It is a platform for individual organizations to provide areas of expertise as we strategize training models, brainstorm culturally-sensitive outreach efforts, and identify areas of research. We have gathered the support of direct social services, research organizations, legal representatives, educational institutions, and community organizations who will be represented at the forum. In forming a community network supportive of API rights, the group will present as a unified front to the existing anti-trafficking networks in the greater Chicago area.
Check back soon for an update on the results of our discussions and potential next steps as we move forward! 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The ticking time bomb: Economic growth in Asia and its effects on global human trafficking

We’ve all heard about the perils of outsourcing for jobs in America. The option of moving operations to a country with low wages and a lack of regulatory systems offer significant financial incentives for all companies involved. This shift has marked a spike in competition for jobs in the United States. It’s a common assumption to assume that the livelihoods of those abroad are thriving with the plethora of jobs now available to them. This is undoubtedly true for many. But there’s another side.

As foreign money pours into Asian economies, social systems are being thrown for a loop. The change in the job market has inspired many in poverty to work hard to secure higher salaries, raise standards of living, and strive towards an economically stable lifestyle. As workers begin to take on many of these roles, the standard of living of the countries is beginning to climb to new heights. Also increasing are prices for goods, and those below the poverty line are scrambling to supplement their now insufficient income. The enormous lengths that these workers go to in order to achieve monetary stability is now making them more vulnerable than ever to human trafficking.

Migration in Asia has recently spiked to record levels, and studies show that 30-40% of this migration is unregulated entirely. The proportion of female workers looking for domestic jobs are on the rise too. Meanwhile, gangs and other illicit networks of brothers, sweatshops, and factories are forming, creating demand for migrant women attracted to the promise of high wages.

A recent report released by The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has found conclusive evidence that most trafficking is carried out by people whose nationality is the same as that of the victims. The study also found that the trafficking organizers are disproportionality less likely to be caught than foot-soldiers who conduct the daily tasks of trafficking. This is alarming for many reasons, namely that foot soldiers are easily replaced while their organizers remain permanent figures in the scene. Ultimately, the invisibility that these higher ups are able to maintain is what perpetuates multiple transport operations and allows human trafficking to occur across the international stage.  

The sad reality is that the Asia is just one example of direct correlations between economic shifts and expanding human trafficking circles. Today, migrants traveling from Asia are exploited all over the United States, including Chicago, by their own people and by others. The changing trends in migration only reinforce the need for AATOP. While there is no magic key to resolving this blatant violation of human rights, the solution lies somewhere in grassroots conversation and collaboration, a vision that AATOP will continually aim to achieve.

Nikhitha Murali, Intern

Monday, July 9, 2012

IOFA welcomes Apna Ghar, Inc. as an AATOP Member Organization!

To serve South Asian and other immigrant survivors of family violence and trauma.

Chicago, IL

Populations Served
Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistanese, Taiwanese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Filipino, Bangladeshi, Nepali, Sri Lankan, Mongolian, Thai, Fijian, Trinidadian, and several other Asian and Pacific Islander groups as well as Middle Eastern, Sub-Saharan, Latin American, Caribbean, European and North American groups

Services Provided
Emergency hotline
Shelter or housing assistance
Medical assistance
Legal advocacy
ESL/vocational skills training
Interpretation/translation services
Visitation and Safe Exchange Center
Outreach and education

Welcome Hamdard Center for Health and Human Services to the AATOP Network!

Hamdard's mission is to promote physical and emotional health and well-being of individuals and families by offering hope, help and healing.

Addision, IL & Chicago, IL

Target Population
Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, and Pakistanese populations

Services Provided
Emergency hotline
Shelter or housing assistance
Legal advocacy
ESL/vocational training