“Economics of Sexual Servitude Drive Human Trafficking” by Jim Ware

Human rights and victims rights advocates have been pushing to have law enforcement officials trained on many of the multi-faceted issues that accompany sex trafficking. Lindsey Roberson, a district attorney specializing in human trafficking cases, recently spoke with representatives in North Carolina to help reconstruct many of attitudes and misconceptions surrounding this issue. This is an excerpt from a recent article published by Star News Online. The source of this excerpt is http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20140512/ARTICLES/140519933/1177?p=1&tc=pg

Assistant District Attorney Lindsey Roberson leads a class on human trafficking to members of New Hanover County Sheriff's department at the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office in Wilmington, N.C., Thursday, May 8, 2014.  Image courtesy of Star News Online.

Assistant District Attorney Lindsey Roberson leads a class on human trafficking to members of New Hanover County Sheriff’s department at the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office in Wilmington, N.C., Thursday, May 8, 2014. Image courtesy of Star News Online.

Bailiffs, patrol deputies, detectives and jail guards gathered last week in a New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office training room to hear Lindsey Roberson lay down the law on human trafficking.

The 15 people in the session – 14 men and one woman – made up the first of several sheriff’s office classes this month to go through the two-hour training with Roberson, an assistant district attorney in New Hanover County who specializes in human trafficking cases.

Roberson wrote the new state law that carries tougher penalties for pimps and johns in prostitution cases, and provides a safe haven for juveniles caught up in the life. Before joining the district attorney’s office, she worked as an attorney representing human trafficking victims in New York City.

[…]

“The goals today are to be able to identify the victims more effectively, investigate and prosecute human trafficking, to understand the law and to increase the quality of justice in your jurisdiction,” Roberson said.

Roberson started training Wilmington Police Department officers late last year. Last week, she provided training for social workers at a conference in Wilmington. Monday, she taught judges in Mecklenburg County about North Carolina’s Safe Harbor law and general victim identification. In July she’ll train New Hanover Regional Medical Center staff at an event hosted by the South East Area Health Education Center in Wilmington.

“Hospital identification (of human trafficking victims) is huge,” Roberson said.

She also trains volunteers serving as mentors and advocates at A Safe Place/Centre of Redemption on how to respond appropriately to victims and survivors of human trafficking.

New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon called human trafficking a heinous crime and stressed the importance of training on the subject for law enforcement officials.

“As we become aware of criminal activity, I want the deputies to properly recognize it and aggressively enforce the law to keep our community as safe as possible,” McMahon said. “We’ve got to get that information to the people who are out there.”

[…]

Roberson told those in Thursday’s class sexual human trafficking, or prostitution, is one of the most profitable criminal enterprises in the United States – right up there with the sale of illegal drugs and weapons. About $96 billion a year changes hands in the sex trade, she said.

One of the reasons for the profitability of prostitution is the number of times a woman or girl might be sold by a pimp – up to 40 times a day, she said. Drugs usually are sold once and consumed. Guns might be sold and used in crimes a few times before being tossed in a river.

Roberson said some drug dealers are “moving into selling flesh” because of the economics of sexual servitude.

One way pimps offer women for sale is through the use of websites such as Backpage.com, where photos and descriptions of women and girls are posted along with contact phone numbers. Only a few hands went up when Roberson asked how many in the class hadn’t heard of the site.

The websites pose problems for law enforcement because the recruitment of the women and girls might occur in one law enforcement jurisdiction, while the actual servitude might be in another.

Roberson said North Carolina’s Safe Harbor law redefines prostitution. Under the law, minors are not charged, first-offenders get deferred prosecution, prosecution is focused, penalties are increased for johns and pimps, and victims have better recourse.

“We’re trying to be more victim-centered about the prosecution,” she said. “Instead of saying ‘Why did you do that, why did you go there, why did you say yes? Why did you stay?’ – focusing on ‘Why did he pick her, why did he choose her, why did he exploit her?” Focusing on his behavior as opposed to hers.”

This is a significantly shortened excerpt. To read the full article, please visit the Star News Online website http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20140512/ARTICLES/140519933/1177?p=3&tc=pg

Jim Ware: Since moving to Wilmington in 2007, Jim has been an assistant city editor, a local news team leader and an online products editor.