Friday, January 29, 2010

Japanese attempts at disguising child porn

Lately, Japanese police are playing the incredibly squicky game "Is It Child Pornography." Here's how you play: you find a DVD marketed to adult men, and on the cover is a 10-year-old girl in a string bikini, posing with her legs splayed and the most come-hither look in her eye a kid of that age can muster. The DVD consists of videos of pre-pubescent and young teen girls having pillow fights, eating lollipops, and doing other activities in minimal clothing. Yet no one is naked, and no actual sex acts are happening. So is the DVD child pornography? Yes.
DVDs like the one described here are generally referred to as "junior idol" films, and according to Japanese law, they aren't child pornography because the kids in them are not nude. But the Tokyo police department is still worried, because the age of the children in "junior idol" photos and videos is steadily decreasing. Now, children as young as five are showing up regularly, wearing tiny bathing suits and bending over for the camera. And while only G-rated body parts are actually shown, the way the children are instructed to stand and look into the camera is overtly sexual most of the time.
Child advocates in Japan have called for a need to regulate these publications and create mechanisms to prevent parents from exploiting their kids in this way. Many argue that while a number of the children in "junior idol" videos are too young to realize what's happening, once they grow up enough to understand that images of them were used without their knowledge in publications meant to arouse, they might be traumatized. "Junior idols" might not be child porn to the law, they argue, but it sure is child porn to the victimized children.
Sadly, this trend is not limited to Japan. The Internet is full of "child modeling" galleries, which showcase images of children -- some who look to be toddlers -- in poses that are obviously meant to be sexually arousing and produce the same ends as nude child pornography. However, because these sites don't show pictures of genitals or children engaged in sex acts, law enforcement has a difficult time removing them from the web. But staying within the letter of the law doesn't mean these images aren't capturing the spirit of porn. And it doesn't mean they aren't exploiting or harming their young subjects.
I did some research into child pornography for an anti-trafficking organization a few years ago, and I can honestly say that time was one of the worst periods of my life. Before I started really researching, I had gotten my image of child pornography from episodes of Law and Order SVU and similar TV shows. There, whenever they find child porn it's always an image of a fully clothed girl sitting on a bed a looking sad. Obviously they can't show real child pornography on television, but part of me (and I think part of some other people) kinda assumed that's all child porn was. But real child pornography is nothing like that -- it's violent, nauseating, and even in the images of non-nude child models, you can see the shame and hurt on the kids' faces. But, most importantly, all child pornography is proof that abuse, and in some cases forced prostitution and rape, took place.
I'm not fooled by "junior idols" or non-nude "child modeling" sites, and neither are Japanese or American police. We know what you're up to, and we're not going to stand for it.

Photo credit: tetsumo

Traffickers preying on vulnerable children of Haiti in earthquake aftermath

By Tom Evans, CNN

Trafficking of children and human organs is occurring in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated parts of Haiti, killed more than 150,000 people, and left many children orphans, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said Wednesday.

"There is organ trafficking for children and other persons also, because they need all types of organs," Bellerive said in an exclusive interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

He did not give specifics, but asked by Amanpour if there is trafficking of children, Bellerive said, "The reports I received say yes."

Haiti is trying to locate displaced children and register them so they can either be reunited with other family members or put up for adoption, Bellerive said.

But, he said, illegal child trafficking is "one of the biggest problems that we have."

Many groups appear to be legitimate, "but a lot of organizations -- they come and they say there were children on the streets. They're going to bring them to the [United] States," he said.

Bellerive said he's trying to work with embassies in Port-au-Prince to protect Haiti's children from traffickers.

"Any child that is leaving the country has to be validated by the embassy under a list that they give me, with all the reports," he said.

Speaking at his temporary headquarters in a police station near the Port-au-Prince Airport, Bellerive said the first thing Haitian officials seek to confirm is whether the children have adoption papers before they leave the country.

In Washington, the State Department said Wednesday it is moving cautiously on the issue of adoptions from Haiti.

"We want to be sure that when a child has been identified, that due diligence has been done to make sure that this is truly an orphan child and not a child that actually has family," said State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley. "Sometimes if you push too hard, too fast there can be unintended consequences. So we are being very, very careful."

"We respect the sovereignty of Haiti and their right to control the departure of Haitian children. So we think the system that has been established is working effectively. I know there is a perception out there of 'cut through the red tape.' But there are very good reasons we want to make sure this process works well," Crowley said.

On the broader issue of Haitian children, Bellerive told Amanpour the government will reopen schools Monday in most of the country.

He said there were particular problems in Port-au-Prince.

"We cannot open one school and not the other. But some of the schools want to operate right now. They say if there are tents -- if there are facilities and we can help them -- they are willing to open very rapidly."

Bellerive also highlighted the critical importance of getting enough tents and shelters to Haiti before the rainy season begins in May. He said he didn't know where all the tents promised by aid agencies and governments are.

"We have reports that they've already sent 20,000 tents maybe, and 20,000 more are on the way. But yesterday, when we didn't see the tents and we didn't see any action to organize the shelters, the president himself asked to see the storage place and we only counted 3,500 tents."

Bellerive said President Rene Preval asked for 200,000 tents to house between 400,000 and 500,000 people. "We are very preoccupied about the consequences of all those people on the street, if it starts to rain."

The prime minister also rejected criticism from within Haiti and overseas that his government needs to be more visible to the Haitian people.

"We are in charge. Frankly I don't understand what that position is that we are not visible," he said. "I almost feel that I spend more time talking to radio, television, than I am working."

"I know it's part of my job and I have to communicate. But I really feel that I have spent too much time doing that."

Bellerive also said he does not believe it's necessary to relocate the capital to another part of Haiti.

"I have to wait for technical and scientific evaluation, but from what I've heard until now, Port-au-Prince will stay there."

"Tokyo is still there, Los Angeles is still there. We just have to prepare a better constructed Port-au-Prince, a safer Port-au-Prince," he said.

He also acknowledged the need for more transparency and new procedures to prevent corruption in Haiti. But he said 70 to 80 percent of the aid coming to the country right now does not go through the Haitian government.

Bellerive said about 90 percent of American aid, for example, goes through non-governmental organizations. "They are accountable to the American government, but not to the Haitian government," he said.

The prime minister told Amanpour that he does not believe people overseas are helping Haiti out of a moral obligation.

"I believe it's a more pragmatic responsibility," he said. "I believe Haiti could be an interesting market in the midterm. We are 10 million [people] here and it's a market."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Human trafficking industry thrives in Portland metro area

By Nikole Hannah-Jones, The Oregonian
January 09, 2010, 7:11PM

Six posters of missing children from the metro area -- five girls and one boy -- were tacked to the wall of the Jantzen Beach hotel banquet room, a silent reminder of why more than 500 participants from 10 states had gathered Saturday.

One of three missing teens who ends up on the streets will be lured or forced into prostitution within 48 hours, according to national estimates. The annual Northwest Conference Against Human Trafficking hoped to bring a sense of urgency to the problem and capitalize on a recent local and national push to fight domestic human trafficking.

Oregon, advocates and law enforcement officials say, is a growing hub for forced prostitution and servitude. Just last week, a Portland man was arraigned in Multnomah County Circuit Court on suspicion of prostituting a 14-year-old relative.

Still, many Americans believe human trafficking to be an international phenomenon.

"I, like so many others, thought that trafficking was a problem that plagued other countries like Thailand and India, but was oblivious to what was happening right here in our backyard," said Multnomah County Commissioner Diane McKeel, who is spearheading the county's efforts to combat human trafficking and open a shelter for sexual trafficking victims.

Portland has become a center for human trafficking for several reasons, said Keith Bickford, a Multnomah County sheriff's detective who heads the Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force.

The city's proximity to Interstates 5 and 84 as well as two rivers is attractive to traffickers, as is lax sexual trafficking enforcement laws, a legal sex industry, a large population of street kids and Oregon's dependence on seasonal farmworkers, Bickford said.

Yet, the state keeps no data on victims of sexual trafficking, Bickford said, making it difficult to accurately assess the depth of the problem and get adequate resources.

About 300,000 American youths are trafficked for sexual exploitation, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. During a one-night national sting involving 29 cities last February, law enforcement officers picked up seven underage girls involved in prostitution in Portland -- more than any other city besides Seattle. They also picked up six adult pimps in Portland and cited 14 adult prostitutes.

Still, many at the conference said a collective national denial of the issue remains.

"What we're about in the U.S., we're willing to jump out there and save the world but we won't look under our own rocks because it's embarrassing," Bickford said after giving a presentation on the work he's doing with the task force.

Multnomah County has hundreds of human trafficking cases involving both people born in the United States and immigrants often brought or coerced here from other countries. His caseload is divided equally between those trafficked for sexual exploitation (mostly people from the U.S.) and those trafficked for labor (mostly immigrants), he said.

Other speakers at the conference said public officials are starting to take notice of the long-hidden crime.

Last month, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced a bill along with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to help victims of sexual trafficking and provide more enforcement power against traffickers. The bill would fund pilot projects in six states to establish shelters for victims and provide counseling, legal aid, education and job training, as well as fund additional police officers and prosecutors.

"I want to see us start a national mobilization," Wyden said after giving a brief speech about his bill. "It's fair to say that in the past there's been the sense that Oregon is not the kind of place you would see this. There's no denial now and people are ready to go."

A shelter to help victims escape exploitation is the greatest need in Portland, said Esther Nelson of the Sexual Assault Resource Center. The lack of a safe place makes it difficult to help people, she said, and impedes law enforcement efforts because victims often disappear.

Multnomah County and Portland officials have committed to finding money to open a shelter here, though they have no time line.

"We can't do much more without a shelter," Nelson said.

Original Article by The Oregonian

Friday, January 8, 2010

Man arrested for Human Trafficking in Toronto

A Mississauga man awaiting trial for armed robbery is accused of forcing two young women to strip and prostitute in York Region’s second human trafficking case.

The case began unraveling in September when York vice cops were called about a 19-year-old woman who was allegedly forced to strip at a Mississauga club after arriving from Alberta.

Marlo Williams, 24, was charged with human trafficking and several other offences in the case, which involved allegations that the victim was forced to stay at a Mississauga condo between shifts as a dancer and that she was beaten and chocked when she tried to escape.

Investigators allege that after the woman finally escaped, she spent a night on the streets. She was in a vulnerable state when, the next day, she went to a youth centre where she was picked up by a man outside, police said.

She told the man what she had been through and in return she was told, “basically, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to protect you...We’re going to make you money to get you home,’” Det. Thai Truong alleged yesterday, a day after the man was charged with human trafficking. “All she wanted was to get home.”

Instead, police allege the man forced her, along with a 22-year-old woman, to strip and work as a prostitute in Toronto and Peel.

The older woman was allegedly lured in by the man under the guise that he loved her, Det.-Const. Stephen Yan said. She was allegedly assaulted and choked after refusing to hand over her earnings.

Randy "Snappa" Estick, 29, who was already in custody on armed robbery charges stemming from a Toronto incident in September, was charged Wednesday with several offences, including human trafficking, exercising control, forcible confinement and procuring a person to become a prostitute.

He is scheduled to appear in court Jan. 20.

The case represents a shift in approach for the York vice squad, which developed a reputation in recent years for busting women who work in massage parlours.

“The York vice squad is victim-focussed now,” Truong said. “We’re aggressively investigating pimps and the people responsible for forcing these girls into these situations.”

Anyone with information about Estick or similar cases is asked to contact the vice squad at 1-866-876-5423 ext. 7640 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477, by texting TIPYORK and your message to CRIMES.

Original Story from Toronto Sun

Monday, January 4, 2010

By Kate Transchel — Special to GlobalPost

CHISINAU, Moldova and CHICO, California — “They brought us to a hotel and led us up a staircase — seven floors.

"I remember … wondering when they would let me go to my sister. The big Russian woman led us into a room with couches against the walls. There were men sitting, talking, drinking tea, laughing on the couches. One girl started to cry silently. I suddenly understood what was happening.

"They made the first girl stand in the middle of the room. They ordered her to take off her top. She hesitated so they beat her. Then it was my turn. I lifted my top for a second and pulled it right down. Then I noticed the curtains fluttering out the open window…. Time slowed. I heard a ringing in my ears and the room faded. I remember that I said a prayer — ‘God give me wings.’ I ran across the room and jumped over the men on the couch and out the window.”

When Marina woke up in the hospital she had shattered one leg and broken the other. She had a concussion and some internal bleeding. It was only then that she discovered that the Russian woman she had paid to take her to Italy had taken her to Istanbul instead and sold her to modern-day slavers. She was one of several women being auctioned to brothel owners when she jumped out the hotel window.

I met Marina in the fall of 2008 in her village, Drotcia, where I was doing field research for a book on human trafficking. One of her legs is held together by a pin and she walks with a pronounced limp. She continues to suffer from nightmares and headaches. Yet, hers is a rare success story. Many thousands of other women from Russia and Eastern Europe are not so lucky.

Generating an estimated $32 billion dollars annually, human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal activity in the world today. It is also the most lucrative. According to a 2005 International Labor Office (ILO) report, just a single female held for sexual exploitation yields an average of $67,200 annually in Western Europe and North America.

The United Nations estimates that between 800,000 and 4 million men, women and children are deceived, recruited, transported from their homes and sold into slavery around the world each year. Eighty percent are women, girls and young boys trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation. Of these, more than 200,000 women and children from Russia and Eastern Europe are forced into prostitution each year.

Western demand for Eastern European prostitutes fuels today’s sex-slave industry. Currently, the market for Slavic woman and children in brothels and in pornography in "developed" countries — particularly the EU and the U.S. — is the hottest compared to other parts of the world, and is drawing on an endless supply of impoverished and vulnerable women.

A multitude of recent studies try to explain why women get snared into the trade in flesh. Researchers point to poverty, chronic unemployment, domestic violence and drug addiction as the primary “push factors.”

But sadly, there isn’t enough discussion of the real root of the problem — the men. Human trafficking is basically international sexual terrorism perpetrated against women and children on a mass scale by men. It is their demand for illicit or predatory sex that generates huge profits for the slavers and leaves behind the tortured minds and broken bodies of those women and children they violate.