On September 13, we went to Windows on the River to attend the annual Collaborative to End Human Trafficking Luncheon and Fundraiser, of which Margaret W. Wong and Associates is a proud sponsor. Mr. George Koussa could not attend this event but we were joined by Justin Faulhaber and Anna Lee of our office. We had a good time talking to everyone at our table and telling them about the work that we do at the firm. We were glad to see that people were supportive of our work. Many immigrants become easy targets for trafficking, so this is an issue that is very important to us. It was also heartening to see some 440 people at the event who cared about the problem as well.
The Collaborative to End Human Trafficking was started in 2007 in Cleveland, Ohio to spread information and advocate for action on the problem of human trafficking in Northeast Ohio. Several religious organizations and professionals came together to form a multidisciplinary foundation with roots in education, law, healthcare, and social services that have enable the Collaborative to tackle human trafficking using many approaches. It is an insidious problem; before we went, we too were unaware of just how pervasive it is.
The program was hosted by Darielle Snipes, of ideastream. The program opened with brief remarks from her, an invocation by Elder Tenisha Gant-Watson, NCPM, of the Jordan Community Resource Center, and a welcome by Michael A. Shemo, the chair of the Collaborative Board of Directors.
The keynote speaker was attorney Erik Bauer, all the way from Tacoma, Washington, where he works to fight against human trafficking. He is featured in the 2017 human trafficking documentary film I Am Jane Doe, about the struggle against sex trafficking by mothers of children who had been kidnapped, which available online on several platforms. When we first arrived at the luncheon, we spoke to Sister Anne Victory, HM who told us that she had heard Mr. Bauer speak that morning at a prior event and considered him to be a “down-to-earth, ordinary guy, who has a real passion for this.”
Mr. Bauer began his remarks by noting that Cleveland was ahead of many other areas of the United States in its response to human trafficking. In addition to the Collaborative’s advocacy, there is a coordinated response to this problem consisting of many different organizations across the city including the Cleveland Clinic, U.H., the RTA, the Cleveland Division of Police, Case Western Reserve University’s Human Trafficking Law Clinic, and many others including Senator Rob Portman, whom Mr. Bauer mentioned by name. Learn more about the full list here: http://www.happensheretoo.org/about-us.html
The Collaborative distributed brochures talking about what human trafficking is, each bearing a different face since, as they said, “this problem has no one face.” The brochure also discussed what “red flags” citizens should be on the lookout for; familiarize yourself with them here: http://www.happensheretoo.org/red-flags.html
Next Mr. Bauer told us the story of the landmark case he had won in the Washington State Supreme Court against the website Backpage.com, on which many advertisements for sex with underage victims were posted. Mr. Bauer remarked that many policymakers had noted that illicit sex seemed to have disappeared without thinking about what had happened; the problem had merely moved from the streets to the web. After Backpage took over the human trafficking sex market in 2010 after Craigslist withdrew itself, human trafficking facilitated through the web increased almost 1,500% in just five years. Each advertisement for sex cost only $10 to post, and Backpage was making $150 million a year from this source in 2015; this means that there were no less than 15 million sex ads posted on Backpage that year.
Mr. Bauer spoke with great emotion about the girls whom he represented in this case, who were only in 7th and 9th grade, and who were often made to see up to twenty clients in a single day. He noted that that age is the worldwide average for entry into human sex trafficking; most people, he said, who remain trapped in that situation have a life-expectancy of only 7-8 years before they succumb to drug addiction, violence, or suicide.
Unfortunately, for a number of years, Backpage was shamelessly able to use Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 as a way of shielding itself by claiming that it was not responsible for the content of the ads posted on its site. Accordingly, we went to the website of Mr. Bauer’s law office where we found a press release that read in part: “The plaintiffs claimed that the website had a practice of ‘altering ads before publication by deleting words, phrases, and images indicative of criminality’ and then ‘publishing the sanitized ads for a fee.'”
It seems that by partaking in such practices and/or encouraging the ads to be created by the traffickers in such a way that would render them seemingly less provocative, while still potent enough when viewed by a prospective client, Backpage was deemed to be a collaborator in the crimes instead of a neutral venue.
Finally, in January, 2017, Backpage shut down its “escort” website and in April of 2018, the “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” was signed into law at the national level after passing the senate 97-2. This gives federal and state prosecutors more ammunition to fight online sex trafficking. Some critics of the bill, however, worry that it goes too far and could hurt legitimate users of internet personals ads. (See http://time.com/5217280/sex-trafficking-fosta-craigstlist-reddit/) Mr. Bauer warned, though, that the battle is far from over and that major federal legislation and action is needed before a new Backpage arises, one that will likely be based overseas where U.S. laws would be hard-pressed to reach it.
Mr. Bauer said that this is an issue that everyone should be able to get behind and joked that he was a “legal genius because I thought it was wrong for corporations to be able to promote children for sex.” The program closed with remarks by Ms. Karen Walsh, President/CEO of the Collaborative, who thanked Mr. Bauer for his inspiring and informative words about sex trafficking and stressed that her organization also fights against labor trafficking.