January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In Rhode Island, the Sex Trafficking Law Enforcement Task Force, comprised of local and state law enforcement, agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI, and prosecutors from the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office, continue to be laser-focused working together as «one voice» on «one mission» to investigate, arrest and prosecute sex traffickers and sex buyers, and to rescue as many victims as possible who have become ensnarled in webs weaved by sex traffickers.
Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise, valued to be an estimated $32 billion-a-year global industry. After drug trafficking, human trafficking is the world’s second most profitable criminal enterprise, a status it shares with illegal arms trafficking. Sex trafficking can and does take place in every community, no matter the cultural make up, the affluence, or the location of a community. No community is immune from being affected by the exploitation of human beings for commercial sexual activity.
Nationally, for the 5th year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign is raising public awareness about human trafficking, and, among other things, the commitment of law enforcement on every level to, as the campaign stresses, to work as «One Voice. One Mission. End Human Trafficking.» The Blue Campaign also offers training to law enforcement and others to increase detection and investigation of human trafficking, and to protect victims and bring suspected traffickers to justice.
Over the past two years in Rhode Island, at least 30 individuals have been charged with sex trafficking crimes by prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office. Most sex trafficking cases are jointly reviewed by prosecutors from both offices to determine appropriate charges, appropriate jurisdiction and in which court appropriate penalties are likely to be realized. Several prosecutors from each office have been cross-designated, allowing them to work side-by-side to prosecute sex trafficking cases either in state or federal court.
For example, in 2014, local, state and federal law enforcement from two states worked collaboratively to successfully locate and rescue a 17-year-old Boston area woman who was enticed to leave her residence and who was brought to a Rhode Island motel by a Missouri man, for the purposes of being offered for commercial sexual activity. The Missouri man is now serving a 14-year sentence in federal prison.
In June 2015, a Superior Court jury found a Boston man guilty of two counts of sex trafficking a minor for forcing a 14-year-girl to dance and solicit men for sex at a Providence strip club, as well as posting an ad for her as an escort on adult websites. Working in concert with one another, law enforcement from Rhode Island and Massachusetts found a second girl in a motel in Seekonk. Law enforcement was able to successfully rescue both teenagers and arrest the defendant, who had been previously been convicted of sexual assault and interstate transportation of a minor for prostitution. The defendant, who is awaiting sentencing, is facing a maximum of 91 years in state prison.
In addition, members of the Sex Trafficking Law Enforcement Task Force have worked closely with Day One in Providence, the Aubin Center at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, DCYF, the Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office and the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association to develop a uniform response protocol intended to serve as a guide and resource to assist in detecting and investigating the commercial sexual exploitation of children, successfully prosecuting those who engage in this conduct, and addressing the recovery needs of the victims of this crime.
«Make no mistake about it: the depraved individuals who enslave others for the commercial sex industry are more than mere criminals. They are kidnappers, torturers and rapists. To effectively end sex trafficking, it requires cooperation among local, state, national law enforcement agencies,» said Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin. «The partnership by law enforcement through the Rhode Island Sex Trafficking Task Force has shown that by working together, we can successfully combat this new form of slavery and put the traffickers out of business.»
United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha commented, «Commercial sex traffickers trade in, and make money on, the vulnerability of their teenage and young adult victims. Few, if any, crimes are more outrageous or harmful to their victims, and those who engage in this conduct deserve the full attention of our joint law enforcement efforts. Those on the other side of these criminal transactions – the sex buyers – should also take notice, for they are an equal part of the problem, and they too will have a price to pay as we move forward with these cases.»
«U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is committed to combating human trafficking in Rhode Island and beyond through close coordination with our federal, state and local partners,» said Special Agent in Charge Matthew Etre, of HSI Boston. «It is through information sharing mechanisms, such as the RI Sex Trafficking Law Enforcement Task Force, that we are able to combine our strengths, exchange best practices and provide a whole of government response to fighting these heinous crimes and getting the victims the support and resources that they need to recover.»
Commenting on behalf of local and state law enforcement across the state, Lincoln Police Chief Brian W. Sullivan, President of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association said, «In Rhode Island, when investigating Human Trafficking crimes, the emphasis that has been placed on creating a multi-agency, collaborative investigation has been critical in the removal of barriers. This partnership demonstrates the commitment of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to combating this crime.»
«Human trafficking has become a profitable business for criminals of all kinds to fund and advance their enterprises. Equally disturbing, victims of this trafficking are often beaten, starved, and forced to work in the sex industry or as domestic servants with little to no pay. People believe this could never happen here in Rhode Island—but it does,» said Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Boston Division. «As part of this task force, the FBI will continue to dedicate resources to disrupt these trafficking networks, all in an effort to help victims of these heinous crimes, and stem this egregious criminal activity.»