It was a sprawling family business, employing drivers,
dispatchers and doormen. There were “steerers” who passed out “chica” cards on
the street to solicit customers. There was even a mechanic who swept vehicles
for tracking devices that might have been surreptitiously placed by federal
agents, prosecutors said.
And, of course, there were the women — smuggled into the United States from
Mexico and forced to work in a network of brothels in and around New York City,
or shuttled to farms in New Jersey, where they had sex with up to 25 migrant
workers a day in sheds in the fields, with men paying about $30 for 15 minutes
of sex, the government said.
The ringleaders, Isaias Flores-Mendez, who is about 42, and his brother,
Bonifacio, 35, both natives of Mexico, are among 16 people who have now pleaded
guilty to charges in connection with the sex-trafficking ring, which was broken
up in April 2013.
Life sentences are not unprecedented in federal sex-trafficking cases; there
have been at least 11 imposed nationally in cases since 2009, according to
research by Alexandra F. Levy, a lawyer with the Human Trafficking Pro Bono
Legal Center, a group that arranges free legal help for victims.
James T. Hayes Jr., the special agent in charge of Homeland Security
investigations in New York, said the life terms imposed in the state and
elsewhere were “a sign of how seriously” judges were taking such cases.
The New York case also highlights how structured such an operation can be; Judge
Forrest, of Federal District Court, called it a “vertically integrated
enterprise,” as she sentenced the younger brother on May 30.
“Your criminal enterprise,” the judge said, “was, for these women, not a chosen
way of life but living in a daily hell.”
A prosecutor, Rebecca Mermelstein, told the judge that the “entire enterprise is
only workable because it is staffed, so to speak, by women who do so under
duress, because the conditions are so horrific that it’s not the kind of thing
that anyone could really choose.”
The office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, has said
in court papers that the Flores-Mendez ring was part of a larger network of sex
traffickers operating between Tenancingo, Mexico, New York and elsewhere. Women
were typically lured through the promise of romantic relationships and a better
life, and were forced into prostitution after they arrived, the office said. The
judge noted that women who refused to submit were beaten, isolated and starved.
“Because money drives these crimes — as it does so many others — we have pursued
forfeiture of the traffickers’ illegal profits and restitution, seeking some
recovery for the victims,” Mr. Bharara said in a statement. He added that the
victims, mostly poor, without legal status and traumatized and terrorized by the
traffickers, were “some of the most vulnerable and powerless in our society.”
Continue reading the main story
Government filings show that brothels were operated at 350 First Street in
Newburgh, N.Y.; in a second-floor apartment at 613 Seneca Avenue in Queens; on
the second floor of a two-story yellow house at 20 Rose Street in Poughkeepsie;
and in an apartment at 121 Elm Street in Yonkers — the busiest of the brothels,
with two women working weeklong shifts and each seeing about eight to 10
customers a day.
Prosecutors have estimated that more than 400 women were victims of the
trafficking conspiracy, including some who were minors. On one intercepted phone
call, a defendant was heard discussing a “new girl who is only 17,” prosecutors
The government said it had been unable to locate or identify the vast majority
of the victims, and that of the few who were interviewed by the authorities,
most would not cooperate largely out of fear of retaliation. One woman who did
cooperate, cited in court records as Victim 1, entered the United States at age
17 with her baby, after the brothers arranged to have her smuggled across the
border, prosecutors said.
She was flown from California to New York in September 2006, where the younger
Flores-Mendez brother took her to a house on 112th Street in Queens; there she
was forced to sleep with her baby under a kitchen table and charged $200 in
monthly rent and $50 weekly for food, prosecutors said.
Over much of the next year, the government said, the woman was forced to have
sex against her will. In statements she submitted at the brothers’ sentencings,
she said she had been forced to have sex with 15 to 35 men a day, in brothels
and through delivery to “sex buyers.”
“I was forced to prostitute myself in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Long Island
City, Philadelphia and the Bronx,” she wrote.
Isaias Flores-Mendez’s “dehumanization of Victim 1 in the interest of profit was
without bounds,” prosecutors wrote. He forced her to take birth control pills,
and when he mistakenly believed that she was pregnant, “he grabbed me by the
neck, slammed me against the wall, beat me repeatedly, and forced me to swallow
more pills so that I would have an abortion,” the woman wrote.
She finally escaped, but was almost killed when the brothers saw her crossing
the street one day in Queens and accelerated their car toward her, forcing her
to jump out of the way, she added.
Such callousness toward the women seemed to be typical of the operation, court
records suggest. Another defendant, Alejandro Degante-Galeno, who worked as a
driver, was overheard on a court-ordered wiretap telling his son, Sergio, who
was also charged in the case, that one woman “should be punished for wanting to
rest and for not wanting to sexually service more customers.”
When the older brother, Isaias Flores-Mendez, was sentenced on May 14, Judge
Forrest said he had run “a depraved and deplorable sex mill.” The judge noted
that he had apologized briefly to his family in court. “But he owes an apology
to so many more people,” she said. “He is, in my view, remorseless.”
When, two weeks later, the younger brother, Bonifacio, was sentenced, he
apologized profusely to the victims, saying through an interpreter that he had
acted out of greed, for money, and asked for their forgiveness. “I’ve realized
that what I’ve done was the worst thing that you can do to a woman,” he said. “I
feel like the worst man on earth.”
Judge Forrest showed no leniency. “We know there were mornings when you woke up
in your bed surrounded by your family, and a woman who had been trafficked woke
up in a locked, windowless room in a basement, unable to go out unless she was
let out,” the judge said.
The brothers were each ordered to forfeit about $1.7 million and pay $84,000 in
restitution to Victim 1.
Lori L. Cohen, a lawyer with Sanctuary for Families, an agency that worked with
Victim 1 and several other trafficking victims in the case, said the woman was
“extremely grateful” for the life sentences but she remained fearful that her
family in Mexico “could be at risk” because she had reported the abuse.
At each sentencing, one of the prosecutors, Amanda Kramer and Ms. Mermelstein,
read aloud a translation of Victim 1’s statement, in which the woman had
explained why she was not appearing in person.
“I am scared for me, my family, and for my family in Mexico,” the woman wrote.
“I want to forget all of this and just have peace in my life.”
A version of this article appears in print on June 16, 2014,
on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline:
IN India, a
23-year-old student takes a bus home from a movie and is gang-raped and
assaulted so viciously that she dies two weeks later.
In Liberia, in West Africa, an aid group called More Than Me rescues a
10-year-old orphan who has been trading oral sex for clean water to survive.
In Steubenville, Ohio, high school football players are accused of repeatedly
raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl who was either drunk or rendered helpless
by a date-rape drug and was apparently lugged like a sack of potatoes from party
And in Washington, our members of Congress show their concern for sexual
violence by failing to renew the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark law
first passed in 1994 that has now expired.
Gender violence is one of the world’s most common human rights abuses. Women
worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male
violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined.
The World Health Organization has found that domestic and sexual violence
affects 30 to 60 percent of women in most countries.
In some places, rape is endemic: in South Africa, a survey found that 37 percent
of men reported that they had raped a woman. In others, rape is
institutionalized as sex trafficking. Everywhere, rape often puts the victim on
trial: in one poll, 68 percent of Indian judges said that “provocative attire”
amounts to “an invitation to rape.”
Americans watched the events after the Delhi gang rape with a whiff of
condescension at the barbarity there, but domestic violence and sex trafficking
remain a vast problem across the United States.
One obstacle is that violence against women tends to be invisible and thus not a
priority. In Delhi, of 635 rape cases reported in the first 11 months of last
year, only one ended in conviction. That creates an incentive for rapists to
continue to rape, but in any case that reported number of rapes is delusional.
They don’t include the systematized rape of sex trafficking. India has, by my
reckoning, more women and girls trafficked into modern slavery than any country
in the world. (China has more prostitutes, but they are more likely to sell sex
On my last trip to India, I tagged along on a raid on a brothel in Kolkata,
organized by the International Justice Mission. In my column at the time, I
focused on a 15-year-old and a 10-year-old imprisoned in the brothel, and
mentioned a 17-year-old only in passing because I didn’t know her story.
My assistant at The Times, Natalie Kitroeff, recently visited India and tracked
down that young woman. It turns out that she had been trafficked as well — she
was apparently drugged at a teahouse and woke up in the brothel. She said she
was then forced to have sex with customers and beaten when she protested. She
was never allowed outside and was never paid. What do you call what happened to
those girls but slavery?
Yet prosecutors and the police often shrug — or worse. Dr. Shershah Syed, a
former president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan,
once told me: “When I treat a rape victim, I always advise her not to go to the
police. Because if she does, the police might just rape her again.”
In the United States, the case in Steubenville has become controversial partly
because of the brutishness that the young men have been accused of, but also
because of concerns that the authorities protected the football team. Some
people in both Delhi and Steubenville rushed to blame the victim, suggesting
that she was at fault for taking a bus or going to a party. They need to think:
What if that were me?
The United States could help change the way the world confronts these issues. On
a remote crossing of the Nepal-India border, I once met an Indian police officer
who said, a bit forlornly, that he was stationed there to look for terrorists
and pirated movies. He wasn’t finding any, but India posted him there to show
that it was serious about American concerns regarding terrorism and intellectual
property. Meanwhile, that officer ignored the steady flow of teenage Nepali
girls crossing in front of him on their way to Indian brothels, because modern
slavery was not perceived as an American priority.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done a superb job trying to put these
issues on the global agenda, and I hope President Obama and Senator John Kerry
will continue her efforts. But Congress has been pathetic. Not only did it fail
to renew the Violence Against Women Act, but it has also stalled on the global
version, the International Violence Against Women Act, which would name and
shame foreign countries that tolerate gender violence.
Congress even failed to renew the landmark legislation against human
trafficking, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The obstacles were
different in each case, but involved political polarization and paralysis. Can
members of Congress not muster a stand on modern slavery?
(Hmm. I now understand better the results of a new survey from Public Policy
Polling showing that Congress, with 9 percent approval, is less popular than
cockroaches, traffic jams, lice or Genghis Khan.)
Skeptics fret that sexual violence is ingrained into us, making the problem
hopeless. But just look at modern American history, for the rising status of
women has led to substantial drops in rates of reported rape and domestic
violence. Few people realize it, but Justice Department statistics suggest that
the incidence of rape has fallen by three-quarters over the last four decades.
Likewise, the rate at which American women are assaulted by their domestic
partners has fallen by more than half in the last two decades. That reflects a
revolution in attitudes. Steven Pinker, in his book “The Better Angels of Our
Nature,” notes that only half of Americans polled in 1987 said that it was
always wrong for a man to beat his wife with a belt or a stick; a decade later,
86 percent said it was always wrong.
But the progress worldwide is far too slow. Let’s hope that India makes such
violence a national priority. And maybe the rest of the world, especially our
backward Congress, will appreciate that the problem isn’t just India’s but also
silliness began when Todd Akin claimed during his Senate campaign in Missouri
that in the case of “legitimate rape,” women “shut that whole thing down” to
prevent pregnancy. Then, a few days ago, Richard Mourdock of Indiana seemed to
blame God for such pregnancies, saying this was “something God intended to
happen.” I think God should sue him for defamation.
But our political system jumps all over verbal stupidity, while giving a pass to
stupid policies. If we’re offended by insensitive words about rape, for example,
shouldn’t we be incomparably more upset that rape kits are routinely left
untested in the United States? And wouldn’t it be nice if Democrats, instead of
just firing sound bites, tackled these underlying issues?
A bit of background: A rape kit is the evidence, including swabs with DNA, taken
at a hospital from a woman’s (or man’s) body after a rape. Testing that DNA
costs $1,200 or more. Partly to save money, those rape kits often sit untested
for years on the shelves of police storage rooms, particularly if the victim
didn’t come outfitted with a halo.
By most accounts, hundreds of thousands of these untested kits are stacked up
around the country. In Illinois, 80 percent of rape kits were going untested as
of 2010, Human Rights Watch reported at the time — embarrassing the state to
begin a push to test all rape kits.
In Michigan, the Wayne County prosecutor, Kym Worthy, said she was shocked to
discover more than 11,000 rape kits lying around untested — some dating to the
1980s. Worthy said that her office is now going through the backlog and testing
those that are running into statute of limitations deadlines.
So far, of 153 kits tested, 21 match evidence in a criminal database and may
involve serial rapists. But Worthy, who herself was raped while she was in law
school, says the broader problem is indifference to sex crimes.
“Sexual assault is the stepchild of the law enforcement system,” she said. “When
rape victims come into the criminal justice system, they are often treated
poorly. They may be talked out of pursuing the case.”
The bottom line, Worthy said, is that “sexual assault is not taken as seriously
as other crimes.” That — more than any offensive words — is the real scandal.
Kamala Harris, the attorney general of California, eliminated the rape kit
backlog in state crime labs after she took office. “If you don’t test it, you’ve
got a victim who is absolutely petrified, and you’ve got a rapist who thinks he
got away with it,” she said. “There could be nothing worse as a continuing
threat to public safety.”
The lackadaisical attitude toward much sexual violence is seen in another
astonishing fact: Sometimes, women or their health insurance companies must pay
to have their rape kits collected.
“No other forensic evidence collection is treated in this way,” said Sarah Tofte
of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which has focused attention on the rape kit
backlog. If her home is broken into, she notes, the police won’t bill her or her
homeowner’s insurance company “for the cost of dusting for fingerprints.”
Yet another indication of cavalier attitudes: In 31 states, if a rape leads to a
baby, the rapist can get visitation rights. That doesn’t happen often, but the
issue does come up. In Massachusetts, a convicted rapist is suing for access to
the child he fathered when he raped a 14-year-old girl.
One way to start turning around this backward approach to sex crimes would be to
support the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (Safer) Act, a bipartisan
bill in Congress that would help local jurisdictions count and test their rape
According to data from the Department of Justice, one person in the United
States is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes. A slight majority of rapes
are never reported to the police, and others are never solved. For every 100
rapes, only three lead to any jail time for the rapist, according to the Rape,
Abuse and Incest National Network.
There has been plenty of outrage this year, justifiably, at the Catholic Church,
the Boy Scouts and Penn State for averting their eyes from sexual abuse of
children. Yet America as a whole typically does the same thing when it comes to
the trafficking of teenage girls by pimps, which amounts to rape many times a
day. The police often treat those girls as criminals, rather than victims, even
as the pimps get away.
These problems are not insoluble, and we are seeing progress. Some prosecutors
are going after pimps in a serious way, and according to surveys, sexual assault
has fallen by 60 percent over the last couple of decades. Even the furor over
the comments by Senate candidates shows that times are changing.
So, sure, let’s pounce on politicians who say outrageous things. But even more,
let’s push to end outrageous policies. Routine testing of rape kits would be a
I invite you
to comment on this column on my blog,
Standing a few feet away from Jerry Sandusky, as he laughed and reminisced with
friends in the front row of the courtroom, made me want to take a shower.
Just not in the Penn State locker room.
That was the gateway to horror where innocence was devoured by evil, over and
over and over again, without a word being said. Just rhythmic smacking and
slapping noises, silent screams, gutted psyches.
The lead witness in Sandusky’s trial — the former defensive coach at Penn State
is charged with molesting 10 boys over 15 years — was a nice-looking,
short-haired 28-year-old in white shirt and tie, a narrow parenthesis of a man.
He seemed confident enough when he started, but, as he talked, he grew more and
more agitated, running his hand and fist over his face, sliding glances at the
68-year-old, no-neck monster Sandusky at the defense table, staring at the
pictures of himself as a young boy with a big grin and bowl cut, relishing the
thrilling new world of football heroes that Sandusky had opened up to him. In
the photos the prosecution put up on a screen, Sandusky’s hand was usually
gripped, mano morta, on the boy’s shoulder.
By the end of his testimony, he looked haunted and acted jittery. His pain
The prosecution charges that Sandusky used Second Mile, his charity for
disadvantaged kids, as a perverted recruiting tool, putting asterisks next to
the names of boys who were fatherless and blond, making up weird contracts for
boys to sign, giving them money, ostensibly for doing good schoolwork, but
really as a way to keep them from fleeing — and telling.
Like pedophile priests, Sandusky was especially vile because he targeted
vulnerable boys. Later, when victims finally spoke up, there was a built-in
defense: those boys were trouble; you can’t believe them.
The first witness, who met Sandusky through Second Mile, said he was 13 when the
nightmare started. His father was not in the picture and he didn’t get along
with his stepfather, so he mostly lived with his grandmother. The attention,
trips and sports-equipment presents from Sandusky, who “would act like he was my
dad” in front of others, seemed heaven-sent, until hell yawned when Jerry kept
putting his hand on the boy’s knee in his car.
“Basically, like, I was his girlfriend,” the witness said, adding: “It freaked
me out extremely bad.”
The horror grew worse. After racquetball and basketball games, the coach would
say, “Let’s get a shower.”
It would begin with a soap battle with liquid soap from the dispenser, the
witness said, escalate to bear-hugging, slapping, rubbing, soaping, wrestling,
maneuvering the child on the ground, kissing his thighs, forcing him to give and
receive oral sex, and attempting anal sex.
“I was a little kid; he was a big guy,” the witness said, adding that he weighed
“a hundred pounds, soaking wet.”
When he tried to push the slab of an older man away, he said, Sandusky would get
mad and “play box” with open-hand slaps. Asked why he didn’t tell his mother, he
replied bluntly that he was “too scared,” and “other than that, the other things
were nice and I didn’t want to lose that” — going from unloved kid to a petted
mascot for a legendary football team.
They never spoke of “the shower thing.”
“It was basically like, whatever happened there never really happened,” he said.
On road trips to bowl games, Sandusky would share a room with the boy, then
covertly put a hand under the cover to grope him before he was awake. When the
boy would wake up, he said, Sandusky would act as though he’d been doing sit-ups
next to the bed. If the boy was recalcitrant, Jerry would threaten to send him
When the boys would try to get away, Sandusky grew clingy and possessive; he
would even stalk them.
A string-bean who graduated from high school last week repeatedly broke down in
sobs on Tuesday, recalling a similar pattern with Sandusky that would begin with
blowing on his stomach. “I kind of thought he sees me as family, and this is
just what his family does,” he said.
When he distanced himself, he said, Sandusky stalked him to his house and argued
with his mother and grandfather about spending more time with him as he hid
behind a bush. When he and his mother tried to tell authorities at his school,
where Sandusky was a revered volunteer football coach who was routinely able to
pull the boy out of classes and assemblies, they were met with skepticism.
Sandusky, they were told, had a heart of gold.
When a wrestling coach walked in on the two lying on the floor face to face,
after hours in a room with a rock-climbing wall, he accepted Sandusky’s lame
excuse that they were practicing a wrestling hold because, as he told the court
on Tuesday, “Jerry would never do anything inappropriate.” Adding, “I had the
utmost respect for Jerry.”
It’s hard to believe that a monster like Sandusky was harbored by Happy Valley
for so long. It was an open joke in Penn State football circles that you
shouldn’t drop your soap in the shower when Jerry was around.
We think of branding as something ranchers do to their cattle.
But it’s also what pimps do to women and girls they control across America.
Taz, a 16-year-old girl here in New York City, told me that her pimp had branded
three other girls with tattoos bearing his name. When she refused the tattoo,
she said, he held her down and carved his name on her back with a safety pin.
More about Taz in a moment. That kind of branding isn’t universal, but it’s very
common. An alleged pimp indicted last month in Manhattan is accused of tattooing
his street name on a prostitute’s neck, along with a bar code. He allegedly
tattooed another prostitute with a symbol of his name on her pubic area, along
with a dollar sign. In each case, the message was clear: They were his property,
and they were for sale.
Such branding is a reminder that women being sold on the streets in America are
— not always, but often — victims rather than criminals. That consciousness is
spreading, and we are finally seeing considerable progress in tackling domestic
So far, in 2012, states have passed more than 40 laws relating to human
trafficking, according to Megan Fowler of Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking
Prosecutors and police are increasingly targeting pimps and johns, and not just
the women and girls who are their victims. In Manhattan, the district attorney’s
office recently started a sex trafficking program and just secured its most
comprehensive indictments for sex trafficking. Likewise, a federal prosecutor in
Virginia brought sex trafficking charges last month against a man accused of
selling a 14-year-old girl in several states.
Now President Obama is said to be planning an initiative on human trafficking.
I’m hoping that he will direct the attorney general to make sex trafficking a
higher federal priority and call on states to pass “safe harbor” laws that treat
prostituted teenage girls as victims rather than criminals.
The other important shift is growing pressure on Backpage.com, a classified
advertising Web site that dominates the sex trafficking industry. Calls for
Village Voice Media, which owns Backpage, to end its links to sex trafficking
have come from attorneys general from 48 states, dozens of mayors from around
the country, and some 240,000 Americans who have signed a petition on
Resolutions are pending in the Senate and House calling on Village Voice Media
to get out of this trade. At least 34 advertisers have dropped Village Voice
Media publications, including the flagship, Village Voice in New York City.
In its defense, Village Voice Media notes that it screens ads and cooperates
with the police. That’s true, but Taz — the 16-year-old with her former pimp’s
name carved into her back — told me that three-quarters of her “dates” had come
I met Taz at Gateways, a treatment center outside New York City. She told me
that she ran away from home in New York City at the age of 14 and eventually
ended up in the hands of a violent 20-year-old pimp who peddled her on Backpage.
Skeptics mostly believe that prostitutes sell sex voluntarily, while
anti-trafficking advocates sometimes suggest that they are almost all forced
into the trade. The truth is more complicated.
Taz wasn’t locked up, and, at times, she felt a romantic bond with her pimp. She
distrusted the police — with reason, for when officers found her in December,
they arrested her and locked her up for four months in juvenile detention.
Yet Taz wasn’t exactly selling sex by choice, either. She said her pimp issued
his four girls a daily quota of money to earn; if they didn’t, he would beat
them. They could never leave, either, Taz said, and she explained what happened
when her pimp caught her trying to run away:
“I got drowned,” she recalled. “He choked me, put me in the tub, and when I woke
up, I was drowning. He said he’d kill me if I left.”
Another time, Taz says, she tried to call 911. “He hit me over the head with a
glass bottle,” she recalls. Then he ordered another of his girls to sweep up the
I bet the police looked at Taz and saw an angry, defiant prostitute who hated
them and didn’t want to be rescued. There was an element of truth to that. But
there’s another side as well, now visible, and it underscores the importance of
helping these girls rather than giving up on them. Taz is emerging as a smart,
ambitious girl with dazzling potential. She loves reading and writing, and when
I asked her what she wanted to be when she grows up, she smiled a bit
April 18, 2012
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
If you think sex trafficking only happens in faraway places
like Nepal or Thailand, then you should listen to an expert on American sex
trafficking I interviewed the other day.
But, first, wish her happy birthday. She turns 16 years old on Thursday.
She asked me to call her Brianna in this column because she worries that it
could impede her plans to become a lawyer if I use her real name. Brianna, who
grew up in New York City, is smart, poised and enjoys writing poetry.
One evening when she was 12 years old she got into a fight with her mom and ran
out to join friends. “I didn’t want to go home, because I thought I’d get in
trouble,” she said, and a friend’s older brother told her she could stay at his
Brianna figured she would go home in the morning — and that that would teach her
mom a lesson. But when morning arrived, her new life began.
“I tried to leave, and he said, ‘you can’t go; you’re mine,’ ” Brianna recalled.
He told her that he was a pimp and that she was now his property.
The pimp locked her in the room, she recalled, and alternately beat her and
showed her affection. She says that he advertised her on Backpage.com, the
leading Web site for sex trafficking in America today, as well as on other Web
“He felt that Backpage made him the most money,” Brianna said, estimating that
half of her pimp’s business came through Backpage.
Backpage accounts for about 70 percent of America’s prostitution ads (many
placed by consenting adults who are not trafficked), according to AIM Group, a
trade organization. Backpage cooperates with police and tries to screen out ads
for underage girls, but that didn’t help Brianna.
Backpage is owned by Village Voice Media, and significant minority stakes have
been held in recent years by Goldman Sachs and smaller financial firms such as
Trimaran Capital Partners and Alta Communications. My research shows that
representatives of Goldman, Trimaran and Alta, along with a founder of Brynwood
Partners, all sat on the board of Village Voice Media, and there’s no indication
that they ever protested its business aims.
When I wrote recently about this, these firms erupted in excuses and self-pity,
and in some cases raced to liquidate their stakes. I was struck by the
self-absorption and narcissism of Wall Street bankers viewing themselves as
victims, so maybe it’s useful to hear from girls who were victimized through the
company they invested in.
I met Brianna at Gateways, a treatment center for girls who have been sexually
trafficked. It’s in Pleasantville, 35 miles north of New York City, on a
sprawling estate overseen by the Jewish Child Care Association. Gateways is
meant for girls ages 12 to 16, although it has accepted one who was just 11
years old. Virtually all the girls have been sold on Backpage, according to
Lashauna Cutts, the center’s director.
Gateways has only 13 beds, and Cutts says that the need is so great that she
could easily fill 1,300. “I have to turn away girls almost every day,” Cutts
The public sometimes assumes that teenage girls in the sex trade are working
freely, without coercion. It’s true that most aren’t physically imprisoned by
pimps, but threats and violence are routine. The girls typically explain that
they didn’t try to escape because of a complex web of emotions, including fear
of the pimp but also a deluded affection and a measure of Stockholm syndrome.
Once, Brianna says, she looked out her window — and there was her mother on the
street, crying and posting “missing” posters with Brianna’s photo. “I tried to
shout to her through the window,” she remembered. But her pimp grabbed her by
the hair and yanked her back. “If you shout, I’ll kill you,” she remembers him
“If I tried to run, I thought he might kill me, or I’d be hurt,” she said. “And,
if I went to the cops, I thought I’d be the one in trouble. I’d go to jail.”
Pimps warn girls to distrust the police, and often they’re right. Bridgette
Carr, who runs a human-trafficking clinic at the University of Michigan Law
School, tells of a 16-year-old girl who went missing. A family member found a
photo of the girl on Backpage and alerted authorities. Police raided the pimp’s
motel room and “rescued” the girl — by handcuffing her and detaining her for
That mind-set has to change. Police and prosecutors must target pimps and johns,
not teenage victims. Trafficked girls deserve shelters, not jails, and online
emporiums like Backpage should stop abetting pimps. Sex trafficking is just as
unacceptable in America as in Thailand or Nepal.
And let’s all wish our expert, Brianna, a joyous “Sweet Sixteen” birthday!
The New York Times
By RONI CARYN RABIN
exhaustive government survey of rape and domestic violence released on Wednesday
affirmed that sexual violence against women remains endemic in the United States
and in some instances may be far more common than previously thought.
Nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an
attempted rape at some point, and one in four reported having been beaten by an
intimate partner. One in six women have been stalked, according to the report.
“That almost one in five women have been raped in their lifetime is very
striking and, I think, will be surprising to a lot of people,” said Linda C.
Degutis, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the survey.
“I don’t think we’ve really known that it was this prevalent in the population,”
The study, called the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, was
begun in 2010 with the support of the National Institute of Justice and the
Department of Defense. The study, a continuing telephone survey of a nationally
representative sample of 16,507 adults, defines intimate partner and sexual
The surveyors elicited information on types of aggression not previously studied
in national surveys, including sexual violence other than rape, psychological
aggression, coercion and control of reproductive and sexual health.
They also gathered information about the physical and mental health of violence
Sexual violence affects women disproportionately, the researchers found.
One-third of women said they had been victims of a rape, beating or stalking, or
a combination of assaults.
The researchers defined rape as completed forced penetration, forced penetration
facilitated by drugs or alcohol, or attempted forced penetration.
By that definition, 1 percent of women surveyed reported being raped in the
previous year, a figure that suggests that 1.3 million American women annually
may be victims of rape or attempted rape.
That figure is significantly higher than previous estimates. The Rape, Abuse and
Incest National Network estimated that 272,350 Americans were victims of sexual
violence last year. Only 84,767 assaults defined as forcible rapes were reported
in 2010, according to national statistics from the Federal Bureau of
But men also reported being victimized in surprising numbers.
One in seven men have experienced severe violence at the hands of an intimate
partner, the survey found, and one in 71 men — between 1 percent and 2 percent —
have been raped, many when they were younger than 11.
A vast majority of women who said they had been victims of sexual violence, rape
or stalking reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, as did about
one-third of the men.
Women who had experienced such violence were also more likely to report having
asthma, diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome than women who had not. Both men
and women who had been assaulted were more likely to report frequent headaches,
chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, limitations on activity, and poor physical
and mental health.
“We’ve seen this association with chronic health conditions in smaller studies
before,” said Lisa James, director of health for Futures Without Violence, a
national nonprofit group based in San Francisco that advocates for programs to
end violence against women and girls.
“People who grow up with violence adopt coping strategies that can lead to poor
health outcomes,” she said. “We know that women in abusive relationships are at
increased risk for smoking, for example.”
The survey found that youth itself was an important risk factor for sexual
violence and assault. Some 28 percent of male victims of rape reported that they
were first assaulted when they were no older than 10.
Only 12 percent of female rape victims were assaulted when they were 10 or
younger, but almost half of female victims said they had been raped before they
turned 18. About 80 percent of rape victims reported that they had been raped
before age 25.
Rape at a young age was associated with another, later rape; about 35 percent of
women who had been raped as minors were also raped as adults, the survey found.
More than half of female rape victims had been raped by an intimate partner,
according to the study, and 40 percent had been raped by an acquaintance; more
than half of men who had been raped said the assailant was an acquaintance.
The public release of the report was postponed twice, most recently on Nov. 28.
The findings are based on completed interviews lasting about 25 minutes each;
they were conducted in 2010 with 9,086 women and 7,421 men.
The New York Times
By FRANK BRUNI
longest, most exhaustively researched article I ever wrote for a newspaper or
magazine was about a child molester who had sexually abused a little boy living
down the street. The abuse went on for more than two years, beginning when the
boy was 10.
This molester had a job. A house. A wife. Two kids of his own. And he gained
access to his victim not through brute force but through patience, play and
gifts: help with his homework, computer games, a new bike. To neighborhood
observers, including the victim’s parents, the molester’s attentiveness passed
for kindness, at least for a while. A molester’s behavior very often does.
The arrest on Saturday of a former Penn State University assistant football
coach — who is accused of sexually abusing eight pre-adolescent, adolescent and
teenage boys — brought this all back to me. I wonder if people who know the
coach and saw him working with kids will comment on how genuinely nurturing he
seemed and how this surely prevented or discouraged suspicions about him.
This is something that has come up repeatedly over decades — I wrote that
article back in 1991, for The Detroit Free Press — but that remains tough to
accept: the predator to watch out for is less likely to don a trench coat and
lurk behind a bush than to wear a clerical collar and stand near the altar or to
hold a stopwatch and walk the sidelines. And he (or, for that matter, she) works
with children as a function of being drawn to them for reasons beyond their
The former Penn State assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, 67, founded and ran a
charity program for disadvantaged boys. That’s one of the ways he got to know
and interact so extensively with kids, some of whom received special favors
related to his college-football connections. His alleged abuse of them is said
to have occurred over a 15-year period ending in 2009.
He maintains his innocence of the charges against him. That’s important to note,
because sexual abuse of children is a crime so rightly enraging that the specter
of it has prompted unfair rushes to judgment in the past.
But true or not, the accusations against Sandusky, spelled out in great detail
in a 23-page grand jury report, bring to mind many proven cases in which a
molester occupied a position of trust, identified and gravitated to children who
were especially vulnerable, made them feel special and was by all outward
appearances their champion, which many molesters indeed believe themselves to
In their own minds these molesters aren’t predators. They’re people whose
affinity for children just happens to have a sexual element, the satisfaction of
which they’ve convinced themselves isn’t such a big, harmful deal.
Parents face a tricky challenge. They need to be watchful but not paranoid,
because most clergy members, scout leaders, camp counselors and coaches aren’t
abusers in waiting and are improving children’s lives. They deserve the
But parents should also remain conscious of an additional lesson suggested by
the Penn State story. Institutions do an awful job of policing themselves.
That has been true of the Boy Scouts, which has paid out tens of million of
dollars in response to lawsuits by former scouts molested by adults who
continued to work in the organization despite complaints or questions about
That has been true of the Roman Catholic Church, whose diocesan heads and
bishops repeatedly transferred abusive priests from one parish to another rather
than report them to law enforcement authorities. This cover-up spanned decades
and went all the way up the hierarchy of the church.
Many factors explain it, including a fear of scandal and desire to protect the
church’s image. The Boy Scouts, too, didn’t want messiness exposed.
Was that a dynamic at Penn State as well? Two university officials have been
indicted for not contacting the police after being alerted many years ago to the
possibility that Sandusky was abusing boys from his charity on university
And there are lingering questions about whether the university’s renowned head
football coach, Joe Paterno, was irresponsible.
According to an account in the indictment that he hasn’t disputed, a graduate
assistant in 2002 told him of inappropriate activity in a university shower
between a boy and Sandusky, who had already retired from his longtime job as the
coordinator of the football team’s defense. Coach Paterno relayed that to a
university official, then apparently moved on. And Sandusky continued to
interact with troubled boys.
Paterno absolutely should have followed up. Maybe he just couldn’t envision
someone like Sandusky — a distinguished professional, a seeming do-gooder — as a
molester. But it’s important that we all do.
Americans tend to associate “modern slavery” with illiterate girls in India
or Cambodia. Yet there I was the other day, interviewing a college graduate who
says she spent three years terrorized by pimps in a brothel in Midtown
Those who think that commercial sex in this country is invariably voluntary —
and especially men who pay for sex — should listen to her story. The men buying
her services all mistakenly assumed that she was working of her own volition,
Yumi Li (a nickname) grew up in a Korean area of northeastern China. After
university, she became an accountant, but, restless and ambitious, she yearned
to go abroad.
So she accepted an offer from a female jobs agent to be smuggled to New York and
take up a job using her accounting skills and paying $5,000 a month. Yumi’s
relatives had to sign documents pledging their homes as collateral if she did
not pay back the $50,000 smugglers’ fee from her earnings.
Yumi set off for America with a fake South Korean passport. On arrival in New
York, however, Yumi was ordered to work in a brothel.
“When they first mentioned prostitution, I thought I would go crazy,” Yumi told
me. “I was thinking, ‘how can this happen to someone like me who is
college-educated?’ ” Her voice trailed off, and she added: “I wanted to die.”
She says that the four men who ran the smuggling operation — all Chinese or
South Koreans — took her into their office on 36th Street in Midtown Manhattan.
They beat her with their fists (but did not hit her in the face, for that might
damage her commercial value), gang-raped her and videotaped her naked in
humiliating poses. For extra intimidation, they held a gun to her head.
If she continued to resist working as a prostitute, she says they told her, the
video would be sent to her relatives and acquaintances back home. Relatives
would be told that Yumi was a prostitute, and several of them would lose their
homes as well.
Yumi caved. For the next three years, she says, she was one of about 20 Asian
prostitutes working out of the office on 36th Street. Some of them worked
voluntarily, she says, but others were forced and received no share in the
Yumi played her role robotically. On one occasion, Yumi was arrested for
prostitution, and she says the police asked her if she had been trafficked.
“I said no,” she recalled. “I was really afraid that if I hinted that I was a
victim, the gang would send the video to my family.”
Then one day Yumi’s closest friend in the brothel was handcuffed by a customer,
abused and strangled almost to death. Yumi rescued her and took her to the
hospital. She said that in her rage, she then confronted the pimps and
threatened to go public.
At that point, the gang hurriedly moved offices and changed phone numbers. The
pimps never mailed the video or claimed the homes in China; those may have been
bluffs all along. As for Yumi and her friend, they found help with Restore NYC,
a nonprofit that helps human trafficking victims in the city.
I can’t be sure of elements of Yumi’s story, but it mostly rings true to me and
to the social workers who have worked with her. There’s no doubt that while some
women come to the United States voluntarily to seek their fortunes in the sex
trade, many others are coerced — and still others start out forced but
eventually continue voluntarily. And it’s not just foreign women. The worst
cases of forced prostitution, especially of children, often involve home-grown
No one has a clear idea of the scale of the problem, and estimates vary hugely.
Some think the problem is getting worse; others believe that Internet services
reduce the role of pimps and lead to commercial sex that is more consensual.
What is clear is that forced prostitution should be a national scandal. Just
this month, authorities indicted 29 people, mostly people of Somali origin from
the Minneapolis area, on charges of running a human trafficking ring that
allegedly sold many girls into prostitution — one at the age of 12.
There are no silver bullets, but the critical step is for the police and
prosecutors to focus more on customers (to reduce demand) and, above all, on
pimps. Prostitutes tend to be arrested because they are easy to catch, while
pimping is a far harder crime to prosecute. That’s one reason thugs become
pimps: It’s hugely profitable and carries less risk than selling drugs or
stealing cars. But that can change as state and federal authorities target
traffickers rather than their victims.
Nearly 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, it’s time to wipe out the
remnants of slavery in this country.