A sex trafficking ring that preyed on Mexican women hoping for a better life in the United States was shut down by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation. Thirteen defendants were added to the indictment last week, bringing the total number of defendants in the case to 25.
The investigation, dubbed “Operation Dark Night,” was designed to rescue women who had been targeted in a sex trafficking scheme that spanned from Mexico to the Carolinas. A dozen women have already been freed as a result of Operation Dark Night, and others may still be freed as the investigation and arrests continue.
According to investigators, the sex trafficking ring was used to move the women around frequently—as often as once a week—to prevent them from knowing where they were or escaping. Women were raped as often as 30 times per day during their sexual slavery, and were prostituted in mobile home parks and hotel rooms throughout the Southern United States. This ring, specifically, focused on small towns.
Typically, the women being prostituted by the traffickers would have all their possessions in a small room, no more than 10 by 12 feet. Usually, these possessions amounted to little more than a worn mattress, clothing, and a mirror.
The defendants in the case have also been accused of using threats and coercion to make sure that the women stayed under their control. Some of the women reported that their children were held hostage in Mexico by the sex traffickers, and that they were told if they refused to cooperate, their children would be killed or sold into sexual slavery.
Operation Dark Night was considered particularly difficult, because the women were located in so many different locations. The raids had to be coordinated precisely to avoid tipping off traffickers still holding women at other locations. If one house had been raided even slightly early, alarms might have gone off, alerting people to the police and scattering them to safehouses before they could be apprehended.
In order to ensure that women's immigration status is not an issue during sex trafficking cases, women who have been the victims of sex crimes are given special temporary visas that enable them to stay in the United States without fear of deportation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is engaged in investigations of sex trafficking rings throughout the United States, especially those that involve women being trafficked across national borders.
Victims of sex trafficking would no longer be punished and charged with prostitution, but would instead receive social services and treatment, according to the provisions of a law passed by the Kentucky House of Representatives this week. The bill, which passed 95-0, is intended to make it easier to combat human trafficking in the state of Kentucky.
Over 150 calls reporting sex trafficking incidents in Kentucky were made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Over 100 victims of sex trafficking received services from a single private Catholic charity in Louisville. Yet in spite of these numbers, fewer than 20 total cases have been filed in the state of Kentucky since 2008. The vast majority of these cases involved women trafficked by relatives. Women who were trafficked, instead of receiving help, were more often arrested and jailed for prostitution offenses.
Much of the problem, according to several state lawmakers, comes from a lack of education and training in police departments about how to successfully identify what sex trafficking looks like. With so much emphasis on arresting prostitutes and their clientele, many police departments lose sight of the fact that the prostitutes being arrested may not have been selling their bodies willingly.
The new law includes provisions that would allocate funding for police training on trafficking issues. After receiving training, police should be better able to identify trafficking victims and prosecute their traffickers.
If the bill becomes law, sex traffickers will face a $10,000 fine in addition to having to pay back any financial gains from their sex trafficking activities. They would also be required to forfeit any houses or other property that had been used for illegal trafficking activities, from prostitution to moving trafficked women. Any money from traffickers would be put into a fund that would benefit victims, including providing social services and assistance with re-entering normal life outside of prostitution.
While the unanimous passage of the bill in the Kentucky House gives anti-trafficking advocates a reason to be hopeful about its chances, it hasn't yet passed the last hurdle. Last time a similar bill was passed in the House, the Kentucky Senate allowed the bill to die in committee. Now that the House has voted in favor of the bill, the Senate will take a look over the coming weeks. It is expected that the bill will be signed by the governor if it makes it past the state Senate.
Source: ky.gov, courier-journal.com