Alumni Association University of Michigan — Late Fall 2011
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Shining Light on a Dark Crime
Alice Rhein

THE HUMAN TRAFFICKING CLINIC AT THE LAW THE HUMAN TRAFFICKING CLINIC AT THE LAW SCHOOL TARGETS MODERN-DAY SLAVERY BY RAISING AWARENESS OF ITS PERVASIVENESS AND AIDING ITS VICTIMS.

"When the bus arrived in Detroit I saw Michael, Alex, and another Ukranian man that I knew, Veniamin Gonikman waiting for me. Once I got off the bus in Detroit, everything changed. They took me to a hotel and took all of my identity documents from me. They told me that they needed them in order to get a state identification card for me. They told me that I owed them $12,000 for travel to the United States and $10,000 for the identification document, and that I only had a short time to pay them off.

I quickly learned how I would have to pay it off. They told me I was going to have to work at a strip club called Cheetah’s. They forced me to work six days a week for twelve hours a day. I could not refuse to go to work or I would be beaten. I had to hand over all of my money to Michael and Alex. I was often yelled at for not making enough money or had a gun put to my face. Every week I handed over around $3000–$4000 to Alex and Michael. I was their slave."

Excerpt from “Katya’s” statement before the House Judiciary Committee, United States House of Representatives October 31, 2007

Unconscionable and unnerving, human trafficking is the second-largest—and fastest-growing—criminal industry behind drugs. In fact, this modern-day slavery is so profitable that some drug traffickers move into human trafficking. And, like drug trafficking, human trafficking often occurs within the borders of this country, in our own neighborhoods.

“In the U.S., you will find that people acknowledge that human trafficking exists, but the next statement would be that it exists ‘over there.’ That could be Thailand or Cambodia, or ‘over there’ may be the East or West Coast,” says Bridgette Carr, JD’02, director of the U-M Law School Human Trafficking Clinic. “Until we get over that and acknowledge that human trafficking exists in all of our communities, we’re not going to be able to take the next step that we need, which is passing good laws to help victims.”

As defined in the U.S. Department of State “Trafficking in Persons Report 2011,” human trafficking is an umbrella term for activities involved when one person obtains or holds another person in compelled service. The United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act, passed in 2000, includes involuntary servitude, slavery, debt bondage, sex trafficking, and forced labor under the definition of human trafficking.

Estimates vary on the number of individuals trafficked from other Countries or enslaved in the U.S., but what is known is that there are slaves in every state, in cities big and small.

“Our cases include adult men who were forced to work in restaurants, both children and adult women who were forced to sell sex, women who were forced to strip in strip clubs, and kids forced to braid hair in hair-braiding shops,” says Carr. “Our clients are both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. We really see the full breadth of what is happening with human trafficking in America.”

The clinic currently has 40 active cases involving labor-based and sex trafficking victims. The first clinical law program in the world dedicated to the issue, it has also started an online database, also the first of its kind, to track U.S. cases of human trafficking. Carr has assisted in opening similar clinics at law schools in Egypt and Mexico. Since establishing the clinic three years ago, she has assumed the role as the nation’s most sought-after legal expert on the subject, from network and cable news programs to international newspapers and magazines.

Each semester, students in the seven-credit clinic work in pairs on cases assigned to them. For many, the clinic is the experience of a lifetime.

“I came to law school with very strong, but general passions,” says Elizabeth Campbell, ’05, JD’11. “I Wanted to use the law to better my community. I wanted to work with people in finding their voice.”

For Jane Khodarkovsky, JD’11, it emphasized the magnitude of preparation. “I made sure to know every detail of the case, the background, who the victims had spoken to before and what questions they had already answered so that I did not have to ‘retraumatize’ them.”

Carr says that when a student meets a victim of human trafficking such as Katya, it becomes very personal. “It’s no longer someone’s story on paper. This is a person who has been enslaved in our own community.”

Many students stay with the clinic until graduation, and Carr says if she does her job well, clients see the students, not Carr, as their lawyer. “At its core, the clinic is about educating students,” she says, noting that because so many trafficking laws are in their infancy, students are pioneering the field. They also learn to build relationships with the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, local law enforcement, the U.S. Attorney’s office, Attorneys General offices, trafficking resource centers, and nongovernmental organizations while strengthening their skills in oral and written advocacy, interviewing, counseling, and trafficking law.

Campbell, who returned this ampbell, who returned this fall as a staff attorney, spent two semesters in the clinic providing legal aid to three labor-based human trafficking victims. She was initially drawn to this area of law because of her work at an Ann Arbor domestic violence shelter while an undergraduate student and later as an employee.

Like most people, she had little knowledge of trafficking issues except for what she learned at a brief talk given by an FBI agent at the shelter. “When I heard about the clinic, I knew it would combine my interests in working with victim-based clients and getting them the kind of relief that can change their lives,” she says.

Indeed, that has happened for several clients. One of them, a young woman from Ghana who has taken the name of Nicole when speaking to the media, has helped put a face on the issue through public appearances. When she spoke at the Michigan Journal of International Law symposium and to CNN earlier this year, she recalled Excitement that quickly turned into heartbreaking sadness and fear when she was brought to the United States. Promised an education by a family friend, Nicole was forced to work at a hair-braiding salon in New Jersey for long days throughout her early teens. For years, she was forced to work 14- hour days, often seven days a week, and instructed to tell clients she was 18. In the home she shared with other trafficking victims, their captors commonly subjected them to beatings, starvation, and, for some, sexual abuse.

Carr says that for trafficking to be successful, two things have to happen: a trafficker has to decide to exploit people, and other people have to decide to look the other way.

“That is a bargain we uphold really well,” says Carr, who points out that in Nicole’s case, salon customers even commented that she had been 18 for several years. “When we dehumanize people who are here and call them illegals, or we dehumanize someone sold for sex, we’ve already done half the job that the traffificker wants done. They need to treat that person as a commodity.”

In Nicole’s case, her worth to traffickers was about $500 a week. Not allowed to keep any money earned, she did not try to escape or report her abuse for fear of what could happen to her or her family in Ghana. In September 2010, Nicole’s three traffickers received sentences from 55 months to 27 years.

Khodarkovsky says Nicole fits the role of “the perfect victim” because she was brought to the U.S. as a minor and exploited. In other cases, issues of morality can cloud the situation, as with Katya, a client of Khodarkovsky’s who came to the U.S. from Eastern Europe on a J-1 (exchange visitor) visa. Katya’s intention was to work at a Virginia Beach restaurant and study English for the summer.

Instead, she and another woman were met at the airport by traffickers, bused to Detroit, and forced to work in a strip club. For a year, they were abused, raped, and forced to hand over money earned working 12-hour shifts.

Though this was a case of labor and commercial sex, Khodarkovsky points out that even in cases that involve selling sex, trafficking victims need to be treated as victims, not criminals. “One of the toughest challenges is that because this is a new issue to a lot of people, including law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges, we come across cases that don’t fall into that perfect box that people want.”

With the aid of a patron of the strip club, the Ukrainian student and other women escaped and told authorities their story. Katya later appeared before a U.S. House Judiciary Committee regarding trafficking. Two of her captors pleaded guilty to involuntary servitude, Illegal immigration conspiracy, illegal immigration conspiracy, and money laundering, and are serving seven- to 14-year sentences. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents caught a third captor in January who had been a fugitive for several years. In September, he pleaded guilty to money laundering, not trafficking. He will be sentenced in January and could face up to 51 months in prison.

“The trafficking clinic has been a huge benefit for the Homeland Security Investigations Human Trafficking Group,” says James Klawitter, Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent. “The clinic has reached out to HSI on numerous occasions involving human trafficking victims willing to cooperate as well as providing possible investigative leads from the Polaris Project, a national human trafficking hotline based in Washington, D.C.”

In outreach community programs, Carr often tells her audience that the rescue itself is the “easy” part because law enforcement is efficient at making arrests and getting victims to safety. It’s the “what now?” that comes after rescue that is difficult. There are questions such as: Where do I live? What is my role in criminal justice? How do I begin the recovery process after years of abuse? Will I ever see my family again?

Victims of human trafficking, whether foreign or U.S. citizens, have a variety of legal needs. What the U-M Law School established with the Human Trafficking Clinic is a way to serve individuals Under the umbrella of an issue rather than a piece of relief that one subset of victims may need, such as labor or immigration.

“It’s been amazing because it allows us to evaluate how trafficking law is working over time for victims and how it is interacting with other areas of law,” says Carr. “What started out as an experiment has turned into something very valuable, and now I can’t imagine working on these cases any other way.”

Last fall, Khodarkovsky spent a semester in Washington, D.C., helping draft model laws for countries that do not have them.

She worked as an intern with Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, JD’93, who directs the U.S. Department of State’s efforts to combat human trafficking. Khodarkovsky was also able to broaden her skills regarding the complexity of trafficking law and current anti-trafficking legislation and traveled to the U.N. Office of Drug and Crime meeting in Vienna to introduce the Human Trafficking Clinic’s database. “It is a great tool for learning about the trends in trafficking,” she says.

Meanwhile, Campbell is back at the Law School this fall, training new students in the Human Trafficking Clinic, providing experienced guidance on aiding victims, and clarifying public misconceptions regarding how trafficking occurs. Contrary to some beliefs, claiming to be a trafficking victim to remain in the United States Is not an effective or rational way to gain a visa.

Despite the lingering questions regarding immigration issues, Campbell says that no individual would withstand several years of imprisonment, degradation, humiliation, maltreatment, and total separation from everything they know just to get to the United States.

“There is the assumption that everyone wants to be here, and while many do, the situations that these victims are put into are not the lengths that any person would be willing to go to.”

While the Human Trafficking Clinic is helping to rebuild the lives of those victims identified, it is also trying to raise public awareness to acknowledge that this exists in every community.

“We can’t make people care, but without a doubt this happens in your community,” says Carr. “Because it is the sale of the other, or the exploitation of the other, we just drive on by. When a community decides it is unacceptable, it will change.”

Alice Rhein, ’84, MS’86, is a freelance writer based in Huntington Woods, Michigan.

DARK STATS

Human trafficking represents an estimated $32 billion dollar industry involving 12.3 million adults and children worldwide, according to the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime and the U.S. Department of State. Published this summer, the “Trafficking in Persons Report 2011” indicated that, in 2010, fewer than 33,000 victims were identified, with 6,017 traffickers prosecuted.
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