WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CNS) — Last spring, a Cincinnati man who was convicted of imprisoning and transporting multiple women for the purpose of commercial sex in the Ohio-Kentucky region was sentenced to 180 months for operating a sex trafficking scheme.
In addition, the U.S. Justice Department said that Christopher Hisle, who through force and violence kept women locked up in his Cincinnati home, also will have to pay restitution to some 12 women identified as victims of his crimes.
The arrest and conviction were seen nationally as a sign of the greater law enforcement focus given to such cases in recent years and of the more severe penalties exacted of perpetrators of human trafficking in the U.S.
“We have seen an increase in better identifying cases and in bringing charges, with some incredible victories — I hope that is a growing trend that we will continue to see,” said Marissa Castellanos, who for the past seven years has been manager of the human trafficking program of Catholic Charities of Louisville, Kentucky.
Castellanos has provided case management services to more than 90 survivors of either sex or labor trafficking. She was a presenter at a July trafficking conference at The Catholic University of America in Washington, which explored the Pope Francis’ effect on issues of human trafficking.
She told Catholic News Service she wants to see human trafficking survivors provided with the resources they need to rebuild their lives — including needed financial restitution and the expunging of a criminal record if they are convicted of prostitution during young, vulnerable periods of their life.
Some 20 U.S. states also have adopted “safe harbor” laws to protect child victims of trafficking and to better enable law enforcement to stop human trafficking with greater consistency without the victim’s criminal records becoming a barrier to future employment and other opportunities. Such laws have enjoyed bipartisan support to create a domino effect among government agencies to engage in the trafficking and sex crime issue, according to Castellanos.
“Nationally and even in Kentucky we have seen a lot of improvement in state level laws and legislation,” she said, noting that online activity and online prostitution marketing have driven sex trafficking off the streets and indoors, often out of the site of law enforcement.
Castellanos broadly sees child sex trafficking cases attributable to several scenarios including activity related to prescription drug and heroin addiction; runaway youth or youth living with inconsistent housing; and the exploitation of vulnerable youth by older boyfriends or adult associates.
The same push-pull factors that drive immigration and illegal immigration further contribute to U.S. sex trafficking and labor exploitation in the U.S., she added.
In Kentucky, the Catholic Charities human trafficking program’s data show the victims come from 25 major countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. That same profile is seen in terms of how labor and sex trafficking victims enter the country, using whatever means they can including fake documentation, airports and moving across the Canadian-U.S. border.
“We need to broaden our perspective on this,” Castellanos said. “These workers are so far away from families that they are vulnerable, much easier to control the victim who might not speak much English and who are working hard for their families.”
Pope Francis has called human trafficking “a crime against humanity” and “an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ.”
He will likely discuss the plight of trafficking victims when he visits the United States in September, which will include an address to a joint meeting of Congress and to the U.N. General Assembly.
At a July 21 Vatican gathering of mayors from around the world, Pope Francis called on the U.N. to play a greater role in combating human trafficking.
Today’s focus on human trafficking began in earnest in 2000, with the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and a U.S. statute, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
In addition, a proliferation of laws focused on the criminalization of acts related to human trafficking, followed by efforts to protect victims and respect their human rights, according to Roza Pati.
Pati is a professor of law at the Miami-based St. Thomas University and director of the school’s Human Trafficking Academy.
The Girls Count Act of 2015 authorizes the U.S. secretary of state and the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development to prioritize efforts to create greater protections for the rights of women and girls in the developing world through birth registration.
Pati noted that globally about 36 percent of children under age 5 do not have a birth certificate or national identity card, putting them at risk of being trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and child labor; forced into marriage; arrested and treated as adults in the justice system; or forcibly conscripted into the armed forces.
She expects that Pope Francis will reiterate a call for care for the “least among us,” a reduction of poverty that makes people vulnerable and fight against complicity in issues that relate to human trafficking.
“He will urge politicians, as he has done before, to act decisively … ‘to remove the causes of this shameful plague,’ that he finds unworthy of a ‘civilized society,’ and ‘an open wound on the body of contemporary society,” said Pati, who since 2012 has been a member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican.
“He will call for a clear shift and change in the mentality that permits seeing a human being as an object,” Pati said, adding that Pope Francis will call for a more humane immigration law and policy, and above all for commitment to mitigate international imbalances in economy, finance and politics to combat the rising inequality and poverty within and between nations.
“From day one of his pontificate, the Holy Father has called human trafficking by its true name: a crime against humanity that has to be eradicated,” she said.
Pati noted that in 2013 Pope Francis tasked the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences with taking up the issue of human trafficking and coming up with new ideas and recommendations for solutions to the worldwide problem.
Erica Dahl-Bredine is the Catholic Relief Services country representative in El Salvador, which is situated at the crossroads of regional and international human trafficking and migration. CRS is the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency.
She noted Pope Francis’ recent visit to South America and his comments there about the social and economic conditions that set human trafficking in motion.
In El Salvador CRS sponsors programming to provide job and life skills, employment opportunities, as well as material aid and border-area programs to help people stay out of the illegal migration flow and gang-related violence that often attends human trafficking in Central America.
Pope Francis has addressed the human trafficking problem very eloquently when he said that the economy should exist to serve the human person and nature and not the other way around, according to Dahl-Bredine.
“We have the right to migrate but we also have the right not to migrate and to live in dignity in our countries,” she said. “So many people want a chance to live at home, to live simply in peace. Most people know what a difficult life is as a migrant in the U.S. or some go seeking family reunification.”