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February 8, 2013

Child Trafficking Program Looks at Fundamentals and Responses

Mary C. Ellison, director of policy for the Polaris Project in Washington, D.C.

Mary C. Ellison, director of policy for the Polaris Project in Washington, D.C.

The Midyear Meeting program “Lawyering for Child Victims of Human Trafficking” on Feb. 8 drew a packed crowd for a look at child trafficking fundamentals, child welfare and juvenile responses and practical considerations in representation.

The half-day program included a roster of 10 speakers.

Mary C. Ellison, director of policy for the Polaris Project in Washington, D.C., said 116 countries have laws against trafficking. In addition, 49 states have laws that oppose trafficking (Wyoming is the exception).

“Victims are U.S. citizens or foreign nationals,” Ellison said. “They are sold into sex trafficking or labor trafficking.”

“It is a modern-day form of slavery,” said Ann Johnson, Johnson Law Firm PC, whose presentation included clips on child trafficking from the Today Show. “The vast majority are domestic victims.

Related video: Policy Expert Details State and Federal Laws on Trafficking

“Children are the victims, not the perpetrators of child prostitution,” she added.

Human trafficking is about exploiting vulnerability, Ellison said. Targets include runaways and homeless youth as well as victims of abuse and neglect.

Ann Johnson, Johnson Law Firm PC

Ann Johnson, Johnson Law Firm PC

“Pimps look for young girls who are lonely or rebellious, with low self-esteem, and prey disproportionately on young runaways,” Johnson added.

Individuals may be recruited with promises of a better life: of jobs or an improved livelihood or marriage, Ellison said.

But the traffickers keep the children under their control by promising emotional and financial security mixed with violence and drugs, Johnson said.

The traffickers’ motivation is profit, Ellison said. Traffickers may come from street gangs or may even be family members. Sometimes trafficking exists within multiple generations in families.

With pimp-controlled sex trafficking, victims “may be punished or beaten if they don’t meet their quota,” Ellison said.

Although sexual slavery is a common form of trafficking, other types that are often overlooked are domestic or agricultural servitude, Ellison said. On a farm, for example, children may have to fill bushels full of fruit or vegetables, and they are not compensated, and they are kept from school.

Angela Ellis, Associate Judge, 315th District Court of Texas

Angela Ellis, Associate Judge, 315th District Court of Texas

When it comes to helping the victims, Angela Ellis, associate judge, 315th District Court of Texas, runs Girls Count, a specialty docket for child victims of human trafficking. The program serves 10 girls at a time.

Related video:  Girls Court Judge Describes Her Response to Child Trafficking Victims in Texas

Howard Davidson, director of the ABA’s Center on Children and the Law, recognized Florida, Connecticut and Massachusetts as leaders in serving the population of child victims of trafficking. He acknowledged Ohio’s task force on human trafficking, which has made recommendations.

Angela Vigil, Baker & McKenzie LLP, said more lawyers are needed to practice in this area. “They must be first-class lawyers and multidisciplinary, familiar with the social service agencies,” she said.

Related video: Challenges Facing Pro Bono Lawyers Representing Child Trafficking Victims

This program was organized by the _ Commission on Youth at Risk, Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, Center on Children and the Law, and Children at Risk (Houston). It was co-sponsored by other ABA groups including the Task Force on Human Trafficking, the Center for Human Rights, Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Commission on Immigration, Criminal Justice Section, and the Government and Public Sector Lawyers Section.

Related video:  How To Know If Your Child Client is a Victim of Human Trafficking

Obama Administration Representative Speaks

“Lawyering for Child Victims of Human Trafficking” also included keynote remarks from the assistant secretary for children and families, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
To view his remarks click here.

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Learn More About:  Human RightsMidyear Meeting 2013