Tag Archives: Prostitution

Hawaii: Cops Can’t Have Sex with Prostitutes Anymore

By OSKAR GARCIA Associated Press

A key Hawaii lawmaker considering an anti-prostitution bill says he and Honolulu police have agreed to get rid of a longtime exemption that allowed officers to have sex with prostitutes.

State Sen. Clayton Hee, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he and police agreed at a meeting that the exemption ran contrary to popular opinion.

Honolulu police said during the meeting that they’re OK with making it expressly illegal for officers to have sex with prostitutes, as long as undercover officers can still say they’ll have sex so they can make arrests.

Honolulu police spokeswoman Teresa Bell told The Associated Press that officers have never been allowed to have sex with prostitutes under departmental rules, so making it illegal won’t change how officers operate.

“That’s exactly what we wanted and how we’ve been conducting our investigations — with the verbal offer,” Bell said.

Bell said Hee met with officers who submitted written and oral testimony to a House committee earlier in the legislative session.

The bill passed the House without a clause that would have made sex with prostitutes illegal for officers after police lobbied to have the language removed, arguing it would inhibit undercover investigations by giving criminals knowledge of what police can and cannot do.

At a Senate hearing last week, lawmakers and members of the public expressed outrage at the exemption after the AP reported on police officers’ lobbying to keep it unchanged. Hee vowed at the hearing to make the practice illegal.

Hee said the version of the bill that moves through his committee Friday will remove sexual penetration from the police exemption from prostitution laws, leaving police with the ability to solicit sex in the course of an investigation.

“I suppose that in retrospect the police probably feel somewhat embarrassed about this whole situation,” Hee said. “But, thankfully, the issue has been brought to light and the behavior has been addressed.

“The police support the idea that sexual penetration shall not be an exempt permitted behavior by the police in making arrests on prostitutes,” Hee said. “They agree this tool is not an appropriate tool for their toolbox.”

Officers who have sex with prostitutes are subject to internal investigation and, on a case-by-case basis, the possibility of being fired or suspended, Bell said. But Bell said the department did not know of any cases in recent memory in which an officer was disciplined for having sexual contact with a prostitute.

Bell said the department thought the clause they pushed to be removed from the bill was too vague.

Hawaii’s current anti-prostitution law includes the exemption: “This section shall not apply to any member of a police department, a sheriff, or a law enforcement officer acting in the course and scope of duties.”

The clause that was removed reads, “unless the action includes sexual penetration or sadomasochistic abuse.”

Bell said the department is dedicated to working with integrity, respect and fairness and didn’t want the ability to have sex with prostitutes.

“That’s not something that we wanted anyway; that was just there,” Bell said. “The only thing that we had a problem with was the verbal part.”

Kathryn Xian, director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, said she was surprised police agreed to changing the law.

“In all of the versions of the language, never did it exclude their ability to solicit verbally,” said Xian, a candidate for Congress who drafted the language changing the exemption.

Advertisements

Sex Slaves in Cages: Mumbai’s 20,000 Prostitutes

Taken

Taken by Hazel Thompson (takenebook.com)

Guddi was only 11 years old when a neighbour persuaded her father to send her to Mumbai, with the promise of a well-paid job as a housemaid to help feed her family in her poor village in West Bengal in eastern India.

That promise was nothing but a pretext. The neighbour trafficked her to Mumbai’s red light district, and Guddi became one of the estimated 20,000 girls and women plying the streets of Kamathipura.

British photographer Hazel Thompson has spent the last decade investigating the sex trade in India after hearing that women in Mumbai were being held in cages “to break them” before making them work as prostitutes.

She described how prostitutes are indeed sometimes held in cages, without seeing daylight, for up to five years.

The only time they are let out is to service men, she told delegates at the second annual Trust Women conference, organised by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the International New York Times.

“Over the years girls described the box cages to me, saying they couldn’t move in the space,” Thompson said. “These horrors really exist. Slavery is a reality.”

Guddi, a prostitute working in Mumbai’s red light district. Guddi is featured in “Taken” an ebook by British photographer Hazel Thompson, who spent the last decade documenting the lives of prostitutes in Kamathipura, India’s biggest red light district. Photo: HAZEL THOMPSON

The very smallest of these cages, which she described as box cages, are too small for the girls to move in.

“My question is:  ‘Would the men come to these brothels if they knew they were not paying for sex, but paying to rape a slave?’” Thompson said.

Guddi was not put in a cage but when when she arrived at the brothel, she was raped by a client and sustained injuries so severe that she spent three months in hospital.

Her story and that of other child prostitutes is documented in “Taken”, Thompson’s ebook published in October.

The book contains text, images and videos to convey a sense of what life is like in Kamathipura,  established more than 150 years ago during colonial rule as a “comfort zone” for British soldiers.

Thompson first went to Kamathipura in 2002. With the help of Bombay Teen Challenge, a local charity, she went under cover, disguised as an aid worker.

Her fixer was a former street criminal himself and his mother a former prostitute, so he was able to help Thompson “unlock the secrets” of the district.

Thompson found out that the cages were originally built to protect the girls, who were recruited as prostitutes by the British during the colonial period.

The police not only do nothing to stop the trafficking but regularly accept bribes from the brothel owners and give them warnings of raids, Thompson said.

“It is completely a lawless place,” she said, “which the police continue to allow to thrive.”

Thompson last saw Guddi in April. Thompson begged her to leave, telling her  that otherwise she would die there.

“But my life was taken when they brought me here,” Guddi told her.

Thompson’s ebook, Taken, is available on the iTunes store.

 

 

 

Europe’s Biggest Brothel: It Will Cost €4.5m, Will Boast 90 Prostitutes

Europe’s biggest brothel: it will cost €4.5m and will boast 90 prostitutes

TONY PATERSON 

The German town of Saarbrücken was once renowned for its fine Moselle wines, first-class cuisine and an easy going un-Teutonic way  of life.

Yet the border city’s fame as a laid-back gourmet paradise is now fast being overtaken by a new and unsavoury reputation as Europe’s prostitution capital.

The reasons are self-explanatory: the city has 170,000 residents and a population of over 1,000 call girls. The numbers grew after 2007 when Bulgaria and Romania gained EU membership. Since then there has been a steady influx of women plying the sex trade, often to escape poverty at home.

Early next year their numbers will swell even further with the opening of a new €4.5m (£3.8m) 6,000sq-metre “mega brothel” in Saarbrücken’s Burbach district. It will employ 90 full-time prostitutes and be run by a permanent staff of 45. The establishment has been described as one of the largest brothels in Europe.

Local authorities bemoan the fact that they have virtually no power to halt the expansion of the city’s already booming sex industry: “In Saarbrücken it is easier to open a brothel than a chip shop,” Charlotte Britz, the city’s Social Democratic Party mayor, said. “Prostitution has assumed unbearable proportions here.”

It is not difficult to understand the Mayor’s concerns. From her office, Ms Britz has a grandstand view of the two brothels that stand directly opposite Saarbrücken’s town hall. “The current situation is bad for the city’s image,”  she said.

Two factors have combined to create Saarbrücken’s seemingly unstoppable sex trade boom.

The first is what was once hailed as an “enlightened” German government decision to liberalise what were considered to be outdated and repressive laws governing prostitution and the sex trade. Back in 2001, under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Germany’s governing Social Democrat-Green coalition tried to make prostitution a job like any other by passing laws that  gave call girls full rights to health insurance, pensions and other benefits provided they paid the requisite taxes.

While exploiting prostitutes remained criminal, employing them or providing sex workers with a place to ply their trade was declared legal. The change in the law was an attempt to encourage responsible, law-abiding brothel owners, who, it was assumed, would eventually drive pimps from the market and end the exploitation of sex workers.

The second factor that has contributed to the boom in the sex trade is the city’s proximity to France, where the legality of prostitution is a grey area. In France, prostitution is illegal in principle, but it is not illegal to be a prostitute. It is illegal to run a brothel or to be a pimp or to solicit even “passively” in public, but it is not illegal to sell your body – or “buy” someone else’s. And this week, France passed a controversial bill meaning anyone caught paying for sex will be fined a €1,500 for a first offence.

Saarbrücken, a mere hop over the German border from the French cities of Strassbourg, Nancy and Metz, is already flooded with French male sex tourists at weekends and the new fine seems destined to boost trade even further. The Stuttgart concern Paradise Island Entertainment, which is behind the city’s new mega-brothel project, said it chose the city precisely because of its proximity to France. But Saarbrücken is simply an extreme example of what has occurred in most large German cities since the liberalisation laws of 2001. The country has become a magnet for sex tourism, with an estimated 400,000 prostitutes catering for a million men each day.

Statistics suggest that the aim to make prostitution a job like any other has backfired badly. Just 44 prostitutes are reported to have registered for welfare benefits so far and critics say that well-meaning legislation has helped, rather than discouraged, pimps.

Most health-insurance companies refuse to accept prostitutes as customers at reasonable rates because of what they say are the inherent risks involved. Taxes on brothels are usually passed on to the call girls who work in them, while uncontrolled street prostitution involving new arrivals from Eastern Europe continues to thrive.

Germany’s future “grand coalition” government this week signalled that it would rein in some aspects of the 2001 laws in an attempt to get a grip on the problem. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and their prospective Social Democrat partners said they would ban so-called  “flat-rate” sex offered by some brothels and provide better protection for victims of enforced prostitution.

However, critics have complained that such proposals do not go nearly far enough. In Saarbrucken, insiders in city’s red light scene say the measures would make “absolutely no difference” to the city’s booming sex trade.

The backlash against Germany’s prostitution explosion is being driven by the country’s renowned 1960s’ feminist activist Alice Schwarzer.  She argues that prostitution has become a form of modern slavery.

IN NUMBERS

400,000: Estimated number of prostitutes working in Germany

44: Number of German sex workers covered by social insurance

1,000: Estimated number of prostitutes in Saarbrucken

€4.5m: Cost of  new “mega-brothel” in Saarbrucken

 

Child Sex Shame of Brazil: Prostitute, 14, Used by Workers at England World Cup Venue

Yards from a new £200m stadium, Poliana sells her body to dozens of construction workers in their lunch break for just £2.60 a time

Exploited: Poliana, 14, is one of the oldest

Sitting on a bed covered in cuddly toys, her long hair tied with a pink scrunchie, 14-year-old Poliana looks like any innocent young teenager.

But instead she is part of a sickening child prostitution scandal that heaps shame on World Cup hosts Brazil.

In this bedroom, only yards from a new £200 million stadium where England will play in next summer’s finals, Poliana sells her body to dozens of construction workers in their lunch break every day for just £2.60 a time.

And she is not alone.

A Sunday Mirror investigation reveals how hundreds of poverty stricken children, some aged just ELEVEN, are being sold to workers building Sao Paulo’s showcase World Cup ground.

Yet they are feared to be just the start of a tidal wave of child prostitutes run by organised crime from drugs gangs and child sex traffickers to the Russian mafia. And they will swamp here and other stadiums in Brazil, luring lucrative foreign fans, when the tournament kicks off in June.

Already there are sinister reports of buses full of children like Poliana arriving in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city with 11.3 million people, from poor parts of the country after being snatched by traffickers.

The city’s worried justice secretary, Eloisa de Sousa Arruda, told us of cases of underage girls arriving through its international airport from the Congo and Somalia, supposedly financed by the Russian mafia.

And a Sao Paulo council inquiry into child prostitution, seen by the Sunday Mirror before publication, shows the crime-ridden city is powerless to stop them – because there is “no political will” to do so.

Every day, the grotesque trade goes on in broad daylight in roads near the stadium in the poor district of Itaquera – in full view of security guards and regular police patrols.

_MG_7208.JPG

The girls sometimes take clients back to local run-down sex hotels, or work from their own bedrooms in shacks in a local squalid ‘favela’ or shanty town.

Residents of Favela da Paz, a slum in the shadow of the stadium, claim many of the girls are forced into prostitution by gangs.

We found Poliana after being led to her bedroom by other girls plying their trade close to the stadium’s perimeter fence.

She said she normally arranges to meet clients in a local sex motel, the pink-painted Hotel Palace, even though Brazilian law bans minors from entering such vice dens. “The owners know me, they always let me in,” she said.

Poliana said most of her trade comes from the 300 workers building Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians. Two weeks ago she discovered she is pregnant.

The youngster told us how she fell headlong into the world of prostitution only three months ago. She said: “It was the night my mother died. I’d been tempted to do prostitution before – some of my friends were doing it and there were people wanting me to do it.

“But when she died I just lost it. I went out on the streets that night. I didn’t know how I would find money to eat or pay the rent. It didn’t take long to find people wanting to pay. There were lots of men from the stadium turning up looking for sex.”

Poliana said she knows many other underage girls from poor communities around the stadium who sell their bodies to stadium workers employed by Odebrecht Infrastructure.

She said: “There are many who are younger than me, 11, 12. I’m often the oldest girl on the road. When the World Cup begins there will be many more girls my age and younger. Everyone thinks they can make a lot of money from the foreigners coming here.”

FIFA World Cup - Sao Paulo Stadium/City Views

Thousands of England fans will be in Sao Paulo for the team’s second group game on June 19 against Uruguay. Another girl, 16-year-old Thais, left a man waiting inside a garage where she sometimes takes clients so she could speak to us.

A crack addict, Thais said she charges between 10 and 15 Reals – £2.60 to £4 – and has sex with up to 15 men a day.

“Nearly all my clients are from the works,” she said. “They always pay up, but they don’t always treat me well.

“But what can I do? My parents are dead, I need money. If it were not for the men at the stadium, I don’t know what I’d do. Tomorrow one of them has booked a whole day in the hotel – it will be a good day’s work for me.”

Thais also said she is “looking forward” to earning more during the World Cup. She said: “I’m going to charge the foreigners 50 Reals (£13) a time. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of work from the football fans.”

The city council’s inquiry into rocketing child prostitution paints a disturbing picture. A public hotline to report cases has “not stopped ringing” since it was set up nine months ago, said councillor Laercio Benko, the inquiry’s president. Reports include allegations children are being forcibly recruited into the sex trade by drugs gangsters.

The inquiry, due to publish its findings next month, also heard how pimps had been approaching men working at the stadium, offering them “very young girls” for sale. Cllr Benko said he fears the city could become a “child prostitution hub” before the big kick-off.

He said: “Sao Paulo is not organised to prevent this type of child sexual exploitation, not right now and much less during big events like the 2014 World Cup. What we are hearing are very serious ­allegations which demand responses, but I’m afraid there’s a lack of political will to bring it to an end.”

The nightmare is repeated across Brazil. In a recent survey of 300 workers on World Cup projects, 57 per cent said they knew of underage prostitution close to the sites. Astonishingly, a quarter of the men interviewed admitted they had paid for sex with children on one or more occasions.

An anti-trafficking expert told us: “For trafficking gangs the World Cup represents an unprecedented opportunity to make money. Foreign fans need to be aware of this – and that sex with a minor in Brazil carries up to 10 years’ jail.”

Back in the Favela da Paz, as building workers follow children into squalid shanty homes, dad-of-four Anderson Fonseca, 34, told us: “Since the work on the stadium started, it’s got out of control. Every day you see more girls, and much younger girls.”

Two weeks ago the Arena Corinthians raised fears of Brazil’s readiness to host the World Cup after a huge crane collapsed onto the structure, killing two workers.

But Sao Paulo’s chilling child prostitution ­explosion reveals even deeper worries about the country’s suitability to run the tournament.

A statement from construction firm Odebrecht Infrastructure said on Friday it “has not been ­notified” of child abuse allegations and is “unaware of any information about them.”

Child Sex Shame of Brazil: Prostitute, 14, Used by Workers at England World Cup Venue

Saving Bobbi: Struggling to Find a Way Forward (Part 4)

Bobbi Larson’s dad, Scott Larson, greeted her with a big hug after she received her high school diploma. The summer after graduation would prove a rollercoaster of progress and setbacks as she worked at recovering from trafficking.

Pam Louwagie

Bobbi Larson stood before the mirror in her small bedroom, white gown draped over her shoulders, carefully balancing a mortarboard cap atop her perfectly straightened hair.

“Oh gosh,” she said, a smile spreading wide across her face. “I’m gonna graduate.”

Her dad, Scott Larson, teared up when she walked into the living room. Commencement would begin in a little over an hour in the high school gymnasium that crisp May evening. He gushed with pride — and relief — that his little girl had made it.

It was a milestone normally taken for granted in Two Harbors. But with Bobbi’s addiction struggles, cycles in treatment programs and stints on the run, Scott and his wife, Deanna, weren’t assuming anything.

“I just never thought this day was going to come,” Scott said, shaking his head as he watched her rush around getting ready.

Once she clutched that diploma, Scott realized, he would have to let go. But even though she was 18, he knew he and Deanna would always be her parents in the truest sense of the word.

They would continue to worry about her. They would prod her to succeed. They would watch her make mistakes and try to guide her toward better decisions.

At the ceremony, Principal Brett Archer told the graduates that their futures were in their own hands.

“What path you take from here is all up to you,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to leave unhealthy habits and relationships behind.”

The high school choir sang “A Parting Blessing,” the seniors marched across the stage one by one, then the new graduates tossed their caps and glittering confetti into the air.

After the ceremony, Bobbi turned in her gown and said goodbye to her favorite teachers. Then she climbed into her mom’s black Chevy with a friend she had met at a treatment center who had cheered for Bobbi from the audience.

Bobbi’s foot heavy on the gas pedal, they zoomed past tall pines, away from the school, the moonlight shimmering on Lake Superior behind them.

She had aimed herself in a positive direction. She had been staying sober and decided against going to a senior party after commencement, avoiding any temptation of alcohol or drugs. The dollar sign tattoo on her chest had been covered by a colorful, curlicued butterfly with the word “strength” inscribed below it, a sign of transformation to herself and the rest of the world. In about a month, she would start cosmetology school in Duluth.

A promising life lay ahead, if she could just hang on to it.

In the car, the stereo blasted Bobbi’s favorite hip hop song, “Neva End,” by Future.

“We don’t wanna neva end … It’s like our life has just began.”

Bobbi Larson, left, horsed around after lunch with a friend she moved in with in Duluth after graduation. She soon moved back to Two Harbors to live with her parents again.

Summer of struggle

But the psychological effects of sex trafficking don’t end easily. The summer and fall after graduation would prove a rollercoaster of sobriety and relapses into drugs, hopefulness and despair, struggle and denial.

Child sex-trafficking victims can suffer a range of serious physical and psychological damage, including sexually transmitted diseases, malnutrition, low self-esteem, depression and drug addiction. Victims grow to realize the life that pimps sold them as glamorous was all a facade and they feel a stigma, said Alexis Kennedy, a forensic psychologist and criminal justice professor at the University of Nevada.

Counselors warned Bobbi it could take years to understand and move on from what she had been through. She didn’t want to believe that.

In early June, Bobbi announced she was moving into a Duluth rental house where her friend lived with an aunt who had small children. Scott helped load her things and moved her bed. When he drove up to the front door, he grew wary of the run-down neighborhood. The duplex was dilapidated, with mattresses propped against an outside wall and window blinds bent in all directions. But Bobbi insisted it would work; she would be closer to cosmetology school and she could handle living on her own.

Bobbi and her friend looked for work cleaning hotel rooms, filling out applications at waterfront inns for tourists along Canal Park as well as chains up the hill near the mall. But they got no nibbles.

They started hanging out with friends of friends, including a 25-year-old man who Bobbi started to date.

As the days turned into weeks, Bobbi and her friend stayed awake partying into the early morning and then sleeping in late.

“I don’t really care what people think of me,” Bobbi often proclaimed.

But she took pains to look good, carefully picking out clothing, brushing on eye shadow worthy of a magazine cover, and choosing rhinestone-embedded purses, flip-flops and cellphone covers.

Scott and Deanna were more frustrated than they had ever been. Normally, their daughter would at least speak civilly with them. Now she often showed an ornery streak, reacting with defiance to their questions.

They had never seen her quite so short-tempered.

Bobbi was using meth again.

All the money tucked into congratulatory greeting cards at her graduation party — about $1,000 – had gone up in smoke.

Bobbi was also charged with shoplifting at a Wal-Mart in Hermantown, her first adult infraction. Waiting in the hallway of the old courthouse in Duluth for her case to be called, she stretched chewing gum from her mouth. She agreed to plead guilty to a petty misdemeanor and pay a $185 fine in installments of $25 a month. “I just wanted it done with,” she explained afterward.

To Scott and Deanna’s relief, Bobbi soon decided to move back home to Two Harbors, tired of arguing with her friend.

She also told her parents she wanted to concentrate on cosmetology school. She would build a future out of all the hours she and her friends had spent in front of mirrors, styling their hair and brushing on makeup.

On her first day, she arrived at the school in Duluth wearing a spotted animal-print top, her long hair colored a deep chestnut.

In the first couple of weeks, instructors taught her how to properly shampoo hair, give a perm to a mannequin, and use her fingers to create a flapper-style wave.

“I never thought I’d say this, but I love it,” she announced at the end of June, just days after starting. “I’m not the type of person to love school.”

Bobbi Larson took a break along Lake Superior in Two Harbors, Minn. It was once the spot where she and her friends would go to hang out during high school.

Confronting her demons

Every single day, Bobbi fights her compulsion to get high.

Everything that happened to her on the run — living in filth, stealing food, having sex with strangers – weighs heavily on her mind. She tries not to think about it. She doesn’t like to talk about it. When she does, she speaks without emotion, reciting the cold reality of what she went through.

On a visit to the Twin Cities at the end of June, Bobbi had a conversation with a program manager from Breaking Free, the St. Paul nonprofit that helps victims escape and recover from sex trafficking.

Besides helping victims reconsider their pasts, Breaking Free houses some women and girls, helps them find chemical dependency and mental health treatment, and provides them with legal help and job training.

Drug use was her biggest struggle, Bobbi told the program manager, Joy Friedman, who is also a sex-trafficking survivor.

Bobbi explained that she used drugs to escape from herself so she wouldn’t have to face the reality of her past.

Joy Friedman, left, program manager at Breaking Free, met with Bobbi in a Minneapolis park to talk about services her organization provides to sex-trafficking survivors.

“That’s nine times out of 10 what all of us do, we get high to run away from ourselves,” Friedman empathized. “It’s safe to say it’s not fixing the problem that you’re trying to get solved, correct?”

The drugs provided an escape route for about 12 hours, Bobbi said. Then she would come out of her high angry.

The two talked about trying to face their demons. Changing her life will take work, Friedman told Bobbi.

“I definitely, I want a different life, you know?” Bobbi said.

“Nobody can do this but you,” Friedman said. “It’s hard, but look what you were just in. That’s hard … this is just work.”

Counselors and therapists know the trauma of sex-trafficking haunts victims for years.

The road to healing often requires physically getting out of the environment that they have been living in, severing unhealthy friendships and finding new, positive ones.

“It’s a slow road oftentimes,” said Nikki Beasley, Breaking Free’s director of programs.

Victims think their bodies are damaged. They carry guilt and shame. Counselors help female victims learn to think about themselves differently, Beasley said.

“The brainwashing and the degradation that happens, I don’t know that anyone could ever really understand it … being daily told that you’re not worth it, that nobody will love you,” she said. “A lot of the work we’re doing is re-wiring that and giving them different messages that they, in time, believe.”

Bobbi spent countless hours with therapists, trying to get to the bottom of how her life turned out the way it did, and how she could turn it around.

Her feelings of abandonment by her birth parents came up repeatedly. “I believe I started because I wanted love from a man,” she said. “Yeah, I have a dad in my life but it’s not my biological father.” Her birth mother and father had set her up on a bad course, she said, and that made her angry. But she recognized that she had choices to make, too.

Facing her problems — her decisions, her past and her future — was exhausting.

“I feel like I’m ruined,” she said.

It was much easier to just escape.

Bobbi happily displayed a tattoo of a butterfly and the word “Strength” on her chest. The tattoo covers a previous tattoo of a dollar sign.

Some parental tough love

Using her parents’ car over the Fourth of July weekend to drive to Duluth, she just kept going and ended up at a club in downtown Minneapolis.

But this time when things started to feel dangerous, she dialed Sgt. Grant Snyder’s cellphone. He sent a squad car, but also warned that police wouldn’t have the resources to keep coming to her rescue.

The episode was the last straw for Scott and Deanna. Bobbi needed to kick her drug habit, they told her. She needed treatment.

First, Scott confirmed with his insurance company that Bobbi would be covered for a monthlong stay in a Hazelden youth facility in the Twin Cities, widely regarded as one of the premiere treatment programs in the country.

Then they steeled themselves to deliver a tough message of parental love.

They told Bobbi this was her last, best chance to get her life together. Their future support would depend on her staying sober, they said. They couldn’t continue to live with her spiraling out of control.

Sentencing the pimps

Broderick Boshay “E” Robinson, 39
Plea: Guilty, promoting prostitution. He is appealing case. Sentence: 7½ years.

Meranda Lynn Warborg, 30
Plea: Guilty, sextrafficking of a minor.Sentence: Five years of probation, including one year in workhouse. If probation completed, felony converts to misdemeanor.

Jeffrey John “Red” Latawiec, 30
Plea: Guilty, promoting prostitution, soliciting prostitution.
Sentence: 6 years.

Robert Virgil “Trap” Love, 33
Plea: Guilty, soliciting prostitution.
Sentence: 10 years, 10 months in prison, suspended for 10 years of probation, including 180 days in workhouse.

While Bobbi stayed sequestered inside Hazelden for most of August, the last of four defendants charged with trafficking her pleaded guilty.

Bobbi learned she would not have to testify against her sex traffickers in court.

Broderick Robinson had pleaded first, then Meranda Warborg, Robert Love and, finally, Jeffrey Latawiec.

At Latawiec’s sentencing inside a Hennepin County courtroom in August, Scott Larson sat down at the prosecution table, tears sometimes flowing from his eyes. Slowly, he told the judge how sex trafficking had hurt Bobbi and his family.

“The agony that we’ve felt as parents over the last 13 months has been tremendous,” he told Judge Daniel Mabley.

“Frequently, we are awakened in the middle of the night with our daughter having flashbacks,” he said. Bobbi describes dreaming of forced sex or of someone holding a gun to her head.

Bobbi used to enjoy life, Scott told the judge, but that had changed. She had been delivered a life sentence of trauma.

“She’s seldom happy today,” he said. “It’s very difficult for her to communicate without … drastic mood changes and anger.” Scott argued that Latawiec deserved a lengthy sentence.

Latawiec publicly apologized to Scott and the Larson family, saying he has two daughters of his own and he made “stupid decisions.”

He said he planned to change his life and hoped Bobbi would be able to recover.

“I feel bad for her,” he said. “I hope that she can get past stuff that happened to her.”

In the end, Mabley sentenced Latawiec to six years in prison. Latawiec had accepted responsibility for his crime and demonstrated remorse, Mabley noted, adding that the guilty plea saved Bobbi the “considerable trauma and embarrassment” of testifying.

Robinson received a sentence of 7½ years in prison. Warborg was sentenced to five years of probation, including a year in the Hennepin County workhouse. If she completes probation, her felony will convert to a misdemeanor. Love was sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in prison, suspended for 10 years of probation, including 180 days in the workhouse.

Careful steps forward

After Hazelden, Bobbi returned to Two Harbors to live with her parents.

They were doing their best to keep her on the right path as she attended outpatient treatment and talked with the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA) in Duluth. The Larsons remained hopeful, but cautious.

“I’m not going to take this more than one day at a time,” Scott said. “Anytime you don’t see her and she’s out of your hands, you worry.”

Bobbi would begin healing at home, among family who love her enough to worry, to stay up nights, to confront her, to stick with her through the very worst. Constant as the boulders lining Lake Superior, pelted by wind and waves.

On a brisk September evening, the Larsons gathered, as they often do, for Sunday dinner. Deanna cooked ribs, salmon and baby red potatoes.

As the sun set, Bobbi played with her nephews in the yard and threw rocks for the family’s bounding springer spaniel, Belle.

She wore no makeup and her hair was tied up and tousled. She smiled brightly.

“I know I’m not going to ever be perfect,” Bobbi said, but she was “taking the steps so I don’t get back in that life.”

For that moment, she was sober, happy and relaxed.

It was fragile, but it was a start.

Go to Part 1: A teen’s sex trafficking ordeal

Go to Part 2: Lured by drugs, used by pimps

Go to Part 3: One cop’s determination

Go to Part 4: Struggling to Find a Way Forward

 

Brides from Vietnam up for Sale in China

Brides from Vietnam up for Sale in China
“Don’t cry on Singles’ Day. Go to Vietnam and find yourself a bride!”
This was the unusual slogan used by group buying website 55tuan.com as part of a special promotion, which offered a free trip to Vietnam for one lucky person, provided he married a Vietnamese woman.
The online activity was launched on November 6, five days before Singles’ Day, which falls on November 11 every year (symbolized by its date, 11.11). On this day, young Chinese mockingly celebrate their single status.
The offer to “group buy” a Vietnamese bride struck a chord with single men in China, as the cost of marrying a Chinese woman continues to grow and bachelors lament their dwindling chances to find a mate. Nearly 30,000 people had participated in the lottery.
Central government departments also took note, but for other reasons entirely. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security both issued warnings about the risks of finding Vietnamese wives through matchmakers, which is the most common method for Chinese men to find a Vietnamese bride.
The risks go both ways. Buyers may end up swindled out of money or with an unwilling wife, and the women involved in these schemes risk being swallowed by people-smuggling and prostitution rackets.
These illegal matchmaking services have long existed in China and a lack of action from authorities against agents has resulted in the expansion of the industry, which now ranges from relatively above board, all the way to the bowels of organized crime.
High Cost of Marriage
A representative surnamed Xu from 55yuan.com told the Global Times that the website was not cooperating with matchmaking brokers, and simply offered the winner reimbursement of trip costs as long as he provided an authentic marriage certificate with a Vietnamese woman.
The move was obviously a clever publicity stunt, but it did demonstrate that there is a strong market in China for marriages with Vietnamese women, and that despite warnings from international anti-trafficking agencies that high demand from China creates a market for people-smuggling, there isn’t a stigma attached.
The lottery described Vietnamese women as “virtuous” and “traditional” and said they were not as materialistic as their Chinese counterparts. That is also what Ren Xuan (pseudonym), a 30-year-old man preparing to travel to Vietnam, thinks. After several frustrating blind dates and increasing pressure from his family to get married, Ren made the decision to find a Vietnamese wife. “Young women in China just gave me the cold shoulder as they were disappointed with my economic situation. I don’t think I stand a chance of finding a wife here,” said Ren, who works at a private company in Xiangyang, Central China’s Hubei Province.
He said that after reading media reports that described marriage to Vietnamese women as “bliss,” he began saving.
A report released in September by a domestic dating website, which polled 90 million of its members about their views on marriage, showed that 68 percent of single women care about the wealth of their prospective spouses.
Legal Gray Zone
The practice of finding Vietnamese women isn’t new, but previously the market was largely confined to migrant workers or farmers from poor villages. But as with most markets in China, things have changed.
“We have all kinds of customers, from farmers, white-collar workers, and even people who have returned from overseas,” said a staff member surnamed Qiu from a Guangzhou-based matchmaking agency, which specializes in blind dates between Chinese men and Vietnamese women.
These matchmaking brokers charge each customer 30,000 to 60,000 yuan ($4,900 to $9,850), which covers costs such as a dowry, a wedding feast and visas. In addition, traveling expenses and other fees can reach up to 15,000 yuan, and 2,000 to 5,000 yuan is expected to be given to the bride’s parents. Chinese men usually travel in a group with an agent and pick out a Vietnamese girl they like.
But this seemingly cozy arrangement is not without risks. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on November 9, stating that Chinese citizens are often cheated in these schemes.
Chen Shiqu, director of the Ministry of Public Security’s anti-human trafficking office, claimed on November 11 that Chinese marriage agencies are not allowed to source spouses from other countries and it is illegal for individuals to engage in international matchmaking for profit. As it is also illegal in Vietnam, people involved in the trade have nowhere to turn in the event of a dispute.
However, brokers remain unfazed. “We know the service is not allowed on the Chinese mainland, but it’s not clearly forbidden. If it was, there is no way that our service would have reliably sustained itself for nine years,” Qiu said, implying that the authorities tacitly consent to the service.
Qiu has a point. Online searches for media reports of these kinds of matchmaking agents being arrested yield a curious lack of results. “The punishment for such matchmaking brokers is just confiscating their business income and the Criminal Law doesn’t clearly define the conduct,” Hu Zhouxiong, a lawyer specializing in marriage cases involving foreigners with the Guangdong Bohao Law firm, told the Global Times, noting that the light punishment had resulted in the proliferation of these matchmakers.
He noted that the huge demand for the service is also a reason why the agents are not strictly punished. But that isn’t to say the industry isn’t causing arrests.
Dark Trade
The Ho Chi Minh-based newspaper Thanh Nien reported in September that two Chinese and seven Vietnamese nationals were arrested by Vietnamese police for trafficking women to China and selling them into marriage.
Media reports in recent years have also revealed that a number of Vietnamese brides had fled their Chinese husbands and were later caught and resold to other husbands, indicating they had been kidnapped.
“The agents were engaging in human trafficking when the Vietnamese women ‘changed hands,’ but Chinese men have no way of knowing whether the girls were smuggled into the country or not,” said Hu.
China is the largest market for people smugglers sourcing brides from Vietnam. According to a 2011 report on the trafficking of women and children from Vietnam, compiled by the British Embassy in Hanoi, “between 2005 and 2009 approximately 6,000 women and children were identified as being trafficked from Vietnam … Some 3,190 were trafficked to China for the purposes of forced marriage, or to be sexually exploited in brothels.”
But this number is not the total. The same report acknowledged the difficulty of calculating exact numbers, and pointed out that “victims have been forced to phone their families to reassure them they are well and have legal work, so that relatives do not report family members missing and alert the authorities.”

Ren, however, is eschewing the help of agents and is attempting it on his own. While this avoids supporting the people-smuggling trade, it poses its own challenges as he doesn’t know the language. “I have no other way, but I guess I can just give it a try,” Ren said.