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Rutland forum looks at sex trafficking in Vermont~ RH May 29, 2015

Rutland forum looks at sex trafficking in Vermont
By Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli
Staff Writer | May 29, 2015

There is a relationship between sex trafficking and the drug trade in Vermont, a federal prosecutor told a Rutland forum Thursday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Ross painted a scenario:

A New York City drug dealer starts coming to Vermont because he can get so much more money for his drugs here. But because his business is selling, he realizes he can sell drugs and also sell women and girls because they are a renewable resource.

In his travels back and forth, the dealer may meet addicted Vermont women willing to do anything for a fix. So he suggests a fun trip to New York for a quick drug run.

“She thinks, ‘I’ll just stay in the car,’” Ross told the forum at the Howe Center in Rutland. “What happens when they get to New York, he turns on her and takes her cellphone, her ID, and he says, ‘You work for me now, hit the streets.’ There is a young woman in Vermont (Department for Children and Families) custody whose fun trip to New York turned out like that.”

The forum, sponsored by the Rutland City Police Department and hosted by Sgt. Matthew Prouty, was designed to help law enforcement and human services agencies to increase awareness of Vermont’s sex-trafficking issue.

“It doesn’t work, banging on the hotel room door,” Prouty said. “It’s about changing the culture. This is somebody’s daughter, somebody’s niece … these victims are part of our community.”

Stories and information on ways to help and recognize victims of the sex trade were shared by Ross, Edith Klimoski, director of Give Way to Freedom, a private nonprofit group providing victim care services to the survivors of human trafficking, and Jasmine Grace Marino, a sex trafficking survivor.

It’s about building an awareness of the issue and understanding that this isn’t the woman’s choice, Ross said.

Victims of the sex trade are unable to self-identify, she said, adding that asking certain questions might help:

What type of work do you do? Are you being paid? Can you leave your job if you want to? Can you come and go as you please? Have you or your family been threatened? Do you have to ask permission to eat / sleep / go to the bathroom? Are there locks on your doors and windows so you cannot get out? Has your identification or documentation been taken away?

“Sometimes it feels very far away from us,” Ross said. “But it’s happening here.”

Ross described her first encounter with sex trafficking in Vermont.

“I got a case while on duty … a woman and man were near the border and the border started asking questions,” she said. “What came out was this woman was being taken to farms in Vermont and asked to have sex with farm workers in Vermont.”

Ross continued, “Our first issue was what to do with this woman. If we released her we would never see her again. We were detaining her as a material witness and she was held in jail.”

Ross admitted that this was not a good option.

“We needed a safe place for potential victims to stay,” she said. “Nobody had a good solution.”

Such questions led to the formation of the Vermont Human Trafficking Task Force in 2010. Ross currently leads the task force with Assistant Attorney General Cindy Maguire. In 2011, Vermont passed its first anti-trafficking legislation.

Marino was manipulated into selling her body for seven years, starting when she was 18, by the man she thought was her boyfriend. Marino, who now lives in Boston, finally escaped and now shares her story in the hopes of helping others.

While a sex slave, she said, she worked in a Maine massage parlor, in Hartford, Conn. for six months and other New England locations.

Marino said sex trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. Forced sex workers can be working in online forums, brothels disguised as massage parlors, or spas, hotels and on the streets.

She asked the audience their view of what a pimp looks like and versions followed 1970s film versions of wearing fur coats, large brimmed hats and fancy cars.

“In our minds we have perceptions of what traffickers look like,” Marino said, showing a picture of her trafficker at her home for Christmas. “Here we are looking like boyfriend and girlfriend.”

But she said no young girl dreams of this for her life.

“The first time having to exchange my body for money, I was disgusted,” she said. “Women who are sex-trafficked are not handcuffed to a radiator, but they are in bondage.”

Following the presentations, the audience of about 75 participated in a question-and-answer discussion.

Klimoski shared materials with the group and explained about the 211 phone number available for human trafficking concerns. “The Rapid Response Support Team will respond,” she said.


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