Scripta Varia

USA - Lisette Shirdan Harris

Lisette Shirdan Harris

Good afternoon and thank you for the invitation to speak on a topic that affects humankind all around the world. Human trafficking has become the modern-day slavery. According to UNICEF USA, approximately 21 million people are trafficked around the world, and 5.5 million are children.

According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which has gathered data from over 155 countries, approximately 79% of human trafficking is sexual exploitation, of which the victims are predominantly women and girls, and approximately 18% of the reported cases are forced labor. Approximately, 20% of all trafficking victims are children, while in some regions, children are 100% of the victims. $32 billion US dollars are the estimated profits generated by human trafficking globally. One hundred and forty countries have criminalized sex and labor trafficking since 2000. Trafficking convictions remain low, however, and in 2016, of the 16 million forced labor victims worldwide, only 1,038 cases were prosecuted globally. While some of the statistics have been mentioned before, they bear repeating as we come together to address this global crisis. It is a problem in our country and around the world that knows no boundaries and impacts people of all ages and ethnicities.

As the North American delegate to the International Association of Women Judges representing the National Association of Women Judges in the United States, it is an honor to work among so many judges on the forefront of an issue that effects women and girls disproportionately. Our work includes judicial training and looking at ways to collaborate with other stakeholders to find ways to address the many issues of human trafficking.

States are recognizing the need for collaborative or problem-solving courts across the country to assist victims of human trafficking. NAWJ has partnered with the Human Trafficking and State Courts Collaborative to produce information/bench cards for judicial officers on Human Trafficking and to publish a guidebook for court staff, administrators, and Judges.

The state of California has been aggressive in their efforts to address the issue with the creation of human trafficking courts and training across the state. California’s Judicial Council, with contributions from NAWJ, put together a Human Trafficking Tool Kit for Judges that was recently published.

In Pennsylvania in my home court in Philadelphia, the First Judicial District, Court of Common Pleas, Family Division, began a specialty court in 2013 referred to as WRAP Court – which stands for Working to Restore Adolescents’ Power – that seeks to provide alternatives to criminalization for minor victims of sex trafficking by providing specialized trauma-informed treatment to victims in the least restrictive and most holistic environment.

Children who have been arrested and identified as victims of sexual trafficking are offered an opportunity to participate in WRAP through a pre-trial diversion program. The goal of the program is to work collaboratively with the child to promote treatment, healing and restoration while ensuring the safety of the child victim in the least restrictive setting possible.

Rather than adjudicating these children delinquent for crimes that directly result from their sexual exploitation, the WRAP program diverts the child from the adjudicatory system into the child welfare system, empowering them to heal and move away from their trauma. Youth are identified and referred to the program by various stakeholders, including the presiding Judge Lori A. Dumas; prosecutors; defense attorneys; Child Advocates; FBI personnel; human services agencies; juvenile probation officers; and community mental health and substance abuse providers. Acceptance into WRAP Court is determined informally by a consensus of the team members.

All team members attend ongoing training and engage in ongoing discussion on best practices and how best to manage the levels of risk to personal safety of the WRAP Court population. All juveniles who have been identified as victims of human trafficking and receive services through WRAP have their cases addressed by a multidisciplinary team including Judge Dumas, a prosecutor, defense counsel and treatment providers. The hearings are attended by all of the team members/stakeholders.

Components of the WRAP program include: Diversion of delinquent petitions of all but the most serious felonies through reporting consent decree on new arrests; Early expungement of delinquent records after program completion; Community-based services from providers with experience in trauma-based treatments for victims of human sexual trafficking; A team approach to problem solving, including frequent informal conversations with the child; Dependent (child welfare) services provided as opposed to delinquent system treatment whenever possible; and an approach where children receive treatment in the least restrictive setting available.

Also, in 2014, Pennsylvania passed Act 105 to include “sex trafficking” in the Pa. Crimes Code, which has provided prosecutors with the ability to charge traffickers with a variety of offenses, including fines and penalties against individuals and businesses involved in human trafficking, and provides for civil remedies for victims against their traffickers.

Based on information provided by the NAWJ Human Trafficking Committee, in New York, NAWJ member Judge Toko Serito currently presides over the Queens Human Trafficking Court Intervention Court, which was created in 2004 by Judge Fernando Camacho as a way to deal with child sex trafficking cases that were appearing in misdemeanor criminal court. Underage girls were being instructed by their pimps to lie about their age so that their cases could be easily disposed of and they could escape the scrutiny of family court. Services were provided through collaboration and partnership with a girls mentoring organization, and with time, diversion from routine incarceration and punishment developed into a program which recognized that many individuals in the commercial sex trade were either exploited or trafficked.

The objective of the court is to identify the needs of individual defendants and connect them to the appropriate service providers and to resolve their cases with non-criminal dispositions. The court employs an innovative, collaborative approach to the treatment of the victim/defendants in addressing human trafficking cases. Services range depending on age, nationality, sexual orientation and cultural and linguistic needs. Services are provided both in-court as advocates and outside of court. The court also takes a trauma-informed approach for all defendants and is able to provide intensive drug and mental health treatment and placement.

Since its inception, the court has gone from 50 cases a year to over 600 cases. With the participation and support of prosecutors and the defense bar, most of the prostitution-related cases are being resolved with non-criminal dispositions. Due to the success of the Queens model, in 2014, the former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, Johnathan Lippman created a statewide network of trafficking intervention courts to address the problem of trafficking victims in the criminal justice system.

States are creating task forces and designing advertising campaigns on billboards such as “Know it, See it, Report it” as ways to shine a spotlight on the issue.

As Judges, we remain vigilant in our efforts to dispense justice as we preside in the courtrooms and see the impact of human trafficking first hand. The Human Trafficking and The State Courts Collaborative addresses ethical issues that can arise for judges and courts in processing Human Trafficking cases. Some areas worth noting are acting or appearing to act as an advocate for a Human Trafficking victim in the context of a criminal prosecution without compromising our neutrality and any action that may give the appearance of bias. It also addresses extra-judicial activities. While these are ethical issues which must always be considered, the nature of addressing Human Trafficking in the courtroom requires a heightened awareness of these issues.

As we look at the work being done and the vigilance of our courts in addressing the myriad of issues related to Human Trafficking, we will continue to find ways to work collaboratively with stakeholders to reduce the effect of human trafficking on its victims and remain on the forefront of educating, reducing, and ultimately eliminating this modern-day slavery that touches all humanity.

 

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