Update 7/12/2011: U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, representing New Jersey’s Fourth District, authored the “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (P.L. 106-386)” or TVPA.
Equality Now, a humanitarian group dedicated to protecting and promoting women’s rights around the world, has just announced their coordination of unprecedented legal efforts to represent four Brazilian Indian girls in a complaint filed today in U.S. District Court, Gainesville Division, against former fishing tour operator and real estate salesman, Richard Schair of Gainesville, Georgia. (1)
The complaint alleges that Schair caused the underage girls to engage in commercial sex acts and describes them as victims of sex trafficking, with one as young as twelve.
The complaint further alleges that Schair, “by and through his agents and employees, engaged in international commerce and sex trafficking of children by recruiting customers in the United States to engage in ‘sex tourism’ in Brazil.” Court documents from cases in both the U.S. and Brazil suggest that these customers included members of the Shriner’s secret sub-group, the Royal Order of Jesters, currently under investigation for human trafficking, prostitution and child sex tourism.
The complaint continues that Schair and associates used fraudulent and coercive means to recruit, obtain, harbor and transport “young girls under the age of eighteen aboard the Amazon Santana and used fraudulent means to solicit and coerce Plaintiffs into commercial sex acts with his customers aboard the Amazon Santana.”
According to the Equality Now:
“Initiated and coordinated by international human rights organization Equality Now, the landmark civil case will be filed by Atlanta law firm King & Spalding. The case is noteworthy because it is the first time that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) will be used by alleged victims of trafficking to seek damages from a sex tour operation.”
John Harbin, a partner in the law firm, will lead the pro-bono litigation, stating “With this lawsuit, we hope to shine a spotlight on such conduct and the real harm it does to the victims, and to get justice for the victims.”
King and Spalding has been in business for 125 years with over 800 lawyers in offices in Abu Dhabi, Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Dubai, Frankfurt, Geneva, Houston, London, Moscow, New York, Paris, Riyadh (affiliated office), San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Singapore and Washington, D.C.. According to their website, “King & Spalding represents half of the Fortune 100 and, according to a Corporate Counsel survey in August 2009, ranks fifth in its total number of representations of those companies.”
The U.S. Department of State states:
“It is a crime for a United States citizen or permanent resident to travel abroad for the purpose of having sex with a minor and it is a crime for a United States citizen or permanent resident to actually have sex with a minor while abroad… It is a criminal activity to knowingly arrange, induce, procure or facilitate for profit the travel of a person when you know that the person is traveling for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct with minors.”
The girls are seeking damages for trafficking them to engage in commercial sex acts while (1) under the age of eighteen and (2) by means of force, fraud or coercion, in the State of Amazonas, Brazil, aboard the vessel Amazon Santana in an amount to be determined at trial.
Schair was indicted by the Brazilian Federal Police in 2009 for rape, corruption of minors and operating a prostitution network. The Brazilian Public Ministry began prosecuting him and five Brazilians on April 29, 2011 for operating a house of prostitution, story here.
Brazilian attorney, Dr. Washington Cesar Rocha Magalhaes, anchors the legal activity in the Amazon as he represented the girls when they testified in June, 2007 as part of a federal investigation into the sexual exploitation of minor Indian girls living along the Amazon by North American foreign tourists. The girls' statements can be read here.
Dr. Magalhes can be seen in this YouTube video of the Brazilian news Rede Record report “Childhood in Danger” by Carlos Azen. He reported that the FBI had been in jungle villages interviewing the same girls and showed the Amazon Santana fishing boats used by Schair on his fishing trips. The video was posted with closed captions by ECPAT-USA, working to form a global network for the protection of children.
Press CC button for Close Captioning in English. Ecological tourism is the style in Euroupe, Japan and the US. The purchasers of packages do not want traditional destinations, they want adventure. One of these destinations is the Brazilian Amazon. Girls are contracted to work on luxury boats and are exploited sexually by foreign tourists.
The TVPA was passed by Congress in 2000 to prevent and protect against sex trafficking by punishing the traffickers and protecting the victims.
Equality Now chooses their cases “based on their significance and the prospects of finding restitution for the victims and reshaping the rule of law by setting precedents or highlighting the need for equal protection under the law. Cases are brought to the public’s attention and foster public debate and more widespread rights-seeking. Equality Now is currently supporting three cases through the Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund.”
Ethiopia - Marriage by abduction, a common practice in parts of Ethiopia, occurs when a man kidnaps a woman or girl, rapes her and then pressures her to marry him. In 2005, following advocacy efforts by the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), supported by an international Equality Now campaign, Ethiopia abolished the law that provided for exemption from punishment in these cases of abduction and rape, if the rapist subsequently married his victim.
Zambia - The “defilement” or rape of minors is rampant in Zambia. Equality Now has been actively supporting a case involving the rape of a 13-year-old girl by her teacher. Two other teachers confirmed her allegations, and the girl’s aunt/guardian reported the incident to the school. The teacher admitted she was his “girlfriend”, and remarks reportedly made by the head teacher indicated that this was not the first such incident involving this teacher. The teacher went into hiding, and his parents tried to negotiate with the aunt, who refused and reported the matter to the police. The teacher was arrested but was released on bond and has not been prosecuted. As a result, the aunt consulted a lawyer she knew who agreed to handle the case pro bono as a civil matter.
Kenya - The AGLDF is monitoring the case of a young Maasai girl who bled to death after being subjected to Female Genital Mutiliation in Kenya. The circumciser and the girl’s father were arrested and are facing manslaughter charges. This may be one of the first prosecutions of a circumciser and a parent in the Maasai community. The AGLDF retained a lawyer to help the prosecution bring a successful case (public prosecutors in Kenya are often not lawyers themselves), and we will follow the case until a judgment is rendered.
Taina Bien-Aime, Executive Director of Equality Now explains that:
“This unprecedented case focuses on the criminal links between human trafficking and the sex tourism industry operating from the United States with impunity. We hope it sends a loud and clear message to all sex tour operators in the United States that sex trafficking victims anywhere can bring a case against those who exploit them by pressing for damages in the U.S.”
Equality Now reports that UNICEF estimates about a quarter of a million children are forced into the commercial sex industry in Brazil, the second largest number after Thailand. The 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report by the U.S. State Department reports that officials are concerned about Brazil’s “serious official complicity in trafficking crimes at a local level” and that “police have turned a blind eye to child prostitution and potential human trafficking activity.”
“It is time for the U.S. federal government to take all forms of sex tourism seriously,” Bien – Aime continued, “and apply the law to the fullest extent to punish the perpetrators and protect the victims of American sex tourism around the world.”
(1) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 11, states: "Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which they have had all the guarantees necessary for their defence."
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