Today is International Human Trafficking Day.
Soroptimist International is sponsoring the 4th annual Northwest Conference Against Trafficking & Film Festival this week in Portland, Oregon at the Doubletree Hotel-Lloyd Center. According to Michelle Bart, event organizer, the human trafficking film festival is playing to SRO audiences in advance of this weekend’s January 13 – 15 conference. CNN Hero of the Year Anuradha Koirala will be the keynote speaker. Saturday night’s banquet will honor the winner of the Jane Velez Mitchell Award for reporting on human trafficking.
From the NWCAT.org site:
The Jane Velez-Mitchell Journalism Award is named after award-winning journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell, host of “Issues” on HLN. “I am proud to support such an honorable and urgent cause by encouraging journalists to cover the critical issues affecting women. Fighting the “war on women must become a priority in our society… this can be accomplished only by making it a priority in our national dialogue,” Velez-Mitchell said.
I came to know Michelle Bart after submitting my own work for this journalism award. I shared some of my findings to make sure that I qualified and then went on to apply.
This year’s award went to CNN’s Hero Project. According to the NWCAT.org’s electronic press kit:
CNN launched earlier this year The CNN Freedom Project and in a very short time they have made a global impact on Ending Modern-Day Slavery. A vision of Executive Vice President and Managing Director of CNN International Tony Maddox a year ago, today has become a global recognizable brand on the war against human trafficking in America and around the world and has generated more than 200 stories of human trafficking from five continents. “The ongoing commitment to educating viewers is one of the utmost important defense tactics we can take on the frontlines of this war,” said Michelle Bart, NWCAT Conference and Soroptimist Public Awareness Chair. “The CNN Freedom Project without a doubt has improved the lives of women and girls this year,” said Bart.
“I lost to CNN,” I whined to Michelle after calling her earlier today to ask about the conference.
”You didn’t lose,” she said. “It’s just that CNN saved over 20,000 people.”
She explained how each entry deserved to win because they came from such diverse media. “Maybe next year we’ll include categories,” she said. “All the applicants were excellent.”
The internet offers journalists many resources, like this human trafficking case law database maintained by the UN.
The Polaris Project held a conference call a few months ago on the status of human trafficking legislation in Congress.
As a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors, I call on my fellow reporters and editors, professional and citizen, to explore not only my work but that of Jane Velez-Mitchell and CNN as examples of how to cover this modern form of slavery. Here is part of my contest essay to show what just one journalist can do to fight human trafficking.
I am an online investigative journalist who has exposed and documented a nonprofit group with members convicted of Mann Act violations, including sex trafficking with links to child sex tourism in Brazil. Nearly 40 articles have detailed and documented the sexual exploitation and trafficking of girls and women committed by members of the Shriners’ secret sub-group, the Royal Order of Jesters (ROJ). Victims include undocumented alien Asian sex slaves and underage Indigenous girls trafficked as prostitutes for weekend sex parties and fishing trips to the Amazon.
The Shriners are best known for providing medical care to burned and crippled children, wearing their red fezzes and driving goofy cars in parades. One must first be a Master Mason before joining groups like the Scottish Rite, the Knights Templar and the Shriners. One must be secretly invited Shriner to join the Jesters, described in court documents as having at their “Book of the Play”:
“the presence of prostitutes (‘Jester Girls’) who engage in commercial sex acts with members of the ROJ. Arrangements for the prostitutes are generally made by the organizer of the ‘books,’ or the region hosting the national ‘book.’ On occasion, individual Jesters make arrangements to transport prostitutes to ‘books.’”
My findings document the biggest nonprofit fraud of our time; prostitution and human trafficking at tax payer expense, facilitated by sworn officers of the law, members of the judiciary and members of the Bar.
I believe my work has contributed to:
1) The Brazilian indictment and prosecution of a Georgia man for allegedly coercing underage Brazilian girls into prostitution.
2) The criminal investigation by a Miami Grand Jury of the same individual for child sex tourism in Brazil.
3) The first ever lawsuit filed by four Brazilian women who allege this same individual trafficked them, while underage, as prostitutes for his fishing clients.
4) The prosecution of an Erie County sheriff who pleaded guilty to driving a limo full of prostitutes to a national Jester convention in Canada.
I am a one woman newsroom.
I do it all.
Two of the unique aspects of online journalism are moderating the comment sections after each article and linking to the documents being described. I’m still trying to remedy repeating certain information as readers read each “stand alone” article as they’re reposted to other sites.
Things were slow until I published the first article about the Jesters over three years ago.
Then, it was like being in a knife fight as they fought back.
Then, Richard Schair, the former fishing tour operator who took groups of Jesters fishing in Brazil, unsuccessfully sued Newsvine.com after I reported his indictment by the Brazilian Federal Police. His complaint whined that I scolded his attorney for hijacking the comment section to try his case in public.
Then, the editor of the Jesters newsletter came after me in two unsubstantiated “Copyright Infringement” complaints after making public two Jester newsletters, one of which included his illegal distribution of prescription drugs. He misused these complaints so I’d reveal my sources in federal court. These newsletters are still public.
My work has survived these challenges because I link my findings to documents stored in my online document depository. I also link to sites such as Brazil’s federal court system, translated through Yahoo Babel Fish, so readers can track Schair’s prosecution themselves.
At the end of the day, my findings describe how the Jesters abuse more than women and girls because, through this unprecedented nonprofit corruption, they screw us all.
Back to International Human Trafficking Day.
End Child Prostitution Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes or ECPAT USA published this page to commemorate the day with the video “What I’ve Been Through is Not Who I Am.” It shares the message that “arresting children for prostitution does not rescue them.”
Shared Hope International, a nonprofit group started by former Washington State Congresswoman Linda Smith, presented Texas Attorney General their “Pathfinder Award” for 2011. The award was presented at the National Association of Attorneys Winter meeting in San Antonio, Texas. Starlocalnews.com reports that:
As the chairman of the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force, Attorney General Abbott has worked closely with legislators, law enforcement authorities and non-profit organizations to combat human trafficking in Texas. In Shared Hope's report card, which was released today, Texas outranked all other states for human trafficking prevention efforts.
"Human trafficking is a horrific crime that is devastating to its victims and subjects them to modern day slavery," Attorney General Abbott said. "The Pathbreaker Award is a testament to the work the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force and the Texas Legislature has done to ensure Texas is hostile territory for human traffickers. Together, we have worked to increase penalties for traffickers, enhance coordination within the law enforcement community and improve victims' access to vitally important services.
There is a connection between Texas and the latest news about the Royal Order of Jesters. Here is an incorporation document filed with the Texas Secretary of State as a handful of Jesters decided to build a new headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. They then applied for and obtained 501c3 charitable status from the IRS, claiming their new building was a museum, IRS approval document here.
My investigation of the Jesters started with “Jesters Exposed.” This article included allegations of prostitution and reported that the Jesters were appealing a Marion County Assessor’s decision to deny property tax exemption for their new million dollar head quarters.
Inspectors found little evidence the new building was a museum and the Jesters application for exemption was denied.
The Jesters then appealed to the Indiana Board of Tax Review, asking for a fraternal exemption, arguing that their headquarter building should be property tax exempt because they are part of Masonry. This document shows notes taken by state officials as they were told that the Jesters were Masons and that they supported the Shriners hospitals.
This is the first time in four years that I’ve seen the Jesters officially claim that they help the Shriners’ hospitals. They don’t include this as an exempt purpose in their application for tax exemption, on their tax returns or on their website.
The news is that the Indiana Board of Tax Review decided on January 9, 2012 that the Jesters headquarters building is 100% taxable. This means that they lost their appeal for tax exemption both as a fraternity, based on their Masonic affiliation, and as a charity, claiming their building was a museum.
These denials mean the Jesters could be in serious trouble with the IRS.
It appears that their applications for tax exempt status, as both a fraternity and as a charity, could be fraudulent.
These official denials could adversely affect other Jester holdings, threaten their nonprofit status and put an end to their write offs (like nearly $600,000 for one of their weekend parties), especially if the state brought up the subject of prostitution during the tax appeal hearings.
If the nominating committee had vetted the applicant’s email address, they would have found that this official city of Jacksonville email address was included on two Royal Order of Jester subscription lists posted online.
The judge’s application fails to list his Jester affiliation though he lists membership in the Masons, Shriners, York Rite and Scottish Rite. This suggests, again, another fraudulent application, this time for a judicial position.
The appointment of this judge points to Jesters in positions of power, like those caught in a human trafficking sting out of Buffalo, New York. A former NY state Supreme Court judge, his law clerk, a retired Lockport police captain and a retired Erie County Sheriff all pleaded guilty to taking prostitutes to Jester parties from Buffalo to Ashland, Kentucky and to Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.
Finally, updates in the Richard Schair Brazil child sex tourism case. The case of four Brazilian women who sued the former fishing tour operator for human trafficking them into prostitution for his North American fishing clients remains suspended after he admitted that he is under criminal investigation by a grand jury in Miami for the same thing. Lawyers for both sides submitted an update that things had not changed, meaning that the grand jury remains active.
The women are seeking damages from Schair for allegedly 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.
Equality Now and the law offices of Spaulding and King coordinated the first ever lawsuit based on the “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (P.L. 106-386)” or TVPA.
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.”
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.
He was recently called to testify before the Brazilian Senate as they investigate the sexual abuse of minor girls along the Amazon for North American tourists. Schair’s business partner, Lauro Rocha, denied any involvement with child sex tourism. The Brazilian Senate is also investigating a list of twenty of Schair’s passengers. It is unknown if these are the same Jesters who asked to be called “Masons” and went fishing, according to Schair’s fishing guides, for girls over 13. The fishing guides also gave pictures of these same Jesters having sex with underage girls to the Brazilian Federal Police.
Schair’s problem is that if he goes to Brazil, he’ll be arrested. In the middle of 2009, he asked the Brazilian federal judge in charge of his case for habeas corpus, hoping to get the case against him thrown out. The judge reviewed evidence supporting a police report detailing the charges for which Schair was indicted and denied his request, stating it was without merit.
This means that upon entering Brazil, Schair will be arrested, taken into custody and be prosecuted for allegedly operating a network of prostitution using minor girls for his customers.
So, what can you do as a reporter, editor or otherwise?
It could be as easy as watching a movie with a message.
It could be as easy as attending this weekend’s NWCAT conference.
It could be as easy as creating a Google or Yahoo alert for:”human trafficking” or “child sex tourism."
It could be as easy as Googling the same terms and spending a few minutes learning about the organizations fighting this modern form of slavery.
Learn about and support groups like Soroptomists International because women like Michelle Bart walk their talk, which is the most important thing we can do.
All copies of material reprinted or duplicated from by Sandy Frost must include the following credit line: From http://sandyfrost.newsvine.com/ Copyright © 2012 by Sandy Frost. Used by permission.