Topic: Anti-Trafficking Services

Preble Street Helps Identify Crime of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is not a new crime, but it has recently prompted heightened attention and action among social services, legal services, law enforcement, and the general public. Human trafficking victims/survivors are forced or coerced — through sexual, physical, psychological violence, and/or torture — to perform a variety of labor including sex work, domestic services, childcare, agricultural labor, and restaurant work. All these exist in Maine. Maine is also home to laborers, many of them recent immigrants, who are exploited by unfair labor and immigration practices, receive little to no pay, and are subjected to unsafe working conditions. 

Since understanding the laws and systems of a new country can be challenging, immigrants can be especially vulnerable to trafficking inside the United States. Immigrants, whether asylum-seekers or refugees, may not know their rights as workers or may not know to whom to turn for help. Immigrants who are undocumented or who are inside the U.S. on a guest worker visa program may not seek help due to fear of prosecution or deportation. Some may hesitate to speak out due to threats to their families back home or they may fear losing their ability to work in the U.S. 

Preble Street cares about the needs of all human trafficking survivors. Since 2013, our Anti-Trafficking Services (ATS) has been working to end human trafficking in Maine. While ATS is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, it is not part of the government or law enforcement. 

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Hundreds gather to discuss problem of human trafficking in Maine

Hundreds attended the Health Care Response to Human Trafficking conference, put on by Preble Street Anti-Trafficking Services and community partners.

“We’re here to really raise awareness and to build connection between the health services field and anti-trafficking efforts across the state,” said Fiona Mason, Chief Program Officer for Preble Street. “So we’re really trying to create a system where people who have been entering into the health services world have access to all the services that anti-trafficking programs are offering across the state.”

The focus was on teaching medical professionals who might deal with patients who are being trafficked and not know it.

“Only 1% of people who have been identified for human trafficking were identified through health services, even though 88% of them touch it, so that’s what we want to change today,” said Mason.

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Advocates push for law to vacate convictions of human-trafficking victims

Survivors of human trafficking rallied Thursday in Augusta to increase public awareness about forced laborers or sex workers in Maine and to advocate for a bill allowing trafficking victims to have criminal convictions vacated. They were joined by representatives from Maine nonprofit organizations including Preble Street Anti-Trafficking Services.

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Fighting Human Trafficking

It is happening here in Maine and many people are not aware of it. We are talking about human trafficking, and it comes in many forms.

Fiona Mason and Donna Yellen from Preble Street’s Anti-trafficking Coalition join us to talk about this problem in our state. Feel free to ask questions and we will try to answer them.

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Maine Voices: Those trapped by human traffickers can benefit from Preble Street program

A recently published article (“Trafficking victims turn to hotline with pleas for help,” Oct. 1) spoke to the horrors of human trafficking and the important efforts of the National Human Trafficking Hotline in reaching survivors. The highest volume of calls coming through the hotline originate from big cities, but trafficking can and does happen everywhere, to women and men, cisgender and transgender people, and children right here in Maine.

Whether through labor or sex trafficking, human trafficking victims are forced, by sexual, physical and psychological coercion or violence, to do work – including domestic services, massage parlors, street prostitution and agricultural and restaurant work. These are all examples we have seen in Maine, many hidden in plain sight – working alongside others who aren’t being trafficked.

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Maine Calling: Finding Solutions to Homelessness

Despite discouraging news headlines about homelessness, some innovative Maine organizations have had meaningful success in reducing homelessness and improving the lives of the homeless population. We’ll learn about these solutions and what it would take to expand them.

Guests: Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street in Portland

Stephanie Primm, executive director of Hospitality House in Rockland

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Invisible homelessness: Maine teens on the streets

(NEWS CENTER) — Maine is at the heart of a national study that many will find hard to believe.

More than 2,000 young people in Maine have no home and find themselves scrambling for shelter, food and respect.

Even during the harshest of Maine’s winter months, there are thousands who live outside—under bridges, in the woods, in storage units, in cars, couch surfing. Even harder to believe is the age: 10- to 24-year-olds.

“I was struggling my whole life so it’s normal for me to run into people or to know people who are in those situations. So, I don’t see it as, ‘oh, Maine, there are no issues like that here.’ There are a ton. There is a lot going on under the radar,” said Natachia, who is 20 and pregnant. “My family has had a lot of struggling in their life so I never came from people who either were rich or not struggling or good to go with everything,” she explained.

Natachia recently checked into Hospitality House in Rockland. The Knox County shelter is designed to help young families. At Hospitality, she is receiving services she and her soon to be born baby need: access to healthcare, transportation and the opportunity to speak with professionals.

“I’ve been homeless off and on since I was 16-years-old, but even before then I can never really recall a time in my life where I had a very stable living environment,” shared Zachariah, from his Rumford apartment.

He has moved more than he can count, most often staying with family or friends on the couch, also known as couch surfing. When that’s not available, some young people head outside: in the woods,under a bridge, in a car.

Karen, who has three young daughters, understands that situation.

“For probably seven years, I was bouncing between family and friends and car and what not,” Karen said.

She, Zachariah and Natachia are all part of a growing problem in Maine: youth homelessness.

“It is a huge problem. Much bigger than we knew,” explained Jon Bradley, associate director of Preble Street, which runs the Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter in Portland.

Bradley says desperation has pushed an alarming number of the young and homeless to make unsafe choices.

“The kids who are what we would call trafficking, in terms of sex trafficking, trading a bed, you know, for a place to stay for sex. And we’ve seen much more of that over the years than we used to,” Bradley shared.

In southern Maine last year, there were more than a hundred cases of sex trafficking. The youngest involved? Age 15. Nationally, a 10-year-old.

“They don’t see any hope, they don’t trust people to take care of them or to give them help,” said Bradley.

Determining who and where these young people are has prompted a national homeless teen count, and Maine figures prominently. The state of Maine is the first rural state to be examined. And so far, the numbers are telling a fairly grim story. Estimates of more than 2,000 youth—ages 12 to 24, who are homeless on any given night here in Maine. And, the number of youth at-risk for homelessness is even greater.

“We looked at both rural and urban communities across the state…we went by county, we did seven counties,” Bradley stated. “There were real differences between the kids we were seeing in our cities, where shelters are located and in the real rural areas where there are very few resources.”

In fact, the state of Maine has only three shelters dedicated to homeless youth in Portland, Lewiston and Bangor, which makes finding and helping homeless and runaway youth difficult.

“We do street outreach and engage kids. There are some 200 kids,some who we don’t see but we give them food support to, we have actually packs that include toiletries and other necessities for people on the street. That includes most of the youth, I think, in Portland.”

Bradley is working with non-profits in the seven counties, zeroing in on rural regions located several hours from youth shelters. Towns like Rumford, a struggling mill town community where jobs are scarce and resources to fund group homes, dwindling. And Rockland, dealing with a tremendous homeless issue, which belies its picturesque coastline.

“It’s a tragedy to think that in this beautiful part of our country and Maine that this is happening and it’s quite prevalent. It’s a humanitarian issue,” Stephanie Primm said.

Primm runs Hospitality House, the Knox County shelter for young families and adults. Open just over two years, the shelter has helped over 2,000 people.

“64 percent of our clients describe coming from a generational poverty scenario, so that’s often inclusive of a combination of abuse, low education or really no opportunity,” Primm continued. “They’re people who never really had a chance. It’s sad because there’s a lot of judgement of underprivileged people, of the poor. Some people use the word demonization,” she explained.

Primm and her three daughters wound up at Hospitality House after bouncing from friends’ couches to living out of a car. Now, she has an apartment and works at the shelter’s food pantry.

“It helped my confidence, it helped get paperwork and stuff done and everybody here is so nice,” Karen told us.

Many arrive at Hospitality under extreme stress—money problems, drugs and alcohol, mental illness, disease, death. They’ve been tested to the limit. Abbey and her young daughter arrived a week ago.

“I needed to be here, trying to find my own place, get everything situated on my own,” Abbey said.

There are pockets of Maine that simply have nothing in place to help the homeless, particularly the young and homeless. Still, those who do find help often face judgement and enormous hurdles.

“Without an address, you can’t get a library card, you can’t get an ID, you can’t go to the food bank and get meals, you can’t even put down an address on a job application because you don’t have an address. It’s almost as if you don’t exist,” Zachariah quietly shared.

“Our big challenge as workers and people in this field is to connect with them and build relationships and even the staff use themselves as mentors as adults that are different can be trusted, will accept behaviors, for us that’s the harm reduction piece,” Jon Bradley said.

Back in Rockland, Stephanie Primm gives us a view of the land she is hoping to cultivate as Hospitality House’s farm. Her dream is to grow produce for local restaurants in nearby Camden, Rockport and in Rockland. She’s also hoping to expand the shelter to make room for even more young families in need.

“We really need people to understand that this is real, this is very real and these are people who can succeed if they’re given a chance,and they’re given support.”

Maine Democrats Bending to Public Pressure for Welfare Reform

AUGUSTA, Maine – Democratic lawmakers may be feeling some pressure to take a harder line against welfare fraud following an election cycle that saw Republicans advance in the House and Senate after campaigning on welfare reform.

One Democratic leader has signed on to welfare reform bills, and Republicans have renewed efforts to make it easier to deny benefits to Mainers who don’t play by the rules.

Gov. Paul LePage’s campaign against welfare abuse has been commonly derided by his opponents as a “war on the poor.” But Democrats have discovered that the governor’s message resonates with voters.

A month before the November election, polling showed that more than half of the Mainers surveyed supported LePage’s policies, several of which went down in flames last year at the hands of a Democratically-controlled Legislature.

Now, with GOP advances in the House, and Republicans in control of the Senate, many of the same proposals are up for reconsideration. And Democrats may be having an attitude adjustment.

“I think things have changed in the last two years. I think the voters have spoken loud and clear,” said Sen. Roger Katz, an Augusta Republican, at a committee hearing.

Katz has frequently tried to stake out some middle ground in the highly-charged debate over welfare reform. He was back before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee Thursday with a bill that would impose new restrictions on the state’s food stamp program.

Katz says welfare reform proposals that take a measured approach to deter abuse are likely to get a better reception from Democrats.

“Welfare reform – that’s sensible welfare reform – is a priority out there,” Katz says. “And I think the Republicans knew it two years ago, and I think the Democrats have realized it now. So I think, for instance, just on my bill to ban junk food for food stamps, I have Democratic sponsors that I didn’t have the last time around on this bill.”

Katz told the committee that his bill, LD 526, ensures that taxpayer dollars will be used for healthy foods instead of soda, chips, candy and other junk food that contributes to obesity, and other health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.

Bethany Hamm, director for the Office of Family Independence at the state Department of Health and Human Services, supports the bill. She said the list of food items purchased with food stamps continues to raise eyebrows at her agency.

“Multiple Red Bulls in one purchase, Rock Star energy drinks, 1-pound bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and 3 gallons of Hersey’s Ice Cream in one purchase,” Hamm said. “We have all seen these types of purchases occur – and it’s unacceptable.”

Democratic House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe is among the co-sponsors of Katz’s bill, a proposal he describes as reasonable.

“It’s something that we hear time and time again from folks – that they really want to make sure that folks are getting nutritional food – and this is one approach of doing that,” McCabe said.

But not everyone agrees that Katz’s bill and other proposed welfare reforms are appropriate. Michelle Lamb, the program director for the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative in Portland, says Katz’s proposal would discourage those who need benefits the most from participating in the food stamp program.

“Placing restrictions on the food sup program for the purchase of taxable food items would greatly increase stigma and confusion at the grocery store and cause higher rates of food insecurity,” Lamb said.

Still, Katz’s bill is likely to stand a better chance than other “get tough” welfare reform bills that prohibit cash withdrawals using electronic benefit transfer – or EBT – cards, and others that would suspend benefits for trafficking in EBT cards and require photo id’s on replacement cards.

Democratic Leader McCabe says his party is inclined to reject bills that are punitive in nature. “I think that some of these bills, depending on what the penalty aspect is, they have a chance to pass,” McCabe said. “I think for some of us, you know, the penalties that are proposed by Republicans and the administration was a little too Draconian.”

Members of the Health and Human Services Committee have not ruled out merging several aspects of competing welfare reform bills to develop a comprehensive approach to the issue.

Protecting our youth, ending human trafficking

This past New Year’s Eve, a man and woman were arrested in Bangor for allegedly forcing a 13-year-old Maine girl into prostitution. This child, who was listed as a missing person, was being sold for sex through ads on the Internet. A Bangor police officer, posing as a John, arranged online to meet the girl at a motel, where she was freed from a life of slavery and returned to her home.

This horrifying story is but the tip of an iceberg. These human traffickers prey upon the most vulnerable, often homeless runaways. They lure their victims into lives of commercial sex with promises of money and sometimes drugs, and keep them captive with lies, threats and violence. Many criminals who once dealt drugs now participate in sex trafficking because it is more profitable and less risky.

Every year, tens of thousands of American children and teenagers fall victim to sex traffickers, in addition to the countless other young people smuggled into our country from overseas for this despicable purpose.

Congress must do more to provide law enforcement with the tools it needs to pursue sex trafficking and to support preventive programs that help vulnerable young people who fall victim to trafficking. I recently had the opportunity to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of legislation that advances those goals.

In January, I joined Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, in authoring bipartisan legislation, now pending in the Senate, for a preventive measure that would strengthen housing programs and services for homeless juveniles, who often fall prey to traffickers. No young person should have to choose between selling their bodies and a safe place to sleep.

The Judiciary Committee already has passed two anti-trafficking bills that will be up for full Senate consideration. One would create a new source of financing for victim services and law enforcement with enhanced fines on criminals convicted of human trafficking and child pornography. The other would encourage states to treat those who are preyed upon by sex traffickers as victims instead of prosecuting them as criminals. The House has approved similar bills.

Another story from Maine helps illustrate both the harrowing experiences faced by young sex trafficking victims and also the importance of service providers in changing the course of the survivor’s life. In 2013, Preble Street, an organization that operates a homeless shelter and teen center in Portland, formed the Preble Street Anti-Trafficking Coalition – a group of outreach, health, case management, and legal service providers. With the support of a Department of Justice grant, this Coalition has brought together organizations such as Catholic Charities of Maine, the Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, and the U.S. Attorney’s office. It is currently working with approximately 50 trafficking victims, whose ages range from 15 to 42.

One young woman, now 20-years-old, had been a familiar face around the Preble Street Teen Center. She was in and out of the foster care system, and met other girls who introduced her to “survival sex,” a way to trade sex for a place to sleep and other basic necessities. At age 16, she traded sex for a ride to Boston. Once in Boston, she met a man who prostituted her to other men, in Boston and back in Maine. She was sold to other pimps and endured physical abuse and violence for many years. When she eventually escaped and her traffickers were charged by police, she had nowhere to go but the local homeless shelter.

In fact, police chiefs, prosecutors, and service providers in Maine tell me that the lack of aftercare services, including a safe place to sleep, is among the greatest challenges that victims face. Today, the Preble Street Anti-Trafficking Coalition is helping this young woman and others like her start a new life. She is doing well and was able to testify against her trafficker in court – a very brave and traumatic ordeal for a victim.

It is not surprising that Portland’s homeless shelter is a critical partner in the fight to end human trafficking. Approximately one in four homeless youth are victims of sex trafficking or engage in survival sex, and 48 percent of homeless youth have done so because they did not have a safe place to stay.

The bill Sen. Leahy and I authored, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Trafficking Prevention Act, reauthorizes critical preventive and treatment services that help homeless youth around the country. Despite the recent decline we have seen in chronic homelessness, there are still more than 1.6 million homeless teens in the United States. As Chairman of the Housing Appropriations Subcommittee, one of my goals is to make sure our nation’s homeless youth have the same opportunity to succeed as other youth.

Our healthcare workers in Maine are also tremendous partners in helping to address these crimes. St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, Maine, has focused its efforts on educating and training clinicians and emergency medical providers to recognize the signs of human trafficking among their patients. With the proper tools and training, these clinicians can intervene in human trafficking cases and help these atrocities from continuing.

Maine is doing its part to end this scourge, where the “Not Here” Justice in Action Network brings together law enforcement and service providers to raise awareness about trafficking. Maine’s Sex Trafficking Action Response Team and the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Workgroup also provide statewide platforms for sharing resources. Those efforts, along with the work underway in Congress, are shining a bright light on some of the darkest stories imaginable.

Maine Calling: Human Trafficking

Combating sex trafficking internationally and in Maine.

Guests:

Ruchira Gupta, Founder and President of ApneAap Women Worldwide , a grassroots organization that has helped thousands of women access safe housing, education, job training and other resources.

Meg Elam, Assistant District Attorney, Cumberland County

Fiona Mason, Director of Social Work, Preble Street

dee Clarke, trafficking survivor and Homeless VOices for Justice advocate