- Taina Bien-Aiméexecutive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.
Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, discusses the recent arrest of Jeffrey Epstein and how it is related to her efforts to end sexual trafficking.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on Wednesday defied calls by congressional leaders to resign over the lenient 2008 plea deal he gave to child sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein when Acosta was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. The plea deal saw Epstein serve a 13-month prison term, although he was allowed to leave jail six days a week to work from his private office, in what’s been described as “one of the most lenient deals for a serial child sex offender in history.”
The case drew renewed attention this week when Epstein was charged in a Manhattan federal court with sexually assaulting and trafficking dozens of underage girls between 2002 and 2005 at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida. He’s pleaded not guilty.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year, a federal court ruled Secretary Acosta’s team violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by failing to inform Epstein’s survivors, Epstein’s victims, about the non-prosecution deal. Speaking to reporters for nearly an hour on Wednesday, Secretary Acosta did not once apologize to Epstein’s victims and defended his handling of the case.
LABOR SECRETARY ALEXANDER ACOSTA: We believe that we proceeded appropriately, that based on the evidence—and not just my opinion, but I’ve shared the affidavit—based on the evidence, there was value to getting a guilty plea and having him register. Look, no regrets is a very hard question.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: This comes as another woman, Jennifer Araoz told NBC she was recruited by Epstein when she was just 14 years old and raped by Epstein in his New York City townhouse when she was 15. She was interviewed by Savannah Guthrie.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: In your mind, did you use the word “rape”? Did you recognize it then—
JENNIFER ARAOZ: No.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: —as rape?
JENNIFER ARAOZ: No, I don’t think I did. I just thought, like, you know, it’s my fault, like I was like obligated, like that’s just what you’re supposed to do.
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, Jennifer Araoz asked a New York City court for help in identifying the woman who first recruited her to come to Epstein’s mansion in New York.
We’re joined now by Taina Bien-Aimé, who’s executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.
We have a lot of issues to cover, including Alexander Acosta’s role now as labor secretary in cutting the international sex trafficking budget within the Department of Labor. But we want to ask you about the sex trafficking aspect of the Jeffrey Epstein case, both when he—when Acosta made this incredibly lenient deal, that could have landed him, Epstein, in prison for life in Florida, but he gets, what, 11—13 months, where he can go to work every day. Talk about the sex trafficking aspects of this and what Epstein was charged with.
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: So, the U.S. has federal laws, called the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act and the Justice for Victims Trafficking Act, that basically guides prosecutors in finding the elements of sex trafficking. So, the definition of sex trafficking is anyone who transports, procures, obtains, patronizes, solicits someone in exchange for commercial sex acts. The prosecution—the prosecutable elements of that is that you have to show force, fraud, coercion—unless you’re under 18, in which you do not have to show those elements.
So, when you look at the Epstein case, and every single one, as far as we know, as reported, of the victims were under the age of 18, they were all automatically sex trafficking victims. So, the responsibility of U.S. attorneys across the country is to fully prosecute, to the full extent of the law, perpetrators who are indicted for sex trafficking charges. And that was not what happened in the Epstein case in the period that led up to the 2008 non-prosecution deal that Acosta offered to Jeffrey Epstein.
AMY GOODMAN: And the seriousness of the crime, then, that he could have faced life in prison?
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: He could have faced life in prison, yes. And actually, even now, when you’re looking—if we look at the indictment, they’re saying that he could face up to 45 years in prison. These are extremely serious crimes. Sex trafficking is a very, very serious crime that should be taken seriously. So, the implications of him not prosecuting Epstein at the time and entering into this non-prosecution deal is even broader in that not only did he have a very lenient sentence, a ridiculous sentence—you know, basically it was furlough—for a sex—
AMY GOODMAN: Most people didn’t even know he was in jail, because his chauffeur would pick him up for—
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: He was in a wing of the jail alone, that he ran, and then the chauffeur would pick him up, bring him to his office. He would see people all day. And then, at night, he would be brought back to the jail. So people didn’t even know he was in jail.
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Right, right. And then reports indicate that, of course, they may have violated the Crime Victims’ [Rights] Act, because they failed to tell the victims that this plea deal was entered into. But also, they gave immunity to any possible co-conspirators to Jeffrey Epstein. And so, that means that everyone who was pimping the girls out with him or—you know, patronizing is also an element of the sex trafficking definition, and that means sex buyers. So, what was really important for the case is to identify also who was part, as a sex buyer, in the sex trafficking ring.
AMY GOODMAN: What do yo mean, “sex buyer”?
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: By “sex buyer” is the men who purchased these young women for—or, these girls, for sex.
AMY GOODMAN: That Epstein wasn’t only using them for sex himself, but he was pimping them out.
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: He was pimping—he was pimping girls out to, allegedly, very famous politicians, businessmen and, you know, academics, notorious people, famous people, entertainers. And so, we would love to know more about that, because they, too, are elements of this criminal investigation, or must be.
AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned the high-profile friends around Epstein. His arrest has many of his high-profile friends and protectors on high alert. One of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, says Epstein trafficked her to his friends for sex, including his high-profile lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, who has vehemently denied the claims. This is Dershowitz being questioned by Abby Huntsman on The View in April.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I don’t allow my personal interests and values to intrude on my professional life. I think of myself like a doctor or a priest. If they wheel somebody, Jeffrey Epstein, into the emergency ward, the doctor is going to take care of him. If he goes to his rabbi and says, “I want to make a confession,” the rabbi is going to say, “Yes, I want to help you.”
ABBY HUNTSMAN: You’re now being sued by one of the women who was involved in that original investigation—
ALAN DERSHOWITZ: That’s right.
ABBY HUNTSMAN: —of Epstein. Virginia Roberts is her name, who claims that Epstein lent her out for sex to some of his friends, including you, when she was underage. You’ve been very vocal in your denials. Now she’s suing you for defamation, saying you’re falsely attacking her, trying to intimidate her into silence. You’ve said that you welcome this lawsuit.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I do, yeah. I want—
ABBY HUNTSMAN: You want to take it on. Why?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ: And I also welcome her coming on this show and accusing me face to face. She has never accused me except under the protection of the litigation privilege, because it’s completely false.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s former Harvard University professor, well-known lawyer, Alan Dershowitz. This week, The View co-host Ana Navarro-Cárdenas tweeted that Trump’s Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta should be fired, offering Epstein a plea deal that kept him out of prison for life. Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown responded, tweeting, quote, “Your colleagues at the View owe it to Epstein’s victims to have their POV on the show. Having Alan Dershowitz on without giving the their point of view only serves to silence other victims. @TheView @WhoopiGoldberg your show is crucial in reaching out to victims.” If you can talk, Taina Bien-Aimé, about Julie Brown’s comments? She is the one who blew this story right open, the Miami Herald reporter who, fascinatingly, did this three-part series. She wasn’t starting on Epstein. She was interviewing women in jail, and she was finding so many of them there were for sex trafficking. And then she heard Epstein’s name over and over again, and that’s when she reopened this case, that led to the Manhattan—that led to the U.S. attorney in Manhattan now, again, indicting Jeffrey Epstein. But talk about Alan Dershowitz.
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: So, you know, in our line of work, and anybody who watches the news, especially since the #MeToo movement started, you have not found—I have not heard not one single man accused of sexual violence, rape, purchasing girls or women for sex, really admit to it, right? So, no one has ever done it. These alleged perpetrators are always not guilty. Right? And so, I do think that it’s quite unfair to the victims—first of all, it’s extremely difficult for victims to come forward and speak. I mean, I can’t even imagine the turmoil, the psychological turmoil, and the courage that you need to come forward and talk about the ordeal under which you’ve been subjected. But to give the microphone to men like Dershowitz, who have been accused—and, you know, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And we very much look forward to this criminal investigation against Dershowitz, because I am—you know, let us hope that the courts of justice will bring justice to the victims.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, this goes to—I mean, Jeffrey Epstein was, to say the least, friends with the most powerful people in this country and other places. You have Prince Andrew in Britain. You have President Clinton. These charges led a spokesperson for President Clinton to say, “Oh, he only flew on Epstein’s flights like four times,” in a given period, but people are saying it’s something like 20 times—the plane that Jeffrey Epstein himself called “Lolita Express.” And then you have Donald Trump himself, the president the United States, but way back, more than 15 years ago, cavorting with him at Mar-a-Lago and other places, talking about him as a “terrific guy,” just liking the younger set, as he put it.
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Well, we always say that if there was political will to address sex trafficking, to address sexual harassment, to address sexual violence, including rape, we would be on a beach tomorrow. Right? So, we have to follow the money. We have to follow the power. And these sort of crimes are dealt with impunity, generally, because of the powerful men behind it and because systems have failed women and women’s rights and women’s protection from violence for centuries. And that needs to end.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And could you give us a sense, because I think, for many, this case might seem exceptional, because people think of child sex trafficking as mostly a problem that happens abroad—could you give us a sense of what the scope of the problem is here in the United States?
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: The vast majority of sex trafficking cases in the U.S. are domestic, meaning that you don’t need movement in order to prove trafficking, any form of human trafficking, whether it’s for sex or labor. So, you can be sex-trafficked in your building in the South Bronx, never having left the borough, because it’s means that a perpetrator, a trafficker, a pimp uses in order to subject someone to sexual exploitation, sexual violence, rape, for the purposes of someone else’s profit. Right?
So, the Missing and Exploited Children organization estimates that anywhere between 300,000 to 500,000 children are missing in the U.S. We can assume—it is assumed that a very large percentage of those children wind up in the sex trade. There is a very, very voracious market for vulnerable children in the commercial sex industry. I mean, we’re talking about a sex trade that is worth billions of dollars. It’s a global, multibillion-dollar industry. But often what we don’t understand is what are the elements and who are the actors that are involved in this thing that is called sex trafficking, because it’s part of our culture, right? The sex trade is part of our culture in that we look at it—even when you read about the reports around the Epstein case, there’s this implication that perhaps, you know, these girls may have consented to this or that they knew what they were getting into. And there is really a fundamental lack of understanding of the violence that is involved, the criminal elements, the sexual violence and the impunity, I think. And it’s like a market like any other market, with supply, demand and an incentive for profit. And what we really need to focus, particularly in the Epstein case, is the demand side.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you have this woman, Jennifer Araoz, who has just come forward, who said that she was at school. A woman came, recruited her. They’re going for the most vulnerable, and often financially insecure, poor girls, who are really troubled, who are struggling. He takes them in and grooms them, as they describe, one after another. What’s astounding about the case that Acosta made the non-prosecution deal with is we’re talking about 36 women and girls. And now, of course, you have this renewed case that’s brought here in New York. Talk about that grooming aspect and Jennifer Araoz calling for someone to identify the woman who came and recruited her. And then, often these women—these girls—are asked to go out and recruit others.
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: So, and, you know, they reported 36 girls, now women, but we probably estimate that that number is exponentially higher—right?—because there is a lot of shame, a lot of confusion. We don’t even know where these young women are right now. And so, it would not surprise us that additional numbers would would come forth. So, sex traffickers actually rely on elements—like, the international definition of human trafficking counts means as the most important in identifying what sex trafficking is, or human trafficking, is the abuse of power and the abuse of vulnerability. And that is exactly what happens. So, if you look at the population of who is being sex-trafficked, they are children who have had histories of sexual violence. They come from the foster care system, the displacement. They are part of the trans community, gender-nonconforming community, homeless, in the foster care system. So we are talking about extremely vulnerable populations that are easy prey for someone who wants to profit over their bodies and their exploitation.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, you were just talking about the most recent victim of Epstein to come out. I’d like to turn to her, Jennifer Araoz, who spoke to NBC on Wednesday and said that she had been 14 years old when she was recruited, and, at 15, she was raped by Epstein in his townhouse in New York City. During her interview, her NBC interview, she described what happened once she turned 15.
JENNIFER ARAOZ: “Just, you know, just take your underwear off and get on top.” And I said I didn’t want to. And he, you know, very forcefully kind of brought me to the table. I just did what I was—what he told me to do. I was really scared, and I was telling him to stop. “Please stop.”
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And did he?
JENNIFER ARAOZ: No, he did not stop. … He raped me, forcefully raped me, knew exactly what he was doing, and I don’t think cared. What hurts even more so is that if I wasn’t afraid to come forward sooner, then maybe he wouldn’t have done it to other girls.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, that’s Jennifer Araoz, speaking Wednesday about her experience with Epstein. So, could you talk about what kind of recourse girls like her have? I mean, she was 15 years old. And obviously, I mean, it’s hard enough for adult women, but for a child to speak of this kind of experience is virtually impossible. So, now, so many years later, she’s 32 now. What kind of recourse do girls like that have?
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Well, we have a system of justice that does not recognize violence against women, in general, and in particular sexual violence against women. So, even if a woman or a girl is sexually assaulted, raped, it is extremely difficult for them to come forward. There is a lot of shame. There is this sense that they will not have access to justice, that it will be her word against his.
But if you compound that in an environment like what Jeffrey Epstein provided for these countless girls, you have the additional—and this is very particular to the Epstein case—you’re in an environment with very powerful men. You are in an environment of fear. Nobody is going to believe you. Who knows who was among the men that Jeffrey Epstein procured these girls to. They could be judges. They could be politicians. They could be very powerful men in Hollywood. So, that all is—are compounding elements to not coming forward.
And the other elements that we need to keep in mind is the psychological and physical harm and destruction that these girls most likely have suffered. So, once you have been—and especially in this particular case of sex trafficking, where by the time you turn 18—right?—the only difference between a 17-year-old sex-trafficked child and a so-called consenting 18-year-old woman in prostitution is 60 seconds. So then what happens then, you know, when the recourse is even less because we are in a country where we criminalize women in prostitution as opposed to providing them services? So, we do not have a system of of justice that is catered to situations of victims like Jeffrey Epstein’s victims, who are numerous. I mean, these girls, in particular, were Caucasian girls, probably because of the clientele, but the vast majority of sex-trafficked girls and trans girls are of color.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, you mentioned earlier that the girls who are mostly involved in sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, are from vulnerable backgrounds, I mean, either poor, homeless or in foster care, but especially vulnerable, you said, are girls, women and trans people of color. Could you talk about that? What are some of the figures? And why is that?
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Well, figures, unfortunately, we don’t have. And that, for instance—I mean, we live in New York City—it would—we don’t even know what the sex trade looks like in New York City. I’m sure that every single police precinct knows where the brothels are in their precincts, knows where the strip clubs are, knows where the underground sex establishments are.
AMY GOODMAN: Sometimes they run them, but that’s another story.
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Sometimes they run them. Sometimes they profit from them. And certainly in New York City there have been sex trafficking cases that were, you know, run by police officers, vice cops, who were actually working in sex trafficking units in various district attorney’s offices across the city.
But I do think, again, that we have to look at the legacy of slavery and the legacy of colonialism also. And, you know, the first thing that the colonials did when they arrived on the shores of America is rape the indigenous women and prostitute them. And then, throughout slavery, African women were used as perpetuators of—as breeders for the perpetuation of slavery. So there always has been this commodification, this use, the profiting off of women’s bodies and the exoticization of brown and black bodies. So, this is a continuation of that framework.
There is enormous money behind the sex trade. Enormous. Again, we are talking about a global, multibillion-dollar industry. The International Labor Organization estimates that $90 billion a year are made from profits of sex trafficking. And every single one of those dollars that are made by the sex trade, including traffickers and other exploiters, are from sex buyers. Every single dollar. So, until we look at this as a market, as a market of flesh, as a market of exploitation, as a form of violence and discrimination against women and girls, against trans women and girls, we will not start to address it. And that’s when the powerful men come in, right? Because there are significant interests, both financial and personal interests, in not addressing sex trafficking in a comprehensive way.
AMY GOODMAN: Taina Bien-Aimé, you are the executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. Why did you get involved with this issue?
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: My grandmother was a suffragette. I’m a first-generation immigrant from Haiti. My parents were from Haiti. And I think it’s in my DNA, because I’ve been doing this work for 25 years, and I’ve never seen it this bad in terms of sex trafficking and impunity for it. The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime just issued a report last year seeing that there is a growth in girl sex trafficking, in the sex trafficking of girls, an exponential growth in the last four years. And, of course, you know, Boko Haram and other networks that prey on young girls for purposes of sex trafficking are included in that increase. But I do think this is a question of women’s equality. It’s a question of what it means for women to have the right to live a life of dignity, a life free of violence, and a life not to be commodified for the profit of others and for the sexual pleasure of men.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And who are the principal beneficiaries of the profits made from the domestic, here in the U.S., national, as well as international, global sex child trafficking trade?
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Well, sex trafficking is complex, right? So it could range from your local pimp, you know, to use a colloquial term, where you have a stable of girls and young women and could be just in your neighborhood, or it could be organized criminal networks from abroad or locally. So, it is very complex. But no matter where these women come from or how they get there, they always wind up in the sex trade. And that is the most profitable. And also corporate interests, as well—right?—when you look at the industries of pornography and how U.S. corporations are involved in pornography, which is just basically prostitution on screen. Then, you know, we—if we just start scratching at the surface, we will see the powerful interests behind the business of sex trafficking.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to the second part of the questioning of Alexander Acosta yesterday, the labor secretary. And it’s something we talked about in Part 1 of our discussion. There are demands for him to resign, because he, of course, made this non-prosecution deal, unbelievably lenient, for this sexual predator, this child rapist, Jeffrey Epstein, a decade ago, where he was imprisoned for, what, 13 months in jail, but allowed to go to work every day. And yet there was this case of 36 girls and women in just that case alone. But then there was a question—when Alexander Acosta came out yesterday to defend himself, to try to head off these calls for his resignation as labor secretary, there was this question about his cutting of the sex trafficking budget within the Department of Labor. This wasn’t the first time he was asked about this. In April, Congresswoman Katherine Clark questioned Acosta at a House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Labor Department’s budget.
REP. KATHERINE CLARK: You’ve also proposed a budget cut of almost 80%—79% to ILAB, where this work is done, bringing its budget from $68 million to just $18.5 million. I’m sure you’ve come prepared to justify this cut to us, but it does not go unnoticed. This isn’t the first time that you’ve ignored human trafficking. When you were the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, your office investigated Jeffrey Epstein and found—your office found that there had been a sexual abuse pyramid scheme that involved at least 36 underage girls, ranging from age 14 to 17. This is horrifying and sick stuff.
LABOR SECRETARY ALEXANDER ACOSTA: Let me say that the Southern District of Florida has prosecuted sex trafficking aggressively in the past, and it is an incredibly important issue, and it’s something that needs to be aggressively pursued.
AMY GOODMAN: So, there you have it. It needs to be aggressively pursued, maybe just not at the Department of Labor, so he’s not answering either question—why he made the non-prosecution deal and why he slashed the budget. But talk about what he has done within the Department of Labor and the impact that will have, you feel, on sex trafficking.
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Well, what he is proposing to do is slash the budget by 80%—right?—so, from $68 million to $18 million. The mandate of the Bureau of International Labor, ILAB, that is part of the Department of Labor, is to combat child trafficking, both for labor and sex, human trafficking and forced labor. So, we are not only combating trafficking here in our country, but we are also responsible, under law and by congressional appropriations, to combat it and make sure that our U.S. companies do not engage children in the production of their products—right?—including children who are labor-trafficked on cocoa fields that go into our Milky Way bars and our Skittles and, you know, all of the chocolate that is being produced by companies like Hershey’s or Nestlé, etc.
So, this goes beyond sex trafficking, although the sex trafficking component is definitely U.S.-based. And that would also be slashed. But it’s also a failure—it would be a failure, should this slashing occur, of our responsibility abroad, you know, and what are U.S. companies doing to ensure that the products that we consume are not produced by child labor. And that would absolutely gut the program.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what’s the justification given for such an enormous cut to the budget? I mean, how would Acosta justify something like that?
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Well, thankfully, the Congress can reverse his decision. And the Appropriations Committee has promised that they will actually increase the budget for 2020. So, those negotiations will occur within the next few months. But I think what investigative journalists should do, of which I am not, is really look to see whether Acosta has spoken to these corporations that could be using child slave labor for the production of their goods, to see whether there has been any pressure, because there’s nothing these corporations would want more than not observe their commitments to ensuring that no child labor is involved in the production of their goods.
AMY GOODMAN: So this would just fit in with President Trump’s whole ethic of—or lack of ethics—around business deregulation and stopping the regulating of business. But if you could tell us a little more about this issue of child slave labor and what you know, for example, is going on in the cocoa plantations and children?
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: So, there are a number of farms, cocoa farms, particularly in West Africa, Ghana, Burkina Faso. Last month, The Washington Post had a very interesting report on these farms and how the use of children—you know, children wielding machetes, back-breaking—were dealing with cocoa plants from morning to night, seven days a week, children as young as 13, 14, with no recourse whatsoever, with promises of being educated and going to school, and those promises are not fulfilled.
We have an obligation, as the most powerful country in the world and as a country that has made commitments to ensuring that no child labor is involved in the production of our goods, to have these corporations actually sign commitments to ensuring that child labor is not involved and child slavery isn’t involved. We don’t—they cannot commit to that right now. They have limited commitments. They can estimate that perhaps 24% of their products are not issued from child labor or child trafficking.
AMY GOODMAN: They can say that perhaps only a quarter of the chocolate—
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Perhaps.
AMY GOODMAN: —that comes out of these large companies is not made by—it’s not coming out of plantations where there are children?
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: They cannot guarantee that the products that they produce are not from those cocoa fields, that use children, and not just children from the country of where the farms are located, but children who are trafficked in from other African countries, neighboring countries.
So, the other—going back to the slashing, the other reports that I have seen is perhaps a negotiation that the money that Acosta would remove from the budget of DOL would go into wall building, for instance, or the military. So it could also be a diversion of this critically important funding to end human trafficking in the U.S. and around the world to go into the president’s pet projects.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I mean, there’s a lot of talk now, and in our show today we covered the win of the U.S. women’s soccer team. But speaking of child labor, I mean, one of the most controversial, globally controversial, because it was known, because it was associated with FIFA and soccer worldwide, was the fact that soccer balls themselves were produced, and possibly still are produced, by child labor, and not child labor of teenagers, but children, 6, 7, 8 years old, because their fingers are nimble enough to make this ball, in places like Pakistan and Thailand and elsewhere. So, what kind of progress have you seen, if any at all, in particularly multinational organizations using child labor in developing countries? There was apparently—it did diminish, the number of children. Some factories were cracked down upon. But could you give a sense of if there has been—what kind of progress there has been on cutting down on the use of child sex labor, at least by multinational organizations, companies?
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Well, again, there are two types of trafficking, right? There’s trafficking for sexual exploitation and trafficking for labor exploitation. In terms of labor exploitation, there have been significant commitments by certain governments, and within the U.N. and its agencies, to combat child labor. And so, we have seen some progress, and certainly a lot of awareness, around child labor. Has there been enough investments to end it? No. But in both for trafficking for sex and trafficking for labor, again, we’re talking about an economic equation—right?—of supply and demand. So, the demand for forced labor and labor trafficking is a demand for cheap goods and services. And the demand for sex trafficking is the demand for prostitution.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: But the difference, I think, between sex trafficking and labor trafficking is that enormous, giant corporations can be named for using child labor, whereas it’s very difficult to identify an organization or a company complicit or guilty in sex trafficking.
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Yes, absolutely. These are very distinct forms of trafficking and distinct forms of exploitation. And it is true that it is easier to go to a major corporation and ask questions and ask them to investigate and examine how their products are being made, without a doubt.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: But there are no punitive steps taken against corporations who—apart from reputation-wise, punitive steps taken against corporations, large corporations, who are found to be employing child labor.
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Well, there are certain mechanisms. It’s really up to the governments and up to the United Nations to really call upon these corporations to do the right thing. But you’re right. It’s very difficult to prove labor trafficking, and sometimes it’s very difficult to look at the supply chains and then follow it to the ultimate person or entity responsible. But there is significant work that is being done in order to combat labor trafficking. When it comes to sex trafficking—but both in labor and sex trafficking, we also have to look at the responsibility of the state and the levels of corruption, because neither labor or sex trafficking could occur without a total lack of political will and a lot of corruption at the—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: In the states where it’s taking place.
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: And also across borders, of the corruption at the borders. And this is something that we see across the board.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And you deal with trafficking in women, of course, all over the world. I mean, could you say a little bit about cross-border trafficking in places in the developing world, where, for instance, young girls are promised work or better living conditions in big cities like Bombay or Karachi or Bangkok, and they come from other countries, from Burma or Nepal or elsewhere, and then they’re simply sold into prostitution, and there’s no exit whatsoever?
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Mm-hmm. Well, yes, that would be the operating procedure, so to speak, in terms of sex trafficking, where typically you will have—I mean, the luring and the enticement and the procuring occurs differently, but so you have a few typical situations. If you’re in the Ukraine, for instance, and you need to survive financially, provide for your family, you see an ad in the paper that there is a job as a babysitter, as a restaurant hostess in New York City. You get to JFK. The job doesn’t exist, but the labor agency has paid for your ticket, and now you find yourself in a foreign city, your passport is confiscated, and you have to reimburse the trafficker for your expenses, including travel expenses. So the concept of debt bondage then kicks in, as well. And in order for you to repay the trafficker, then you are put in a sex establishment, whether it’s a brothel or a strip club or maybe Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion. Who knows?
And so, then what happens when, three months later, six months later, a year later, there is a raid in that brothel, or there’s a raid in that undercover sex establishment? You get arrested. You are at risk of deportation. The force, fraud, coercion that is required to prove a successful case of sex trafficking, which is under the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act, is very difficult to prove, because the force, fraud and coercion happened within the first 24 to 72 hours. So, when that unfortunate raid or arrest occurs, there is no gun to her head. Why didn’t she leave? And so, it makes it very, very, very, very difficult to even identify sex trafficking victims here in the U.S., because it’s a crime that is hidden in plain sight.
AMY GOODMAN: Even though here in New York, I think the New York police, in the last few years, say they rescue a person from sex slavery every week.
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Well, you know, I think we have to be also very careful about language, because slavery in women who are being sex-trafficked and prostituted does not look like the slavery images that we are used to, right? No one is chained to a radiator. Yes, there are cases where you’ll see—if there is an international organized criminal network of traffickers, then you can find a number of women in a basement, but that is extremely rare. All you need to do is go to Flushing to those massage—illicit massage parlors.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s extremely rare in the United States. It’s not—
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Extremely rare in the United States.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Right—in the rest of the world.
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Yes, extremely rare in the United States. But again, I think what we are calling for is criminal justice reform that decriminalizes people who are in prostitution, but penalizing sex buyers, and of course pimping and trafficking, because, again, if we want to address this multibillion-dollar market of flesh, then we have to address the demand for it.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to continue to pursue this, but we thank you so much for being with us.
TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us.