Last year officials arrested James Joseph Jr., Avisa Lavasani, and Anthony Reynolds on accusations of operating a high-priced human trafficking prostitution ring out of California for 14 years. The three have now been indicted on numerous felony charges for luring a number of women into a multistate, forced-sex labor ring.
Human Trafficking Charges Result in Three Indictments
Last year 50-year-old James Joseph Jr. and his common-law wife, 34-year-old Avisa Lavassani, were arrested at their home after acting on information provided by one of the couple’s prior victims. Additionally, authorities arrested 42-year-old Anthony Reynolds for allegedly helping the couple.
The couple lured in women between the ages of 18 and 25 with promises of make-up artist and modeling contracts. The women were then forced into prostitution as part of a human trafficking operation that stretched from California to Cleveland, and from Miami and New York. This operation allegedly netted the couple $20,000 to $30,000 a week.
Authorities were tipped off when one of the women escaped from where she was being held with six other women in Contra Costa County and contacted local law protection.
Charges for Defendants
James Joseph Jr. and Avisa Lavassani were charged with kidnapping for rape, kidnapping for extortion, human trafficking and conspiracy. Anthony Reynolds faces charges of human trafficking and conspiracy.
According to San Ramon Police Department Chief Joe Gorton: “This investigation has shown us that human trafficking does not stay within jurisdictional lines and it doesn’t just happen in big cities or at ports and truck stops. Human trafficking can occur anywhere and it can be hidden in plain sight.”
California is one of the states that have the worst human trafficking problem. Out of the top 10 areas with the most activity in the United States San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are at the top of the list.
There are subtle signs of human trafficking everywhere, we just have to pay attention. Things such as police raiding a house where humans are stashed, or the local news reports about a young woman that was sold into prostitution. These are just some of the stories that have surfaced about the increasing industry of human trafficking.
The modern form of human trafficking slavery has occurred in the last five years. It has its roots in the long established drug smuggling trade and has widened its scope with the addition of social media. The trans-national and domestic drug gangs have diversified their business, adding the lucrative human trafficking to their other businesses of drugs and moving guns. Social media provides an easy way to recruit victims, especially when it comes to the sex working industry. Today dealers of human trafficking are sophisticated, organized, and adept in technology.
To the casual observer, it’s baffling to understand how an individual or groups of people can enslave others. These people use fraud, force, and coercion and prey on people’s desire to improve their lives. They use the promise as bait to ensnare them into a live of slavery. The areas victims of human trafficking are forced into include prostitution, involuntary labor, and various other forms of servitude to repay their debts. Many times victims are just children. Other victims are sometimes paid to illegally transport items into the U.S., then they find themselves enslaved in the hands of their traffickers.
Victims of human trafficking end up in an unfamiliar culture, a language they may not speak, no identification documents, and stripped of the freedom they thought they would have by coming to America, the land of promise. The promise and guarantee of the basic human rights that every U.S. citizen is guaranteed of. Instead, they fear for their lives and that of their families.
The size and extent of the human trafficking industry is staggering. It brings in a worldwide profit of approximately $32 a year, profoundly affecting the most vulnerable human beings in the world - mainly women and children.
Sex Slave Human Trafficking
In California the human trafficking in sex slaves is so extensive that there are not enough law enforcement to address the problem. Because of this, private and state organizations are involved. Human traffickers use force, coercion, and bring people across borders in order to get sex workers. Crimes like these are usually committed against children and women where they work in brothels called massage parlors, underground brothels, strip clubs, and online escort services, working the streets as prostitutes.
Another source of sex workers that frequently is used is a state’s foster care system. A study of Alameda County, California, found that 55% of victims, many girls, bought and sold for sex had spent time in foster care youth group homes. In New York 85% of trafficking victims were part of the child welfare system. The head of Florida’s state trafficking task force indicates approximately 70% of the victims were foster care youth.
As a human trafficking symposium California Attorney General Kamala Harris talked about how the state’s foster care system is broken, contributing to the problem, “Human trafficking is not a monolith. There are many components … all of the discrete parts contributing to our concern about human trafficking, our foster care system is a big one. … The foster care system in California is not working.” Harris mentioned during her address that 59% of children who are arrested for prostitution and related charges in L.A. County had spent time in foster care. This 2010 statistic created audible gasps from an audience made up of over 100 law students, victim’s advocates, and county officials.
Social Media and Human Trafficking
According to Prosecutor Aron DeFerrari in the Joseph Jr. and Lavassani case, the couple used a wide range of tactics, including offers and promises of “modeling contracts” and “makeup artist contracts” if they performed sex acts for money. These false promises are not unheard of in the sex trafficking industry.
A new trend human traffickers are adopting is technologies such as social media to recruit victims, help them evade the law, and assist promoting their crimes. Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other online apps people use worldwide for personal fulfillment, human traffickers use in order to prey for victims online, such as children and teens. They also assist them in locating new victims which help them enslave unsuspecting people.
The human trafficking business in sex has particularly moved online. With the Internet, Traffickers can increase their reach by posting advertisements on classified advertising websites to find clients, and by using social media to recruit victims. These traffickers are not only moving online to the Internet, they are only getting more sophisticated.
How California is Dealing with Human Trafficking
With the booming economy, liberal politics, and international population, California is a hot spot when it comes to human trafficking. Because of this, citizens of California got serious in 2014 and decided to do something about the problem. Proposition 35, known as the CASE Act, had been passed by voters in November, 2012, with over an 81% approval.
Under Prop 35’s statutes, human traffickers who are caught can serve 15 years to life in prison. Prop 35 also requires those convicted of sex trafficking to register as sex offenders, as well as having to disclose any Internet accounts they may have. It also requires those convicted of human trafficking to pay for services that will help the victims of this crime.
Prop 35 also provides victims of trafficking with the same protection level as rape victims currently have under the Rape Shield Law. Victims of this crime also will not be prosecuted if they were forced into engaging in commercial sex acts by their traffickers. This gives them the ability they need to face the people who exploited them in court, without fearing that they will also be prosecuted.
Prop 35 also enhances training for law enforcement officials which will assist them to conduct sensitive work better when dealing with human trafficking victims and the prosecution of these crimes.
SB955 is another legislative that permits the courts to authorize wiretaps on traffickers in order to prosecute or investigate them. SB1165 is another which permits public schools in California to offer prevention education to teach students how to avoid getting involved in sex trafficking. Law enforcement and their partners also uses sophisticated responses to human traffickers to dismantle and disrupt their networks. Innovative investigation techniques augment more traditional tools of law enforcement to help combat these new challenges.
For example, the same technology used to acquire victims for human trafficking can also provide a digital trail by law enforcement to efficiently monitor to collect and analyze activity and data. While the Internet is a valuable tool to collect victims, it’s also a valuable investigative tool to catch perpetrators. There are currently several development efforts, as well as research, that are going on to decide the best way for law enforcement to use current and future technology to fight human trafficking.
Human trafficking suffered a major blow when MyRedBook.com was seized and shut down by the FBI. This website was an established online San Francisco escort directory that had been operating for years. The two people who had been suspected of operating the website were arrested and charged with various crimes including racketeering, money laundering, and other state and federal law violations.
When it comes to eliminating human trafficking, California looks like it’s headed in the right direction. Kamala Harris, California’s Attorney General, has had a very proactive approach for much of her political career when it comes to human trafficking. Governor Jerry Brown signed a seven bills late last year designed to improve prosecution of crimes where victims are forced to be prostitutes and forced into domestic servitude and sweatshop labor. There are also a number of private organization that are dedicated to getting rid of human trafficking and helping victims get back to a normal life.
While that has been much done, the fight for human rights isn’t over yet. For questions and help related to human trafficking, you need the expert advice and experience of a criminal defense attorney such as Sevens Legal, APC. Contact Sevens Legal, APC, today for a free consultation.
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