Here's some news to cheer about, from the grim world of sex trafficking.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. announced yesterday charges against traffickers and the drivers they employed, in a father-son pimping operation that lasted years and involved at least five women, six taxi drivers, and an undisclosed number of johns. The New York City Police Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) also joined in the case, which was noteworthy for recognizing the prostituted women as victims, and obtaining enough evidence that their testimony would not be required in court.
The details outlined in the charges, while appalling, are not uncommon. The women were required to give the alleged pimps all the money they earned -- at least one was estimated to bring in $500,000 a year to the defendants, Vincent George Sr., 55, or Vincent George Jr., 33. In return, the women received a small allowance for food and incidentals. They would face threats of physical violence if they were late to work or failed to make their daily quota, and if they tried to escape, they would have nothing but the clothes on their backs. Meanwhile the alleged pimps collected 10 vehicles, including two Mercedes and an Infiniti, three houses in Pennsylvania, and more than $200,000 in bank accounts. These assets have been confiscated, and the DA believes more money has been moved to off-shore accounts.
The Georges have pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking, money laundering, and promoting prostitution, and are being held without bail. If convicted, they face up to 25 years in prison. Six taxi or livery car drivers were charged yesterday with promoting prostitution.
The father was known as "Mr. Vee," and had worked as a pimp for about two decades, instructing his son, known as "King Koby," in the family business. They tattooed these street names on the women they exploited. One woman had a crown with a dollar sign tattooed above her pubic bone. Another had "King Koby" and a barcode permanently inked on her neck.
I don't think I will ever see a barcode in the same way, having had to form a mental picture of a greedy man, with no respect for the dignity of a young woman, marking a person as his commodity, his sack of protoplasm, to be used by strangers over and over and over again, for his personal profit.
But I see causes for hope in this dreary case. The trafficked women were not arrested, and, instead, after years of victimization, are being offered services like housing and counseling, to help them adjust to life without chains.
Please note, as this case shows, trafficked women are not only those who are brought in from other countries to be exploited -- 83 percent of confirmed sex-trafficking incidents in the United States involved U.S. citizens as victims.
On a broader scale, this case is a symbol of hope that trafficking victims can escape slavery more easily in the future. With the use of court-authorized monitoring of phone calls, the DA's office was able to gather evidence that the Georges were forcing the women to continue working. It is this evidence of the use of "force, fraud or coercion," that led Mr. Vance to bring trafficking charges against the Georges.
The beauty of these investigative techniques? They keep the women from having to testify, which can be traumatizing, and problematic. The relationship between a prostituted woman and a pimp is often bizarre and complicated. Nicholas Kristof calls it "a complex web of emotions, including fear of the pimp but also a deluded affection and a measure of Stockholm syndrome. "
As we have seen from the trafficked girls and young we counsel at Covenant House, the largest privately funded agency serving runaway, homeless and trafficked young people in the Americas, prostituted women are often victims of childhood sexual assault and other abuse, and they are vulnerable to powerful and exploitative pimps. Their pimps often abuse them psychologically, berating them, beating them, then pretending to love them. If the women were required to testify against the pimps in court, they could refuse, out of fear, or misplaced loyalty and affection.
Mr. Vance has created a textbook case of "victimless prosecution," where law enforcement officials can stop the exploiters without needing to secure the testimony, or even the cooperation, of the victims. This prosecutorial technique worked wonders when used with domestic violence victims in the early 1990s -- before then, women who declined to press charges often were beaten over and over again, or worse. After prosecutors saw they could collect enough evidence -- pictures of injuries, medical reports, etc. -- to prosecute cases without the help of the victim, more cases could be brought to trial, and more abusers could be brought to justice.
The pimps of New York, and those like the Georges who simply did alleged business in New York, should be on notice that a powerful team -- spearheaded by the DA's month-old human trafficking program -- is revving up to get them. The end of announcement of the case reads like the closing credits of a Hollywood blockbuster, with the U.S. Attorney's office, Pennsylvania State Police, the U.S. Postal Inspection Services, and Allentown police all mentioned.
And local police also got kudos. As New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said, "I commend the NYPD's Vice Enforcement Division, the Manhattan DA's Office and federal investigators for shutting down both the johns and the Georges."
More later on another aspect of this fascinating case -- the DA's office said charges against the alleged johns are also expected, which is excellent news. As soon as I know, I'll let you know.