The Rise in Human Trafficking in the State of Maryland

This post was written by Farhan Augustine, a UMBC senior studying Biochemistry. In addition to his work at UMBC, Farhan advocates for the rights of human trafficking survivors and is actively involved in local efforts to create legislation that would protect survivors. 

Human sex and labor trafficking is a hideous violation of human rights that has been quietly growing in our communities for many years. According to some of the statistics, human trafficking is now the second highest grossing criminal enterprise across the world.

Maryland Data TablesAlthough the awareness regarding human sex and labor trafficking appears to be growing, our state of Maryland remains a treasure-trove for human sex and labor trafficking. Maryland is a vital location because many of our highways, especially I-95, provide easy access to some of the most populated communities on the East Coast. Traffickers use many of our local highways to traverse between New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. In fact, National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH) reports receiving 531 tips and registering 158 Human trafficking cases in Maryland in the year 2016. Further breakdown of the NHTH data indicates that 77% of the reported human trafficking cases involved sex trafficking, and 16% of the reported cases involved human labor trafficking. Moreover, Maryland’s Judiciary (Administrative Office of the Courts), the U.S. Department of Justice, and Department of Legislative Services advises that approximately 476 violations of Maryland’s Criminal Law, Article 11-303 (MD Criminal Law, Article 11- related to Human trafficking), were seen in District Courts and 256 violations were seen in the Circuit Courts.

Despite being so prevalent in Maryland, human trafficking remains hidden in plain sight. My main purpose in writing this article is to make you aware of human trafficking in Maryland in the hopes that you may become an active and informed member of our society.

Human Trafficking is More Than Sex Trafficking

Maryland Data Charts (1)Many people associate human trafficking with sexual exploitation; however, human trafficking has many different faces, and it plays a major role in dozens of businesses across Maryland. Labor exploitation is another facet of human trafficking. Maryland counts domestic labor, begging rings, traveling sales crews, agriculture and fish farming industries, health care industry, marriage and online dating, commercial brothels, hotel/motel brothels, and online escort services as hubs of human trafficking. As widespread as it is, human trafficking is often undetectable to the untrained eye. “Mail-order brides,” for example are illegal in Maryland under Criminal Law §11-303 and (HB#0276F) which describes “compelled marriage” as marriage in which a person knowingly takes money or uses fraud to compel the other person to marry another person. This crime is punishable with up to 25 years of imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $15,000. A person who knowingly aids, abets, or benefits financially from such ventures or activities is also in violation of the state’s human trafficking laws, and is subject to the same penalties. Thus, human trafficking is more widespread than many people realize and spreading awareness is of utmost importance.

Furthermore, many people are maladroit in distinguishing between smuggling and trafficking. This in part is because of the widespread neo-abolitionist discourses adopted by almost all anti-trafficking efforts, movies, TV shows, and political activities which sets up widespread misrepresentation of victims of trafficking only as young and innocent women who are deceived and forced into the sex industry. The reality is something of a complicated nature and is often perverse for policy and law making purposes. For example, it is true that many women that are trafficked for sex and labor are often forced into such acts. However, the unauthorized international migration, often initiated by women themselves to ameliorate their lives and families, positions them as isolated and distinct victims of emotional, physical, and sexual exploitation that is almost unprecedented and often under reported by victims due to fears of retaliation from the law enforcement agencies. Thus, a simple definition of a trafficking victim that suffers at the hands of individual men: traffickers, clients, and buyers, needs to be broadened to form holistic anti-trafficking policies and laws that do no assume or correlate trafficking with only sex work. The problem with the popular view of “human trafficking = sex work” is that it relies on the construction of human trafficking based on gender stereotypes and denies men and women’s agency by focusing exclusively on sexual exploitation of women that makes other types of labor exploitation almost invisible. Instead it reinforces the patriarchal discourse that all “sex workers” must necessarily be “passive victims” that need paternal protection, and it establishes a single framework for victimhood that most of the exploited undocumented migrant victims cannot meet in the court of law. Thus, it is important to be aware and create laws and policies to distinguish between people that intentional engage in sex work purely for their own economic gains, and separate those from the people who are forced and coerced into modern day sex-slavery.  

Maryland’s Legislation and Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts

Maryland, compared to some other states like Florida, New York, and California, does not have a comprehensive human trafficking legislation. To give you some background regarding the Human trafficking laws in Maryland, I have chosen to present you with information which (I believe) every responsible citizen of the State should be aware of. (Click the hyperlinks if you require further comprehension of Criminal Law Article-11). MD Code, Criminal Law, §11-303, as repealed and reenacted in October 2010, provided the following major provisions to the Criminal Law Article.

  1.  § 11-303(a)(1)(v) of the Criminal Law Article “A person may not knowingly: engage in a device, scheme, or continuing course of conduct intended to cause another to believe that if the other did not take part in a sexually explicit performance, the other or a third person would suffer physical restraint or serious physical harm.”  
  2. § 11-303(b)(2) of the Criminal Law Article A person may not knowingly take or detain another with the intent to use force, threat, coercion, or fraud to compel the other to marry the person or a third person or perform a sexual act, sexual contact, or vaginal intercourse.” Separate from Criminal Law, the MD Code- Transportation- §8-655, requires the rest area restrooms and businesses to post National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline information signs.
  3. §11-303(f), provide that a person charged with Human trafficking of a minor may not assert a defense by claiming to not have known the age of the victim.
  4. As of January 23, 2017, the Maryland General Assembly has passed House Bill #0276 which extends the statute of limitations to 10 years, applicable to civil actions related to Human trafficking.

Maryland’s Human trafficking Laws are slowly becoming more comprehensive, nonetheless, without more community involvement our State’s legislature will continue overlooking Human Rights Violations associated with human trafficking.

Community Safety and Involvement

As stated previously, much of our community is unaware of the expansive foothold that human trafficking is establishing in our communities. Maryland, in 2007, established the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTTF) under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General of Maryland, and the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City to investigate, prosecute, and serve the victims of human trafficking in our state. MHTTF has been subcategorized based on the region it serves. See the resource section for the list of local Task Forces. Since January 2013, the local task forces and federal law enforcement partners (FBI, Dept. of Homeland Security, etc..) have identified ≥ 200 victims of trafficking and have prosecuted 94 human traffickers. The men and women of MHTTF do great fieldwork and deserve our gratitude for making our communities safer.

However, the infrastructure to support MHTTF is still in the infancy stage. The state and federal funding to establish facilities that can provide crisis services to victims and survivors, and to serve as community outreach centers for training, research, and development is lacking significantly. It is paramount to provide training to first responders, public universities, school teachers, and to health care professionals that can confidentially screen potential victims of Human trafficking.

My principles spare me no excuse, for the same freedoms, which I enjoy so much, should also be accessible for every person regardless of their race, ethnicity, immigration status, or age. Most of my December and January months were spent studying Maryland’s Constitution and Criminal Law, Article-11. I was writing emails and making phone calls to anyone I though could help in making my voice heard at the state or the federal legislature. My singular voice in the ether of bureaucracy was praying for a change to occur. Thanks to the efforts of so many people who had the same conviction as me, the change has begun to happen. On January 23, 2017, the Human Trafficking – Civil Actions – Statue of Limitations (HB#0276) was first read and passed in the Maryland’s General Assembly. Its purpose was to extend the Statue of Limitations related to Human trafficking, effective October 1, 2017. Which means, if a plaintiff who were a minor at the time the statute of limitations began to accrue, he/she would now have 10 years to file a civil cause of action in Maryland. Furthermore, a new federal bill has been proposed in the House of Representatives in January, “Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2017.” This new bill is spearheading the efforts to decriminalize certain non-violent convictions and arrest records of Human trafficking victims. Many of our young adults and runaway foster-care children become victims of human trafficking. [They are pushed into a lifestyle that they did not choose and often violently exploited.] It is heartbreaking for me to acknowledge that instead of providing safety, protection, and guidance to people, our laws assign a criminal status to those who are victims of Human trafficking.

Thus, I implore you to partake in the process of bringing freedom, liberty, and happiness to victims of Human trafficking, and help to lessen their suffering. One of the easiest ways you can help is by holding your public officials accountable. Public pressures and public awareness is the key to getting our legislatures to recognize and change the laws which protect and safeguard our communities against Human traffickers. Together we can bring change in our communities. I am providing you with two links to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s petition forms. Please consider signing the petitions to protect the victims of Human trafficking, and please help them get their freedom back.

 

1). Petition for the reauthorization of Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act: http://act.polarisproject.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=23990

2). Trafficking Survivor’s Relief Act http://act.polarisproject.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=23688

 

Additional Resources:

Maryland’s Human Trafficking Task Forces: http://www.mdhumantrafficking.org/mhttf

 

 

NGOs and Other Local Agencies: http://www.mdhumantrafficking.org/partners

My Role Model, Senator Barbara Mikulski or “Finding the Worth in Your [Almost Always] Problematic Fave*”

So after the longest run of any woman in the history of the United States Congress, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland is retiring after this 114th Congress in 2017. And for some reason, I am feeling some sort of way about it.

I have been incensed to write this ever since Senator Mikulski’s retirement announcement, not because she is my policy-making idol or someone who defines what feminism looks like for me. To be quite honest, I have not followed her every vote, nor her every speech. But there’s something to Senator Mikulski that I have always looked up to. She is a symbol to me—a symbol of a woman who is not afraid to take up space. A symbol I have always needed.

On the right, Barbara Mikulski in 1994.

Senator Mikulski has always been known to me as a woman who has stomped forward and demanded her due. Who attested to being “one of those emotional women” on the Senate floor while arguing for pay equity; who, early in her career, was the only other percentage point of women in the U.S. Senate. Women I know, admire, and who inspire me daily—my mother being one of them—have always touted her as their own “shero.” Why? Because, Senator Mikulski did not try to maintain a new sense of subtlety or feminine gentleness when she got to the Senate—no, she made her bombastic nature her signature. Something that just was her essence. She was fiery and passionate about issues, and that’s where her political energy came from.

And it’s not only her personality, but it’s the fact that Barbara Mikulski is also no waif. And I mean no disrespect to the Senator at all—rather, I mean only respect. This woman is small and sturdy. She is not the Claire Underwood or Olivia Pope on our television, but the 4’11” juggernaut who wears pants on the Senate floor when she goddamn feels like it. Senator Mikulski’s visage, like her personality, is unapologetic.

And as a woman who can’t stop muttering “I’m sorrys” to every person who accidentally(?) pushes me on the sidewalk, I need that symbol of unabashed space taking up-ness that Senator Mikulski has always been for me. As a woman who does have wide-set shoulders, wide-set hips, and a loud, wide way of talking about what thing is making her angriest, I need to know that I can succeed with that. As a woman who has always had her fire for social justice doused by naysayers or “realists,” I need someone who is bent on raising hell till her and her loved ones get the rights they deserve. And finally, as a woman who has struggled with body, intelligence, and political insecurity in a patriarchal world, Senator Mikulski has always been somebody who I would look to when I was down, and realize, “I can take up this space, because I deserve it and I am more than worthy.”  

I hope that anybody reading this who faces similar or maybe even more complex insecurities than I do, can hopefully treat this post as a push towards finding that someone—be they a celebrity, a politician, or a peer in class—who makes you realize you are worthy of the skin you’re in and the space you inhabit. Maybe they do it through their ferocity (like my Senator Barb), their creativity, their stoicism, but either way, they help you to be you to the fullest, and they awaken the opportunity to celebrate yourself and the uniqueness that makes you you. Because sometimes, in our weakest moments, all we need is to feel inspired to know that we are worthy.

*And here is my disclaimer on “problematic faves”: I am often one of the first to recognize the problematic nature of anything that exists in the world. It’s not that I am trying to be a dark shadow, a pox upon the happiness of all the smiling people in the room. No, rather, it is simply a personal habit of mine to critically analyze something until its not fun any more (I’ll do it to the Oscars, I’ll do it to your fave, and I’ll keep doing it, I tell you). However, I wanted to add this disclaimer, because I know that Senator Barbara Mikulski has done and said what are probably problematic things to many. I’m certain I could find hurt in what she’s said if I read enough, but I also am not going to let that ruin this moment. I am going to bask in that Senator Barbara Mikulski Sun that always makes me feel like I can carpe all the diems, and I am going to feel positive about it. So, please, allow me the indulgence of stoking the fangirling fire a little longer, oh fellow killjoys, because all of our faves are problematic, and sometimes that’s just gotta be okay.

“We still do that?”: Shackling Pregnant Prisoners in Maryland

When you talk to most college students about shackling incarcerated pregnant people before, after, and while they are labor, most are surprised.  Many look at me incredulously and ask, “We still do that?”

Yes, we still do that. We still shackle pregnant people for all of their medical appointments, as they give birth, and as they are leaving the hospital even though it has been deemed dangerous, dehumanizing, and unnecessary by national organizations like American Medical Association (AMA), American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and American Public Health Association (APHA). Federal courts have ruled that shackling those in labor is a violation of the Eighth Amendment (that one about “cruel and unusual punishment”). The United Nations has also prohibited the shackling of pregnant prisoners and considers the practice a form of torture (though the U.S. would not want to ruin their streak of neglecting to ratify most conventions on human rights that the UN creates).

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