Childhood Trauma and Criminality

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/05/childhood-trauma-criminality-and-prison-reentry/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Our guest today is Dana Goldstein who wrote an intriguing article titled “Meet Our Prisoners”. It’s a comprehensive study of 122 men and women released in state prisons in the Boston area. The title of the show today is Childhood Trauma and Criminality. Dana, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Dana: Hey, Len. I’m happy to be here.

Leonard: I’m really happy for you to be here. You’ve got a long history of writing about criminal justice issues. She is a staff writer for The Marshall Project. She writes Justice Lab and reports on the intersection of education and criminal justice. Her work has appeared in Slate, The Atlantic and other magazines. She’s the author of Teacher Wars, a History of America’s Most Embattled Profession.

You know all about this issue today. Tell me a little bit about the study, who did the study, who they interviewed and how you’ve retained or they’ve retained these individuals in the study.

Dana: Yeah. It’s really hard to study the lives of people who’ve been recently incarcerated because they change jobs very often or are unemployed. They don’t have regular addresses. They often have many different phone numbers over the course of a year. It’s even difficult for something as comprehensive as the census to pick these people up and really track what’s going on in their lives.

Three leading scholars: Bruce Western, a Harvard sociologist, Anthony Braga of Rutgers who is a criminologist, and Rihanna Cole who works for the state of Massachusetts, they really wanted to find out what we can know about this population. They came up with something called the Boston Reentry Study. It’s a small sample size. It looks at 122 men and women. They were all released from state prisons to Boston neighborhoods in the years of 2012 and 2013. The study retention is amazing at 90%. This is basically unheard of with this population. The way they did it is that they paid each participant in the study $50 every time they came in for an interview so that was a really strong incentive. Beyond that, they also paid the relatives of these participants $50 to keep in touch and have interviews. This ended up being crucially important because for many of the former prisoners, the female family members: mothers, grandmothers, sisters, they were their connection to the community and connection to society after being released from prison. Having the cooperation of those family members in the study ended up being really key for the retention.

Leonard: One of the things that you point out in the article is up to 2/3 of people in previous interview panels dropped out. The fact that the researchers had a 90% retention rate …

Dana: Yeah. That attracted my attention as a journalist right away because when I look for research to write about in this column I write, Justice Lab, I’m often dealing with some methodological weaknesses with this particular population of justice-system involved individuals. This was a very strong methodology with a 90% retention rate.

Leonard: The bottom line is that this is a high-quality study, a 90% retention rate, involving people out of the prison system and their family members. The way that the researchers were able to retain them at the 90% level was the fact that individuals received a stipend for every interview, correct?

Dana: Yeah, that’s right. The researchers also took other extraordinary measures. They told me that one person in the study had 15 different cell phone numbers over the course of a year so a lot of … That was something, when my editor read the draft of my pre-shoot she went, “Oh, wow! That’s fascinating!” A lot of what the research team and their assistants were doing was just tracking these people, calling them constantly and saying to them, “Oh, if you’re running out of minutes on your phone, please just call us and let us know what the new number is.” The diligence really did pay off.

Leonard: That’s what fascinated me because when I first read the article, it was like, “Oh, another panel study of individuals coming out of the prison system.” I saw 90% and I said, “Wow! This is a really high-quality study” and it’s something that all of us in the criminal justice system need to pay attention to as the study rolls out. When is the completion date for the study?

Dana: It’s going to be completed over the next year or two. The first two sections, which I write about in this piece, one deals with the lifetimes up until incarceration of these folks so everything that happened to them in their childhood and their adolescence. It’s so sad and so fascinating. Secondly, the second part deals with what happens to them when they reenter society after being incarcerated. Do they find a job? Where do they live? What are their relationships like? The third piece is, I think, going to get a lot of attention. That’s going to be on recidivism. How many of these folks end up being incarcerated once again? We’re still waiting for that piece.

Leonard: In this, with a 12 month study, right? Followed the individuals over the course of 12 months?

Dana: I believe so, yes.

Leonard: Okay. It’s fascinating. I’m going to start off with one of the first observations that it’s no surprise that former prisoners are likely to be poor. Many have had troubled upbringings. Over 40% said they had witnessed a homicide. Half had been physically abused by their parent. Spanking did not count. A third had witnessed domestic violence.

I interview a lot of people caught up in the criminal justice system on this show. Their story mimics what you’ve told in your article. Can you talk to me about that?

Dana: Yeah. One of the things that really surprised me so much was that statistic that 40% of the 122 people in this study had witnessed a homicide. That’s extremely big number for something that you would assume would be very rare. I think what really is driving what we’re talking about here is the segregated high-poverty neighborhoods where these people are growing up. They are living in neighborhoods that are essentially segregated from middle-class America. Crime is concentrated in these places. Family poverty is concentrated. The schools are not particularly effective.

The homes that the children were living in as described in the study were very noisy and chaotic. One person in the study named Patrick, he had his mother who was addicted to heroin and he grew up in his grandparents’ house. There were a dozen other relatives that were constantly moving in and out. The uncles were constantly getting into physical fights with one another and sometimes would set things up on fire. Patrick, as a child, just thought this was normal behavior. It was only as an adult reflecting back decades later, after serving time in prison himself, that he realized that everything that set him on his path to becoming a lawbreaker really began in this chaotic childhood home that struck him as completely normal at the time. I think it’s really important to remember that many of the people in our state prison system, in our jails, they’re coming from a traumatized background that may not even register to them as out of the ordinary.

Leonard: I sent the article out to 4 people who are administrators within the criminal justice system because I always get input from other people before doing radio shows. They said it’s their experience that what Dana is describing in this article is not unusual. It’s just not Boston. Again, I’m fascinated by the high retention rate. I’m fascinated by the quality of the research. The researchers themselves should be really complimented for doing something unique. What they’re saying, what they’re telling me is that what Dana is describing is commonplace. That’s one of the other things that I wanted to get, do you have a sense that this is just the Boston area or this really is something that you can extrapolate to other parts of the country?

Dana: No, absolutely not. These are similar life stories that you’d hear from any group of incarcerated people. I think normally you hear this sort of anecdotally. What this study does is it really gathers a random group of people that are coming out of prison in one year in one place and it’s giving us some data to work with. These are the sort of stories that social workers around the country who deal with this population, probation and parole officers, will tell you that on any day of the week.

Leonard: I do want to tell our audience right up front that I’m quite sure that I’m and Dana, we’re not making excuses for criminality but the reality of what it is that we in parole and probation, because the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is a federal parole and probation agency serving Washington DC, but we in the criminal justice system, especially community corrections, mainstream corrections, this is the population who we have to deal with. People come along and say, “You need to reduce the rates of recidivism. You need to offer programs. You need to provide incentives.” All of which we thoroughly agree with and we’re one of the better-equipped agencies in the country in terms of providing social services to people under supervision but this is a rough group of individuals to help succeed.

Dana: Yeah, that’s right. Another thing that was very poignant in this study was that the participants’ crimes often looked really similar to the victimization they had experienced or witnessed as a child. For example, one man in the study, Peter, when he was 12 years old, he watched a man get stabbed to death in a brawl outside a bar in his neighborhood. Well, what do you know? Later on as an adult he was incarcerated after a series of stabbing assaults. There’s this cyclical quality to the type of violence that a child is exposed to. Then for some children, of course not all, many people are exposed to violence and don’t perpetrate violence, but of the population that’s in our prisons, it is a cyclical quality so it’s just really important to consider that when you think about what services are going to be available to people.

Leonard: When I was putting together the program today I did talk with the Commissioner of Corrections. He and I years ago sat down and interviewed younger individuals who were charged with homicide at the Baltimore City Jail. There was quite a few of them. We didn’t use their names. It was for a governor’s crime summit. We were just trying to understand life through their eyes. One of the things that they said was violence is normal. My words, not theirs, but violence is normal. We learned violence in our communities. We learned violence from our immediate upbringing. Violence is something that is good. It protects us. It protects our family. It protects our property. This is something that is normal. This is something that we think is in our best interest and why you don’t understand that, we don’t understand that. Your article, based upon the research, sort of mimics that experience.

Dana: Yes. I think a lot of what’s going on is the sort of the slice against masculinity, ideas of respect. Those are very powerful currencies in the communities where many of our incarcerated people are coming from. What looks like a relatively trivial conflict can often lead to violence in these neighborhoods and communities that are extremely high-poverty and living with extreme scarcity. Those are the experiences that are in the past of the population we’re talking about.

Leonard: You’ve described already that many former prisoners and their family members describe noisy and chaotic childhood homes. We could go on about that if you’d like a little bit more and then we could move over to schools.

Dana: Yeah. I think I basically already described that but it’s basically the sense that there’s no stability. Many of these children are passed from caretaker to caretaker over the course of a childhood. There may be a mother or father who’s a drug addict. They could be passed to a grandparent and then passed into the foster care system and then eventually come out and be reunited with a parent. All of this lack of stability has profound effects on the child’s ability to do well in school, the child’s ability to envision a productive adult life. The child could end up, in the midst of all this instability, looking to their peer group for support and guidance. If the peer group happens to be gang-involved, if the peer group is involved with crime, that can really lead the child astray.

Leonard: You say that school was really a refuge for participants. 81% were suspended or expelled, many as early as elementary school. Few received support services such as counseling or tutoring. Eventually 60% dropped out of high school. If you come from that background educationally, if you come from that background emotionally, the deck is going to be stacked against you.

Dana: Yeah, that’s right. I think one of the things that was disheartening about looking at the school portion of the study is that whereas in many middle-class or affluent families there would be a lot of interventions for a troubled kid. A kid who was acting out, a kid who seemed depressed, a kid who had some sort of traumatic experience at home, the school might spring into action and line up a therapist to meet with the child. Parents would be advocating for that. In those kids’ lives, a lot of times the schools looked the other way. It might not necessarily be because the teachers or principals didn’t care but they were overwhelmed. They would have a school where hundreds of children were dealing with similar trauma. The schools didn’t have the resources or the extra support they needed to provide each and every student that needed it with the extra help. School was not a place that was “rescuing” kids from these environments.

Leonard: You’ve already said that violence seemed normal to Patrick, the person that you specifically mentioned. Ultimately 41% of the study participants served time for violent crimes. Violence is an integral, everyday, normal process in the lives of the people who were interviewed.

Dana: Yeah. That’s really important to think about because I think the entire criminal justice reform conversation right now, a big part of it is about decreasing the sentences and being more rehabilitative for people who have done nonviolent crimes. We have this image of the kid who’s maybe picked up for selling a little bit of drugs or maybe he was driving in a car and his friend was the one who shot the gun. Actually, a huge proportion of our prisoners have themselves been involved in multiple incidences of violence. If we’re really looking at turning around our criminal justice system, decreasing mass incarceration, focusing more on rehabilitation within our criminal justice system, we must have this focus on those who have been convicted of violent crimes.

Leonard: I do want to talk about that but we are at the break. The program is going by like wildfire. Dana Goldstein is a staff writer for The Marshall Project. She writes for Justice Lab and reports on the intersection of education and criminal justice. You can reach her at themarshallproject.org, the marshallproject.org.

Dana, that is the issue right now because there is a huge conversation going on in the country. I’m assuming, I’ve been told that every governor has talked to every correctional administrator in every state basically saying we can no longer sustain the level of incarceration. We’ve got to cut back on the numbers of people that we incarcerate. We’re spending far more money on prisons than we are on colleges and schools. In that light, you are now finding bipartisan support for justice reform across the board but nobody is really quite sure what justice reform means. Your comments before the break are correct. We’re really focusing on the nonviolent rather than the violent but so many individuals who are being charged with nonviolent crimes have violent histories. Somewhere along the line, we’ve got to come to grips with who the individuals are within the criminal justice system and provide services if we’re going to break the cycle of incarceration.

Dana: Yeah, Len, you’re exactly right. Even those who are convicted of nonviolent crimes as you rightfully point out may have a violent history in their past. You think about the bipartisan movement across the country that’s springing on us and saying “We’re really going to reduce our prison population.” That’s, in my view, a very positive saying but where the consensus can unravel is exactly this question of can we look to a more rehabilitative, less punitive approach for our violent offenders? Oftentimes, when you talk to the conservative folks who support criminal justice reform, they actually would like to maybe even stiffen sentences for violent criminals. I’ve written another article about this which reports on the Cut 50 Movement, the idea that you need to reduce the prison population by 50% which so far some of the conservatives are quite skeptical of. There is consensus but underneath that there is still debate about how exactly do we want to treat those who are convicted of violent offenses. This Boston Reentry Study is, I think, quite powerful in humanizing who those people really are.

Leonard: I think that’s one of the reasons why we bring current people caught up in the criminal justice system and people who are off supervision because the issue is that I’ll sit there and I’ll have three people in front of me and I’ll say, “Okay, you are a criminal.” I say that specifically just to provoke a reaction from that individual. That person will sit back and go, “Look, Leonard. I’ve made mistakes. I’m not a criminal” which is the best possible answer. Then I would elicit from them what was created for them, what did they create for themselves to remove themselves from the criminal justice system to do better while under supervision. Services, services, services, programs seems to be such a huge issue, yet if you take a look at surveys of state prison systems, 10% are getting drug treatment. A similar percentage are getting mental health treatment. If 80% of the people caught up in the criminal justice system have histories of substance abuse, if 50% have histories of mental health, unless we provide the programs we’re not going to break the cycle.

Dana: You’re absolutely right. That’s just appalling that there are not more available than there are, given what we know about this population. Since you mentioned those with mental health issues, one of the interesting things about the Boston study that I’m writing about here is that female offenders, although they were only 12% of the sample, some of the findings on them were very interesting. They were much more likely to have mental illness issues, for example. We know that the women in prison especially need some of these services.

Leonard: You say that nearly all of the female offenders in the study, 12% of the sample, reported being survivors of sexual violence.

Dana: Yes. That is stunning in and of itself. Basically, all of the women in prison in Boston had experienced sexual violence in their life previous to being incarcerated. I think there’s two things that come from that. First, you want to make sure that prison itself is to the extent possible as free of sexual violence as possible. We know we’re on a nationwide effort with PREA, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, to deal with that. It’s very important for women inmates as well as male inmates. Secondly, again, it’s an area where therapeutic services need to be available. There needs to be space within the system for women to talk about and heal from these experiences.

Leonard: We run groups here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for women. The groups that I participated in, and they have to vote to let me in, and for the ones who I’ve interviewed by these microphones, virtually to a person they have talked about the fact that they were sexually assaulted by a family member, or a friend of the family, or somebody in the community before their mid-teens. This is a common experience, I think.

Dana: Yes, that’s very, very common. It’s very common.

Leonard: Okay. I want to ask a larger philosophical question and then I want to get into the fact that those who were picked up from prison and who had welcoming parties and spent fewer hours alone, they seemed to adjust better than those who didn’t because people are intrigued by the next phase of it.  What works? What can we do? What can the system do? My question is this: If we are dealing with individuals with such profound emotional histories in terms of childhood trauma, in terms of not doing well in school which is an understatement, if they’re dealing with histories of violence directed towards them, and women, sexual violence, and virtually all the women that I’ve talked to have had children, does it get to the point where it almost becomes impossible for the criminal justice system, let alone the larger society, to deal with people who have such profound issues?

Dana: I hate to say impossible because I know that there’s probation officers and therapists within prisons that are helping people turn their lives around every day. What I do want to say is what’s clear from these findings is that our prison system has become our social safety net of last resort. In the absence of a robust mental health system, in the absence of a robust drug-addiction treatment system in this country, in the absence of a robust effort to reform and improve all urban schools, not just a couple of famous charter schools, we see the prison system step up and be the place where society chooses to send these folks that fall through every other crack. We know the cracks are large, the cracks are gaping for this population of people so what we’re asking the prison system to do in turning around these people’s lives is in fact basically an unrealistic expectation given that we haven’t provided a lot of other safety nets to help these folks.

Leonard: There are programs, you would agree, that do cut recidivism by anywhere from 10-20%. 10-20% fewer people going back to the prison system can mean eventually the savings of billions of dollars and smaller prison systems so the programs … There is a point where the programs do apply. There is a point where the programs do work but the programs have to be there. The programs have to exist and they have to exist in sufficient numbers to have an impact.

Dana: Right. We know that there’s wonderful programs that help people get jobs that cut recidivism rates, that college classes behind bars significantly cut recidivism rates. We know that anger management in our cognitive behavioral therapy can help cut recidivism rates. We do know that there’s all these things that work but they’re not available to every person that needs them.

Leonard: Let’s talk about life after release. Those who were picked up from prison by loved ones who had welcome home parties and who spent fewer hours alone in their first week of adjustment seemed to do better than others which echoes a theme that we have here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in terms of family support for those people who are caught up in the criminal justice system. There seems to be some connection between family support and how well they do.

Dana: Yeah. It’s not that there was anything so magical about having a party. It was really the fact that you had the party and that you spent fewer hours alone meant that you had the family and friends that were checking in with you and cared about you and that you had kept in contact with them while you were incarcerated enough that they were there for you when you left. It’s also really important to mention the issue of age here. The median age in this study was 34. The people who were coming out in their late teens or twenties or early thirties had significantly more family support than the older people who came out in their forties or fifties or even later.

Leonard: Really? Okay.

Dana: We have very long sentences in this country and people sometimes are in state prison for a very long time. People who came out when they were younger had a better adjustment period.

Leonard: That’s interesting.

Dana: That’s important to think about when we think about what is the utility of these super-long sentences.

Leonard: 6 months after reentry more than half of the participants remained reliant on family, typically mothers, grandmothers, or sisters. About a third were living in marginal housing. That data mimics our data here.

Dana: Yeah, absolutely. The female relatives were really still pulling these men along after them. It was very, very stressful on the families of the reentering people. For example, oftentimes an order of protection would prevent a man from going home to live with his mother. He might be 19 or 20 years old and have nowhere else to go. The mother has to make the decision. She’s going to let her son come back and live in the house and she’s going to lose her Section 8 housing voucher. Her and the rest of her younger kids will be kicked out of their apartment or she’s going to send her son out to the street. For Jeff, one young man who was in the study, his mother did have to make the difficult choice to tell her son, 20 years old, that he could not come home and live with her. This is the way people end up homeless.

Leonard: You say that only 59% were employed before they were incarcerated. 6 months after reentry, 57% of the men were working and just 27% of the women. Is that sexual discrimination or are there other factors?

Dana: Yeah. The men were about as likely to be employed after incarceration as before which I think suggests that they suffered from very high unemployment levels both before and after. For the women, incarceration had a devastating effect. They were 20% less likely to be employed after being incarcerated. There’s two potential reasons cited, the researchers pointed out. The first is that the women who are incarcerated were more likely to be mentally ill or drug-addicted. That may really impact them as they’re coming out and trying to find a job in a negative way. Also, on the more positive side, relatives are more likely to take a female relative into their home. If women were getting housing support from their mothers or sisters, then perhaps it wasn’t so important for them to go get a job immediately after leaving prison.

Leonard: There is national data that suggests that women under supervision have higher rates of mental health problems and higher rates of substance abuse problems. You add that to kids and as the women have said to me sitting before these microphones, “How are we supposed to succeed, come out of prison, find a job, reunite with our children, deal with mental health issues, deal with substance abuse issues, deal with the trauma issues in our own lives and succeed?” There is a point where the women have said, “It’s almost impossible for us to meet your expectations.”

Dana: Yeah. It’s important that, as you mentioned earlier, almost all of these women are mothers. This is a double-generation issue that we’re talking about when we’re talking about women and reentry after being incarcerated.

Leonard: Okay, I want to quickly, because we’re running out of time … Ban the Box in Massachusetts didn’t seem to have that much of an impact.

Dana: Yeah, that’s what the researchers found. Even though employers are no longer allowed to check right away about the criminal history of the job applicant, they can still check the criminal history later in the application process, after the interview. In the words of Bruce Western, the sociologist who did this study, “It looks like they’re still checking their criminal history and it doesn’t matter if they may have met the person and he seems like a pretty good guy. They’re still discriminating heavily against people who do have that criminal history.”

Leonard: Those on parole and probation, thus under the [inaudible 00:28:14] supervision were more likely to be re-incarcerated which again mimics other national studies.

Dana: Right.

Leonard: They were arrested most often not for committing new crimes but for violating the rules of probation or parole.

Dana: Yes. We’ve certainly seen this in California and a lot of other places where this has been looked at. This is a bit of a sneak peek about what’s coming next from the researchers who are looking at this very fascinating population of adults in Boston. They are finding that those who are re-incarcerated, a lot of times they have failed a drug test, broken curfew, missed meetings, that type of thing.

Leonard: The study’s overall findings … We should increase our empathy for people who go to prison, most of whom came from brutal poverty. If we were in these situations, the researchers suggest, if we were in these situations and if we were to encounter these complex combinations of circumstances, could we be confident that we would exercise our moral agency to do something different, there for the grace of God [inaudible 00:29:16]?

Dana: Yeah, that’s what Bruce Western, the Harvard sociologist said. He really wants us all to think about if we had grown up in a home, a home like Patrick, would we have turned out very different from Patrick? Perhaps the answer to that is no. That’s one of the big questions that a study like this should leave in our minds.

Leonard: Fascinating interview, went by so fast. I have a thousand other questions but they’ll have to wait until next time. Dana Goldstein is a staff writer for The Marshall Project and she writes for Justice Lab. Her work has appeared in Slate, Atlantic, and other magazines. She is the author of The Teacher Wars, a History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, themarshallproject.org is the website. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Human and Labor Trafficking in the US-Urban Institute

Human and Labor Trafficking in the US-Urban Institute

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

Radio Show available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/10/human-and-labor-trafficking-in-the-us-urban-institute/

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety and I’m your host Leonard Sipes. We are doing a show ladies and gentlemen on human trafficking. Back at our microphones from the Urban Institute we have Colleen Owens. She again is with the Urban Institute. She did a heck of a program last time on the issue of human trafficking. Joining her today is Justin Breaux and also Isela Banuelos. Did I get that correctly Isela, so I want to welcome all three of you to DC Public Safety.

Colleen Owens: Thank you.

Isela Banuelos: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Alright now we are going to go with Colleen because Colleen did the program before and Colleen gave me a very quick overview of what it is that we mean by human trafficking.

Colleen Owens: Well thanks so much for having us on the program Len we are really happy to be here. So human trafficking as it is defined in our federal law, which was passed in 2000, essentially, you know, centers on the use of three elements of forced fraud or coercion to compel a person either into I guess two very broad areas of labor trafficking or sex trafficking. If the person is under the age of 18, for sex trafficking you don’t have to prove forced fraud or coercion but for labor trafficking you would.

Len Sipes: I was running the research report. This is the one statement that just really jumped out at me: “To a public largely unaware of it crimes resembling slavery take place in America.” Is that overkill or is that a justifiable description of what we are talking about when we talk about human trafficking?

Colleen Owens: I mean that is absolutely justifiable. If you actually look at the root of the law that we have on human trafficking in the United States, it’s based upon the 13th Amendment principles of slavery. The language is actually directly relation to the language that we have since the 13th Amendment around debt bondage, peonage and slavery and so what we are talking about is actually, you know, the limitation of a person’s liberties and freedom. And this crime that we call human trafficking is somewhat new parlance since about the early 2000s but it is a crime that has existed for a long period of time in the United States.

Len Sipes: Now we are talking about literally tens of millions of people throughout the world?

Colleen Owens: The best estimate that we have actually comes from the International Labor Organization and there estimate is that 21 million people are victims of forced labor around the world.

Len Sipes: And so, but we don’t know the exact number of human trafficking/slavery in the United States but we do know in all probability that millions are involved in this type of behavior in the United States?

Colleen Owens: Right, we don’t have actual any estimates on the prevalence of human trafficking in the United States but we do know that victims have been identified both of labor trafficking and sex trafficking across the country.

Len Sipes: Because last time you and I did the show, in preparation for all my shows I do talk to different people about the topic before actually doing the show and to a person they just said human trafficking in the United States, they found that incredulous and they did not buy into the fact that there is human trafficking in the United States. So to satisfy them, once again, is there human trafficking in the United States?

Colleen Owens: Yes absolutely.

Len Sipes: Okay. So this is appalling, I mean this is absolutely literally appalling that we have forced labor and forced sexual bondage within the United States right now and it’s not all that unusual nor is it all that rare and it is probably happening throughout the country.

Colleen Owens: It is defiantly. I would say that no community is immune to it.

Len Sipes: You did a report which I do want to site and I will put it in the show notes. “Understanding the Organization, Operation and Victimization Process of Labor Trafficking In The United States.” You did this again with Urban Institute coupled up with North Eastern University?

Colleen Owens: Right.

Len Sipes: And so this, I have been seeing in my email lots of material coming out of Urban on human trafficking. This is something that Urban is taking very seriously in terms of putting out seminars and reports on it. I mean it is just not a one shot deal. You guys are steadily pounding the streets talking about human trafficking.

Colleen Owens: Absolutely it is an issue that we see as very central and important in the research field and it is something that myself and my colleagues Justin and Isela and Meredith Dank, also of Urban Institute, as well as my colleagues at North Eastern University – Amy Farrell and Jack McDevitt have dedicated a lot of our time conducting research on over the years and it is something that we do feel strongly. There is still so much that needs to be known, a lot of unanswered research questions and it is something that we do remain committed to conducting research on in the future.

Len Sipes: Isela give me a sense as to the report. You’ve talked to what 28 victims and 58 social service providers to get a sense as to what’s actually happening in terms of human trafficking, not just in the United States but throughout the world but in terms of this report particularly in the United States.

Isela Banuelos: That’s correct so we have talked to service providers and victims who have been able to get services and we talked to people who were trafficked into various industries including agriculture, domestic work, hospitality and also restaurants. Thank you, right.

Colleen Owens: Restaurants.

Len Sipes: These are people who are hiding in plain sight according to the report. These are people who we interact with every day; we just don’t know they are being held in bondage. Correct?

Colleen Owens: That is correct.

Len Sipes: And it strikes me that there is a parallel here and any one of you can enter into this conversation. I’m from the main stream criminal justice system and I have dealt with an awful lot of women who are caught up in the criminal justice system who we have supervised in my experience, over the course of the last 25 years and it is not unusual, there is a new piece of research out for one particular state were 85% of the women caught up in the correctional system had histories of violence and sexual violence before the age of 18. And so many of the women who are involved in the criminal justice system are there because, stereotypically I understand but it is true, some male has used physical force or a threat of physical force or a threat of economic force and basically told her, “I’ve got two pounds of cocaine you are going to drive it to New York City.” They are going up Interstate 95. They get pulled over, the drug dog alerts on the car and suddenly she’s in jail or prison for the next 10 years, because principally she was forced to be there. It is sort of a type of bondage as far as I am concerned. And you sit down and you talk with them about their background, it verges on being disgusting. I get the sense that when we talk about human trafficking; we are talking about basically the same thing, force, threat of force, psychological bondage, people who feel paralysis and other people who take advantage of them, Justin?

Isela Banuelos: I think you would want to add fraud in there. What we found was that in most of our cases that was, you know most of our survivors were heavily defrauded in terms of their interview, their recruitment and things of that nature.

Len Sipes: Am I over playing my hand in terms of comparing human trafficking to what I see in the main stream criminal justice system, in particular women offenders?

Isela Banuelos: I think there are absolutely some similarities there and in fact in some of cases, women came to the United States, and you know they were working in homes, they were forced to board flights, and they really didn’t have any choice in the matter.

Len Sipes: The bottom line and the heart and soul of all of these issues that we are talking about today is physical or physiological coercion, to coerce a person in terms of doing something by threatening them physically or threatening them psychologically. So that is a form of slavery.

Colleen Owens: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: But in terms of human trafficking, they’re hiding again, as we said in plain sight. We interact with people on a day to day basis but they don’t feel that they can get out of it. The victims don’t feel that they can escape it because they are not quite sure that the criminal justice system is going to be sympathetic towards their cause, even though they are in the county legally and I do want to get around to that part of it. They feel that they’re going to be deported. They think that terrible things are going to happen to them, happen to their kids, happen to their families back in the countries that they came from, so they don’t escape it. That is a form of bondage. Correct? Talk to me about it.

Colleen Owens: Absolutely, well you know we collected a lot of really interesting information around the escape experiences and my colleague Isela can speak a little bit more on that, but you are absolutely correct that folks are laboring you know in plain sight, often times. They are working in hotels. They are working in construction and restaurants. They are here on a visa for work in these industries, primarily in our sample, that’s what we found. And they are under threat of deportation, threat of being reported to the police if they complain. Their family members are being threatened back home because oftentimes they have been recruited back home in their country of origin and a lot of information has been collected about their personal background. So the traffickers use this against them.

Isela Banuelos: Sorry can I also just add that in addition to having this threat of you know having their family members hurt in their home countries, I think that for folks who are coming into the country authorize and unauthorized, there is this tremendous just fear of contacting law enforcement because of their visa. So contacting law enforcement would mean that they are jeopardizing their status, and so because they don’t want to be deported so they are not contacting law enforcement.

Len Sipes: But Justin, they are here legally and not just the fact that they have visa’s when they come, but they paid.

JUSTIN BREAUX: Right, exactly.

Len Sipes: They paid to come here and they paid quite a bit of money.

JUSTIN BREAUX: Right and I think it starts with the recruitment phase. So we were looking at the continuum of the labor trafficking experience and what we found was that it all begins with recruitment oftentimes in their home countries, through their social networks they come across this opportunity. They usually meet with a recruitment agency. This agency will use high pressure coercion tactics to convince them. Many times they are using fraud. The victims are paying large fees. On average it was over $6,000. So that sort of sets the stage. So now they are in debt. They have used their family’s money as collateral and that really lays down the foundation.

Len Sipes: They are here legally, which meant they had to get visas, which meant they had to come into contact with the State Department.

JUSTIN BREAUX: Precisely.

Len Sipes: So there is nobody at the State Department asking questions?

JUSTIN BREAUX: We also highlight that in our report. It is sort of these actions that are taking place and what we found was that for many of the survivors that we interviewed, they had very routine sort of interactions with the State Department. Our survivors were often coach by their traffickers on what to say. In a few instances the trafficker actually participated in the interviews with the victim and the State Department and in that situation the victim, you know had no, didn’t speak English and really didn’t say anything throughout the course of the interview. So we did find that the traffickers played sort of a critical part there. But we do want to add a little bit of a caveat in that we are looking at a subsample of the individuals who have been victimized and received visas from the State Department. We don’t know the universe of individuals who are at risk of trafficking, who have applied for visas and been denied.

Len Sipes: You can only talk about what you know and I understand but there is a certain point where we do need to extrapolate beyond your numbers to the larger issue. The criminal justice system does not come off very well in this report. Again, we are inundated with rapes, robberies, burglaries, what I call the garden variety types of crimes every single day. I have been in law enforcement, I have been in corrections. I understand the stresses and strains upon our system. If you came to me as a police officer and said human trafficking, I guess my response is going to be, what? Because, again, I am overloaded with the day to day crimes that people are very concerned about and nobody at a community meeting brings up human trafficking. Our politicians don’t bring up human trafficking, the medial doesn’t bring up human trafficking and suddenly you present me with an extraordinarily complicated case where I don’t know the law, I don’t know the procedure, I don’t exactly know what to do with this. All I see is a mountain of work and when you are talking about a person being brought over and being worked half to death in a factory, I’m saying to myself what a minute, did you voluntarily come here, do you have a visa? You went through the States Department, you know, you paid for this and your complaint is what? So.

Isela Banuelos: That’s it. I mean that is a very legitimate response and perspective. You know that is something that other research has been done on actually NORC did a study a few years back that indicated that over half of law enforcement, including investigators and prosecutors that they surveyed, had no knowledge of the fact that their state had a law against human trafficking and that there was a high level of misinformation around definition. So folks thought maybe trafficking equaled smuggling. That there had to be movement involved. And so I think that there is a lack of awareness but I also think, and a huge need for training, but I also think something that’s distinct for labor traffic from sex trafficking that we found is that there is really a question about who’s job is it to enforce the laws around labor trafficking. And essentially we found what I would call a black hole of enforcement and it makes sense when you actually look at what we did in our study, which was we categorized and we reviewed cases of labor trafficking victimization and found that there were high rates of labor exploitation. So folks were experiencing crimes that you know sort of civil violations rather, that fall under the jurisdiction of Department of Labor. So wage and hour violations, you know denial of pay or you know failure to give someone a pay stub. You know, lack of meal breaks for example. That is all under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor. What is under the jurisdiction of law enforcement are when it rises to a criminal level, so you know, monitoring and surveying your workers, basically using the threats, the violence, the coercion against them.

Len Sipes: Human bondage is not a Department of Labor crime; I mean what we are talking about are real crimes that we would define them as being real crimes. We are just a little confused when a person comes here voluntarily on a visa that has been processed by the State Department and we would have one person’s word against another. I mean that is almost an impossible situation but we are talking about real crimes. We are talking about real bondage. We are talking about sexual abuse, we are talking about rape. We are talking about some extraordinarily serious issues.

Isela Banuelos: Exactly, but I think Department of Labor is in a place where they could be doing more to help identify because they are going into work places routinely. When you look at local law enforcement your prior experience, you know as a law enforcement official, it is not really in the routine of law enforcement to be going into work places and looking for crimes unless maybe somebody calls because they were assaulted for example.

Len Sipes: It’s a fascinating conversation. We are more than half way through the program and these programs do go by very quick because again I find this to be extraordinarily interesting. The report, “Understanding the Organization, Operation, Victimization Process of Labor Trafficking in The United States” as put out by the Urban Institute www.urban.org. Back at our microphones we have Colleen Owens from the Urban Institute, we have Justin Breaux and we have Isela Banuelos, am I getting that correct.

Isela Banuelos: Banuelos.

Len Sipes: Banuelos, okay than you very much and again all from the Institute in conjunction with North Eastern University. Is this Department of Justice supported?

Isela Banuelos: Yes it was funded by the national institute of justice.

Len Sipes: Okay the National Institute of Justice, so some rather prestigious organizations are involved with this and I would imagine Justice is involved in this because they see a problem that nobody seems to be willing to deal with, am I right or wrong?

Colleen Owens: Well basically the study came about because we have been, you know the field has been doing research around human trafficking, I would say, for a little bit over the past decade. And what we have all sort of come to is that we know more, though we still need to know more, about sex trafficking but we really don’t know much about labor trafficking. Does this exist in the United States, what does it look at, how are people being victimized? And so the study came out of that question. And we know that if we wanted to find – our approach was to find cases that have actually been identified and to study those cases.

Len Sipes: You don’t have an empirical basis to make this statement but I have read a couple of your reports and certainly it is justifiable to suggest that you are talking about a couple of hundred thousand people, if not more in the United States who are going through this problem and it is criminal in nature, more than it is labor in nature. I mean, I am trying to set the stage for the person listening to this program who is trying to relate to this. Again, human trafficking, the conversation I had with other people surprised that there is human trafficking in the United States. It impacts more than just a couple of hundred people.

Colleen Owens: Sure absolutely. I mean some of the cases that we looked at actually we may have been reviewing, you know, the cases of one or two victims but in fact the actual labor trafficking case had hundreds of victims that were victimized through that one experience.

Len Sipes: That one experience but is there, we have to somehow in some way put some sort of, I mean people are trying to wrap their heads around what it is that we are talking about and they are sitting there now saying well this is horrible, this is disgusting I did not know about but again it is not really prevalent in the united States. It is, is it not?

Colleen Owens: Well we know that , you know thousands of people have been identified that have been victims of labor trafficking. And I think based on what we found out in our report in terms of how difficult it is for those folks that have actually come forward, to come forward, and all of the barriers that they face in doing so, it does raise question about the extent to which this is happening. And I think also we looked at, I think what was surprising to me was how systematic a lot of this is. That it’s, you know, a lot of the factors that are leading to the labor of folks, of workers being forced you know exist through a lot of these temporary work visa programs. Not to say that they should be cancelled but we that we really need to you know have some serious oversight and look into making some adjustments around these programs to, you know, limit the risk that the workers are facing coming in under those programs.

Len Sipes: But Justin the bottom line is that we, within the criminal justice system have got to start paying attention to this so it has got to be on our radar screen. We’ve got to be talking to our attorneys. We’ve got to be talking to experts. This isn’t anything that we can ignore. This is something that we just should be paying attention to.

JUSTIN BREAUX: Yes you are absolutely correct and in our interviews with law enforcement what we did find was, in fact, a lot of confusion about the issue. Oftentimes they referenced it as being a purely a labor issue. So yeah, there is the need there and there is the need to raise awareness within the public as well.

Len Sipes: And again this is why I am playing this card too many times resembling slavery taking place in America. I’m trying to get a point across that we are not talking about somebody working 60 hours instead of 40 hours in a factory, who is from another country.

JUSTIN BREAUX: So what we are talking about is for example one of our cases. A woman made a mistake, she was a domestic worker. The family, the traffickers said she made a mistake; she was not given food for four days. When she “stole” two pieces of chocolate, she was forced to stand from 4am to 6pm for the remainder of the day. So those are the types of situations we are talking about. Death threats things of that nature. “If you try to run I will shoot you.” I mean these are things that sort of came out in our findings.

Len Sipes: And again this is something, I think, is just happening way too much in the United States. So they got here from what countries, principally what Asia and Latin America?

Isela Banuelos: That’s correct yes.

Len Sipes: Okay and they got here through visas.

Isela Banuelos: Yes the majority of the people in our sample came here through a visa and 79% like actually don’t quote me, 71% yes and they were flying in. I mean if you are thinking about places like Latin America and Asia these are folks who are coming in through there.

Len Sipes: They are not coming across the Canadian line, walking across the Canadian or the Mexican border. They are flying in with a visa?

Isela Banuelos: That’s correct, yes.

Len Sipes: There is a certain point where most of their visas are now expired?

Isela Banuelos: Yes and that creates further challenges for escaping. Right? So you have a situation where someone did everything right to come into the country legally and now they are caught in a trafficking situation, and their visa has expired. So that’s just creating future challenges to contact law enforcement since they know that they are now unauthorized.

Len Sipes: Justin, go ahead.

JUSTIN BREAUX: One of the first things that the traffickers did upon arrival into the United States was actually seize those documents and that was one of their primarily mechanisms of control over their victims.

Len Sipes: Alright, they believe because their visa has expired that they cannot go to law enforcement, they cannot escape because their visas have expired they are simply going to be deported back to the countries that they came from?

Isela Banuelos: Yeah, that is one of the many challenges that they have to overcome and I think there is also physical barriers. You are talking about people who work in agriculture. We are talking about folks who live in very rural parts in the country and you know it is going to take miles and miles until they come into contact. With some other folks who are in domestic work that is illegal in the privacy of someone’s home and don’t have any contact with anyone. They are under constant surveillance and so how do you create an opportunity for them to access other people?

Len Sipes: And how do they escape.

Isela Banuelos: So the majority of our people in our sample, 59% escaped by running away and the second most common way of escape was through the support of a friend. And you know I think it is important to recognize that for folks who have to be under constant surveillance and there is physical barriers, there is psychosocial abuse from the traffickers and there is a very complicated relationship with law enforcement because of their immigration status, they are relaying on narrowed windows of surveillance to escape. You know we had a situation where a women, you know the trafficker left the door open and she just ran out and waved down a cab. That was one of the stories we heard and for other folks who are working in maybe a more populated setting like hospitality, they are relying on a network or support of friends or colleagues who can help them, you know be more strategic about their exit. Helping them find a way to escape. So it’s, I can’t emphasis the importance of bystanders in this process of escape. A lot of times it took just someone you know to stop someone in the street and say like, “You know, there is something off. What is going on here?” and them having, you know, the power to contact law enforcement to check on the situation and I think that is really, really important.

Len Sipes: Nobody is taking them; nobody from the criminal justice system is taking them back to the trafficker are they? They are not making that mistake are they?

JUSTIN BREAUX: Well so we did have one person that we interviewed and she actually was able to call 911 and when law enforcement arrived they interviewed both the trafficker and the victim and they sided with the trafficker and actually told the victim that if she called law enforcement or 911 again, she would go to prison.

Colleen Owens: Yes, exactly and there was another case where an agricultural worker was shot at by the trafficker farmer and basically then he was arrested and put into deportation proceedings because his visa had expired. And it’s all as a result of the trafficking experience that happens.

Len Sipes: I’m just hoping that people who have listened long enough to this program at this stage of the game are now beginning to get a sense as to what we mean by human trafficking. I just get the sense that it is not taken seriously. And it’s – people see it as a matter of a labor dispute, it’s not. It’s bondage, it’s bondage in the United States. All right, so what is the role of the public to get them to understand how difficult this is? What should we do? Not just the criminal justice system but the general public.

Colleen Owens: Well I think as Isela mentioned, one of the things that we found that was so important was the role of bystanders and how much they were actually involved. And sometimes there was unrealized opportunities for escape. So. you know, we heard from survivors that for example they were out cutting the grass with scissors, you know, a domestic worker at 4am. And a neighbor was coming home and saw that and they tried to reach out and maybe they had, you know, limited English capacity but they were at least able to communicate that something was wrong and it was an unrealized opportunity for escape.

Other stories we heard they would, you know, ask neighbors for help but they might say, “I don’t want to get involved.” So there were these opportunities where folks were reaching out. What’s really key to understand, I think, and what is different in some cases from what we see with sex trafficking is that in our sample at least of labor trafficking victims, about 96% of all of the victims that we looked at in our case files actually realized something was wrong and they didn’t call it labor trafficking, they didn’t say, “I’m a victim of labor trafficking” but often they would say things like “I realize I am being tricked and I realize that I am being coerced” and so I think that is an opportunity where they are reaching out for help. They do realize something is wrong and it is getting the resources and the awareness out there so that we can actually capitalize on that and get people the help that they need.

Len Sipes: But maybe it’s the term. I mean I am not even quite sure that I understand and I have been in the criminal justice system for 45 years. I mean I’m not quite sure I understand labor trafficking. Human trafficking gets me somewhat to where I need to be and that is why I am constantly brining up this sense of bondage because that, that’s what we are talking about. So isn’t that what we need to get across to the American Public? I mean we are talking about human beings in bondage.

Colleen Owens: Right, but I think we also need to pay close attention to the psychological forms of coercion because sometimes the focus on bondage is important and it’s important to underscore the fact that, you know, people are laboring against their will but sometimes they think people get hung up because they might see a case, for example, of a domestic worker and they might say, “Well why don’t they just leave?”
Or, “They’re a farmer, why don’t they just leave, why do they stay?” and it is really important to understand all of the mechanisms that are being used against them to compel them to stay. The difference with slavery of the past is that people aren’t in chains for the most part but there are other forms of coercion that are being used to keep them in bondage, so –

Len Sipes: But the same question is being asked of domestic violence victims and I am not going to suggest that the question is repulsive. I understand that the question may be somewhat natural but they don’t understand all the complexities involved in this and this bondage. This is psychological bondage in terms of domestic violence. It sounds exactly the same things is happening here. You can entrap a human being in chains but those chains could be psychological. If the trafficker is going to say that your kids are going to be sold off or, you know, “I am going to make sure that your family back in Guatemala goes through utter and complete hell and I am going to make sure that they have no livelihood if you continue fighting me.” That is just as strong of a chain.

Colleen Owens: Right, exactly and back to your original question I mean it’s important then for the public to understand that and so awareness campaigns need to be created that really highlight not just, “are you a victim of labor trafficking” but “have you experienced these thing and if so, you know here is the number to call.”

Len Sipes: You know, again it is just an amazing report. Understanding the organization, operation and victimization process of labor trafficking in the United States. Our guests today: Colleen you bring a sense of real insight in terms of this so it is the second time you have been here but you are always welcome back.

Colleen Owens: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Justin and Isela both of you guys, I really appreciate you being here, again it a program or a research effort by the North Eastern University by the Urban Institute and by the US Department of Justice. You can find the report on the website of the Urban Institute: www.urban.org. Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments, we even appreciate you criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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Domestic Violence in Washington, DC, CSOSA

Domestic Violence in Washington, DC, CSOSA

Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

See radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/10/domestic-violence-washington-dc-csosa/.

LEONARD SIPES: From the Nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I am your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and Gentleman domestic violence is the topic of our program today, domestic violence in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States. This is Domestic Violence Awareness month for the month of October. We have two people from my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency with us today to talk about their supervision and treatment process regarding domestic violence individuals. We have Princess McDuffie, she is a Community Supervision Officer for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program and we have Marc Countiss. He is again the Community Supervision Officer – what other organizations call Parole and Probation Agents. Again he is with the Domestic Violence Program, Intervention Program here at The Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, our website www.csosa.gov to Princess and to Marc welcome to DC Public Safety.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Thank you for having us.

MARC COUNTISS: Thank you.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright this is really important. I mean you all deal with people who have been adjudicated as somehow, some way a court has said you need to supervise this individual and that person has put this person on probation and says that you all need to both treat and supervise this individual and keep the victim safe. Do I have that right?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: That’s right.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay and do we involve people coming out of the prison system who are either on probation or mandatory supervision? Do we have, are they involved in the Domestic Violence Unit?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes, that’s correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, so again we have parolees, we have people who are mandatorily released which means that they have served their time 85% and now they are out and we have probationers. So we have a wide variety of people. What do we have, about 30 employees doing this?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay and we have how many teams, that’s broken into how many teams.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: They are broken into four teams. So there are three supervision teams and then there is one treatment team.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, we have a lot of the people who are being supervised and treated in the Domestic Violence Unit. Correct?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes

.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, tell me about it. Tell me about your experiences. I mean domestic violence is a very important topic to me. I remember as a young police officer, an awfully long time ago, dealing with domestic violence issues and it scared me half to death. I mean I have never seen my parents fight. My first case involving domestic violence we rode up and there was a woman who answered the door, a neighbor called. She didn’t call and her face was like twice its size. Her husband beat her with a frying pan and I was just floored, I was just appalled over this vicious act against people who supposedly love each other. I have gone to other cases where a man was firing bullets into the wall with his wife on the other side of it. I mean domestic violence is a real issue. It is an insidious issue. It is something that impacts way too many American families. Correct?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes this is correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Tell me about it; tell me about your experiences. How long have you been doing it Princess?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And so, I have been here at CSOSA for eight years. I have been on the treatment team for two going on three years.

LEONARD SIPES: Were you on the supervision side for domestic violence before you worked for the treatment unit?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: I was for five years.

LEONARD SIPES: For five years, so you have been, your entire experience has been involved in domestic violence, right?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Yes it has.

LEONARD SIPES: Right tell me about that. What are your feelings? You have eight years supervising at this point. You have come into direct contact with thousands of people involved in domestic violence cases, right?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Tell me about them.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And so initially it can be a bit overwhelming. Folks come in with different belief systems and it is our job to penetrate those different belief systems. It is our job to help them and arm them with tools that they need in order for them to have healthy relationships. And so part of that is providing them with information about respect, accountability, boundaries, making sure that they are aware of their behaviors. You know domestic violence is something that can be intergenerational you know, it can be something that they witnessed as a child and so therefore they are mimicking the same behaviors that they had seen as children and no one has challenged them to change their behavior. The environments that they surround themselves in also perpetuate that same type of behavior. So it’s our job to give them the information that they need to make changes and have positive and healthy relationships.

LEONARD SIPES: For a lot of individuals Marc, on community supervision that we deal with, for the first time, in many cases for the first time in their lives they’re being told that they can’t do this.

MARC COUNTISS: That is correct. Because as Princess said, a lot of times when we talk about domestic violence, we are talking about something that is a learned behavior, where individuals have gone through different generations learning that and feeling that violence is acceptable and it’s appropriate and this is probably the first time that many of our offenders have been told that this behavior is inappropriate and the fact is, it’s not going to be accepted or tolerated.

LEONARD SIPES: And that is very difficult for a lot of them to accept because they have grown up in households where they have seen domestic violence. They see that as normal. They don’t see it as abnormal. They see it as normal behavior, the right to strike your wife or the right to strike your husband is a normal action that there is nothing wrong with it.

MARC COUNTISS: Right and typically we get a lot of resistance. We get a lot of defenses when individuals come to us for services because it goes against their core really. It goes against the belief systems and our challenge is to dispute these irrational beliefs and show them that there are healthier ways and more appropriate ways of being in a relationship.

LEONARD SIPES: There are times where you have to say, “You can’t do that. You cannot continue this behavior. It is not only wrong, it is not only illegal, it is just flat out unacceptable and you can’t do it.” and I have talked to different people who have worked for our agency throughout the years, again Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and I should remind the audience throughout the country that we are a federally funded parole and probation agency serving Washington DC so that will give people a context in terms of when I say talk to our people. But I have talked to people on the domestic, in the Domestic Violence Unit for years and they have told me that it is very difficult sometimes to get through to the individuals who we supervise. “You can’t do this its wrong and I am going to try to give you the tools that you need to understand how you can respond appropriately to your loved one in the future.” Correct?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct. And so the beauty of facilitating groups is that there are peer groups and so there are folks in the grope that are just like, you know, they’re all alike in a sense, you know, a lot of them come from the same backgrounds. They have been charged with similar offences, and so when they challenge one another it is authentic. You know it is something that they can appreciate and that they can respect as appose to a facilitator whose life and walks of life and background is quite different from theirs. And so that is the beauty of facilitating a group and allowing the peers in the group to challenge each other and let them know that, you know, what you are doing is wrong and these are ways that you can change things. Yes this is; you know I was arrested for this but these are ways that I can change my behavior. These are some of the things that you can arm yourself with to change your behavior as well.

LEONARD SIPES: Now, we have individuals there who don’t do well under supervision and we do have to talk about the supervision process. One of the things that we here at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency are dedicated to is a twofold process of both supervision and assistance. So you guys are in the assistance part of it, in terms of running the groups to try using the Duluth model I think it is which is a nationally understood, nationally known model of dealing with people who are in domestic violence case loads; but at that same time we do supervise them and we do hold them accountable for their behavior. So if there is a court order saying that you have got to stay away from your wife and you have to give, what’s the boundary for a typical protective order for a female involved in domestic violence or a woman, a victim involved in domestic violence, what is it?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: So that person would have to stay 100 feet away from the person, away from the school, child care, home, place of employment. Those are some of the boundaries that they would have.

LEONARD SIPES: Right, okay so we can actually, if we find that they are violating that or coming close to violating that we can put them on GPS tracking, Global Position System Tracking so we can keep track of their whereabouts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I am not saying that somebody is looking at a computer monitor but we do come in and look at where he has been and where she has been and we can tell whether or not they are violating that restraining order correct?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes that’s correct. The GPS is another tool that we can use to help assist us in victim safety. We also do periodic case staffing, if we find that an individual is having difficulty remaining in compliance or following the stay away order so we are always meeting with the offender as well as the victim in the cases to make sure that we are doing what we can to make sure that she remains safe.

LEONARD SIPES: Now it is 90% to my knowledge and correct me if I’m wrong, I am not asking you for exact numbers, but my experience has been 90% of the victims of domestic violence are women. Am I correct, for our particular case load? So we are talking about the overwhelming majority of cases men battering women.

MARC COUNTISS: Yes. Right.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, they could be married. They could be cohabitating, they could be dating but they are intimate with each other. They are not strangers to each other. This is not a stranger to stranger crime. This is the people who do know each other and have had a relationship with each other.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Yes, but I also want to make it clear that we also have female batterers groups and so females are also perpetrators of domestic violence.

LEONARD SIPES: Right and for those groups we have women who need to be given the same message that they cannot batter. That it is inappropriate and wrong and they can’t do it.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Do we find that women pick up on this better than the men, worse than the men, same thing.

MARC COUNTISS: I would say both men and women have some of the same belief systems so we have to make sure that we are challenging both those beliefs as well because when you talk about it being learnt behavior sometimes men learn that violence is acceptable as well as women learn the same thing.

LEONARD SIPES: But you know that is the interesting part of this. We are not talking about somebody who decides to commit an act, say, use drugs and its episodic and it happens every once in a while and that is a decision a person makes at 14, 17, 25 whatever. This is ingrained in that individual, in many cases, if not mostly all cases throughout their lives. This is something that is part and parcel to their own personality, part and parcel to their own makeup. So convincing them that this is not something that they can do, should do, convincing them that it is wrong takes a lot of doing does it not?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And it does and we focus a lot on you know, changing that behavior. Talking about the flip side, well it is still the Duluth model but the equality wheel. We talk about respect, accountability. We talk about responsible parenting but we also talk about consequences. You know, the consequences of your actions led you to CSOSA, and so we defiantly talk about, you know, your actions can result in incarceration, can result in you being away from your friends and family that you love and so we defiantly talk about the outcome of your behaviors.

LEONARD SIPES: And we are not going to hesitate, if he violates the order, we go back to the judge. If he provides problems for us or her, if they don’t meet the stipulations of their supervision under our agency, we can take them back to the parole commission, we can take them back to the courts and they can go back to prison or go to prison.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct.

LEONARD SIPES: I mean that’s a very serious consequence if they do not meet their mandate.

MARC COUNTISS: Yes it is.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay we drug test them as well do we not?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay I’m finding throughout my career that drugs and alcohol are heavily connected, correlated to domestic violence. Am I right or wrong?

MARC COUNTISS: This is true. A lot of the individuals that come to our program do have histories of alcohol use and drug abuse. However, we have to be very careful when we are looking at this issue of substance abuse because we don’t want to get to a point where we start to rationalize or justify an individual’s behavior and say that this is why they were violent or abusive, because they were on drugs or because they were drinking because it is often times that individuals are drinking and they are not violent or abusive. So we don’t want to give them an excuse to say this is why they became violent.

LEONARD SIPES: Right, but we do drug test them do we not? I mean we do test them for drugs and alcohol and that is often at times can be another factor that we have to deal with in terms of their, shall I say the word recovery. There are adjustments that we have to deal with. There are substance abuse issues, do we not?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. And so we do either refer them out to other agencies or if they are serious enough we take care of it ourselves here within Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. What about mental health problems? Over a third of our case load has had histories of mental health issues. So I am trying to, I guess, provide layers of the complexity of what it is you have to do because you have to deal with mental health issues as well as substance abuse issues, as well as something that they thought was appropriate behavior.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And that is true, you know, as being on the Domestic Violence Intervention Team we have a treatment program that is specifically geared towards those that have mental health diagnosis and so one of the things that we do, we use the same curriculum but we defiantly take things in a different direction for them based on their mental health illness.

LEONARD SIPES: We are more than half way through the program. We are doing a program today on domestic violence and the way that we do it here in the District of Columbia but it represents efforts from throughout the United States in terms of parole and probation agencies. We have two people by our microphones today: Princess McDuffie, she is a Community Supervision Officer, again, what other agencies, virtually all other agencies in the United States call Parole and Probation Unit that she is with the Domestic Violence Intervention Program and we have Marc Countess. He is a Community Supervision Officer with the Domestic Violence Intervention Program www.csosa.gov is the website for the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency.

And we just did a program with the Superior Court here in the District of Columbia on the issue of domestic violence just a couple of weeks ago and I will put in the links to that show as well to give the listeners a comprehensive overview of what we do. We had the judge who was in charge of the Domestic Violence Program for the Superior Court. He was very complementary of CSOSA. Their program is special. They have two intake units throughout the city. They deal with close to 100 cases of domestic violence a day which I found astounding and they work with a lot of agencies including ourselves to try to provide services to individuals because people come to us with employment issues, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, child care issues and so we try, they and we try to do wrap around services to try to get that individual in as many services as possible to stabilize their situation right or wrong?

MARC COUNTISS: That’s correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Tell me about it.

MARC COUNTISS: There has to be a coordinated community response to domestic violence. The courts can’t handle it alone, intervention programs cannot handle it alone, victim servicers programs can’t handle it alone. We have to work in conjunction with each other to make sure that individuals are receiving the services that are necessary.

LEONARD SIPES: Right. Now on a community supervision side again we are, I mentioned GPS before, I mentioned drug testing. We are in constant contact with this individual in the community are we not, on the supervision side?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: We are.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, and so we are going and making home visits, sometimes unannounced home visits. We meet with them in the office so it’s just not you guys who are working on the treatment side, there are people within our agency who are concurrently supervising that person, making sure that they are not engaged in any other nefarious actives out there in the community. Correct?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct. And even on the supervision and treatment side, you know, we make sure that there is a coordinated response when things do happen. While we may not discuss in detail about the group process and what is talked about there, you know if we feel like someone may be in imminent harm or danger we will make contact with the supervision officer and we will have a coordinated effort to make sure that the victim isn’t being re-victimized.

LEONARD SIPES: And we are also working with law enforcement agencies, specifically in our case the Metropolitan Police Department, but there are lots of other law enforcement agencies in the District of Columbia, they are the principal, by far, law enforcement agency but we will work with law enforcement agencies to coordinate the response and to pick up intelligent because often at times that law enforcement officer will contact us and say, “You know that person who beat up his wife, I saw him on the corner making noise and obviously he was, you know, drunk and neighbors were complaining so I’m passing that information along to you guys so you can take appropriate action.” That happens as well does it not?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: That’s correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay so all the agencies are suppose to be working together to protect the victim and make sure that the offender gets the services he or she needs.

MARC COUNTISS: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, how do you feel about this, by the way? I am going to ask you the same questions I asked a Superior Court Judge you know, how do you feel after years of dealing with folks in the Domestic Violence Unit? I mean that’s got to take its toll on you personally as members of this agency.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: It does at times but it’s one of those things where you want to make sure that the person who is the perpetrator is getting what he or she needs so that ultimately they can have a healthy family, a healthy life. Making sure that their children even recognize that there has been some changes in Mom and Dad because they have the tools that they need to be successful and be healthy.

LEONARD SIPES: Now I would imagine that an awful lot of these cases, if not the majority of these cases do involve kids, do they not Marc?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes they do.

LEONARD SIPES: Right so you’re talking about a man and a women, we are talking about kids, we are talking about in many cases substance abuse, mental health problems, in some cases joblessness, again we are not making excuses for those people who batter but we are saying these are realities of what it is you have to deal with. Correct?

MARC COUNTISS: Yes, what we have to do is we have to make sure that when individuals come to our groups that they know that this offence not only impacts them and the victim it also has an impact on their children, it has an impact on society and our community and to let them know that there are healthier ways of managing conflict and dealing with dispute. So it’s an ongoing battle and struggle to get this across because normally individuals may not get it the first time. So that’s why our groups are approximately 22 weeks long. And so over that time individuals get an opportunity to practice their skills and utilize the tools and normally their defenses become lessened and they embrace more of the information.

LEONARD SIPES: Well they have to come to grips with this because it just doesn’t affect them it affects their spouse, it affects their kids. I mean if we can intervene here at this level and straighten it out and make sure that the kids understand that what Dad did or what Mom did is wrong by involving them in the process, we could be putting a stop to, Princess, you mentioned something that is often at times intergenerational. This is something that has been going on for decades and sometimes grandparents and parents and kids are all part of the same spectrum.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And that is correct and part of it is making sure that the parents are armed with what they need to be armed with so that it then trickles down to the children and so we can stop the cycle of abuse. We have to make sure that they are implementing the concepts that we are talking about when we are talking about, you know, isolation – what does that mean? Have you seen this done before. How can we prevent those types of things? And again we talk about consequences. What are the consequences of your actions? Making sure folks are held accountable for what they have done and taken ownership of what they have done.

LEONARD SIPES: Well I think that you guys probably have one of the toughest beats I can possibly imagine because when I was a police officer I said to myself, you know there is no way I could handle this sort of thing day in, day out. There was just no way, it was too traumatic. Give me an armed robbery, give me a terrible automobile accident, give me anything besides seeing people who supposedly love each other, destroy each other and to see that the kids are involved in it at the same time. For me it was very emotional. I found it to be probably the most difficult thing that I handled beside you know a fatal accident or somebody dying, the probably most difficult thing I had to handle as a police officer. That is why I was asking you how does it impact you directly as people.

MARC COUNTISS: It does have a direct impact on us but it is also important that we as facilitators, we as community supervision officers make sure that we take care of ourselves as well, so self care is a big part of it, dealing with this level of stress, this level of secondary trauma. So it is important that we do the things that are necessary to take care of ourselves.

LEONARD SIPES: Do we, I’m assuming we have our fair share of victories. I’m assuming we have our fair share of individuals who come to grips with the fact that they can’t do this and understand the impact that it is having on the kids and understand the impact that it’s having on their spouse or their loved one? That’s got to be gratifying at the same time when they finally come to grips with, they can’t do this. Now they understand the damage that they have done. Now they own up to it and now they are looking for ways to end this pattern.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And so in treatment like Marc said. They are 22 weeks with us. I mean that is just shy of six months on a weekly basis for an hour and a half. You meet with us, we have a group. And so as Marc also said initially they are resistant, you know they are defensive, they don’t want to talk about the issue. They want to blame everybody else. But you notice some change talk within those 22 weeks. You notice them coming around. You notice them, you know, being accountable for what they did. You notice them saying, “You know what I am responsible for what happened. I am responsible for being here in this setting but there are some things that I can do to change that and this is what I am going to do.” and so that is the beauty of the treatment process in that you can see someone who was very resistant start to change, start to accept responsibility and say, you know, today is a new day and I am going to do things differently.

LEONARD SIPES: Do they really apologize to their kids? Do they really apologize to their spouse for their behavior?

MARC COUNTISS: In some cases where they may have contact with that individual there is a portion where they can make amends. When we talk about accepting responsibility and acknowledging it and being able to apologies and say that they are sorry. So in the event that there is a stay away order in place we don’t advise it. However, if an individual still maintains contact or sees their children, we recommend that the individual apologize and they try to make things right.

LEONARD SIPES: And in the program in terms of the courts that we did that there are safe places where the batterer can come into contact with his kids, that is being supervised by the courts or supervised by us, where they can interact with their kids and the victim does not have to worry. Correct?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: That is correct, the visitation center.

LEONARD SIPES: So there is all sorts of contact that is still going on even though a protective order may be in place but it’s a supervised, safe place for the victim?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Now we deal with same sex couples as well.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Yes, we do.

LEONARD SIPES: And is there anything different in terms of same sex couples?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: No the curriculum is the same.

MARC COUNTISS: And really when we look at the dynamics of domestic violence, you find a lot of similarities whether they are same sex couples or not.

LEONARD SIPES: Young adults, we have younger individuals on our case loads and they have been involved in acts of domestic violence. I would imagine dealing with the younger folks as a bit more difficult than dealing with the older folks. Am I right or wrong?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: There are challenges. There are definitely challenges when you talk about age, the difference in age. And so what the facilitators tend to do is to use some of the things that pertain to that particular population and so whether that is pulling something out of the headlines, whether that is music. We use the Duluth model but we also try to use some different things so that it’s relatable.

LEONARD SIPES: But I would image especially with younger people but I think it crosses over to everybody involved, that we do have the music, we do have the culture. I am amazed when I listen to music, of music that does, almost encourage violence towards women, movies, television shows, sometimes I feel that they are not just getting the wrong message from their upbringing they are getting the wrong message from society as well.

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And that is correct. And what we try to do is personalize it. You know, would you want that going on with your Mom or your sister? We try to make sure that we speak to them in a way that you know, they can understand. Speak to them in their culture, in their language, making sure that they understand the consequences of their actions.

LEONARD SIPES: But we’re trying so hard to provide services and instruction so that they can straighten out their lives, so that they can understand that it is wrong but again I do want to emphasis that if that does not work we will go back to court and we will go back to the Parole Commission and say, “I think this person needs to be off the streets.” If that person violates the protective order we take a look at our GPS coordinates, we hear from police that he is in the area. We can put him back; we can put him in prison or put him back in prison, correct?

PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Well we can take them before the judge and have the judge make that recommendation.

LEONARD SIPES: Right we don’t do it but we have to take them to the judge and we have to take them to the Parole Commission so the bottom line is that we will do it if necessary but we will do, we will take all steps necessary to try to convince them that they need to straighten out their path. Correct?

MARC COUNTISS: Correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright, I want to thank both of you for being on the program today. I can’t think of anything more difficult than the domestic violence beat and I want to personally thank both of you and everybody in this agency and parole and probation agencies throughout the county that are dealing with domestic violence victims. Ladies and Gentleman our program today has been on domestic violence here in the District of Columbia and again I think it is very typical what we discussed today happening throughout the country. This is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Our guests today have been Princess McDuffie and Marc Countiss, again they are with my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very, pleasant day.

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Domestic Violence in Washington, DC, Superior Court

Domestic Violence in Washington, DC, Superior Court

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

Radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/09/domestic-violence-washington-dc-superior-court/

LEONARD SIPES: From the Nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I am your host Leonard Sips. Ladies and gentleman today’s show is on Domestic Violence it’s a hot topic in the news. We wanted to explore what is happening here in the nation’s capital. We have three principals sitting before our microphones today. Jose Lopez is a Judge he is the Judge, the presiding Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit a position that he has for several years now. We have William Agosto he is the Director of the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit which means he supervises all staff within the unit and we have Natalia Otero, she is with DC Safe and Advocacy group, one of the partners in the two Domestic Violence Intake Centers and we want to thank you all for being here. Judge Lopez, William Agosto, Natalia Otero welcome to DC Public Safety.

JOSE LOPEZ: Pleased to be here.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: I’m pleased to be here.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright, I’m really happy for you gentlemen and Natalia for you to be here today because you know domestic violence is a hot topic in the news, it is something that is of extreme concern but before we get into the gist of the show Judge Lopez just give me a sense of the Domestic Violence Court within the Superior Court here in the District of Columbia.

JOSE LOPEZ: Well it’s a specialized unit with four judge’s handling cases. The civil, restraining orders and the criminal cases and we have fantastic staff, well organized and we do about five thousand criminal civil restraining order cases a year and about three thousand criminal cases a year.

LEONARD SIPES: Five thousand restraining orders and three thousand criminal cases that is eight thousand cases in one city for domestic violence and those are just the cases that are reported to law enforcement.

JOSE LOPEZ: That is correct. I mean the DC police department gets about 90 calls a day for domestic violence.

LEONARD SIPES: 90 calls a day that is an amazing amount of calls.

JOSE LOPEZ: It’s tremendous.

LEONARD SIPES: So domestic violence is an issue here for us within the District of Columbia.

JOSE LOPEZ: It is a big issue.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright and you have been presiding over this court for how long Judge Lopez?

JOSE LOPEZ: It’s been about seven years.

LEONARD SIPES: That’s a long time and that has got to take its toll on you after hearing at this point thousands of cases.

JOSE LOPEZ: Well it doesn’t take a toll in a negative sense I guess it shows me the challenge that we are presented and the difficulty that we have with domestic violence and the need for further education of the community.

LEONARD SIPES: And this is one of the reasons why we are doing the program. William Agosto the director of the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit. Give me a sense William as to what it is that you do in terms of the Superior Court as as it pertains to domestic violence.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: In the DV Unit we process the cases. We create the calendars for the Judges. We schedule people to be able to get before the court and that happens when somebody comes in with an emergency request to see a Judge that same day and a couple of weeks later when they return to get an order that would last for an extended period of time.

LEONARD SIPES: So in terms of the protective orders your, it is up to you to handle the administrative structure to quickly get that protective order and that is a huge responsibility.

JOSE LOPEZ: Correct. It is one that we take very seriously.

LEONARD SIPES: So if that request for a protective order comes in at 4’o clock in the afternoon you guys have got to scramble to make sure that it happens.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: Yes sir.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright and that is an amazing responsibility.

LEONARD SIPES: Natalia Otero your DC Safe give me a sense as to what DC Safe does and your part in this partnership.

NATALIA OTERO: Yes of course DC Safe is the 24 hour crisis intervention agency here in the District of Columbia and we are charged with being available to domestic violence that person and to any first responder and to the court. We have a program that is called The Legality Assessment Program that allows us to try to find the percent of the population that is more at risk for homicide or re-assault and once we identify this percentage of the population we attempt to partner with government and non government agencies to provide expedited services so we go ride-alongs with the Metropolitan Police Department. We have a response line for people to call in. We are able to provide emergency assistance with the Courts with filing either emergency orders or civil protections orders. We attend Court every single day with clients. We are also able to actually house people within an hour of a violent incident and crisis shelter which is another important aspect of safety along with the court and the criminal justice piece of it.

LEONARD SIPES: You know it is so common throughout the United States to have domestic violence cases fall through the cracks and I am not being patronizing because you are sitting in front of me and because I am part of the DC Criminal Justice System but in the District of Columbia ordinarily and especially as it applies to the Superior Court again I am not simply being complementary, I want people out there to know that ordinarily the Superior Court does it well. It doesn’t matter what topic it is, whether its drug court other specialty courts, the domestic violence court it sounds as if between yourself, Judge Lopez and William and Natalia you have got it pretty much figured out in terms of how to process a massive number of domestic violence cases that come to the courts attention.

JOSE LOPEZ: We put significant emphasis on client’s service and we are constantly struggling to make sure that every case that comes in that door for an emergency order will be seen by a judge that very same day for safety reasons.

LEONARD SIPES: And that is important and that doesn’t happen throughout the rest of the country. So what we do in the District of Columbia we take for granted but I think we do set a bit of a standard for what is happening throughout the country in terms of Domestic Violence am I right or wrong William.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: You are correct particularly the development of partnerships that we have created with different stake holders in the community and other agencies making sure that we all work together to have a coordinated response to domestic violence.

LEONARD SIPES: Now I want to get into our personal perceptions on this just for a second. You know a lifetime ago when I was with the Maryland State Police I went to, well it was my first exposure to a domestic violence case, went to a domestic violence case and the woman opened the door and her head was twice its size. There was blood running down her. A neighbor had called and the victim insisted that we not take her husband, not remove her husband from that house and it was obvious battery and as far as I was concerned it was an aggravated assault with is a felony. I was so affected by that. I never saw my parents fight, let alone hit each other and I remembered that from hence forth every domestic violence case that I would ever go on and one of them involved a shooting, an attempted shooting. These are terrible tragic events in the lives of human beings. We say the words domestic violence and I am not quite sure it really carries the true impact as to how destructive this act is. So I just wanted, for three people who have been involved with the issue of domestic violence for years, and years, and years, give me Judge Lopez I am going to start off with you, how does it affect you after all these years on the bench.

JOSE LOPEZ: Well I have learned a lot about what domestic violence is and you know what those cases with the bloody head, those are minimal compared to those that you don’t see any blood and there is a lot of human suffering, there are a lot of destroyed families, there are a lot of depressed children and depressed family members and go out onto the street every day and just don’t have a solution to their problem. And like that lady who would not her husband arrested, we have the complexity that there is a certain attachment and its difficult for them to just get him out of the house or to have his arrested because they are interdependent with each other so that creates a greater complexity in those cases.

LEONARD SIPES: This is something that has an enormous impact not just on the victim but the victim’s family, the larger community. It is not unusual at all to have kids involved. William let me ask you the same question. You have been working this beat for quite some time do you every just get frustrated at the larger issue of why people batter other people.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: Of course it can be frustrating but we have to keep in mind domestic violence cases are crimes committed against a vulnerable individual. A crime is a crime. We need to make sure that we do not forget domestic violence is not a different action but we have to make sure that we look at them as crimes. That people don’t forget that. These individuals are related the act that is committed needs to be treated and handled as a crime.

LEONARD SIPES: Natalia okay you’re with DC Safe you specialize in domestic violence cases certainly you have an opinion on all of this.

NATALIA OTERO: Yes I think what is important really and I think something that Judge Lopez said kind of when you speak about this and that is in addition to the complexities to the relationship there is also a complexities and how many systems a victim may have to access in order to make herself safe and we have to be sure that we are keeping our word and like William said this is a crime ultimately and the important thing is to make sure that we have the appropriate multidisciplinary response to it because what happens when a victim reaches out and she finally is ready but the abuser might be knocking on her door the next day because he was released or it has to be dealt with on multiple levels not only through the courts but through the Criminal Justice System and to all organizations that provide supportive services and housing for these victims and the children.

LEONARD SIPES: But this is a process oftentimes and I am going to be stereotypical here but I believe it to be true, mostly male perpetrators against female victims although I do know that women can and do batter men, that this is something that’s ordinarily taken place over a course of months or years. This is something that she ordinarily has had to suffer through for a long time until the point where somebody actually calls the police whether it be a neighbor, whether it be a friend or whether it be herself. This is something that is filled with emotion a long term event and something that again, once again is really devastating not only to generally speaking the female victim but the kids involved and it is not unusual for kids to be involved. Natalia I am going to let you continue with that answer.

NATALIA OTERO: Yes I definitely think that that is something that feeds into the response that a victim has about their own abuse but also their own perception of risk and that is really important because we are not in the relationship and I think it is also kind of crucial to understand that there are factors there that are creating a situation where the victim is thinking that they need to, that they are mitigating the situation and a lot of times that has to do with not involving the police. We are acquiescing to certain things with you know keeping, maybe like walking on egg shells so to speak but they are mitigating their risk with their responses and sometimes the way that the mitigate the risk does not make sense to an outside person.

LEONARD SIPES: This is a very overwhelming event in the life of that victim. I mean this is something that is almost paralyzing people always ask me why doesn’t she leave. This is a very paralyzing event. There are kids involved, there are economics involved, th her own safety involved and so I want to take some of the pressure off a victims a tad to say that often at times again its paralyzing and generally speaking the female victim just doesn’t know what to do. Your honor did you want to take a crack at that?

JOSE LOPEZ: well that is just the most significant point of it all. The victim, especially the female victim usually is not so much that she doesn’t know what to do it is that she is juggling all these things and trying to balance the safety of herself, the economics of her situation, the safety of her children and she is making the best decision she can under those heavy duty emotional circumstances and it takes a very long time to finally get a clear head to say I must leave this relationship.

LEONARD SIPES: The bottom line and the question goes out to all three of you. The bottom line is that we want anybody who has any information about domestic violence to get involved in reporting it to law enforcement so then the Superior Court and any court throughout the United States can take appropriate action right. We desperately want people to report acts of domestic violence.

JOSE LOPEZ: Appropriate action is correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay I hear you, hear you loud and clear. Alright within the District of Columbia I complemented you all before. You have two Domestic Violence Intake Centers how do they work, what happens William?

WILLIAM AGOSTO: We have one at the Superior Court it is a conglomerate of agencies, Community Agencies and Government Agencies that provide services to the individual when they come to Court. Particularly those in intimate partner relationships and they get assistance with preparing their paper work, talking to the police, talking to the prosecutor, requesting support, they get services from the advocacy group that Ms. Otero belongs or they will conduct a lethality assessment try to determine how lightly this person is to eventually be harmed further by the respondent. We will also talk to them about safety planning, give them referrals for different agencies that provide either counseling, legal assistance, housing and lately some new partners have joined in who will help with doing a forensic medical examination getting some photographs and preparing the evidence for future hearing and another agencies working with victims that have problems of mental health when they come to visit us.

LEONARD SIPES: So you have specialists in all different areas whether it be forensic, mental health, assistance with child related issues, you have those specialists there to immediately provide assistance to the victim when he or she comes into the Domestic Violence Court.

JOSE LOPEZ: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: That’s amazing; I mean, again most jurisdictions throughout the United States don’t have those resources and the process in the Court room do all cases go before a Judge or do all cases go to trial.

JOSE LOPEZ: No, not all cases go to trial. We have what is called attorney negotiators so when the parties come to court for the first time we attempt to negotiate a civil protection order by agreement and in many cases we will go into an agreement for a civil protection for 12 months. Some few cases will need to go to trial and the judges are prepared to take them to trial.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, now the civil protection order says what to the perpetrator?

JOSE LOPEZ: Well the civil Protection Order which is in effect a restraining order it tells the perpetrator that you may not assault, threaten or harass or stalk the petitioner and you shall stay about from the petitioner at least 100 feet away from her home, work place and also if he needs drug treatment or any mental health treatment that also is in there. If in fact a shared residence we also say to him that he must vacate the residence for safety reasons.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay so there is mental health treatment involved, substance abuse treatment involved, we very specifically say what you can do and what you can’t do and those orders I think are supported by my agency Court Service and Offenders Supervision Agency as well as the Court itself.

JOSE LOPEZ: Yes your agency is extremely helpful in this respect because they monitor the compliance with a civil protection order which is one of the few jurisdictions that has that luxury and so they even have vocational training for some of the people that need it and if they don’t go to the mental health or the drug treatment CSOSA the Court Services Agency will inform us about it so we can bring the case to court to try to correct the issue.

LEONARD SIPES: And if necessary we can put that person on GPS monitoring and monitor that persons whereabouts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and figure out whether or not he is violating that order.

JOSE LOPEZ: Correct.

LEONARD SIPES: And if he violates that order we immediately bring that case to the attention of the Court.

NATALIA OTERO: Right I think, oh sorry. There is another step that CSOSA is actually working on directly with DC Safe it is part of the lethality assessment project. Let’s say that a victim calls the police or somebody calls the police. The police comes out realizes that it’s a domestic case; they call us immediately we send somebody out to meet with the client and provide immediate services and lethality assessment. We then are providing information with the clients request to CSOSA and saying this is a high lethality case. They can then turn around and say o well that particular person is already under supervision and we have certain that then they can respond to so we are talking care of working with the client and providing those expedited services and they are on the other end dealing with the person that is supervising in terms of not only holding them accountable but also in some cases making them aware that they know and creating kind of an intervention plan for the perpetrator in the hope that that will create a broader safety net for the victim.

LEONARD SIPES: We are more than half way through the program Ladies and Gentleman. We are doing a program today on Domestic Violence here in the nation’s capital in Washington DC. We have three people before our microphones Judge Jose Lopez he is the presiding Judge at the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit. He has been there for seven years. William Agosto he is the Director of the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit which means he makes sure that all things happen at all times and we have Natalia Otero and she is with DC Safe and Advocacy Group that is one of the partners in the domestic violence program. If you are interested in the work of the Superior Court in the District of Columbia probably one of the better court systems in the United States and after 45 years in the criminal justice system I can think I can say that with authority www.dccourts.gov. We want to thank the Superior Court for setting up this program specifically Leah Gurowitz. Okay ladies and gentlemen where do we need to take this discussion now the civil protection order has been issued? We are talking about all the different agencies that are involved. We are talking about my agency Court Services and Offender Supervision Agencies, lots of other agencies. In essence what we are trying to do is provide a comprehensive resource for again I am being stereotypical here; men are victimized by domestic violence but generally speaking, its female victims. What we are trying to do is provide a comprehensive array of programs for the victim and for the perpetrator at the same time correct.

JOSE LOPEZ: Correct because one of the things that we need to do is to get that education to the perpetrator to avoid recidivism from the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, family training, parenting classes and so forth.

LEONARD SIPES: You know we have individuals within our community and in any community throughout the United States so it is not just an issue for Washington DC who feels that they have a perfect right to strike their victim, to strike either their child or their wife or their husband. That this is something, for whatever reason, I’m not going to say with cultural, I’m not going to say anything. I simply know that there are men who feel that they have the right to strike a woman and sometimes this is maybe the first time in their lives where they are facing authority figures who are saying you can’t do that and a lot of times there are drugs involved and a lot of times there is alcohol involved.

JOSE LOPEZ: Oh yes and it’s a generational thing, it is an educational thing. You know one generation after another generation educating each other that violence is correct, the violence upon the children and violence upon the women is correct and so it is extremely difficult to get that out of their head. That is destroying the family, not only the victim but also the perpetrator.

LEONARD SIPES: There is a lot of people suggesting that domestic violence or getting into child abuse and neglect is the heart and soul of many of the problems that we have within the criminal justice system if that nine-year-old is raised and sees him mother being beaten that almost leaves an indelible mark upon his psyche for the rest of his life.

JOSE LOPEZ: That becomes normal for that child.

LEONARD SIPES: Yes William did you want to.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: And it seems to all be rooted in the sense that this is different, that if you hit your partner it is different than you hit somebody on the street and culturally we must make sure that people understand an assault to one of your loved ones is as problematic and is as wrong as an assault to a stranger.

LEONARD SIPES: Absolutely, alright we have crime victim’s compensation program. We have the Court Supervised Visitation Center; these are all components of the Superior Court in terms of Domestic Violence. Tell me what those mean.

JOSE LOPEZ: The supervised Visitation Center is using those cases where parties share children and the victim would not feel safe having the respondent, the abuser come into their presence, either pick up the children at their home or a mutually agreed location. So the court provides a neutral location where the victim can drop off the children. The respondent can come by and see the children in the presence of a social worker for a few hours a week so that relationship between the child and the other parent continues or in cases where maybe it is not necessary to keep that parent from keeping the child with them. They can take the child but they can use that location for pick up and drop off of those children.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright and what is the other program the Crime Victims Compensation Program. There is the possibility that because they are a victim of a violent crime they can be compensated for some of the expenses they had going into that victimization correct?

JOSE LOPEZ: Often you have a victim of domestic violence by leaving a relationship they are going to leave behind their positions and their resources and other times there is also concern that the respondent is going to come back to the location where they know where they can be found. The Crime Victims Compensation program can provide temporary housing at locations that are confidential. The can provide assistance with medical expenses. They can provide assistance with counseling for the victim. They can also help with getting yourself set up in a new place eventually after you have gone through this process and for those that want to remain at their own home they may be able to help you, for example the door was broken down by the respondent. They may be able to replace that door; to make sure that you place is secure.

LEONARD SIPES: I realize that I may have over played my hand in terms of my praise of the Superior Courts Program because there are going to be people listening to this program throughout the United States and beyond the United States. These services in one way shape or form are available throughout the United States generally speaking, so I do the message to domestic violence victims in Utah, in Montana, in California is to still find out what is available to you by contacting your prosecutors office, contacting law enforcement or contacting your local domestic violence center. Natalia saying all that what is the biggest hurdle for getting victims to come forward and seek help.

NATALIA OTERO: Wow, I think obviously every case is different and I think both the Judge Lopez and William can vouch for the fact that they can be radically different because things might be going on. I think the biggest hurdle really is information and I really think coordination of services. We find that when the victim is provided immediate tangible assistance within the first 24 hours they are more likely to move forward with criminal cases. They are more likely to move forward with the protection order hearing because at least within those first 24 hours those tangible needs about shelter and safety are being met.

LEONARD SIPES: By, I’m sorry go ahead please.

NATALIA OTERO: I think the next big hurdle is then kind of thinking about how do I get myself in a stable situation in the aftermath of this. What does that mean for me? Am I now being connected to other agencies in the City like the Department of Housing or am I having, you know there is a lot of things that go into becoming stable and there is so many different government entities that are sometimes involved in this.

LEONARD SIPES: But the bottom line is a lot of people out there take a look at those of us in government and they don’t have the highest opinion of us. I have taken a look at some of the surveys and I think the point is, is that I think especially when it comes to victim services, especially when it comes to victim services, especially when it comes to domestic violence but in all other cases I would say but especially in these two cases we do care. There are people within DCC. There are people at the highest level within the Superior Courts. There are people at the highest level throughout this country who want women and those men who are victims but particularly women especially with children to come forward and they are going to receive a caring response, not a bureaucratic response, not a harsh response but they are going to be embraced by the Criminal Justice System. Judge Lopez.

JOSE LOPEZ: Oh yes and one of the things that we try very hard is training our judges, training our staff to understand it. To understand when an angry person comes to you don’t let it be contagious because they are not angry at you they are angry at their situation and we are prepared to deal with it and work with them and show them that we care.

LEONARD SIPES: Natalia we have got only about a minute left in the program. Again I would imagine the people there at DC Safe are not there to get rich, they are there because they are passionate about serving victims of domestic violence and victims of crime.

NATALIA OTERO: Yes that is correct. We are a non-profit agency and we have over 25 employees that are very committed to the work all from different fields, from law to criminal justice, to women studies and I think the most important thing that we are trying to accomplish really is to be able to create kind of an all encompassing safety net for victims and creating a situation where when a victim does reach out that they get the assistance that they need the first time around and that it is something that is coordinated and responsive to not only the needs of herself and the children but also the friend or accountability on the other piece and it takes an entire system of people and an entire continuum to be able to provide these services.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay Natalia you have got the final word. I think the bottom line between everybody in this room and you via Skype Natalia is that there is hope for that person who is being abused and the criminal justice system is really geared up to help that individual. So I want to thank everybody who has been on our microphones today, Judge Jose Lopez, William Agosto and Natalia Otero. Thank you all for being here ladies and gentlemen thank you for listening to us. This is DC Public Safety we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Human Trafficking-The Urban Institute

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is http://media.csosa.gov.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/04/human-trafficking-urban-institute/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s show examines human trafficking. Research shows that there’s a common misperception about human trafficking. Most believe that it’s something that happens predominately outside of the US, not in our own backyards. Research from the Urban Institute tells us why so many human trafficking cases slip through the justice system and where new efforts could make a difference. Our guest today is Colleen Owens. She is a Research Associate with the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center where she directs several national and international research projects on human trafficking spanning eight countries and five continents. She currently leads a National Institute of Justice study to examine the organization, operation, and victimization of trafficking in the Unites States. Colleen Owens, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Colleen Owens:  Thank you very much for having me.

Len Sipes:  Colleen, this is just an extraordinarily important topic, because as I told you before we hit the record button, I was talking to a friend of mine who said, “What’s the topic of today’s radio show?” and I said, “Human trafficking in the Unites States.” And he said, “Human trafficking in the Unites States; is there human trafficking in the Unites States?” So answer the question for my friend.

Colleen Owens:  Yes, absolutely. There is human trafficking in the United States. I think unfortunately that’s not an uncommon reaction. I think it happens more than people realize. And there are reasons why a lot of people in the United States don’t think that it actually happens here. The way that I often describe it is that it’s sort of hidden in plain sight and that even cases that do come forward and are identified by our criminal justice system will still become hidden in the criminal justice system later on. And we can get into reasons why that is.

Len Sipes:  If you take a look at the research on rape, and it’s something undoubtedly that you have and I know Urban has over the course of years, it’s so underreported. I would imagine this equals that degree of non-reporting.

Colleen Owens:  Exactly. And I think there are differences when you look at sex trafficking versus labor trafficking, both of which happen in the United States, and no community is immune to it. But what we found in our research is that very low percentages of victims actually self-identify and come forward to law enforcement and report themselves as being victimized by labor or sex trafficking, and there are a lot of reasons why that is. So for sex trafficking victims, for example, they might perceive themselves to actually complicit in the crime of prostitution. They might view themselves, instead of being victims, they might view themselves as being criminals, violating our prostitution laws, regardless of the fact that they’re forced or that there’s fraud or coercion used to compel them into that.

Len Sipes:  So they see themselves as vulnerable to the criminal justice system. They don’t see the criminal justice system as being necessarily on their side. They see them as potentially victims of the criminal justice system.

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. That’s part of it, the other issue is, so both US citizen victims as well as foreign nationals in our country are victimized by labor and sex trafficking. And so for US citizen victims they don’t have the issue that, for example, foreign nationals might have where they might be undocumented either prior to the trafficking or as a result of the trafficking they become undocumented, and so they might fear that coming forward would mean that they’d be put in jail for being undocumented.

Len Sipes:  The website for the Urban Institute, www.urban.org. They’ve been before our microphones many times in the past and we hope many times in the future. Look for human trafficking on their website. Colleen, do we have a sense as to the extent of the problem in the United States and throughout the world?

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. Prevalence is the biggest question; it’s also the biggest unanswered question. The best statistics that we actually do have are from the International Labor Organization and they estimate that approximately 21.9 million individuals around the world become victims of labor and sex trafficking.

Len Sipes:  Wait a minute, 21.9 million, so 22 million human beings.

Colleen Owens:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  22 million human beings are victims of sex or labor trafficking.

Colleen Owens:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And explain to me what is sex trafficking and what is labor trafficking.

Colleen Owens:  So there’re a variety of laws, but within the United States our federal law, which is the TVPA, was passed in 2000, it’s been reauthorized several times, and all states now actually have state laws against human trafficking. Sometimes those state laws vary in term of the definition and also the criminalization of human trafficking. But the TVPA, our federal law, defines human trafficking as essentially the use force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into labor or services, and so that can be two broadly different things, so compelling a person into forced labor situations or into forced commercial sex situations.

Len Sipes:  Okay. So we’re talking about, what, principally labor or sex do we know?

Colleen Owens:  I’m sorry.

Len Sipes:  Are we talking about principally people being forced into labor situations or sexual situations or do we know?

Colleen Owens:  We don’t know actually. So there’s what the available statistics tell us, and that is one piece of the puzzle. So the available statistics are few and far between, but when you look at investigations that local, state, federal law enforcement have undertaken into human trafficking, they’re primarily investigations into sex trafficking.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Colleen Owens:  So that might lead some people to believe that sex trafficking is more prevalent. However, through the research that I’ve done and that I’ve done with colleagues from Northeastern University we’ve looked at, we’ve gone into communities and we’ve spoken with criminal justice actors and what we found is that primarily criminal justice actors are operationalizing human trafficking as sex trafficking and mostly sex trafficking of minors. So that means if they are looking for these cases, which is a big if, they’re primarily looking for sex trafficking of minors, and they’re not proactively out there looking for labor trafficking in communities, for the most part.

Len Sipes:  Do we have any sense, with this 22 million worldwide; do we have any sense as to the extent of victimization in the United States?

Colleen Owens:  We really don’t know. We don’t have good statistics on that. There’ve been a few attempts to get an accurate measure that have been unsuccessful. I think like a lot of crimes you’d mentioned earlier, like rape for example –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  It’s unreported.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  And so those that actually do come forward and report cases that go forward in the criminal justice system are always going to be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the prevalence.

Len Sipes:  But feel free to push back –

Colleen Owens:  Sure.

Len Sipes:  If it’s not valid to make this assumption. But is it proper to suggest that out of the 22 million certainly we could say that millions of people in the United States are victims of sex trafficking and labor trafficking, is that possible to extrapolate to the Unites States?

Colleen Owens:  So the International Labor Organization, which came up with that number, estimated that when you look at the United States as well as other EU, or what I think they called industrialized –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  Nations, they estimated that 1.5 million victims of labor and sex trafficking were in those countries.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Colleen Owens:  So within the Unites States we still don’t have a good count of how many victims are in our country.

Len Sipes:  Why is it that – we’re talking about something despicable, we’re talking about something disgusting, we’re talking about I’m assuming female victims.

Colleen Owens:  Both men and women, as well as children.

Len Sipes:  Does one category lead the other?

Colleen Owens:  No. And you do start to see differences when you look at labor trafficking versus sex trafficking. But again, sometimes the numbers that we see are more as a result of investigative priorities and available services and outreach to communities. And that influences who you see coming forward.

Len Sipes:  I’m making the assumption, and quickly tell me where I’m wrong or it’s not supported at all, but the overwhelming majority of what we call the sexual assault problem in the United States is male perpetrators and female victims. I do understand that males are subject to being raped, males are subject to being sexually abused, but it’s principally male perpetrators, female victims. So I can’t make that assumption here?

Colleen Owens:  Well, with sex trafficking what we’ve been seeing is that primarily the offenders been coming forward through the criminal justice system are male, but we’ve seen an increasing trend in female offenders as well.

Len Sipes:  Huh.

Colleen Owens:  And so this is a real grey area for a lot of criminal justice actors. Law enforcement officials that we’ve spoken with have talked about you have a situation where traffickers are victimizing for example female victims and then over a period of time those victims then are sort of groomed in a sense to become offenders. And so they’re used by the trafficker to then recruit other victims and to also enforce the rules and keep the victims compliant. And so they’re sort of in this victim and offender category.

Len Sipes:  So help me put it in perspective, and, again, pushback, because you’ve made, said very clearly that this is very difficult to put numbers and groups regarding this problem within context. But what we are talking about is either labor, and I’m going to stereotype now, tell me where I’m wrong, of where the person works in the house, the person is brought in from another country, the person is recruited within the United States, the person is taken to a house, the person acts as a sort of a servant within the house, or the person is recruited for sexual activities and they’re held in bondage almost and they’re moved from one location to another location. So what we’re talking about is bondage, what we’re talking about is trafficking human beings in the most significant and serious ways. We’re not talking about finding somebody for prostitution. We’re talking about thousands upon thousands of people who are either coming in from outside of the country or being recruited inside of the country for sex bondage or for labor bondage, are we not?

Colleen Owens:  Yes. No. That’s exactly what it is. I mean I think at the root of our trafficking laws, they’re actually rooted in 13th Amendment principles of slavery. And so often you hear human trafficking described as modern day slavery. But really what is at the heart of it is that somebody is being, their labor is being used against their will, that person’s freedom is being denied.

Len Sipes:  I remember reading some of the literature, or the list of the literature that you provided before the program, and the word slavery did come to mind and I’m saying to myself, “Why is the word slavery not in here? Is it too politically incorrect of a word?” I don’t know where to take this topic. I’m trying to be fair and slice it right down the middle. But it strikes me as being disgusting and despicable, and it strikes me as being slavery, it strikes me as human bondage. In the cases that I’ve been exposed to throughout the criminal justice system, I’m going to be stereotypical I suppose, the women involved were held in psychological and physical bondage, they were told that if they left they would be killed, their families would be killed, they would be injured, they were threatened, they felt that they had no place to go. I mean is that what we’re talking about?

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. No. That is definitely part of what we’re talking about. I think another part where sometimes to be honest there is sort of a wide variety of different stakeholders within the anti-trafficking movement. And sometimes what you do see is that there are arguments or discussions about sort of the role of prostitution versus sex trafficking and when does something become trafficking versus when is somebody voluntarily involved in prostitution. And so –

Len Sipes:  Well, is anybody ever voluntarily involved in prostitution?

Colleen Owens:  That’s a good question. It’s sort of what our laws say and how our laws are enforced. But, yeah, I mean that a question that people debate.

Len Sipes:  I mean I know it’s legal in certain areas of the country, but for the vast majority of my exposure throughout my years within the criminal justice system, prostitution has been, I can’t use the word, “If you don’t do this and if you don’t comply with me and if you don’t give me 60% of what it is that you make, I’m going to kill you.”

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. No. That is –

Len Sipes:  I mean that to me is –

Colleen Owens:  That is 100% of trafficking situation.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Colleen Owens:  So it’s that a person is using force, fraud, or coercion. And if you’re under the age of 18 then our laws say that you don’t have to show force fraud or coercion, because the thought is that if you’re under the age of 18 you can’t voluntarily consent to the commercial sex act.

Len Sipes:  All right, are these – I’m sorry, I may have asked this question already – are these outside of the United States coming into the Unites States or recruited within the United States?

Colleen Owens:  So it’s both. So US citizens as well as foreign nationals are both groups that are victimized by human trafficking. So when you look at sex trafficking in the Unites States, US citizen victims are involved. So you have for example runaway homeless youth that are often on the street looking for a place to stay and somebody might approach them and say, “If you do x, y, and z, I’ll give you a place to stay.” And so in our laws actually we say that exchanging anything of value, so it doesn’t actually even have to be money that’s being paid, but offering someone a place to sleep or food to eat can actually be used to coerce a person into sex trafficking.

Len Sipes:  So we’re talking about very vulnerable human beings –

Colleen Owens:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  To begin with, either outside of the United States or inside of the United States. Those vulnerabilities are played on, they’re exploited, and suddenly the person ends up in bondage. And by that I mean a situation that they cannot extract themselves out of and they’re afraid to go to the authorities because they’re afraid that they may be implicated in crimes.

Colleen Owens:  Right. And I think so there’s a really important piece of what you said, this is that they feel that they’re in bondage, and I think that is often a misperception, and you see that really affects cases, even when they go forward, if they go forward in the criminal justice system, which is, well, this victim wasn’t being held in chains, they weren’t locked in a basement, therefore they could’ve left. But understanding the psychological coercion that goes into compelling a person to do things against their will is very important, and our laws protect people against that, but actually proving those cases in court and holding offenders that use primarily psychological means of coercion is very difficult.

Len Sipes:  Okay. We’re going to go back to my original question then in terms of public misperception, in terms what a person asks me about the radio show, the topic of my radio show, and I said human trafficking, and they’re going, “Where?” And I’m saying, “In the United States.” And so, but we’re going to reintroduce you. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today is Colleen Owens. She is a Research Associate with the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center where she directs several national and international research projects on human trafficking. The website for the Urban Institute is www.urban.org. So, Colleen, let’s go back to that question once again. If it is as you describe and if we know that 22 million human beings are involved and within the western industrialized world, the United States, Canada, and the EU, you’re talking about at least one to two million human beings. This is a significant and serious problem in the Unites States that we don’t recognize as a significant and serious problem, correct?

Colleen Owens:  Yes and no. So I think we do recognize it as a significant and serious problem in the sense that so in 2000 we passed a federal, it was the first federal to actually criminalize human trafficking. I should mention that human trafficking is not a new crime; it’s a crime that has existed for –

Len Sipes:  Centuries.

Colleen Owens:  Forever, for centuries.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Colleen Owens:  It’s just a newly defined crime and there are new penalties to combat it. It’s being taken seriously in the United States and many other foreign countries. At the time that the US law was passed this was also the same time that the Palermo Protocol was passed. So this was a sort of international movement to really take this crime seriously and to not only hold offenders accountable, but to create and provide services for those victimized by the crime. Since 2000, all states in the United States have passed laws to criminalize human trafficking, but laws vary, some states don’t criminalize sex trafficking, some have different definitions of labor trafficking, for example. So on the one hand we have taken it very seriously, but our research shows that we have a long way to go and these laws aren’t actually being enforced as they should be. So a lot needs to be done in terms of more awareness and resources to identify victims to hold offenders accountable and to provide services for those victims.

Len Sipes:  A tough, tough topic. I mean where does the criminal justice system need to go with this? I mean I’ve spent the first half of the program trying to understand the degree and the extent of the program for myself. I’m not quite sure that everybody – when you say prostitution, people very rarely ever come to grips with the fact that these are victims that are slapped, punched, threatened, have a gun held to their head, they’re in bondage. It’s just people say the word “prostitution” they really don’t understand how nasty it is for the lives of the individuals involved. So you say human trafficking, the words human trafficking roll off the tongue, and thank you very much for helping me create the context for the first half of the program. What must the criminal justice system do, in terms of the second half of the program, what must we do, and what should society do across the board, because I will constantly go back to that conversation, “What do you mean there’s human trafficking in the United States?”, so?

Colleen Owens:  Right. So that’s a big question with a lot of answers, but I mean I think first and foremost those that are in charge of enforcing our laws should be made aware of what those laws are, there needs to be a lot more training, and it needs to be on the state and local level. The federal government does do training on human trafficking and it is very helpful and they should continue to do that. But we really need more state and local training that involves both investigators, as well as prosecutors working together to understand what their laws are and then how to operationalize those laws. So what evidence do you need to collect to be able to take a case forward and prove it in court? What indicators do law enforcement need to be aware of to identify that that person is actually a victim of crime and not arrest those victims and charge them as criminals. So in sex trafficking cases, for example, victims may be arrested and charged with prostitution and in labor trafficking cases victims may be arrested and charged and placed into deportation proceedings if they’re here and they’re undocumented. And so there really needs to be a lot more awareness for criminal justice system actors. The other piece of it actually is we need to actually create spaces in the criminal justice system to bring these cases forward. So in our study that we conducted with Northeastern University on challenges investigating and prosecuting human trafficking, we found that there were actually no state labor trafficking prosecutions in our study.

Len Sipes:  What?

Colleen Owens:  And when we went to local state prosecutors and asked them about what would happen if a labor trafficking case came to your desk, they actually said, “We don’t what we would do with it. We don’t know who would actually take that case.” And so there really aren’t actors in place in our system in many ways that are even in charge of finding these cases and then bringing them forward, and the same is true with investigating labor trafficking. So we’re doing a study right now that will be released in the summer and we’re finding in our study that those victimized by labor trafficking in our sample anyway are primarily from other countries, they’re either here undocumented or they were – a significant percentage of our sample was actually brought into the United States on temporary work visa programs, they were promised certain jobs, certain hours, certain wage, some of them were promised that if they remained in the job for a certain period of time that they would have their visa extended and they could get a green card. That of course was all fraudulent –

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Colleen Owens:  And never happened, and then the person finds themself undocumented. But when you look at local law enforcement, for example, and you compare sort of the investigations of sex trafficking versus labor trafficking, sex trafficking, while there’s still a long way to go in terms of investigating those crimes, law enforcement at least has been in the business of doing investigations into prostitution.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  So they sort of it’s now requiring them to take a step back and ask, “Is this person in this situation willingly? Is this actually their choice? Are they being forced?” So that change is happening slowly. But when you look at labor trafficking, local law enforcement has never been in the business of enforcing workplace regulations or something that would even be similar to a labor trafficking situation. That’s been the business of the civil justice system, so Department of Labor. But the Department of Labor is not able to open cases criminally. So they’re not always trained to look for criminal elements. They might identify back wages, they might identify workplace hazards, but they are not trained to pull together all the criminal elements that amount to a labor trafficking situation and that would make it distinct from just, I don’t want to say just labor exploitation, because that is serious, but sort of taking it to that next step.

Len Sipes:  I’ve interviewed dozens of women in the criminal justice system who have been caught up in the criminal justice system, and I’ve interviewed them at these microphones, and I’ve interviewed them on television shows. And when I sit down with them, either before or when we hit the record button, it is routinely this, it is, and this is going to be very stereotypical, I apologize for it, but this is what I hear over and over and over again, that the women are involved in the criminal justice system in probably, I’m going to guess, 60% to 70% of the cases where a male is forcing them to move drugs. A male is forcing them to be engaged in criminal activity, and they’re doing it through physical violence, through threat, through literally a gun pointed to the head.

And these are women who’re coming from histories of sexual violence, histories of sexual abuse themselves. So they go out and they’re involved in all this criminal activity and then they’re saying to themselves, “How can I extract myself from this? How can I get out of this, because I’ve been doing drug dealing? I’m running huge amounts of drugs down the interstate 95 corridor. I carry guns. I carry false IDs. I’m just as vulnerable as the people who’re making me do this.” So they don’t come forward. So when they get caught up in the criminal justice system we find when we have them under supervision on parole and probation here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, that in many cases they are just as much victims as perpetrators. We have them on a drug charge and they come out of the prison system and we find that they’ve lived terrible lives. They’re just as much victims as anybody else in the process, even though they committed federal trafficking, drug trafficking laws. So I’m assuming that that carries over to this topic.

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. I often actually – sometimes you hear people describing the phenomenon of human trafficking through a supply and demand framework, and while I think that is valid, I actually prefer to describe through where vulnerabilities meet exploitation type of a framework. And I’ve done research in many other countries as well and I find that the phenomenon sort of looks the same through that lens no matter where you go. So it involves asking yourself in this local context, in this city in the United States, in this village in Cambodia, what are the vulnerabilities and where is the exploitation happening, where are people taking advantage of those vulnerabilities? And so for example with labor trafficking in the US, US citizens one would think they might not be at risk of labor trafficking because often a tool is to use someone’s undocumented status against them.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  But in fact there was just a big case that came out that was reported by the New York Times of US citizens with disabilities that were forced to work in a turkey processing plant for 30 years. And so we are seeing that, US citizen victims with disabilities. There are other cases, there was one in Philadelphia as well, are being used for labor trafficking scenarios. And then the same is true with sex trafficking. A lot of the vulnerabilities and the past histories of abuse are there for sex trafficking victims. You see a lot of runaway youth, a lot of youth that have been caught up prior in the criminal justice system, they may have been arrested for quality of life issues, they may have had previous records being charged with prostitution, even though technically those should be sex trafficking charges if they were under 18, or they should’ve been treated as sex trafficking victims if they were under 18. But you do see a lot of these past histories of abuse and vulnerability. And I think what really needs to happen on the front end is being able to identify those factors sooner and develop programs to prevent a lot of that from happening, because it’s as much addressing the sort of demand side of holding offenders accountable, as it is addressing the supply side, and identifying what vulnerabilities are leading victims, are sort of leading to people being victimized and how do we address those vulnerabilities?

Len Sipes:  The criminal justice system needs to understand that people are not coming forward; they’re not escaping these situations, because they feel vulnerable. The victims themselves feel vulnerable. The victims themselves believe that there’s a possibility that they’re going to be prosecuted. So that’s one of the big reasons why they don’t come forward and that’s one of the things that we have to do was to make sure that we have the sensitivity and the wherewithal and the knowledge to reach out to these individuals and offer them immunity from prosecution as long as they help us prosecute the bad guys.

Colleen Owens:  Right. And some states actually have passed on the side of minor victims of trafficking, sex trafficking, they’ve passed what’s known as safe harbor laws. So basically stating, passing additional laws that you cannot be charged crimes, quote, “crimes that are committed as a result of your victimization”. But we don’t have a lot of those laws for, for example, victims of labor trafficking that may be charged with crimes pursuant to their labor trafficking situation.

Len Sipes:  But we have a criminal justice system that sees itself as overburdened, overwhelmed. We have a criminal justice system that’s having an extraordinarily hard time processing the day to day burglaries, robberies, sexual assaults, homicides. There’s criticism directed toward cities throughout the United States and urban areas in terms of their inability to prosecute. So when something like this comes along they’re saying to themselves, “I don’t have the resources –”

Colleen Owens:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  “For this type of investigation.” Is it a matter that they’re not looking for it because they don’t have the resources?

Colleen Owens:  It’s sort of a self-perpetuating cycle I guess you could say. They’re not looking for it because they don’t have the resources, and they don’t have the resources because they’re not looking for it.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  So, right, I mean we hear that often that we need more resources, we need more resources.

Len Sipes:  More training.

Colleen Owens:  Exactly, more training. You need agencies to prioritize this, because exactly as you said, you may have people calling about the fact that their cars were broken into, and so that sort of leads the priorities, right?

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  When you see what’s going on in your community and you’re making those calls for service. This is a crime that does not rely on calls for service for the most part.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  And yet when we speak with law enforcement their main approach to investigating this is to wait for calls to come in. And so it’s not being investigated basically.

Len Sipes:  But we do, I mean in general, we within the criminal justice system and society in general do need to understand that this does exist in the United States, it is an ongoing problem, it involves literally millions of human beings, and we have to take this seriously and we have to be looking for this.

Colleen Owens:  Exactly. I think if we’re a country that believes in freedom, then this is something that we need to take seriously. And it’s a serious human rights abuse. And people in our country are being abused by traffickers. And they engage in it, because for the most part it’s very low-risk.

Len Sipes:  Colleen Owens, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that you were on the show today and that the Urban Institute is taking this on. Congratulations to the Urban Institute for taking a very tough topic, www.urban.org, www.urban.org. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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