• Athena Ives

From One Prison to Another

Sex Trafficking in our Prisons

One of the most vulnerable populations to sex crimes is rarely talked about, incarcerated women. Sex traffickers are always on the lookout for vulnerable populations and how they can exploit them. According to the National Institute of Corrections, 90% of females serving time for sex trafficking are under the control of a pimp. Identifying a victim from this population is a very difficult task. Cyntonia Brown is one example.

In 2004 Miss Brown was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 43-year-old Johnny Allen. Brown was 14 at the time. After serving 15 years, Brown was granted clemency by Bill Hassam, then governor of Tennessee. He stated that “imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life."

According to Dr. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, Director of the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research at Arizona State University, prisoners are particularly vulnerable to sex traffickers for a number of reasons. One main vulnerability is the fact that their information is public. Traffickers can search for height, weight, nationality, and attractiveness. They can find out where they live, the names of their family members, what they are doing time for, if they have been addicted to certain types of drugs. They basically have a shopping cart of women they can search through.

Another tactic traffickers use is using bail as a form of debt bondage the women have to pay off. Pimps and buyers will find women awaiting a court date through mugshots and bail bonds posted online, bail out these women, and then force them into prostitution to pay their debt. According to Diane Checchio, a former prosecutor for the district attorney’s office in Orlando, Florida, said the bail bond system was routinely exploited by traffickers. She reported that up to 80% of sex trafficking cases she worked involved illegal passing of information by bondsmen. “Sometimes women are released not knowing who bonded them out or why, or what they’ve got into, and now they’re being coerced,” Checchio said. “They come out of jail and there’s someone waiting saying: ‘I posted your bond – now you owe me’. They will threaten to rescind that bond if the girls don’t do what they’re asked or told to do. It’s still happening now.”

Corrections officers have an opportunity to spot victims of trafficking. Some things that experts encourage these officers to do are:

1) Being able to identify the characteristics of a victim compared to a criminal. Someone forced through violence into the sex trade may act differently then someone that enters into it voluntarily.

2) Being on the lookout for individuals that are marked with tattoos to identify property, excessive amounts of condoms and cash, multiple cellphones, lack of identification, strange telephone calls, referring to their boss or boyfriend as “daddy”, and obvious signs of fear are things to look for.

3) Know your resources, who to report suspected victims to, mental and medical care.

4) Be aware that there are victims being incarcerated and always being vigilant.