Human trafficking survivor tells her story in Elkton

ELKTON — Human traffickers seek out teenage girls and young women who are vulnerable — and that’s what Shamere McKenzie was some 14 years ago.

McKenzie was a junior majoring in criminal justice at a New York college, when a hamstring injury resulted in her losing her full track scholarship, leaving her looking for a way to finance her education. After securing a college loan, she still needed $3,000.

Around that time, McKenzie met a handsome, educated man who listened intently to everything that she had to say, and they started seeing each other regularly.

He provided McKenzie free lodging in a basement apartment, so she no longer would have to pay for her off-campus housing. And he provided her with a job that, at the outset, seemed innocent enough.

McKenzie saw this man as a potential boyfriend.

But McKenzie soon found herself under his brutal control, forced to work as a prostitute in Connecticut, New Jersey, Texas, Florida and New York in the months that followed.

McKenzie, 35, shared her story of human trafficking victimization Friday in the Elkton Town Hall multipurpose room as one of the guest speakers during a seminar sponsored by the Sexual Violence Prevention Committee and the Maryland Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention.

She is CEO of the Sun Gate Foundation, which provides support to human trafficking survivors. It creates opportunities to access education to high school and college students through tuition assistance, financial aid for books and child care to survivors with children.

McKenzie, who, a day before her Elkton appearance, received a Governor’s Citation for her anti-human trafficking efforts in Maryland, serves as a keynote speaker on the topic nationally and internationally.

In her audience Friday were Cecil County social services workers, law enforcement officers, public schools employees and members of the State’s Attorney’s Office.

“Traffickers take their time,” McKenzie told the audience, explaining the grooming process in which pimps use flattery, love, attention and support to earn the trust of their victims.

Among the targets of human traffickers are “throwaway kids whose parents don’t want them,” according to McKenzie, noting that repetitive runaways fall into that category.

“They’re running away from something,” McKenzie said, listing sex abuse by a relative or family friend as one of the reasons, before adding, “Or they’re running to something.”

Human trafficking story

The man provided McKenzie with a job dancing, fully clothed, and she made $300 in two hours. That meant McKenzie could raise the $3,000 she needed with 10 hours of dancing.

One day, however, a customer asked “How much for oral sex,” prompting McKenzie to indignantly reject his proposition. That’s when the man who had been so supportive of McKenzie interjected himself into the situation, quoting a price, and, for the first time, showed his evil side.

“He took one step forward and put his hand around my throat ... He said, ‘Do you really think you’ll make it out of here alive?” McKenzie told the audience.

Even so, McKenzie tried to stand her ground — and that’s when the man beat her for the first time, stomping her into unconsciousness with his steel-toed boot, breaking a blood vessel in her right eye, which is still evident today.

Shortly after the beating, the tender side of the man reappeared.

“The Prince Charming that turned monster turned Prince Charming again,” McKenzie said.

That started a pattern that continued for about a year and a half, according to McKenzie, who summarized, “It was 18 months of physical and psychological abuse.”

McKenzie acknowledged that people who have never experienced such domination cannot fathom how someone could become a human trafficking victim.

“A lot of people who hear the trafficking story ask, ‘Why not just leave? Just run and call the police,’” McKenzie said.

In part, according to McKenzie, such an easy escape wasn’t available because the man who had listened so intently to her at the outset actually had been gathering personal information — which he then used for direct and indirect threats.

“He’d say, ‘I know where your mother lives. Remember, I picked you up at her house once?’ He said, ‘I know when your grandmother goes to work,’” McKenzie recalled.

The man also threatened to reveal McKenzie’s life as a prostitute — even though he had forced her into it — to her family and friends, she said.

Going to the police wasn’t an option, either, because, in part, prostitution is a crime and she was forced to commit that offense. During her 18 months as a human trafficking victim, McKenzie was arrested a few times.

Also deterring her, some of the police officers McKenzie had encountered looked down on her and used her.

“They used their badges for services,” McKenzie said.

She recalled an incident in which officers ordered her to take off her shoes and run, threatening to arrest McKenzie if they caught her. The officers jeeringly commanded, “Run ho,” as she sprinted down the street, with shoes in hand, McKenzie said.

The man also beat and threatened McKenzie, sticking a handgun in her mouth on at least one occasion and pulling the trigger, causing a clicking sound because the weapon was unloaded. Then he pistol-whipped her.

At one point, after the man had moved his human trafficking operation to Florida, McKenzie even sought the help of gang leader to escape, she said. But the plan failed and, as a result, she suffered physical consequences, she added.

In Connecticut, the FBI arrested McKenzie, along with the pimp, and she wondered why she was charged as a prostitute when she actually was a human trafficking victim — his victim.

With the help of a person, whom McKenzie refers to as her “guardian angel,” she finally was able to escape. That person provided her with shelter, food and other assistance.

After the ordeal

McKenzie went through five mental health therapists because, according to her, they were not “trauma informed” and were unable to help, she said.

The sixth counselor, however, wanted to talk about McKenzie’s childhood, about her upbringing, about how she moved to the United States from her native Jamaica when she was 6 years old. The sixth counselor was persistent, but not overbearing, and she was friendly.

That eventually led to McKenzie sharing details of her ordeal as a human trafficking victim, as well as other deep-rooted issues.

“The trauma started at age 6, when I was sexually molested by a family friend,” McKenzie said, explaining that she had suffered “complex trauma” during her life.

McKenzie, who reported that she still receives counseling, cautioned those in attendance to take their time when interacting in their professional capacities with sex trafficking victims.

“All survivors are not the same. Avoid saying, ‘I know.’ We’re already programmed not to trust you. Treat others the way you want to be treated,” McKenzie told the audience, before commenting, “Believe you can make a difference. If you don’t, then quit.”

She then urged those in attendance to make a difference.

“Human trafficking is my issue. What is your issue? What are you doing about it?’ said McKenzie, who earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in May 2015 and is considering attending law school to study public interest law.

Local perspectives

Valda Rotolo, victim-witness coordinator with the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office, told the Cecil Whig that McKenzie provided valuable insight.

“I personally like the victim’s point of view. We don’t always know what they know,” Rotolo said. “I know this will shape how I interact with victims in the future.”

Sheriff Scott Adams agreed.

“It’s always important to continue to train and understand victims better,” Adams said. “They never come forward themselves. But you might see signs. You may be handling a drug case, for example, and ask the right questions and it leads to human trafficking.”

Elkton Police Department Sgt. Ronald Odom commented that, perhaps to the surprise of most people, human trafficking occurs in Cecil County.

“She shed much-needed light on the topic. It’s out there, but people don’t realize it,” Odom said.

Human trafficking defendants have been prosecuted and sentenced here over recent years, including an Ohio man who was arrested in June 2014 after two women at a North East-area hotel turned to an employee and reported that he had been holding them against their will, according to Cecil Whig archives.

The crime is prevalent enough that there is a Cecil County Human Trafficking Task Force, which, created about two years ago, is made up of law enforcement officers, social workers, Union Hospital employees, local prosecutors and Rape Crisis Center agents.

Interim Cecil County State’s Attorney James Dellmyer explained, “Cecil County is considered a hot spot for human trafficking problems. This is attributed to our location on Interstate 95 between Philadelphia and Baltimore and the opioid epidemic that the county is experiencing.”

He added, “Human trafficking is a largely unreported issue, but there have been recent prosecutions at the federal level, based on investigations conducted by Cecil County law enforcement and allied agencies.”

The other guest speaker Friday, Thomas Stack, who has been the Human Trafficking Coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in Baltimore since 2015, emphasized the prevalence of that crime.

(Stack worked as a Montgomery County Police Department detective specializing in human trafficking and prostitution investigations from January 2001 to September 2014, when he retired after 26 years on the force.)

He reported that Maryland is ranked fifth in the United States in terms of the highest number of human trafficking crimes, blaming that, in part, on the various interstate highways in this region and its economic demographics.

“There is a toxic mixture of poverty and wealth,” Stack opined.

Stack said his perspective on prostitution has changed dramatically from his early days as an officer some 30 years ago.

“I thought it was a victimless crime. ‘Human trafficking’ wasn’t even a word then,” he told the audience.

He went on in his law enforcement career to participate in scores of prostitution investigations and crackdowns, including “getting rid of 26 massage parlors in Montgomery County,” he told the audience.

Stack stressed that there are no such things as victimless prostitution and victimless human trafficking.

Maryland has second-most defendants charged in federal human trafficking cases, study shows

Prosecutors in Maryland charged more defendants in federal human trafficking cases last year than any other federal district other than the Southern District of New York, according to a new study by the Human Trafficking Institute.

Fourteen of the fifteen people charged in federal human trafficking cases last year in Maryland had sex-trafficking-related charges. One person had a labor-trafficking charge.

Across the nation, there were a 297 defendants charged in sex-trafficking and labor-trafficking cases in 59 federal districts, according to the report.

Federal trafficking cases have skyrocketed since Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000 that criminalized human trafficking. That year, there were only four federal human-trafficking cases, according to the Human Trafficking Institute. In 2007, when the Justice Department created the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, there were 55. In 2018, there were 171 cases.

Robert K. Hur, the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, said that though he hadn’t read the report, human trafficking is a priority for his office and that Maryland has relatively high numbers in part due to strong partnerships with local law enforcement and victims’ service groups. The state’s central location along Interstate 95 and the Eastern seaboard is also a factor, he said.

Hur said that a significant portion of the cases his office works on in Maryland deals with the sex trafficking of underage girls and that their traffickers often use drug addictions or physical force to keep them under control.

Criminal justice professor Jay S. Albanese with the Virginia Commonwealth University said Maryland’s relatively high ranking also likely speaks to the dedication of its federal prosecutors in investigating in prosecuting these more complicated crimes, explaining that trafficking cases may require prolonged surveillance and source development to prove that there was force, fraud or coercion. Other investigators could stop short and charge offenders in cases that require fewer elements of proof, such as running a prostitution business.

“It could actually be good news,” Albanese said of Maryland’s numbers.

Hur said there is significant human trafficking in Baltimore and that it is in part due to gang activity looking to make money.

“We’re proud of what we’ve done, but there is more to do,” he said.

The report said that 95 percent of the human trafficking cases across the country involve sex trafficking. Albanese said this is in part due to the more secretive nature of labor trafficking, which makes it harder to track and prosecute. He said unlike sex trafficking, which requires regular interfacing with the public, labor traffickers may more easily keep victims hidden on farms or inside homes with less interaction with the public.

crentz@baltsun.com

Maryland General Assembly 2019 Session Wrap-Up

Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force Priority Bills 2019

SB 691/ HB 782

 Status: Not Passed

Criminal Procedure - Motion to Vacate Judgment - Human Trafficking (True Freedom Act of 2019)

Altering the eligibility for the filing of a certain motion to vacate judgment; altering the required contents of a certain motion; authorizing the court to dismiss a certain motion without a hearing under certain circumstances; repealing the authority of the court to take certain actions in ruling on a certain motion; requiring the court to vacate a certain conviction if the court grants a certain motion; providing that a certain conviction may not be considered a conviction for any purpose; etc.

SB 690/ HB 871

 Status: Passed

Criminal Law - Human Trafficking and Prostitution Offenses

Altering the elements of the prohibitions against human trafficking and renaming them sex trafficking; prohibiting a person from knowingly taking another for prostitution by use of or intent to use force, threat, coercion, or fraud; prohibiting a person from knowingly engaging in certain conduct with the intent to compel another to marry any person under certain circumstances; etc.

SB 689/ HB 734

 Status: Passed

Criminal Law - Labor Trafficking (Anti-Exploitation Act of 2019)

Prohibiting a person from knowingly taking, placing, harboring, persuading, inducing, or enticing another to provide services or labor by force, fraud, or coercion; prohibiting a person from knowingly receiving a benefit or thing of value from the provision of services or labor that was induced by force, fraud, or coercion; and establishing that a person who violates the Act is guilty of a felony and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not to exceed 25 years or a fine not to exceed $15,000 or both.

SB 688/ HB 827

 Status: Passed

Juvenile Law – Sex Trafficking – Immunity, Services, and Investigations (Child Sex Trafficking Screening and Services Act of 2019)

Requiring a law enforcement officer who has reason to believe that a certain child is a victim of sex trafficking to notify a certain regional navigator; declaring the intent of the General Assembly that a minor who is reasonably believed to have engaged in prostitution be treated as a victim of sexual abuse and have access to immediate child-centered and trauma-informed services; providing certain immunity for a minor who engages in certain prostitution-related conduct; etc.

Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force 2019

Bills Being Monitored

HB481

 Status: Passed

Criminal Law - Sale of a Minor – Felony:

 Reclassifying, as a felony instead of a misdemeanor, the crime of selling, bartering, trading, or offering to sell, barter, or trade a minor for money, property, or anything else of value.  

 HB1152

 Status: Not Passed

Interstate Human Trafficking of Minors Prohibition Act: Establishing that certain persons who are required to provide certain notice or make certain reports of suspected child pregnancy as required by the Act may not knowingly fail to give the notice or make the report; providing certain penalties for a violation of a certain provision of the Act; prohibiting a person from bringing or causing another to bring a minor into the State to commit certain violations of the law prohibiting human trafficking; etc. http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2019RS/bills/hb/hb1152f.pdf

 HB1198

 Status: Passed

Human Trafficking - Required Reporters 

Requiring a clerk of the court or an employee of the Family Investment Administration who has reason to believe that a certain individual is a victim of human trafficking to notify the appropriate law enforcement agency under certain circumstances; requiring a law enforcement agency to attempt to interview certain individuals under certain circumstances

HB1039

 Status: Withdrawn

Criminal Law - Human Trafficking - Penalties (Human Trafficking Reform Act)

Altering penalties for the crime of human trafficking; decriminalizing prostitution committed by a minor; repealing a certain requirement that a certain individual be charged with violating a certain provision of law before a defendant may raise a certain affirmative defense; requiring a certain person to provide certain referral services to a certain minor under certain circumstances; and classifying human trafficking as a crime of violence under a certain provision of law

SB554

 Status: Passed

State Board of Massage Therapy Examiners - Massage Therapists - Authority to Regulate

Authorizing the county executive or any governing body of a county, after consultation with the State Board of Massage Therapy Examiners, to adopt certain ordinances or regulations relating to massage establishments; authorizing local health officers and local law enforcement to carry out certain provisions of law; authorizing law enforcement officers to demand proof of licensure or registration; etc.

Editorial: Hospital screening, program should help in fight against human trafficking

Even Carroll County residents who are concerned about human trafficking, an issue which Gov. Larry Hogan has made combating a priority, probably don’t think it is a major problem in this area. Carroll Hospital does, however, see suspected victims of trafficking. So the hospital is taking some steps to try to ensure it doesn’t become a bigger issue locally.

Besides adding a screening for human trafficking victims to other assessments conducted in the emergency department, Carroll Hospital is hosting a program on human trafficking tonight. That program will run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Shauck Auditorium in the hospital’s East Pavilion, and will feature Steven Hess, a victim-witness manager with the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.

“We’ve had only a few instances where we’ve had patients who we knew were victims of trafficking, but we feel that as a whole we are missing many opportunities to identify these folks,” Tracy Yingling, a forensic nurse and coordinator of the hospital’s Forensic Nurse Examiner program, told us. The hospital defines trafficking as “recruiting or obtaining a person by means of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of labor, or services or sexual exploitation.” Yingling said that a few years ago the hospital started doing an assessment program to identify those at greatest risk of being injured or killed in an intimate partner relationship. The new hospital protocols follow a similar screening to determine if a person might be a victim of trafficking.

Continue reading at the link.

Howard County police charge New York woman with human trafficking, prostitution in Laurel

Howard County police arrested a woman from Brooklyn, New York, last week on suspicion of human trafficking after receiving a tip leading detectives to a Laurel hotel, county police said Tuesday.

Wenbo Wang, 46, was charged with human trafficking, prostitution, drug possession and related charges, according to police. She was arrested at a hotel in the 9700 block of Washington Blvd. in Laurel.

Howard police received a tip through the National Human Trafficking Tip Line earlier this month.

Wang arrived at the hotel with another woman as police were investigating on Jan. 25. Police said they learned that Wang had posted online prostitution ads for a number of women, arranged appointments and collected portions of payments.

Police made services available to the other woman, described by police as a “potential victim.” Investigators offer assistance to victims through housing, treatment, transportation and other help, police said.

Earlier this month, Howard police arrested eight men described alleged “would-be johns”in the county’s first undercover sting of the new year. The men were arrested at a hotel in the 10100 block of Washington Blvd. in Laurel.

In 2018, Howard police conducted four similar roundups, according to a police spokeswoman.

No attorney information was listed in court documents for Wang.

Wang is being held on a $500,000 bond at the Howard County Detention Center. She is scheduled to appear for a trial March 27.

Anyone who may have information or been a victim of Wang’s — or know her by another name — is asked to contact police at 410-313-STOP or HCPDcrimetips@howardcountymd.gov.

Former D.C. officer pleads guilty to sex trafficking teenage girls

A former D.C. police officer was convicted in federal court Tuesday on charges he solicited two underage teenage girls online and then paid them for sex, according to court records.

Chukwuemeka Ekwonna, 29, of Glenn Dale, Md., pleaded guilty to two counts of sex trafficking a minor, while eight other counts including illegal use of a firearm and robbery were dropped as part of a deal with prosecutors, court records show. Under the terms of the deal, Ekwonna faces between 10 and 20 years in prison when he is sentenced on May 10.

Ekwonna admitted to creating an account on the social media site Tagged in 2010 and then sending messages to many users, offering to pay them to engage in specific sex acts, according to court records.

Ekwonna exchanged dozens of messages with a 14-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl, before meeting both for sex in the back of his car or at motel rooms in the Annapolis area on multiple occasions, court records show. Both girls were in the 9th grade at the time.

When Ekwonna was initially charged, the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Maryland alleged Ekwonna pointed a gun at the 15-year-old girl and demanded she return the money he had just paid her during one of their encounters in January 2017.

“Police officers are sworn to protect our communities, not prey on our youth,” said U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur. “We will continue to work with our partners to bring traffickers to justice and protect our most vulnerable.”

Ekwonna had been on the force for roughly 14 months and was fired in April.

He applied for the job with the D.C. police while he was facing a lawsuit for allegedly beating an inmate at the D.C. jail, where he previously held a job. The lawsuit was eventually settled for $20,000.

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said last year the department was reviewing how Ekwonna was hired with the lawsuit pending. A D.C. police spokesman on Tuesday did not immediately know if that review has been completed.

Ekwonna’s attorney did not immediately return a call for comment.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam grants clemency for Cyntoia Brown

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has granted Cyntoia Brown clemency.

The decision comes just 11 days before Haslam leaves office on Jan. 18. Brown will now be released on parole supervision on August 7, 2019, after serving 15 years in prison.

Brown's case has garnered national attention following an outpouring of support from celebrities to Tennessee lawmakers.

Sentenced to life in prison, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in December Brown must serve 51 years of her life sentence for the 2004 murder of Johnny Allen. Then 16-years-old, advocates say Brown had been a victim of sex trafficking when the former Nashville realtor purchased her for sex.

Brown's case is a rarity as 98% of clemency applications never make it to the governor's desk. Back in May, a Tennessee prison parole board couldn’t come to a decision to recommend clemency for Brown. Hours of emotional pleas lead to a split decision – and therefore no clemency recommendation.

Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna, Amy Schumer and other celebrities have supported Brown as she fought her life sentence. Thousands on social media used #FreeCyntoiaBrown to advocate for Brown.

FOX 17 News anchor Stacy Case has been investigating Brown's case for years, bringing nationwide awareness to the events surrounding Brown's plight for freedom.

 

In a statement release, Haslam called the case "tragic and complex." “Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. Yet, 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. Transformation should be accompanied by hope. So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”

Brown issued the following statement in response to the governor's decision:

“Thank you, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me.

I want to thank those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who saw something in me worth salvaging, especially Ms. Connie Seabrooks for allowing me to participate in the Lipscomb LIFE Program. It changed my life. I am also grateful to those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who will work with me over the next several months to help me in the transition from prison to the free world.

Thank you to Dr. Richard Goode and Dr. Kate Watkins and all of you at Lipscomb University for opening up a whole new world for me. I have one course left to finish my Bachelor’s degree, which I will complete in May 2019.

I am thankful for all the support, prayers, and encouragement I have received. We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings. The Lord has held my hand this whole time and I would have never made it without Him. Let today be a testament to His Saving Grace.

Thank you to my family for being a backbone these past 14 years.

I am thankful to my lawyers and their staffs, and all the others who, for the last decade have freely given of their time and expertise to help me get to this day.

I love all of you and will be forever grateful.

With God’s help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people. My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.

Thank you.” -Cyntoia Brown

 

District Attorney General Glenn Funk issued the following statement on Governor Haslam's decision:

"The Governor’s decision to commute the sentence of Cyntoia Brown is an exercise of his authority under the Tennessee Constitution.

The District Attorney’s office remembers the victims in this case, who was killed as slept and whose death cannot be reversed.

The District Attorney’s office also recognizes that at the time of her offense, Ms. Brown was a juvenile and a victim of sex trafficking.

The Governor obviously arrived at his decision after careful consideration. He no doubt took into account the apparent rehabilitation of Ms.

Brown while in custody, including her graduation from college and her conduct while incarcerated."

 

Nashville Mayor David Briley commended Haslam on his decision:

"I am deeply grateful to Governor Haslam for his decision to commute the sentence of Cyntoia Brown today.

He has yet again demonstrated that mercy, redemption and forgiveness have an important place in our democracy and criminal justice system.

I also want to thank my former colleagues at Bone McAllester Norton and the advocates and organizations who fought so hard for Ms. Brown’s freedom.

This is a great day for social justice and our city."

Statement from Sen. Brenda Gilmore:

I want to sincerely thank Governor Bill Haslam for being courageous in the face of a serious decision. Governor Haslam reviewed the case and listened to thousands of voices resonating across Tennessee and around the country. Although Brown made a grave mistake when she was 16, her mistake should not result in the forfeiture of her entire life. Brown was raised in an environment saturated with physical and psychological abuse. She was later raped and trapped in a life of sex trafficking by an abusive pimp. These were the circumstances in which a man was tragically killed during his purchase of Cyntoia, a minor, for sex. Governor Haslam saw that life in prison was not justice for this abused teenager. I thank Governor Haslam for showing compassion for a black woman, which society often overlooks.

I congratulate Cyntoia Brown for making the best out of her life after this tragedy. The State of Tennessee and countless adults let her down during her childhood. But, since her incarceration, Cyntoia has done all that she can do to improve and empower herself. She has obtained a college degree and serves as a mentor to empower other female victims of sexual violence. Cyntoia is the number one reason that she is getting this second chance, because she has grown and embraced all the positivity and progress that we expect of upstanding people in our society. Considering her many obstacles, she has persevered and dedicated herself to personal growth. Cyntoia should be proud of herself, and people of good conscience should be proud as well.

I would also like to thank all the supporters of this great noble effort to bring justice for this young woman. No matter whether you marched, wrote to the governor, posted on social media, informed your neighbors, or prayed for this young woman, it took all of our combined energies to get our mission accomplished and we should all be very proud and hopeful this day.

MD Human Trafficking Task Force meets with Nigerian and Vietnamese Delegations

The World Trade Center Institute’s Professional Exchange Program introduced the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force to delegations from Nigeria and Vietnam. The delegations included high-ranking officials and foreign professionals that work on human trafficking issues in their respective countries. The delegations sought to enhance their knowledge of the task force’s work on prevention of human trafficking, protection of human trafficking survivors, and collaboration between law enforcement, prosecution, and NGO’s.

Human trafficking survivor describes forced labor ordeal in U.S.

Evelyn Chumbow of Cameroon says she was only nine years old when she was trafficked into forced labor in the Washington, D.C., area.

Chumbow, who's now in her mid-30s, says she was sold by her uncle to a woman from her home country of Cameroon who had a home and a business in the United States. She said she came to the United States with the expectation that a better life awaited her.

“The image that I had of the U.S. is completely from what I saw on television -- you know, '[The] Cosby Show' and '[The] Fresh Prince of Belair,' '[Beverly Hills], 90210' -- and so when I was told that I was going to come to the U.S. and be adopted and get a better education, I was excited,” Chumbow said in an interview with Hill.TV that aired Monday.

But she said that as soon as she arrived she was forced into domestic labor, working for eight years before she was able to escape with the help of Catholic groups. She said her captor is now in prison.

As many as 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, according to the U.S. State Department.

Human trafficking has become a rare bipartisan issue on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) warned during a Sept. 26 congressional hearing that trafficking is even taking place in the U.S.

"We all need to wake up because human trafficking is happening right here in our backyard, and victims of traffic crime are often hidden in plain sight,” said McSally, who's running for Senate in Arizona this year.

Chumbow said she was held captive in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.

“I came and I became a slave right here in Maryland, not far from the Capitol. I was working, cooking and cleaning,” Chumbow said, adding that she believes she would have been saved earlier if someone in the community had notified the authorities.

“If you see something, say something. 'Cause a lot of neighbors saw me, I would have probably been rescued when I was 13 or 14," she said. "But nobody said anything.”

— Alison Spann

Police: Md. man drugs, rapes woman on first date, turns her into sex trafficking victim

GAITHERSBURG, Md. (WJLA) - What was meant to be a casual first date catapulted a 24-year-old woman into a nearly 24-hour-long hellhole of roofies, human trafficking and illegal drug deliveries, Montgomery County police allege in court documents obtained by ABC7.

The initial connection started like so many do nowadays -- on a dating app. The app, called SKOUT, pairs strangers based on their phones' GPS coordinates.

According to police, the female victim matched with Kyle Hilliard, 30, of Gaithersburg, on Aug. 1. After messaging one another throughout the day, Hilliard suggested the victim take a Lyft to a home located along the 900 block of Wild Forest Drive in Gaithersburg. The victim obliged.

Investigators said the two drank alcohol and smoked pot before having consensual sex. It was then that Hilliard reportedly revealed he had recently gotten out of jail and made money by selling drugs. That confession frightened the victim. When she asked to leave, Hilliard allegedly grabbed the woman by the neck and firmly stated he now "owned" her and would use her to "make some money."

Finish reading the story at https://wjla.com/news/local/maryland-man-drugs-rapes-woman-sex-trafficking-victim

Governor Larry Hogan Announces Statewide Anti-Human Trafficking Director

Baltimore Attorney Laurie Culkin to Assume Newly Created Position

ANNAPOLIS, MD – Governor Larry Hogan today announced that Laurie E. Culkin, an attorney and advocate on behalf of human trafficking victims, has been named as Maryland’s first Anti-Human Trafficking Director. This position, which will be housed within the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, will be responsible for coordinating supportive services for victims, as well as enforcement activities relating to human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is a despicable crime and we are determined to root it out wherever it occurs in our state,” said Governor Hogan. “One of our most important responsibilities is to protect Maryland citizens, and this position is vital to establishing statewide coordination to prevent human trafficking and provide support for its victims.”

In August 2018, as part of a series of initiatives to combat human trafficking in Maryland, Governor Hogan announced the Anti-Human Trafficking Director position. He also announced a new Crime Research and Innovation Center; strengthened data collection; an updated identification protocol; $5 million in funding for anti-human trafficking efforts; and legislation to categorize felony human trafficking as a violent crime.

“Governor Hogan made it very clear that he didn’t want a person whose job was overseeing human trafficking along with other related duties,” said V. Glenn Fueston, Jr., GOCCP Executive Director. “He wanted someone whose only job was to track human trafficking and support its victims. Ms. Culkin will be laser-focused on this issue.”

“I am honored to join the Hogan administration as the Anti-Human Trafficking Director,” said Ms. Culkin. “The governor has made fighting human trafficking a priority and one in which he has focused his attention and resources. It is my honor to be a part of this effort.”

Ms. Culkin comes to the position from the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service in Baltimore, where she served as Human Traffic Prevention Project Coordinator. In that capacity, she led the design, implementation, and administration of the first human trafficking pro bono program in Maryland. She previously worked for Maryland Legal Aid, where she represented clients on domestic violence and family law matters. Her legal work also includes research on human trafficking, authoring numerous papers on the subject.

Ms. Culkin is a graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law and an honors graduate from the State University of New York, University at Buffalo, where she studied Sociology and Health and Human Services. A native of New York, Ms. Culkin lives in Baltimore City.

West Virginia man charged with human trafficking for facilitating wife’s prostitution

Kate Scanlon Sep 11, 2017 7:10 pm

A West Virginia man was charged with human trafficking after allegedly taking his wife to a hotel to engage in prostitution, the Herald-Mail Media reported. (John Moore/Getty Images)

A West Virginia man was charged with human trafficking after allegedly taking his wife to a hotel to engage in prostitution, the Herald-Mail Media reported. (John Moore/Getty Images)

A West Virginia man was charged with human trafficking after allegedly taking his wife to a hotel to engage in prostitution, the Herald-Mail Media reported.

Jason Daniel Hicks, 35, of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, was charged with one count of human trafficking, one count of second-degree assault and two counts of neglect of a minor, according to the Herald-Mail Media. He faces up to 30 years in prison. His wife, Heather Hicks, was charged with prostitution.

According to the report, Hagerstown, Maryland, police conducted an investigation into human trafficking and solicitation of prostitution in October 2016. Police set up “dates” with women at an unidentified motel using the website backpage.com, which some use to solicit paid sex...

Shepherdstown man held without bail in prostitution sting

CJ Lovelace

Sep 1, 2017

A West Virginia man facing charges as a result of a prostitution sting in Hagerstown was ordered held without bail Friday in Washington County District Court.

Jason Daniel Hicks, 35, of Shepherdstown appeared via closed-circuit television before retired District Judge Robert Wilcox, who handed down the ruling during a bond-review hearing.

Wilcox said Hicks' status as a "frequent flyer" in the criminal-justice systems of several states, including a number of prior convictions, indicate that he is a danger to public safety.

Hicks faces one count of human trafficking, one count of second-degree assault and two counts of neglect of a minor, according to the statement of charges...

Human trafficking occurring in DC’s backyard

By Kate Ryan | @KateRyanWTOP

August 11, 2017 4:48 am

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Human trafficking is a global problem — with a local impact in Montgomery County.

And on Thursday, the county’s Human Trafficking Task Force and a State Department delegation discussed the challenges human trafficking raises.

Representatives from 19 countries — including Paraguay, India, Tanzania and the Czech Republic — heard from county leaders on the shared problems of dealing with human trafficking, including detecting trafficking operation rings and how to assist trafficking victims...

Baltimore Man Arrested At Laurel Hotel Connected To Latest Human Trafficking Case

Posted on August 4, 2017 by admin

Police arrested man in connection with a human trafficking case involving four women in Prince George’s and Howard counties. The arrest is part of a two-week investigation conducted by the Howard County Police Department.

Forty-three-year-old Kamal Germaine Dorchy faces multiple counts of human trafficking. He was arrested Wednesday and held without bond in the Howard County Jail, police announced.

In 2016, the department investigated 17 human trafficking cases and 16 in the past seven months...

Howard police arrest Baltimore man at Laurel motel in latest human trafficking case

By Andrew Michaels

Howard County Times

AUGUST 2, 2017, 4:40 PM

Howard police arrest Baltimore man at Laurel motel in latest human trafficking case

A Baltimore man was charged Wednesday with the human trafficking of four women in Howard and Prince George's counties following a nearly two-week investigation by Howard County police.

Kamal Germaine Dorchy, 43, faces multiple counts of human trafficking, the police announced. He is being held without bond at the Howard County jail.

This investigation is part of Howard County's ongoing efforts to stop prostitution and human trafficking. There have been almost as many human trafficking cases this year as there were in all of 2016...

Md. man charged with human trafficking via Backpage; 4 victims freed

by ABC7

Wednesday, August 2nd 2017

HOWARD COUNTY, Md. (ABC7) — A Baltimore man has been charged by Howard County Police with forcing multiple females into prostitution using the website Backpage.

Kamal Dorchy (Howard County Police Department)

Kamal Dorchy (Howard County Police Department)

Kamal Germaine Dorchy, 43, was charged with multiple counts of human trafficking after he was arrested in a motel room in Prince George’s County with three women believed to be victims, according to a statement from Howard County Police.

Police believe Dorchy controlled the females with physical assault, threats with a handgun, supplying them with drugs, and dictating when they could sleep and eat. He took their phones and had any calls and texts to them forwarded to his phone, police say...

Law Students In Maryland Help Human Trafficking Survivors Forget Their Past

Posted on July 9, 2017 by admin

A Prince George’s County woman tells about her experience as a human trafficking victim. She met up with a man who said he was a modeling agent, when she was just 19. He took her out of state, where they lived in a motel and she worked as a prostitute.

She eventually got into contact with a guardian who lived in Maryland. The guardian contacted a local police department and she was able to escape, but a prostitution conviction continued to plague her as she sought a new life...

University of Baltimore law students help trafficking victims escape their past

By Lorraine Mirabella

JULY 8, 2017, 8:29 AM

The Prince George's County woman still remembers the night a man in a black SUV stopped as she and a high school friend waited for a ride to a party. He told them he was a modeling agent, gave them his cell number and drove off.

A chronic runaway, the then 19-year-old soon met up with him, only to be cut off from family and later whisked to a hotel out of state where she was forced to work as a prostitute...

Third person charged with human trafficking of teen in Jessup

By Staff report

Howard County Times

JULY 7, 2017, 1:43 PM

Howard County police have charged a third person in connection to the alleged human trafficking of a 16-year-old girl, saying the woman helped two other people force the teen into prostitution at Jessup motels.

Jessica Lynn Smitherman, 31, of Laurel, was charged with human trafficking of a minor on June 30 and is being held at the county jail on $35,000 bond...