Friday, 17 June 2011

Bills up ante on human trafficking Centreville’s Hugo among legislators pushing for stricter enforcement, penalties

Three pieces of legislation signed into law by Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) late last month provide additional tools to combat human trafficking in Virginia, and highlight a problem some legislators say they did not realize existed locally.
Del. Tim Hugo of Centreville (R-Dist. 40), the patron of one of the three human trafficking bills signed into law on May 31, said he only recently was made aware of the issue.
“I thought this was something that happened in Thailand,” he said. “I had no idea it was so prominent right here in Northern Virginia.”
According to statistics from the national anti-human-trafficking organization the Polaris Project, 101 calls pertaining to human trafficking were made from Northern Virginia to the National Human Trafficking hotline in 2010. Fifty-two of those calls came from Fairfax County.
"Unfortunately, the subjugation of human beings who are forced against their will into labor or worse, into the sex trade, is not something relegated to the history books or to underdeveloped third-world countries," McDonnell said in Dulles on May 31. "More than 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, and although estimates vary widely, between 4 million and 27 million people are said to be trapped in modern-day slavery across the world.”
According to McDonnell, many of those cases have made their way to Virginia in recent years.
“Virginia ranked among the top 10 states for human trafficking report calls received in the National Human Trafficking Resource Center's call center between December 2007 and December 2010,” he said. “We must take action to raise awareness of this disturbing scourge on our society, and we must provide law enforcement and social services agencies all of the tools we can to address these inhumane crimes."
According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, human trafficking falls into two categories: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The latter is defined in the act as: “The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion …”
Earlier this month, Taesan Won, 37, a citizen of South Korea who resides in Fairfax, pleaded guilty in federal court to harboring illegal aliens for private financial gain.
In a statement of facts filed with his plea agreement, Won admitted since October 2010 he operated a “doumi” business in Fairfax known as “Honey.” His business provided companionship services to male customers at Annandale businesses such as karaoke clubs and bars.
“Doumi girls” generally work for a doumi company that employs multiple women and usually wait in apartments at night to receive a call for work. When a customer at a Korean business desires to have a female companion, that customer -- or the business -- will call a doumi company and request the company send doumi girls to that business. Once at the business, the doumi girls sing and dance, flirt with, entertain and pour drinks for the customer. Many of these women were illegal aliens, and Won admitted knew that this was the case.
Won also admitted he recruited Korean women who were illegal aliens to work for Honey as “doumi” women. Won solicited women to work for Honey by posting Korean-language advertisements on various Korean message boards on the Internet, which included the defendant’s telephone number. Other employees learned about Honey through word of mouth.
Won harbored some of the doumi women at his residence in Fairfax, where they each paid him $300 per month in rent. He and another alleged co-conspirator also established a “sook-so” or “housing dormitory” located in the Lafayette Forest Community of Annandale to house the doumi women who worked for him and the co-conspirator. These women paid the co-conspirator about $100 per week in rent. Won faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 2.
In April, both the owner and the madame of a Korean social club, or "room salon," in Falls Church were sentenced for conspiracy to both harbor illegal immigrants and to induce them to reside in the U.S. for commercial advantage and private financial gain.
Sang Bun Surh, 52, of Annandale was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years of supervised release and was ordered to forfeit $2 million in illegal proceeds. Young Mi Kim, 41, also of Annandale, was sentenced to 16 months in prison and three years of supervised release and was ordered to forfeit $2 million in illegal proceeds.
According to a statement of facts in the case, Surh was the owner of the Tomato Garden social club, or "room salon," located in the 1200 block of West Broad Street in Falls Church. The club catered to primarily wealthy men of Korean descent and provided young, female Korean servers and hostesses who would "sing and dance, flirt with, entertain and pour drinks" for the male customers in each of the salon's eight private rooms.
Customers typically paid as much as $300 for a bottle of liquor and received companionship free of charge from the female servers, according to court documents.
In her guilty plea agreement, Surh admitted to recruiting female Korean illegal immigrants to work at Tomato Garden.
At least 25 female employees who investigators encountered at the salon were illegal immigrants recruited from South Korea during the past three years, documents state.
Hugo said he only was made aware of the issue of local human trafficking by a former employee who currently is attending law school.
"I knew I had to act,” he said. “These new laws that the governor has signed will make it more difficult for perpetrators to prey on Virginians by increasing penalties for these crimes and ensuring that all government services and agencies are working together to prevent human trafficking. We are making a clear statement that those who participate in human trafficking are not welcome in Virginia."
The laws expand the definition of human trafficking to include anyone, and not just minors. Human Trafficking in Virginia previously covered only minors younger than 16.
Under another of the laws, the penalty for kidnapping in connection with child pornography or prostitution was raised to a Class 2 felony, with penalties of 20 years to life in prison.
The third law requires Social Services agencies in Virginia to create a treatment program for minors.
"Virginia now has very strong laws to combat those criminals who engage in human trafficking on any level,” said Delegate Vivian Watts of Annandale.
"At least 100,000 American children are exploited through prostitution in the United States every year," said former U.S. Rep. Linda Smith, founder and president of Shared Hope International. "This bill brings Virginia's laws closer to the national standard of legislative protection for children from sex trafficking outlined in Shared Hope's Protected Innocence Initiative."

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