HONOLULU — Prosecutors are calling the scourge of sex trafficking a form of modern-day slavery that touches every state in the nation, and they’re working to draw connections between active investigations around the globe at a summit in Hawaii.
Representatives from eight countries more than a dozen U.S. states met to share details about cases of victims forced into the sex industry, hoping to collaborate on strategies to bring traffickers to justice.
“Sex trafficking internationally is somewhere between a $7 billion and $23 billion business,” said Cyrus Vance Jr., district attorney for New York County. “And it’s in every community in America — whether we like to acknowledge it or not — and every country around the world.”
Prosecutors from Canada, China, Japan, Palau, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand attended the summit, along with American prosecutors from states spanning the coasts and the Midwest.
In New York City, where there’s a special court to handle cases involving prostitution or sex trafficking, many young men and women are brought in from other states and forced to work in the sex industry, Vance said.
California law enforcement officers have encountered victims forced into the sex trade from Mexico, Taiwan and China, but most of the victims were born in the United States, said Michael Ramos, district attorney for San Bernardino County and president of the National District Attorneys Association.
“Yes we have a problem internationally … but we really have a homegrown problem, and we need to take care of that,” Ramos said.
Prosecutors in Hawaii have found sex-trafficking victims brought to the U.S. from China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Korea and Thailand, Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro said. In the past year, the prosecutor’s office has closed down three massage parlors in Honolulu that involved Asian sex-trafficking victims, including one case where sex workers from China were flown to New York and then Hawaii, he said.
“There are a lot of massage parlors proliferating in our community,” Kaneshiro said.
The conference, which began Wednesday, is being held in Hawaii, the last state to formally ban sex trafficking. American prosecutors attended from Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Virginia, Washington and Washington D.C.
Kaneshiro, who co-sponsored the summit, said they intend to send a clear message that sex trafficking will not be tolerated.
Most of the law enforcement conference is closed to the media because prosecutors will be discussing ongoing cases and sharing intelligence, Kaneshiro said.
“We have international investigations ongoing, but we have not built those cases to indictment yet,” Vance said. “I know that there’s international traffic coming in from Europe and from Asia. But we need to have the relationships with those governments to help us understand what they’re seeing and then build the cases.”
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