Feature What is human trafficking? | The Cullman Tribune

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What is human trafficking?

Understanding human trafficking in Alabama: what the law says
(Left to right) Kenneth Woods, Stefanie Weaver and Randy Hames have all been charged with human trafficking crimes in Cullman County in the last year. / Cullman County Sheriff's Office
 
Human trafficking is defined as modern day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. People often confuse trafficking with human smuggling, which involves movement of persons. These are not interchangeable terms. Smuggling is transportation-based and Trafficking is exploitation-based. I wish the language could be changed to human exploitation."
Kathy Wilson, chair of the Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force

CULLMAN - Cullman County saw its first two arrests for human trafficking last year, and recently added another defendant with multiple charges to that list.  This last case has been the source of much discussion and debate over what constitutes human trafficking, with many people admitting to an assumption that the crime must involve kidnapping and transport to another country, a scenario often depicted in movies and on television.

While the Hollywood version is a form of trafficking, the definition actually covers a wider range of offenses. The Tribune took a look at the official Code of Alabama to understand exactly what constitutes human trafficking, then reviewed cases around the state.

Code of Alabama, Section 13A-6-151, definitions

(1) COERCION. Any of the following:

a. Causing or threatening to cause physical injury or mental suffering to any person, physically restraining or confining any person, or threatening to physically restrain or confine any person or otherwise causing the person performing or providing labor or services to believe that the person or another person will suffer physical injury or mental suffering.

b. Implementing any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in physical injury, mental suffering, or physical restraint of any person.

c. Destroying, concealing, removing, confiscating, or withholding from the person or another person, or threatening to destroy, conceal, remove, confiscate, or withhold from the person or another person, the person's or any person's actual or purported government records, immigration documents, identifying information, or personal or real property.

d. Exposing or threatening to expose any fact or information that if revealed would tend to subject a person to criminal prosecution, criminal or immigration proceedings, hatred, contempt, or ridicule.

e. Threatening to report the person or another person to immigration officials or to other law enforcement officials or otherwise blackmailing or extorting the person or another person.

f. Controlling a person's access to a controlled substance, as the term is defined in Section 20-2-2.

g. Rape or sodomy or threatened rape or sodomy of any person, as defined in Title 13A.

(2) DECEPTION. Any of the following:

a. Creating or confirming an impression of any existing fact or past event which is false and which the accused knows or believes to be false.

b. Exerting financial control over the person or another person by placing the person or another person under the actor's control as a security or payment of a debt, if the value of the services as reasonably assessed is not applied toward the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined or the principal amount of the debt does not reasonably reflect the value of the items or services for which debt was incurred or by preventing a person from acquiring information pertinent to the disposition of the debt, referenced in this paragraph.

c. Promising benefits or the performance of services which the accused does not intend to be delivered. Evidence of failure to deliver benefits or perform services standing alone shall not be sufficient to authorize a conviction under this article.

d. Using any scheme, plan, or pattern, whether overt or subtle, intended to cause any person to believe that, if the person did not perform such labor, services, acts, or performances, the person or another person would suffer physical injury or mental suffering.

(3) LABOR SERVITUDE. Work or service of economic or financial value which is performed or provided by another person and is induced or obtained by coercion or deception.

(4) MENTAL SUFFERING. A high degree of mental pain or emotional disturbances, such as distress, anxiety, public humiliation, or psychosomatic physical symptoms. It is more than mere disappointment, anger, resentment, wounded pride, or embarrassment and must be a direct result of the crime of human trafficking.

(5) MINOR. A person under the age of 18.

(6) PHYSICAL INJURY. Impairment of physical condition or substantial pain.

(7) SEXUAL SERVITUDE. Any of the following:

a. Any sexual conduct as defined in subdivision (3) of Section 14-11-30, for which anything of value is directly or indirectly given, promised to, or received by any person, which conduct is induced or obtained by coercion or deception from a person.

b. Sexual conduct includes:

1. Sexually explicit performances, meaning an act or show intended to arouse, satisfy the sexual desires of, or appeal to the prurient interests of patrons or viewers, whether public or private, live, photographed, recorded, videotaped, or projected over the Internet.

2. Commercial sex acts, meaning any sex act on account of which anything of value is given, promised to, or received, directly or indirectly, by any person.

3. Acts defined in subdivision (3) of Section 14-11-30.

(8) TRAFFICKING VICTIM. Any person, including minors, subjected to labor servitude, sexual servitude, or involuntary servitude.

Code of Alabama, Section 13A-6-152, first-degree human trafficking

(a) A person commits the crime of human trafficking in the first degree if:

(1) He or she knowingly subjects another person to labor servitude or sexual servitude through use of coercion or deception.

(2) He or she knowingly obtains, recruits, entices, solicits, induces, threatens, isolates, harbors, holds, restrains, transports, provides, or maintains any minor for the purpose of causing a minor to engage in sexual servitude.

(3) For purposes of this section, it is not required that the defendant have knowledge of a minor victim's age, nor is reasonable mistake of age a defense to liability under this section.

(4) A corporation, or any other legal entity other than an individual, may be prosecuted for human trafficking in the first degree for an act or omission only if an agent of the corporation or entity performs the conduct which is an element of the crime while acting within the scope of his or her office or employment and on behalf of the corporation or entity, and the commission of the crime was either authorized, requested, commanded, performed, or within the scope of the person's employment on behalf of the corporation or entity or constituted a pattern of conduct that an agent of the corporation or entity knew or should have known was occurring.

(5) Any person who obstructs, or attempts to obstruct, or in any way interferes with or prevents the enforcement of this section shall be guilty of a Class C felony.

(b) Human trafficking in the first degree is a Class A felony.

Code of Alabama, Section 13A-6-153, second-degree human trafficking

(a) A person commits the crime of human trafficking in the second degree if:

(1) A person knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a venture or engagement for the purpose of sexual servitude or labor servitude.

(2) A person knowingly recruits, entices, solicits, induces, harbors, transports, holds, restrains, provides, maintains, subjects, or obtains by any means another person for the purpose of labor servitude or sexual servitude.

(3) A corporation, or any other legal entity other than an individual, may be prosecuted for human trafficking in the second degree for an act or omission only if an agent of the corporation or entity performs the conduct which is an element of the crime while acting within the scope of his or her office or employment and on behalf of the corporation or entity, and the commission of the crime was either authorized, requested, commanded, performed, or within the scope of the person's employment on behalf of the corporation or entity or constituted a pattern of conduct that an agent of the corporation or entity knew or should have known was occurring.

(4) Any person who obstructs, or attempts to obstruct, or in any way interferes with or prevents the enforcement of this section shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

(b) Human trafficking in the second degree is a Class B felony.

Alabama cases

All of the following cases ended with the conviction of the defendants.  Alabama’s first human trafficking law was passed only in 2010, so sufficient time has not passed for a large case history.  At the end of each listing is an explanation of the case in language from the Alabama Code.

  • November 2011 - Manuel Zelaya-Rodriguez was convicted on federal human trafficking charges after hiring a 15-year-old female illegal alien, who had been living in Auburn, to come to Auburn and work for him as a prostitute.  She made contact with him first, hearing that he was a pimp, and offered her services. She had previously worked as a prostitute for her boyfriend in Atlanta but fled from him due to physical abuse. Zelaya-Rodriguez was arrested in 2009, before Alabama’s law, so he was tried on federal charges.
  • May 15, 2014 - In the first case prosecuted under Alabama law, Santiago Alonso was convicted of human trafficking and giving drugs to a minor, after a 17-year-old girl escaped from the Dothan hotel where he was holding her.  The victim testified that she was held against her will and was forced to take drugs and work as a prostitute, being advertised on Backpage.com. Alonso knowingly subjected another person to sexual servitude through use of coercion; and he knowingly threatened, isolated, held, restrained, transported, and maintained a minor for the purpose of sexual servitude.
  • Dec. 17, 2015 - Former Bibb County Sheriff’s Deputy Ervin Heard was convicted of human trafficking, sex abuse, and unlawful imprisonment after accepting sex in exchange for overlooking traffic violations and minor drug offenses.  One victim claimed that she felt he would harm if she did not comply, when he detained her after a traffic stop.  Heard knowingly subject another person to sexual servitude through use of coercion, and he knowingly solicited, held, and restrained another person for the purpose of sexual servitude.
  • June 22, 2017 - Kelandus Tarvares Consenta was convicted of second degree human trafficking after providing drugs, money, and shelter to a woman while requiring her to work for him as a prostitute.  Consenta knowingly benefited financially from participation in a venture for the purpose of sexual servitude; and knowingly harbored, transported, held, and maintained another person for the purpose of sexual servitude.
  • Feb. 9, 2018 - Michael Graham Lowe was convicted of sex trafficking of a minor and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor, after delivering a minor to a Montgomery hotel to perform commercial sex acts. He advertised the victim on Backpage.com and used the money to purchase drugs. Lowe knowingly subjected another person to sexual servitude through use of coercion; and knowingly held, provided, and maintained a minor for the purpose of sexual servitude.

Cullman County cases

All three Cullman County cases are still pending.  Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty in court.  Here we examine the formal charges and allegations, while offering no opinions on guilt or innocence.

  • May 9, 2017 - Kenneth Loyd Woods, a previously registered sex offender, was arrested on two counts of first-degree human trafficking along with electronic solicitation of a child, second-degree rape, transmission of obscene material to a child and enticing a child for immoral purposes.  According to the complaint, he supplied alcohol and drugs to students at Fairview High School, then demanded payment from them in the form of sex acts.  In the words of the law, Woods allegedly recruited, enticed, solicited and induced a minor for the purpose of sexual servitude.
  • Sept. 1, 2017 - Stefanie Nichole Weaver of Vinemont was arrested on one count of first-degree human trafficking along with second-degree sodomy and facilitating the travel of a child for an unlawful sex act. According to the complaint, she met a minor on Facebook, traveled to Ohio to have sex with her, and brought her back to Alabama to continue their activities.  The minor was reported in Ohio as a runaway. In the words of the law, Weaver allegedly obtained, recruited, enticed, solicited, induced, harbored, transported and maintained a minor for the purpose of sexual servitude.
  • March 5, 2018 - Cullman attorney Randy Hames was arrested on two counts of second-degree human trafficking.  According to the complaint, he requested rent payment from two female residents at a trailer park he owns in the form of sex.  On March 10, while out on bond, he was re-arrested on an unknown number of additional human trafficking charges, including at least one in the first degree. In the words of the law, Hames may have attempted to subject another person to sexual servitude through use of coercion and attempted to solicit another person for the purpose of sexual servitude.

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