The Trap: the deadly sex-trafficking cycle in American prisons


The thing about Orlando
is that it’s one of the sex trafficking capitals
of the United States because of Disneyland.
There’s so much international tourism. When people drop their kids off
at Disney, you know, a lot of these men
will go off and they’ll want to party. This is what makes it attractive for
the sex traffickers, is the demand. When investigators blew in the windows
of this Washington Shores home and found suspected victims of human
trafficking inside, it was the evidence
they needed to arrest career criminal Richard Rawles
one last time. I’d really liked to see what this house
looks like after all these years. I’ve heard so many stories about it. This man is accused of running
a house of horrors. They say you’re a career criminal,
haven’t you learned your lesson? What did I do wrong? The 75-year-old accused pimp
has allegedly been recruiting inmates from a women’s prison in Ocala and forcing them to prostitute
to make him money. He would have somebody at his house
surfing the website all day long and they’d be looking for girls
that are getting out soon. Looking for girls that
didn’t have a place to go, people with drug histories
or prostitution type charges. If you go and you Google:
prostitutes in Lowell, people will pop up
and then they look through pictures and be able to decide
who they want to write. Ok, how much money do you think
this face will make me? Anybody can write
anybody in prison and jail. How many women were you
writing to in prison? Two or three. Two or three? Why were you writing them for? Consolation. I was searching for love in
all the wrong places. I had been molested
and I had been raped when I was 16, so I didn’t have that love. When Rick started sending me the letters,
he told me everything I wanted to hear such as that I was not going
to be a prostitute anymore, if I wanted to get high
that would be my choice but I would come home
and live in his house and everything would be ok and he would be the love
that I was searching for. There it is. But when I got to Rick’s house
it was a completely different story. The reality sets in
once they’re there. It’s like all of a sudden
we just left one prison, we got into another
where they can’t leave. Richard, how many women
did you have in that house? Like 25. 25?
– Yeah! I really felt like if I left this person,
they would kill me. Richard Rawles was the first sex trafficker
convicted in the United States for trafficking women from prison. The only thing special about him
is he got caught. This story doesn’t end with
the arrest of Richard Rawles. A year long Guardian investigation
has found that the Rawles case is part of a pattern of
recruitment and exploitation that is happening across
the United States. As America’s female
prison population booms, jails and prisons
are becoming the new hunting grounds
for human traffickers. Human trafficking takes
many different forms but is defined by exploitation. It often doesn’t involve criminal gangs
or people transported across borders. It can be very small
and very local. Pimp controlled prostitution
is now recognised as one of the most brutal forms
of human trafficking in the United States. It is characterised by violence,
manipulation and coercion. It works like any
other business model. The seller is the pimp or trafficker
who is profiting from prostitution. The customer is the sex buyer
or the John and the commodity
is the victim. Right about 14 or 15-years-old
I started sniffing cocaine and drinking
and smoking pot and for my friends
it was like experimenting, for me it was escaping. Just trying to escape all of the stuff
that was happening at home. My first boyfriend,
who was 24-years-old, and I was 14-years-old
and he’s having me have threesomes with different men, and I am thinking,
he’s gonna love me if I do this. But that romantic relationship
ended up turning into a really exploitative relationship. And it started as like,
can you like sleep with this friend, do him a favour? I ended up working the streets
in Main South of Worcester. Nicky spent a decade
in prostitution and addiction, often under the control
of different pimps. I can just remember just feeling, like,
really dehumanised, you know? Like people looking at me
like I was some kind of animal. You know, this soulless feeling
of, like, just wanting to die and waiting for your body
to catch up, kind of thing. One of my biggest fears
when I was out there was that I was going
to die behind a dumpster somewhere like a piece of trash and nobody was going to even
know who I was or even care. I remember being
in here a lot, especially in the middle
of the night I always tried to go short
on my drugs so I could save some money
to get a cup of coffee. To my first mug shot
at 24-years-old. And then to halfway through,
30-years-old, though I think
I look about 50. In my last mugshot, I had just been
beaten up by a sex buyer so my lip was spilt,
my eye was black. That was my last arrest. You know, I’d taken on this identity
of, like, that was my only value, that’s my only worth
to this world. I was a victim of domestic violence and the domestic violence
led to drug use, the drug use
led to prostitution and prostitution
led to trafficking. The two pimps that I was involved with
were both drug users. So everything is fine as long
as there are drugs. When there’s not drugs,
that’s when the violence in my situation occurred. I’ve been raped, beaten
and sodomised countless times, I kind of lost track. Marian became trapped
in a cycle of addiction and prostitution, disappearing from her children’s lives
for over three years. I walked away from family members,
my mother and father and children. It was very painful,
so I tried to stay as high as I could. I tried to blow my heart up. Mother’s days that I missed
I tried to smoke enough crack the trafficker would buy it
because he thought those days I might leave
and go back home. Like Marian,
many women are arrested for crimes they commit
whilst under the control of a trafficker. We’re going to the location
where I was arrested. The day of the arrest my trafficker
had sent me out to find drugs and the rest, as they say,
is history. If you could pull over. Anywhere? Right there.
– OK. By these fences
and this little lot area, right here, is where they
used to sell the drugs. Look at that,
it’s still there. Wow! This wasn’t here before. Like, this whole fence here,
this was like one big open lot. 14 years ago
I was arrested right here. This is a very important
moment for me. I haven’t been back to this
particular spot since that happened. I got 14 years clean
to July 29th this year. – Alright.
Hey. God is good. – That’s not all that he is. The police rode down on us
and they turned this corner and stopped right here
in front of these wrought iron fences and put us all up
against the fence. And I went to jail. As soon as they are arrested
and charged, women are becoming potential targets
for human traffickers. In many states, personal data
of anyone arrested for a crime is immediately put online. This often includes mugshots,
criminal records, release dates and home addresses. Traffickers are then using this information
to locate and cherry pick their victims. After they have identified the target,
the grooming begins. Women will often start receiving letters
that try to establish a relationship. You hear that door clicking? Typically when you’re going
through in the units, that click that you hear … And I remember the first time
I came back, my thoughts were: Am I allowed to leave?
Are they gonna keep my shoes? Sometimes still
it causes real anxiety. You know, it’s like …
It makes your heart jump. Ladies, one side please. I just remember the feelings of
the dread, the hopelessness, the ‘how did I do this
to get here again?’ Nicky was an imate at this jail
where she was also groomed and recruited by traffickers. Now she comes back here,
to try and stop others from falling into the same trap. A lot of us don’t understand
trafficking fully. I didn’t for a long time. A trafficker or a pimp,
or a boyfriend or whatever you want
to call him, right? Is somebody that’s benefiting
from our prostitution. That’s not worse than the John? It is, yeah, absolutely.
Absolutely, yeah. They know that we need the drug
and they know that we’re like … We’re weak at that point,
we’re desperate. So they are taking advantage of us. Do you ever see these
men going to jail? No, they’re sitting outside,
writing you guys letters, waiting for you to get out so they can victimise you again,
all over again. I don’t know.
I don’t think this is my class. Well OK.
Yeah, it’s OK. I am just going to … And that’s fine. OK. This has opened my eyes
in a bunch of different ways, this conversation, because
it makes me realise that these things have happened to me
and I didn’t realise it. Despite the efforts of Nicky
and the jail authorities, traffickers are still
infiltrating this facility. We discovered that prison bank accounts
are a key vehicle for recruitment. In many states across America,
anyone is able to send money to inmates, a floor in the system
that traffickers are exploiting. 129.03 129.03 That’s more money
than I had yesterday. () put 85 in. Who? (), you don’t know him? Yeah, I do.
From a different life. I hope so. Next. This is from a guy
on Main Street who says he doesn’t do dates
but he’s a pervert. This is from another date
but he helps me with money, so that’s why
I keep talking to him. Sometimes you want
somebody to love you and you feel like it’s real. I have a boyfriend
but he lets me prostitute, so I am like:
does he really love me? You know? And he lies to me all the time. So, I don’t know. Jill has been in and out
of this jail 22 times. How are you doing?
I’ve been good. I am going to make this
short and sweet. I’m going to either send some money
or just bring it up to you, LOL. I hope you are ok, kid. If you need anything I can help
you with out here, let me know. Much love, somebody. I don’t know who it is. He says that he writes all the girls
that get picked up for prostitution. He offered to send me money
if we got to know each other better. Yeah, I know if I get out
they expect something. When you are incarcerated,
yeah, it gets really lonely if you have nothing.
You watch people eat, drink coffee, they just seem
happier when they have stuff. When you have nothing it’s like
you’re really all alone. Sometimes without them
we’d have nobody. My family won’t help me,
you know? It’s lonely. The deliberate targeting
of women prisoners is not something confined
to one prison or one state. The same pattern of grooming,
recruitment and trafficking, is happening across the country. In Texas, the Guardian secured interviews
with convicted human traffickers, who confirmed the routine pipelining
of women out of incarceration. Who got recruited out of jail? Oh yeah, I hear about it
all the time. You can write to females in jail
or you might got a cousin, or know somebody
whose cousin is in jail. So, they tell them:
“Hey, my guy wants to talk to you” and next thing you know
you’re writing her too. You put money on her books. A lot of people don’t have
the courtesy of people putting money on their books
or sending them letters. So, once you start doing it with a person,
over a period of time they become loyal to you,
so you just got you a new girl. A lot of people in my neighbourhood
have never seen a female pimp or whatever they want to call it
or whatever but I didn’t label myself as a pimp,
you know what I’m saying, I am just a female
with a lot of bitches, you know? I got into their hearts,
they feel in love with me. The love they have for me enables
them to do whatever, like making money or whatever they have
to do to please me. You got the boyfriend pimp,
you got the gorilla pimp, you got the finesse pimp and you got the druggy pimp. The finesse pimp is the one that,
he doesn’t care if she leaves. If she stays, she’s going to do
what’s she’s supposed to do, we are family but we are going
to run it like a business at the end of the day
and if you’re not doing what you are supposed
to be doing: there is the door. Then you have the drug pimp. Those are the ones that’s forcing
the girls to do stuff because they’re addicted to a drug and nine times out of ten
the girl is addicted to the drugs. A gorilla pimp is the
worst kind of pimp. They beat their women up,
they tie them up they do all the kinds of
crazy stuff to these girls to kind of make
the girls stay around. A few times I had to put
my hands on a few of them or whatever but not nothing
brutal, you understand? Just like, rough them up a little bit,
choke them out or something like that, or slap them but I never
fought them like I fight a nigger on the street or whatever
because they were my girls and I treat them like queens
but when you disobey, you know what I’m saying,
you get punished. I wasn’t forcing them to do anything,
I wasn’t making them. All I was doing was showing them
a better way to do it, but they were already doing it
when I met them. So I don’t feel like … Yes, in my mind
I knew it was illegal but I figured it would be
illegal for them because prostitution is illegal. I didn’t force them,
I just finessed them. These women involved in prostitution
and trafficking are victims, yet we are still treating them
like criminals. We’re still criminalising them, right? When you’re trying to exit
all of these things become problems. Now you’re a convicted criminal,
you have a record that’s extensive and now everywhere you go
that follows you. Imagine having to like sit
in a job interview across from like
a white man of power, trying to explain away
your prostitution-related arrests and how traumatising that is. So often times they’re like ‘fuck it’
we’re just gonna stay in this life because, you know,
what options do we really have? A lot of people
feel trapped in it. You have nobody to go to,
you have nowhere to parole to, when you get out
it’s hard to get a job, you can’t get an apartment
because you’re a felon, you don’t have any money
to get an apartment. What’s the first thing
you’re going to do? We are creatures
of instinct and habit, so if we can’t eat, we’re going
to go to where we know. That’s any person whether you’re
doing something legal or illegal. You got people that actually know
the times that they release women from jail and they’re right there, waiting,
you know, kind of like cabs. They wait on people
when they get out of jail. They approach them
and they ask them, right? “Are you all right?” And it goes from there. Fault lines in the
criminal justice system, mean that women
are being released from prison straight into the
arms of traffickers. In Florida, Richard Rawles,
a convicted sex offender, was able to collect multiple women
from jails and prisons without raising any alarms. Richard, how many women
did you have in that house? Like 25. John Meekins, a former
correctional officer at Lowell Women’s prison tried to warn prison
authorities about Rawles. He was repeatedly there,
picking these women up. People that are releasing
the inmates at night, they were sitting there saying:
“Yeah, he was here again last night and he was talking about ‘Hey, he was here three times last month’ and he’s going to be here
next week getting another one.’ A second correctional officer,
Theresa Davidson, also witnessed trafficking
inside the prison. I was listening
and all of a sudden I am hearing some
sex trafficking going on with some inmates. I’ve spoken with the majors,
I’ve spoken with all of my supervisors and they were just like: ‘Yeah, OK.’ They don’t want you
bringing more work to them. They want to just have
a nice, pleasant day and move on. I talked to certain staff members,
99% of the staff members don’t even know
what human trafficking is. The whole attitude was:
“Well, who the hell are you, and why should we care?” There are no laws in America
on who can pick someone up from prison. When they get out of prison
we send them out with $50. How long is that
going to last somebody? It’s like here is your money,
here’s your civilian clothes, here’s all the property
that you can take with you and I need to see you
get in a car with somebody. The thing that helped me
decide to go to Rick’s house is because I had
nowhere else to go. He came to pick me up,
he brought me two sweater dresses because I got out in January, he brought me boots to wear,
I got to pick which outfit. When I got into the car
he had a bottle of Heineken and a lot of crack. And I went right back to smoking crack
my first day out of prison. The first two weeks,
it’s like a paradise, it’s like going on a honeymoon,
every day like wine and dining give you everything you want. And then out of nowhere,
it switches up and they’re like: “This is what you gotta do.” He started talking to me about
going on dates, that I was costing him
too much money, he was giving me all these drugs
and that I owed him. When you have a drug addiction,
you will do anything to get that drug. When a pimp gets
into your head and then you don’t listen
to what they say they use their
physical intimidation and then when you’re scared to death
of being beat again, you’ll continue doing what
they want you to do. So, I used to stand
right here on this corner. And as you can tell –
there’s people’s shoes just laying here
on the side of the road, somebody probably just
kicked them off. My view used to be from up here and I would just stand here like this. And then people from
that way or this way would come and that’s
what I would do. Not a life I like remembering
but it is what it is. Yeah, that’s Jessica. Can’t believe she’s still out here,
still alive. It feels good to know
that I am going back home to a safe place and I don’t ever have
to do this ever again. Like, this isn’t … This was a past … This is past history,
this isn’t what I have to do, it’s not a necessity anymore,
it’s just what I used to do. This girl, she probably
won’t talk to us but she was just released
within the last month. I know her. What are you doing sweetheart?
– Hi sweetie. Oh my god, Kelly. Love you, Kel.
– Sorry. It’s ok … I love you. I love you too. It’s actually sometimes
really heartbreaking because last time I was up
at the prison she was there, so I asked here when
she was released from incarceration and she said the 12th. What has it been, two weeks? You know what I mean? And like, just the decline is so quick. Women released from jail
in Worcester have almost no access
to recovery or support services. Nicky is their only safety net. As they cycle
out of incarceration and back into the hands
of sex buyers and pimps. One of these women is Jill
who showed us the letters in jail. After being released,
she is now back on the streets. With no funding
for a safe house, the only place of refuge
is Nicky’s drop in centre. Hello. Hey! You know Sharon.
I know, I was saying we haven’t seen her
in so long. We have everything that
they could need from like long-sleeved shirts, to shoes, pants, t-shirts, underwear, bras. Do you always find good stuff here? I do. She puts together cute little outfits,
she always does … We can’t just shut
the door on people and say: “Well, you know,
she had 20 arrests, she’s never gonna change.’
You can’t do that because you don’t know if
time 27 is it. You just keep helping people. I am so sick and tired
of going in and out, in and out, and nothing ever changes.
I don’t want to die. It really upsets me,
I wish I was never an addict but we don’t wake up saying: ‘Hey, I want to smoke crack
and shoot up all my life.” I never fucking did,
I know that. I woke up knowing I was going
to have the best life but I didn’t wake up thinking
I was going that kind of way. That was when I got into my first
relationship that I talked about. This was me at my house
when I was a kid. That’s my mum and my dad. My graduation from nursery school. I was involved in dance
when I was a kid. So, that’s me,
that’s my sister Katie. What’s that? What’s that? Can I have this hand? One, two, three, four … I never thought
I could be a wife, I never thought I could be
a woman of dignity and respect, I never thought I could
help other people. And, like, god has seen fit
for me to have all these things and I’m just really grateful. Hey mama! Hey baby. Yeah, those.
I like those too. You’re going to be
sneezing in a minute. This is my oldest daughter, Tasha, Tasha Jones. My oldest daughter. And this is Cia,
my youngest granddaughter. And this is my
step-grandson. In Chicago, Marian has also
left her life on the streets and has rebuilt her relationship
with her family. We used to go looking for her
with our uncle Rodney. We used to go on the
west side of Chicago. Some people would say they saw you
and we would go there the next day or next night
and go looking for you but we would
never find you. Never worked. Until you got locked up. 14 years ago,
I was in custody on the other side of those
buildings in division three. My mum was in jail
and that’s when we talked to her again and it’s been uphill
since then. Marian now works for the
Sheriff of Cook County, just a few hundred yards away
from where she was jailed. She helps a lot of,
a lot of women … I love it. I am spending time with my
daughter and grandchildren at the same location
that I was in custody and the place I now, basically have
my ministry and my work, is an absolutely amazing
and surreal feeling. It’s lovely. Marian broke free
from her trafficker because she received services
and support in jail that offered her a way out. Yet across America, many others
will never break free. OK, have you been here before? Have a good night.

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