Club owners lead local effort to stop sex trafficking

April 3, 2014

Club owners in the adult entertainment business may not be the first people you think of when you hear of anti-sex-trafficking advocates, but they may be among the first people to see a sex trafficking victim. An Illinois club owner has been leading the fight to stop the selling of women and children. He has joined forces with the Office of Homeland Security to learn how to spot indicators of sex trafficking prevalent in that industry.

Human trafficking is a hugely profitable industry and has been called "modern day slavery" by President Barack Obama.

Michael Ocello, owner of adult entertainment establishments in Illinois, founded a group called COAST, or Club Owners Against Sex Trafficking, to look for signs that young girls are being forced and threatened against their will to sell their bodies. COAST conducts workshops to help employees in the entertainment business look for signs of female sexual trafficking.

"We are understanding that they are starting to brand some of these women, and actually put barcode tattoos on them," said Ocello.

"Their finances are being controlled by others, so they work and make all this money and it's taken away from them. They're given very little to live on and they are restricted in their movement. They can't go anywhere without the trafficker's say so," said Mary Buduris, Office of Homeland Security.

Lisa Hinds has been involved as a manager in the adult entertainment business for more than 20 years and is the mother of a daughter. She says this industry is totally against young women being sold and used against their will.

"Never do we want anyone in our industry that is not in it of their own free will and we will do everything to stop it," said Hinds.

Homeland Security has a special unit that helps these young girls.

"Every victim is vulnerable, they all need support and services and we make sure we link them to various amount of services," said Annabell Marques, Homeland Security special agent.

There is a misconception that these young girls only come from other countries or that sex trafficking is happening outside the United States. Homeland Security has made a public service announcement to make people aware of the growing sexual trafficking problem.

"If someone brings a victim into one of our clubs, we want to be there and know what to do about it, and we will turn it over to Homeland Security," said Ocello.

COAST has helped Homeland Security to prosecute sexual offenders. Their motto is "saving a life is a valuable thing to do."

Homeland Security says that sex trafficking is the third largest criminal enterprise in the world after identity theft and drug dealing.

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