LOS ANGELES — Maritime human smuggling in Orange and Los Angeles Counties has increased significantly this summer, with a dozen separate incidents occurring in July, the Department of Homeland Security reported Monday.
The 12 smuggling attempts — which occurred along the coastlines of Palos Verdes, Long Beach, San Pedro, Malibu, Newport Beach and Santa Catalina Island — resulted in 90 people entering the country illegally being apprehended last month, according to Jaime Ruiz of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Most of the apprehended were men “of diverse nationalities,” though they included some women and teenagers.
Although smuggling activity along the coastline is not new, it was usually seen near the country’s southwest border, according to Ruiz. Criminal organizations have expanded their area of operations further north due to increased enforcement operations at the border.
Smuggling efforts often use pleasure crafts and panga boats to transport migrants and narcotics into the area, and can charge $15,000 or more per person trafficked, Ruiz said.
“Smuggling along the California coastline is inherently dangerous and criminal organizations are not concerned with public safety,” Ruiz said. “They see migrants and narcotics as simply cargo.”
SANTA ANA — A pair of 18-year-olds are facing charges of pimping a teenage girl in Santa Ana and Pomona, a police spokesman said Wednesday.
Carlos Guadalupe Garcia and Leilani Celeste Parker were arrested Friday for allegedly pimping the 15-year-old victim, said Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
Charges were filed Tuesday against Garcia and Parker, who pleaded not guilty and were ordered to return to court in the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana on Sept. 5.
Both are charged with human trafficking of an underage victim, pimping for a prostitute younger than 16, and pandering with a minor younger than 16, all felonies. Garcia is additionally charged with pimping and pandering of another victim, who is an adult woman, according to court records.
Police working an operation in Santa Ana saw Parker and the teen in a high-prostitution area of the city, where she was allegedly training the girl to be a sex worker, according to Bertagna.
NEW YORK — TV actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty Monday to charges she was involved in a scheme to turn women into sex slaves for the spiritual leader of a cult-like upstate New York group, a development that came on the same day jury selection began for a federal trial in the case.
Mack, 36, wept as she admitted her crimes and apologized to the women who prosecutors say were exploited by Keith Raniere and the purported self-help group called NXIVM.
“I believed Keith Raniere’s intentions were to help people, and I was wrong,” Mack told a Brooklyn judge.
Mack – best known for her role as a young Superman’s close friend on the series “Smallville” – said that after months of reflection since her arrest, “I know I can and will be a better person.”
The actress is to be sentenced Sept. 11 on two racketeering counts that each carry maximum terms of 20 years in prison. However, it’s likely she would face far less time under sentencing guidelines.
After her arrest last year, a federal judge agreed to release Mack on $5 million bond and place her under home detention. She planned to live with her parents at their home in Los Alamitos as she awaited further legal proceedings, The Associated Press reported.
You’ve probably heard of Craigslist. It’s that buy-and-sell-it website where your kid scored his first apartment. Maybe you’ve used it to find a concert ticket or sell a couch. Or maybe you’ve scrolled through the Missed Connections sections searching for love on your lunch break. I certainly have.
But a seedier side of the classifieds ad site has made headlines in recent weeks. Alongside posts for free kittens and lawn services are countless solicitations for casual sex and sex work.
Or at least there were until March. That’s when Craigslist shuttered its personal ads sections in preemptive reaction to two new anti-sex trafficking bills, best known to the public by their hashtags #SESTA and #FOSTA.
On April 11, President Trump signed those bills into law, with catastrophic impacts for personal ad websites and internet civil liberties.
In principle, SESTA-FOSTA might seem like a good idea. But as written, the language in the bills actually targeted online “prostitution” — a far broader concept than child sex trafficking.
Although online criminal activity has never been protected by law, SESTA-FOSTA removes civil and criminal protections for websites that facilitate prostitution. The logic goes like this: If law enforcement prosecutes web service providers for knowingly allowing prostitution, then sites like Backpage and Craigslist will surveil their own platforms more deliberately, and fewer traffickers will pimp out children on the internet.
But, of course, few things in law are so simple.
In order to enforce sex trafficking accountability standards, Congress makes an exception to the longstanding protections for website operators found in section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act. Section 230 was the credo that guaranteed a censorship-free cyberspace: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider,” it states.
Historically, websites have not been held responsible for the content posted by their users. If someone makes a bomb threat on Facebook, that’s illegal. But Facebook would not likely be the party at fault. This has been a crucial variable in the business formulas for social media, online porn, blogging, and — yes — personal ad sites.
This year, it all changes.
Now web service providers can be held legally liable for any content construed as “prostitution” that occurs on their websites, which could set a precedent for all sorts of government surveillance that challenges the very core of internet culture. More importantly, SESTA-FOSTA encourages self-surveillance of sexual content. It stifles free speech.
As a scholar of sexuality and media, I am very concerned about the implications of SESTA-FOSTA.
SESTA-FOSTA has created a choking effect in online discourse, moving sex traffickers into the digital shadows, preventing consenting adult sex workers from screening their clients online and eliminating important gathering spaces for sexual “outsiders.” So far, more than 40 websites have closed themselves down in reaction to the law.
First, online sex trafficking will continue to exist under SESTA-FOSTA. It will bubble up in less-visible corners of the internet, such as the dark web, where cryptocurrencies are traded for sex and drugs. Making mainstream websites like Craigslist and Backpage responsible for sex trafficking doesn’t eliminate sex trafficking. It just moves it further underground.
Second, SESTA-FOSTA makes no distinction between consensual sex work (e.g. adult escorts, live cammers, masseuses, sugar babies) and human trafficking (e.g. sex slavery, child prostitution, illegal immigration blackmail). That’s because the law is written to punish websites that catalyze “prostitution.” For the consenting women, men and transgender folks who provide sexual services for their rent money, the new law may be a matter of life and death.
Sex workers have long used the internet to screen their clients. Adult personal ad sites have provided a digital safety net for the often at-risk people who do sex work. And sex workers can operate independently online, sidestepping predatory pimps.
Without internet services, sex workers may be forced into back alleys and adult clubs, compromising their ability to choose non-violent, STI-free and HIV-negative clients. SESTA-FOSTA’s effects are felt along lines of race, gender, sexuality and social class. The new law fails to acknowledge its harm to already-marginalized groups.
Third, sexual personal ad sites aren’t just used for sex trafficking. Many communities have been impacted by the Craigslist and Backpage shutdowns — not just the “pimps and prostitutes” that politicians and journalists have painted as perpetrators of online sex crimes.
While completing my Ph.D. in mass communication at the University of Minnesota, my dissertation, “Casual Encounters: Constructing Sexual Deviance About Craigslist.org” examined this phenomenon.
In my research, I analyzed hundreds of Craigslist ads for casual sex posted in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City during the past 15 years. Most of those posts were made by everyday folks hoping to explore their sexual fantasies. Perhaps not surprisingly, there were gay men and transgender women, but also LGBTQ young adults, polyamorous and BDSM kink communities, older adults, and ordinary Joes seeking sexual encounters and conversation partners.
Although sex workers do use personal ad sites to identify and screen clients, the majority of people on Craigslist are curious adults exploring their sexualities. Law enforcement and the mainstream press have sensationalized online sex forums as the red light districts of the internet.
Until last month, Craigslist had hosted online posts for romantic, sexual, casual and platonic relationships for nearly two decades. (Craigslist launched in 1995 as a San Francisco-area events listserv and went national in 2000.)
So it’s not surprising that SESTA-FOSTA wasn’t the first assault against online personals culture. Craigslist and Backpage have weathered multiple crusades against sex trafficking and sex work. In 2008-09, Craigslist bowed under national law enforcement pressure and removed its Erotic Services and Adult Services forums from the site. And starting in 2011, sex trafficking lawsuits pelted both websites.
Back then, Craigslist was a symbol of the libertarian internet. A “censored” bar replaced their sex forums — a political statement that was covered in newspapers across the country. The sex forums went live again after self-surveillance measures were put in place to prevent trafficking.
But today, Craigslist and Backpage have less opportunity for resistance.
As citizens, we should be concerned about the pressure SESTA-FOSTA puts on these websites. We’ve already seen the law’s effects reach beyond sexual personal ad forums. Adult content has been pulled from Google accounts, Twitter has begun “shadow banning” accounts with erotic undertones, and Instagram has taken away users’ posting privileges. Dozens of websites have removed their personal ad sections as a form of self-preservation.
Based on an arbitrary moral standard, SESTA-FOSTA threatens the free speech of LGBTQ people, kink communities and independent, adult sex workers in the name of child safety. It sets a precedent for content-specific digital censorship and encourages self-surveillance among sexual outgroups. It should be a major concern for proponents of the First Amendment.
First they came for the personal ad websites.
What online communities are next?
Chelsea Reynolds is an assistant professor of communications at Cal State Fullerton, where she teaches courses in journalism and digital media. Her research focuses on mass-mediated stigma against sexual minority communities. The author wishes to thank Christopher R. Terry, University of Minnesota assistant professor, for his feedback on this column.
FULLERTON — A 29-year-old pimp from Colton has been sentenced to 34 years to life in prison for the rape and human trafficking of a 15-year-old girl in Orange County; and the pimping and pandering of a second victim.
Raymond Lee Gibson was convicted in October of forcible oral copulation, forcible rape. lewd acts on a child, human trafficking of a minor, pandering a minor, pimping a minor, assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury and pimping and pandering.
Gibson pimped the teen out of Orange and San Bernardino counties.
The girl attempted to flee from the defendant on May 30 of last year, and when he later tracked her down he raped her, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
When she encountered law enforcement in San Bernardino County on June 11 of last year she told them what happened, leading to Gibson’s arrest. He was arrested on June 15, 2016, while pimping a second victim, a woman, in an Orange County motel room, the District Attorney’s Office said in a statement Thursday.