Even as the island marks January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, not many people are aware of human trafficking as an issue in Guam.
Human trafficking? Here? Really?
“Absolutely,” says Holly Rustick, co-chair of the outreach and research subcommittee for the Guam Human Trafficking Task Force.
Although the number of human trafficking incidents in Guam is unclear due to the lack of a unified reporting system, Rustick says there are “high indicators” of human trafficking on island in both sex trafficking and labor trafficking.
“Many people don't think human trafficking happens on Guam, or are surprised when it is brought up. But I have personally interviewed survivors of human trafficking on Guam. It does happen. It does exist,” Rustick told the Post.
Commonly referred to with terms such as “modern slavery,” “human trafficking” and “trafficking in persons,” the United Nations Protocol and the U.S. State Department define the act of “human trafficking” as the recruitment, transportation and harboring of persons, by means of the use of force, fraud or coercion, for sexual exploitation, forced labor and domestic servitude. Recognized forms of human trafficking include sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, forced labor, domestic servitude and debt bondage.
Citing reports and interviews about the adult entertainment industry in Guam, Rustick said the Tumon tourist district has become the island’s de facto quasi-red light district. In the tourist area of Tumon alone, there is a massage parlor every 1,000 yards and sometimes two in one building. The majority (almost 75 percent) are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the remainder open daily until 4 a.m.
“The price for the average massage on Guam is $40, but a ‘special’ massage is $100 or more, depending on what services are included. New girls are advertised each month, directly mirroring their short-term visas. Red blinking lights, employees wearing suggestive clothing, and women approaching ‘customers’ outside of the parlor make these illicit massage businesses easily recognizable,” Rustick said.
She added that the only requirements for opening and operating a massage parlor on Guam are a business license and a sanitary permit. Furthermore, the only requirement for being a masseuse is a health certificate and no credentials or license are required and there are little to no regulations.
Rustick said the lax policies on massage parlors provides an easy market for prostitution and sex trafficking.
“One only has to stay up to 2 a.m. to see the number of massage parlors open with half-naked women … sitting outside and soliciting men who leave the bars. Many of those parlors are open until 4 a.m. or 24 hours with ‘special’ prices for ‘happy endings.’ It doesn't take any imagination to know what is happening,” Rustick said.
Shockingly, Rustick said the numbers show there are more massage parlors on Guam than McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFCs and Burger King restaurants combined.
“To open a massage parlor, all that is needed is a health certificate, and the employees do not need any certifications in massage or anatomy. There are more required restrictions for people to touch your hair – cosmetologists – than there are for people to touch your body. That is alarming,” Rustick said.
She added: “If I could see one thing needed on Guam, it would be to implement credentialing and licensing for massage parlors and their employees. I believe that this would shut down a lot of illegitimate massage parlors and could also provide a source of technical training on Guam, similar to other trades academies at places such as Guam Community College.”
The Guam Human Trafficking Task Force was developed in 2008 in response to evidence of the existence of human trafficking on the island of Guam and throughout the Federated States of Micronesia. It is overseen by the U.S. Attorney's Office, which also oversees the CNMI Human Trafficking Task Force.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Guam has a Human Trafficking Task Force consisting of four committees: Outreach and Research; Intervention; Law Enforcement; and Victim Services. In the Northern Mariana Islands, the task force is named Human Trafficking Intervention Coalition. The human trafficking task forces are comprised of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies partnered with social service agencies; medical, mental and public health professionals; faith-based organizations; educational institutions; consulates; and other community stakeholders to provide necessary services for victims of human trafficking.
The goal of the human trafficking task forces is to work with law enforcement and private agencies to discover and rescue victims of human trafficking while identifying and prosecuting offenders. This goal is achieved through heightened law enforcement and victim service presence in the community, operations to identify victims and traffickers, providing training for law enforcement officers, and outreach awareness campaigns in the community.
Due to Guam’s small population, Rustick said there are more research-gathering obstacles that face the Guam community in comparison to the mainland United States. She said both the Guam Human Trafficking Task Force and the Guam Naval Fleet and Family Services Unit have already identified the risks attached to releasing data focused on the identification of victims of human trafficking on Guam.
“The limited population and geographic size of Guam creates a condition where the public can still identify survivors of human trafficking even when the data is under the guise of anonymity. Such topics are taboo and easy identification factors can not only hinder aid efforts, but also put victims and survivors at an additional risk for further harm, public stigma, loss of agency, and recapture,” Rustick said.
She added that the prevalence of human trafficking on Guam is tied to similar gender-based issues since violence and gender-based violence within the public and private sphere are also prevalent on Guam and the number of women who identify as rape victims here is nearly three times higher than in similar towns in the United States of the same size.
According to research conducted by the Polaris Project, an organization that works on all forms of human trafficking, “Individuals who buy commercial sex acts create the demand for sex trafficking.”
“Many buyers may be unaware, ill-informed, or in direct denial of the abuse realities of sex trafficking situations as they exist within the broader sex trade,” the Polaris Project stated.
Last year, a study titled “An Analysis of Human Trafficking Indicators on Guam” co-authored by Rustick and Lindsey Posmanick-Cooper was released by the Outreach and Research Subcommittee of the Guam Human Trafficking Task Force, the Office of the U.S. Attorney for Guam and the Northern Marianas.
According to the study, the overarching foundations for human trafficking in Guam include geographic, environmental, economic and social conditions.
Because Guam has close proximity to East Asia, Southeast Asia and to the outer Mariana islands, Guam’s unique location also forms a “perfect triangle” for being a human trafficking destination, the study stated.
The study also pointed out that Guam is an access point to nationals from the Federated States of Micronesia as Guam attracts islanders who are looking for work, a more affluent lifestyle, a higher education, and better health care.
The Compacts of Free Association assures open immigration to the United States for members of the FSM; however, it does not screen for qualifications such as job skills or educational levels. This has left many hopeful islanders economically vulnerable and although the Compacts have benefited many people, it has further solidified Guam as an ideal location for traffickers, the study stated. Such examples include the 2013 Blue House trial, which involved nine female trafficking victims from Chuuk state in the FSM, as well as a reported case of Micronesian women relocating to Guam due to false promises of au pair work by family members.
Difficult to prosecute
According to the Guam Human Trafficking Taskforce Research and Outreach subcommittee, human trafficking cases are very difficult to prosecute because there is no reliable system for reporting instances of human trafficking.
The subcommittee has also identified gaps and unmet needs:
• No universal intake/referral form exists and there's a lack of outreach and educational awareness materials; and
• There is no method to gather information to identify victims and their needs, besides prosecution, and a lack of a collaborative campaign.
According to the subcommittee, these gaps are significant and debilitating, and insufficient research on the climate of human trafficking on Guam negatively impacts efforts to curb the supply and demand for trafficking in persons.
“Most significantly, it has hindered our ability to receive a multitude of grants because the number of cases reported on Guam is significantly less than estimated numbers. The lack of research and poor strategies for data collection harm Guam’s ability to make informed laws that are survivor-centered and maintain a victim’s identity,” the subcommittee stated.
For 2017, Rustick said the Guam Human Trafficking Task Force is working to come up with a uniform reporting system for victims and survivors of human trafficking.
At this time, she said there is no existing data or strategy in place to design, gather and evaluate the number of victims of human trafficking on Guam in order to have the information necessary to drive policies, strategies and services.
“Currently, each organization has its own process of collecting data and information, and many do not gather information on human trafficking which sometimes comes out later through other processes,” Rustick said.
The task force is also working to get multi-lingual information on human trafficking at the Guam airport and continues with training for different agencies, such as the Blue Lightning Campaign, talks at Rotary Clubs, schools, etc., as well as training conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Also, there needs to be something more in place to provide counseling and a place of education for survivors. Currently, there are no service providers on Guam that receive funding specifically to support survivors of human trafficking,” Rustick said.