A new investigation by the Guardian reveals that sex traffickers are actively recruiting and grooming women prisoners in correctional facilities and detention centers in multiple states across the country.
Mei Ling McNamara, a professor of journalism at CU Boulder, is the co-producer and director of a film called The Trap, a half hour documentary for the Guardian newspaper which is the culmination of a large investigation into the trafficking of women prisoners.
“The documentary that took myself and my colleague Annie Kelly about a year to make, really looks at how women in both jails and prisons in the US are being cherry-picked basically out of incarceration, not only through the bond system, but through a system that has a lot of different areas of access.”
The women being targeted are very often serving time for non-violent drug offenses and prostitution offenses. McNamara says these offenses are all visible on line “so anyone can look anyone up in prison.
They can see their list of charges, they can see their home address, when they get released and when they can visit them.
So it’s completely and utterly public and so for women who are incredibly vulnerable, while it’s good to be able to have communication to the outside world, many many people on numerous occasions write to them and contact them who they don’t know.”
McNamara found that pimps and sex buyers are using local government and law enforcement websites where the information on the women is freely available and use that information to groom women by writing them letters, putting money on their prison accounts and picking them up straight out of jail.
“When you have nothing, anything in prison, anything in jail means something. People who have no family, they have no money, they have nowhere to go. When you’re in jail you’re the lowest you can be.”
They are then bailing them out of county jails either through cash bonds or via corrupt bondsmen. After they have been bailed out, the women are then told that they must prostitute or have their bond rescinded and be sent back to jail.
Dozens of women were interviewed for the report. McNamara went into jails in Massachusetts to see the trafficking happening first hand.
“We went inside jails and prisons and talked to women and looked at it first-hand happening, we spoke to survivors of this happening, and we also sent out a big survey across the survivors trafficking networks to see if women had in fact been a part of this, had in fact been trafficked straight out of incarceration and what we found was a huge response rate across many, many US states, I would say 20 states, where women had had this happen to them.”
The Guardians investigation found the bail bond system being used in sex trafficking operations in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Mississippi and West Virginia.