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RI coalition seeks to end commercial sex demand

By Laura Crimaldi
Associated Press / October 24, 2011

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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Activists trying to end human trafficking in Rhode Island unveiled a new public awareness campaign on Monday focusing on the customers who fuel the sex trade.

Through the end of the year, more than a dozen Rhode Island Public Transit Authority buses will carry advertising for the "End Demand" campaign organized by the Rhode Island Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

Coalition chairwoman Tammy Dudman said advocates are focusing on paid-sex consumers because they are behind the exploitation, violence, and abuse experienced by women and children pulled into prostitution. Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, state Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, state Sen. Rhoda Perry and attorney Laura Pisaturo are featured on the ads.

Brown University student Sarah Grimm spends time on campus advocating against human trafficking.

"I'm appalled that it's happening. I think a lot of women are," Grimm said. "As a citizen, I'm ashamed that there's a place for that in our system."

Rhode Island passed a human trafficking law in 2009 that increased penalties for enslaving children in the sex industry and tied human trafficking to forced labor legislation that was already on the books.

Two New York men are currently serving prison sentences after they became the first to be prosecuted under the new law. Andy Fakhoury and Joseph Defeis were accused of operating a prostitution ring from a home in Providence, and forcing the girls, including a 16-year-old, into the sex trade.

The law also set up an interagency task force on human trafficking and required law enforcement agencies to track arrests for involuntary servitude, human trafficking, sex trafficking of a minor and obstruction of justice in sex trafficking of minor cases.

Officials could not immediately provide figures detailing how the prosecution of prostitutes compares with the prosecutions of their customers.

Statistics on the state Commission on Women's website say there are 30 suspected brothels statewide that employ 10 women each. It is estimated each woman services 10 johns daily.

Kilmartin said he is planning outreach efforts to educate municipal prosecutors and police departments to get prostitutes to disclose the names of their pimps and customers so they will be targeted.