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Picture presented at federal trial, hand-out via the Chicago Tribune

Exhibits presented at Alex Campbell's criminal trial showed that he branded victims of human trafficking by forcing them to get tattoos on their back and neck. 

Human trafficking victims get more protection and services in federal court than in state court

by Shadan Kapri
Nov 28, 2012

Alex Campbell recruited foreign-born women who were looking to achieve the American dream in Chicago. Instead of helping them, he branded them with tattoos on their neck and back while declaring them as personal property, according to federal prosecutors.

The victims were forced to work long hours with no pay and little food at the Day and Night Spa in suburban Mt. Prospect.

“Alex Campbell abused women by violently coercing them into labor and commercial sex,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a news release Monday.

On the same day, Campbell was sentenced to life imprisonment for sex trafficking, forced labor, harboring illegal aliens, confiscating passports and extortion.

Four victims testified at the federal trial. Prosecutors presented evidence Campbell had victimized approximately 20 more women, according to the Department of Justice.

Prosecutors said Campbell had recruited the women illegally into the country from Ukraine and Belarus, with the false promise of joining his “family.” Once they came to the U.S., he forced them into prostitution, physically and mentally abused them, withheld their passports, and sometimes gave them little to no food, prosecutors said.

The victims “have a life sentence – all of them,” U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman said about the sentence of life imprisonment. “Their life sentence at your hands compels a life sentence for you.”

When handing down the punishment, Judge Gettleman discussed how Campbell branded the women with tattoos in highly visible places. One victim had 60 words tattooed on her back while others were forced to have tattoos on their neck.

Yet, this was not the only shocking aspect of the case. The case highlighted the large gap in resources to fight human trafficking on the state versus the federal level, even though Illinois generates the fifth-highest number of calls to the National Human Trafficking hotline.

Specialized resources are very much needed for victims in Illinois, said Daria Mueller, an advocate for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Yet, Campbell’s victims will have access to protection, shelter, medical care and legal services, courtesy of the U.S. government because the case was prosecuted under federal laws.

Unlike Illinois state law, the federal government has specific provisions in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act that allows victims of severe forms of human trafficking to be given the same legal status, benefits and protection as refugees.

This allows the victims in Campbell’s case to access most federal benefits and services available to legal residents.

Yet, for victims prosecuted in state courts, the resources to help women and children once they leave prostitution are minimal or non-existent in every community in this state, according to End Demand, a statewide initiative to combat human trafficking in Illinois.

Kristin Claes, from the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, said  the alliance is “in the process of meeting with lawmakers to gain support and funding” for local specialized services, including a safe home and drop-in center that provides mentoring, support groups, legal advocacy and employment assistance for victims of trafficking in Illinois.

No one is sure when local specialized services will be available, if ever.

“We must care for victims and provide all of them with services needed to survive,” said Rachel Leonor Ramirez, an organizer with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Once all victims are given access to the same specialized services across the board, “we can begin to change more lives in a significant way,” said Mueller.