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Giannini: Rhode Island Continues To Be a Haven for Sex Trafficking

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


It's hard to believe that it has already been several years since the General Assembly passed laws to ban human trafficking and indoor prostitution.  I often wonder if people know the history of these two bills and just how important they are to Rhode Island.

I read the January 14, 2015 Providence Journal article, "Former Massachusetts Man Charged with Sex Trafficking Two Women in Providence", and I cringed.  It seems to be a daily read now, and we watch newscasts where sex predators are trafficking underage girls here for prostitution.  It's hard to believe that our little state continues to be a haven for sex trafficking.

In 2007, I introduced the first piece of legislation in the House of Representatives to ban Human Trafficking.  This was in response to young girls being brought here to work in Asian message parlors.  They were promised lives of good fortune, careers and bright futures, but instead they were forced to live in one room cooking on sternos and sleeping on mattresses on the floor. Living conditions were deplorable and someone was making a great deal of money on the backs of these young girls.  

The first bill to ban Human Trafficking passed the House of Representatives but failed to  pass in  the Senate. I also filed a bill to ban indoor prostitution which met great opposition in the General Assembly.  I was accused of trying to stop women from making a living and targeting women unfairly.  That was never my intent. My intent was to stop a growing cancer I saw coming called sex trafficking which was targeting our young girls and young men right here in Rhode Island.

Within that year, more media coverage and newspaper articles appeared in the Providence Journal telling about the living conditions of these girls.  Many could not speak English and when interviewed by police, they were afraid to tell their stories. More and more massage parlors were popping up around the state.

At that time, no one really wanted to believe that Human Trafficking existed.  Along with the trafficking of young women came the act of prostitution.  The two acts usually go hand in hand.

Young girls are trafficked to places where they are forced into prostitution.  They are usually runaways, abused and homeless underage adolescents who are seeking a better life.  What they get in return for their services is a life of misery, sexual and physical abuse, disease and sometimes even death.

Rhode Island was a safe haven for pimps, johns and sexual predators because of a loophole in the prostitution law.  And we were the only state to have this loophole and word quickly spread.

In 2008, we passed the first Human trafficking bill in the General Assembly to ban Human Trafficking in Rhode Island. But while that passage was hailed as an accomplishment, I found out that without a law to ban indoor prostitution, the human trafficking law was hard to enforce.

Prostitution indoors was legal and only illegal outdoors due to a rewrite of the prostitution laws in the 1980's which focused on outside solicitation of prostitution and did not give reference to prostitution indoors.

It was two days before Thanksgiving in 2008 when I received a telephone call from then Superintendent Brendan Doherty telling me how much we needed the indoor prostitution bill in order to enforce the Human Trafficking bill. Along with that telephone call, came a tremendous amount of support for passage of the bill from Colonel Doherty, Governor Donald Carcieri and  various law enforcement agencies.  

Colonel McCartney of Warwick also was very supportive and told of the "Craigslist killer" coming to a Warwick hotel in an attempted plot against a massage therapist.  The State Police and Warwick Police testified at committee meetings, attended press conferences and verified what we knew all along. Sex trafficking in Rhode Island was growing because of the loophole in the prostitution law and we needed to stop it.  

Support continued from the public, law enforcement and community groups such as "Citizens Against Trafficking”, started by Professor Donna Hughes and attorney Melanie Shapiro.  

After much debate, a law banning indoor prostitution was passed in October 2009 as well as a stronger ban on Human Trafficking.  Even though the two laws passed banning human trafficking and prostitution, we realized this was only the beginning.  The Human Trafficking bill also created a task force made up of  general assembly members,  law enforcement, social agencies, trafficking advocate groups and state agencies including Human services and the Department of Children, Youth and Families.

The purpose of the task force was to give statistics on Sex Trafficking, implement services for victims, provide police training and create programs for public awareness.  Unfortunately, the task force was never formed and although there are other groups working on this issue, I believe we still need the implementation of the State Task Force.

More public awareness is needed to warn parents about the dangers of the Internet and the use of certain websites and newspapers which advertise the sexual  services of young women and men. More education is also needed for our young women and men who fall prey to these predators because they are uninformed about the dangers of sex trafficking. We also need  to ensure victims of trafficking are getting the services they need.

The bans on Human Trafficking and Indoor prostitution that passed are good laws but we need to always remember that laws are only good if they are implemented. Law enforcement must stay vigilant in their effort to stop sex trafficking. The focus needs to be not only on the pimps and traffickers but the johns who purchase the services of these underage victims and the landlords and property owners who permit these crimes on their premises.

Finally, the Providence Journal article stated the police said one of the homeless underage victims that was recently trafficked here to Providence from Massachusetts and sold for sex told the investigators, "Today, Is the best day of my life...you all saved me."

They did save her and should be commended for acting swiftly and professionally in the continuing fight against sex trafficking.  We look forward to the day when there will be no more trafficking victims in Rhode Island and our young people can look ahead and not back to remember the best day of their lives.

Joanne Giannini served as a RI State Representative from Providence from 1994 to 2010. She has previously written commentaries for the Providence Journal and the Federal Hill Gazette. During her tenure in the General Assembly, she made appearances on CNN, Primetime News, and American Morning regarding legislation she filed in Rhode Island.


Related Slideshow: Providence’s Most Dangerous Neighborhoods

Each week, the Providence Police Department releases its "Weekly Crime Comparison Report" on its website. The breakdown covers how many crimes have occured in the past week, past month, and year to date in each Police District and comparing them with the same time interval from the year prior, reflecting changes in crime rates. GoLocal has distilled the key data points from this weeks report to reflect YTD crime data grouped by general category- violent, property, other, and total. We ranked the districts by 2013 violent crimes to date. For the full report as filed by the PPD, click here

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#9: District 9

College Hill, Wayland Square, Fox Point

Violent Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 35

2012: 53

Property Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 597

2012: 630

Other Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 183

2012: 218

Total Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 815

2012: 901

Prev Next

#8: District 8

Mount Hope, Hope, Blackstone

Violent Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 36

2012: 40

Property Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 596

2012: 531

Other Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 226

2012: 212

Total Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 858

2012: 783

Prev Next

#7: District 3

Reservoir, South Elmwood, Washington Park

Violent Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 63

2012: 67

Property Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 443

2012: 452

Other Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 311

2012: 305

Total Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 817

2012: 824

Prev Next

#6: District 1


Violent Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 79

2012: 94

Property Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 1116

2012: 1118

Other Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 563

2012: 580

Total Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 1758

2012: 1792

Prev Next

#5: District 6

Mount Pleasant, Manton, Elmhurst

Violent Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 128

2012: 116

Property Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 829

2012: 885

Other Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 531

2012: 559

Total Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 1488

2012: 1560

Prev Next

#4: District 7

Charles, Wanskuck, Smith Hill

Violent Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 172

2012: 183

Property Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 1143

2012: 1092

Other Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 784

2012: 813

Total Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 2099

2012: 2088

Prev Next

#3: District 4

Federal Hill, West End

Violent Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 173

2012: 188

Property Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 1082

2012: 1085

Other Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 755

2012: 919

Total Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 2010

2012: 2192

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#2: District 5

Olneyville, Silver Lake, Hartford

Violent Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 206

2012: 189

Property Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 911

2012: 865

Other Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 758

2012: 724

Total Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 1875

2012: 1778

Prev Next

#1: District 2

Upper South Providence, Lower South Providence, Elmwood

Violent Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 213

2012: 188

Property Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 966

2012: 964

Other Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 841

2012: 910

Total Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 2020

2012: 2062

Prev Next


Violent Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 1121

2012: 1135

Property Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 7738

2012: 7714

Other Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 5017

2012: 5296

Total Crimes Reported (YTD)

2013: 13876

2012: 14145


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