by Sue Ann Rybak
— The second in a series of articles
It’s probably hard for many people to believe that sex trafficking could be taking place in Mt. Airy.
But just last week, East Mt. Airy resident Rahim McIntyre, a.k.a King Kobra, was sentenced on Aug. 18 by U.S. District Court Judge Harvey R. Bartle to nearly 22 years in prison on three counts of sex trafficking.
In October 2013, Rahim’s brother, Rahaad McIntyre, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of minors.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Philadelphia is in the top 15 cities in the United States for domestic sex trafficking.
Although human trafficking is often a hidden crime and accurate statistics are difficult to obtain, researchers estimate that more than 80 percent of trafficking victims are female. More than 50 percent of human trafficking victims are children.
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Rahim McIntyre ran a prostitution business in Philadelphia and other major cities between early 2006 and late 2012. The youngest victim was only 16 when she met McIntyre in 2006.
According to the press release, McIntyre took photographs of the women in lingerie and then posted them on the Internet and advertised that they were “available for purchase for the purposes of prostitution.”
In an earlier interview about sex trafficking in June, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Morgan, who works as federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said, “there has been a lot of public outrage about the recent sex trafficking case over in Africa, but the exact same thing is happening here in Philadelphia every single day.”
Morgan said in an interview with the Local that McIntyre’s defense attorney Lawrence Bozzelli admitted that his client was a pimp, but argued that the three women voluntarily prostituted themselves.
“I think that is a very inadequate portrayal of the psychology of human trafficking, and that there is a substantial amount of psychological manipulation involved, and that defendants intentionally choose victims who are very vulnerable either because of their young age or because of their difficult life circumstances,” Morgan said. “When you are talking about repeated acts of violence and coercion and threats I think the notion of choice sort of goes out the window.”
A federal jury convicted McIntyre of using force and coercion to manipulate women to engage in prostitution on April 21, 2014.
The McIntyre case is only one of the latest examples of an ongoing struggle by law enforcement to combat sex trafficking in Philadelphia.
In an article posted on the CBS website entitled “Philadelphia Man Sentenced To More Than 20 Years For Sex Trafficking,” Morgan said, “It is probably difficult for any of us to assess the type of damage that it does to a human soul to go through that type of experience, and what it does to one’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth.”
She said some hot spots for sex trafficking in Southeastern Pennsylvania are Kensington Avenue, Roosevelt Boulevard, City Line Avenue and the Philadelphia International Airport.
“The place that’s known as the track, which is pimp’s lingo for the street where you can find lots of prostitutes walking, is Kensington Avenue in Kensington,” Jones said, “but, there is also a track on the Roosevelt Boulevard. The airport hotels are pretty popular because of the traffic as well as hotels on the Boulevard and City Line Avenue.
“But, we have also had cases out of Reading, Allentown and Chester, so it pretty much spans the whole region, unfortunately.”
Morgan said the Internet has revolutionized sex trafficking. She said it was no longer just confined to traditional venues such as streets, bus terminals and truck stops. She said the Internet makes it incredibly easy for predators to lure victims because they can pretend to be the same age, gender and demographic as their victims.
“I can’t tell you how many cases I have had where traffickers approach victims on the Internet either as themselves or posing as another female,” Morgan said. “People are pretty naïve about what happens on the Internet and how dangerous it is.”
Morgan said pimps or sex traffickers will usually approach girls under the guise of being their boyfriend.
She said a man often will approach a girl and say she is beautiful and suggest she be a model. He will offer to get her hair and nails done, buy her lingerie and take photos of her to make a modeling portfolio. Later, he posts the photos on sites like Backpage.com so he can advertise her for prostitution.
“Anywhere you have teenage girls without parents, you have a good situation for a pimp to begin grooming or recruiting victims,” Morgan said.
According to research by Benjamin E. Skinner in 2008, a human trafficker can receive up to 2,000 percent profit from a girl trafficked for sex. A 2003 study in the Netherlands found that, on average, a single sex slave earned her pimp at least $250,000 a year.
Morgan said the average age of victims in her cases in Philadelphia is about 15 or 16, but added that she has heard of cases nationally where victims were as young as 10 years old.
A study of U.S. Department of Justice human trafficking task force cases revealed 83 percent of sex trafficking victims identified in the United States were U.S. citizens. The average age of entry of domestic sex trafficking victims is 12 to 14.
Compounding the issue of girls being so young is the fact that prostitution drastically reduces the life expectancy of those who do it. The average life span of girls after they enter prostitution is about seven years, according to the U.S. Department of State’s “2014 Trafficking in Persons Report.”
“If someone has been working in prostitution since they were a teenager, typically by the time they reach their mid-20s, they either die of a drug overdose or they are no longer marketable because the drugs have taken their toll,” Morgan said.
Mary DeFusco, a veteran public defender who helped found Dawn’s Place, a nine-bed residence and therapeutic program structured to assist recovery for international and American women who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation, said one of the difficulties of identifying domestic sex trafficking victims is that they are typically viewed as criminals.
She said at the local level, the law does nothing to prevent adult women from being arrested for prostitution.
DeFusco said she recently sent a Philadelphia police report from June 19, 2014, to the FBI because the police officer failed to arrest the pimp. She said the officer was investigating possible prostitution activity on Backpage.com. According to the police report, before the officer arrived at the location he was greeted by a pimp.
DeFusco said the officer wrote, “A black male was coming from room 153 as I knocked on the door of 151. A black female, who identified herself as “Spring,” came to the door in panties and a bra. The black male stopped and told me to take it easy on his shorty.” She said the report went on to say that the pimp informed the officer the price was $180 not $150 as the girl had originally said.
DeFusco said a discussion about sex and the cost of services ensued and the officer arrested the prostitute, a black female, who just recently turned 18 years old in April. She added that the bottom of the police report noted that a National Crime Information Center check identified her client as “one missing person emancipated juvenile.”
DeFusco said she doubts her client met the pimp two months ago and decided on her own to enter prostitution. She said that public awareness is essential for reporting and identifying victims of human trafficking. She added that these girls need to be treated as victims of sex trafficking and not criminals.
Unfortunately, DeFusco’s client was sentenced to two years in Muncy State Prison.
“My concern is no one is going to testify against the pimp to the cops who arrested them,” she said. “The cops are just so ingrained in thinking women are the criminals and men are the innocent victims that they just let the pimp walk out of there.”
DeFusco said until recently, it was difficult to prosecute sex traffickers in Pennsylvania because the state didn’t even have a sex trafficking statue.
In July, Senate Bill 75, now PA Act 105 was signed into law.
Hugh Organ, associate executive director at Covenant House in Germantown, the largest nonprofit shelter in Philadelphia, said prior to PA Act 105 there was no mention of sex trafficking in the human trafficking statute. He added that the law also provides important services and resources to victims including measures to protect a woman’s identity during the trial and restitution for the time that she was exploited.
Since 2005, Organ has also served on the Philadelphia Anti-Trafficking Coalition, providing both training, outreach services, and shelter for trafficking victims.
“Studies show that once kids run away, within 48 hours one in three kids are lured into prostitution,” Organ said. “For some of these kids their first trafficker is someone in the family. I have talked to some kids whose mom sold them for drugs. One of the problems in Pennsylvania is that we don’t have a safe harbor law to protect minors from being charged with prostitution.”
He said State Senator Daylin Leach introduced SB 915, legislation that would prevent minors from being charged with prostitution and provide them with a wide range of specialized services. He added that the bill would also impose fines on traffickers. The money collected from penalties would be used to fund safe houses and other victim services.
“As far as I know, SB 915 is stalled in the Senate and is going to die in the Senate this year,” Organ said.
According to the Polaris Project, only 18 states – Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington – have enacted statutes providing some measure of safe harbor protection to minor victims of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.
“The bill will probably die in the senate because no one wants to address the fact that we are arresting 14, 15, 16, and 17-year-old girls and charging them with prostitution in Pennsylvania,” Organ said.