Even as celebrity activists such as Emma Thompson, Demi Moore, and Mira Sorvino raise awareness about commercial sex trafficking, survivor Rachel Lloyd publishes her memoir Girls Like Us, and the Senate introduces a new bipartisan bill for victim support, the problem proliferates across continents, in casinos, on streets, and directly into your mobile device. And, as Amy Fine Collins shows, human trafficking is much closer to home than you think; victims, younger than ever, are just as likely to be the homegrown American girl next door as illegally imported foreigners. Having gained access to victims, law-enforcement officials, and a convicted trafficker, Collins follows a major case that put to the test the federal government’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
A photographer’s representation of a typical scene at one of the motels in Central Connecticut used for sex trafficking.
The names of all victims and their relatives have been changed. Quotes from Dennis Paris, Gwen, and Alicia are taken from court testimony.
“He called me a stupid bitch … a worthless piece of shit.… I had to tell people I fell off stage because I had so many bruises on my ribs face and legs.… I have a permanent twitch in my eye from him hitting me in my face so much. I have none of my irreplaceable things from my youth.”
—From the victim-impact statement of Felicia, minor prostitute-stripper enslaved by trafficker Corey Davis.
“Prostitution is renting an organ for ten minutes.”
—A john, interviewed by research psychologist Melissa Farley.
“Would you please write down the type of person you think I am, given all that you’ve heard and read?… I’ve been called the worst of the worst by the government and it’s going to be hard for you to top that.”
—Letter postmarked June 27, 2008, to Amy Fine Collins, from Dennis Paris, a.k.a. “Rahmyti,” then inmate at the Wyatt Detention Facility, in Central Falls, Rhode Island, now at a high-security federal penitentiary in Arizona.
The Little Barbies
In the Sex Crimes Bureau of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, in the pediatric division of Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Medical Center, in the back alleys of Waterbury, Connecticut, and in the hallways of Hartford’s Community Court, Assistant D.A. Rhonnie Jaus, forensic pediatrician Dr. Sharon Cooper, ex-streetwalker Louise, and Judge Curtissa Cofield have all simultaneously and independently noted the same disturbing phenomenon. There are more young American girls entering the commercial sex industry—an estimated 300,000 at this moment—and their ages have been dropping drastically. “The average starting age for prostitution is now 13,” says Rachel Lloyd, executive director of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (gems), a Harlem-based organization that rescues young women from “the life.” Says Judge Cofield, who formerly presided over Hartford’s Prostitution Protocol, a court-ordered rehabilitation program, “I call them the Little Barbies.”
The explanations offered for these downwardly expanding demographics are various, and not at all mutually exclusive. Dr. Sharon Cooper believes that the anti-intellectual, consumerist, hyper-violent, and super-eroticized content of movies (Hustle & Flow), reality TV (Cathouse), video games (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City), gangsta rap (Nelly’s “Tip Drill”), and cyber sites (Second Life: Jail Bait) has normalized sexual harm. “History is repeating itself, and we’re back to treating women and children as chattel,” she says. “It’s a sexually toxic era of ‘pimpfantwear’ for your newborn son and thongs for your five-year-old daughter.” Additionally, Cooper cites the breakdown of the family unit (statistically, absent or abusive parents compounds risk) and the emergence of vast cyber-communities of like-minded deviant individuals, who no longer have disincentives to act on their most destructive predatory fantasies. Krishna Patel, assistant U.S. attorney in Bridgeport, Connecticut, invokes the easy money. Criminals have learned, often in prison—where “macking” memoirs such as Iceberg Slim’s Pimp are best-sellers—that it’s become more lucrative and much safer to sell malleable teens than drugs or guns. A pound of heroin or an AK-47 can be retailed once, but a young girl can be sold 10 to 15 times a day—and a “righteous” pimp confiscates 100 percent of her earnings.
“There are basically two business models: manipulating girls through violence—that’s called ‘gorilla’ pimping—and controlling them with drugs,” says Patel, who prosecuted the case of New York–based trafficker Corey Davis, a.k.a. “Magnificent.” A high-living, highly educated pimp who kept the slave master’s manifesto The Willie Lynch Letter and the Making of a Slave in his Mercedes, Davis, Patel says, made sex slaves out of, among others, a 12-year-old runaway and a university coed on a track scholarship. To force them to do his bidding, Davis allegedly sliced a girl in his “stable” with a box cutter and stomped others into submission with a special pair of Timberland boots—a technique known as “Timming.” Another female, a 15-year-old patient of Dr. Sharon Cooper’s, was zipped into a duffel bag and deposited by her pimp on a six-lane highway. The pimp of Caroline (a former Connecticut 4-H Club member) plucked out her fingernails one by one until she passed out from the pain. Natalie, an ex–Catholic schoolgirl rescued by gems, was from the age of 13 tortured or beaten with water, belts, chains, even a bag of frozen oranges. “Pimping,” Natalie says, “is not cool. A pimp is a wife beater, rapist, murderer, child-molester, drug dealer, and slave driver rolled into one.”
Says Krishna Patel, “I’d always dismissed the idea of human trafficking in the United States. I’m Indian, and when I went to Mumbai and saw children sold openly, I wondered, Why isn’t anything being done about it? But now I know—it’s no different here. I never would have believed it, but I’ve seen it. Human trafficking—the commercial sexual exploitation of American children and women, via the Internet, strip clubs, escort services, or street prostitution—is on its way to becoming one of the worst crimes in the U.S.”
With her high cheekbones, long chestnut hair, and trim physique, former detective Deborah Scates, of the Hartford Police Department, looks less like a medal-decorated cop than like a champion equestrienne, a previous avocation that carried her all the way from her native Colorado to Vienna, where she learned to handle Lipizzaners. “I was lucky enough to study in Austria just after they opened up the riding school to allow females,” Scates says. “They hadn’t known that women could control stallions.”
After moving east and marrying, Scates worked as a construction-site manager. When her two children entered middle school, in the 1990s, she enrolled in the Hartford Police Academy, with the objective of becoming a mounted officer. Not long after she joined the force, Hartford disbanded its mounted-police unit. Assigned to vice, she worked undercover for 10 years, busting dope dealers, gang members, prostitutes, and pimps. Several years ago she sustained injuries in a head-on crash during a narcotics-related car chase. “The hardest part was missing work,” she says. One of her career coups was the bringing down of the Alpha Club, a brothel that had operated undisturbed in Hartford for 25 years. “A judge asked me, ‘Why go after prostitution?’ And I answered, ‘For one thing it’s against the law.’?” The case was successfully prosecuted in March 2004, and a framed check for $346,104, the amount Scates secured for her department in the asset forfeiture, was hung in Hartford’s police headquarters.
During a routine reverse sting in Hartford on August 18, 2004, a man approached Scates (who was acting as a decoy), asking for a blow job. “He said he knew how much I was worth, and offered me $20.” Once Scates, who also modeled in her youth, informed the john that she was a cop, he tried to bribe her with tickets to a University of Connecticut basketball game and team paraphernalia stashed in the back of his four-by-four. The man in search of fellatio, it turned out, was UConn’s assistant basketball coach, Clyde Vaughan, who, it emerged, had a history of similar arrests out of state. Scates, who “used to do 50 johns a night,” never wore provocative apparel to conduct these operations; “my clothes would then have been submitted as evidence, and the issue of entrapment would have been raised.”
That same summer, Scates was out on Hartford’s Wethersfield Avenue, in the south end of the city, this time working a sting in which a male colleague impersonated a john. A girl got into the male cop’s unmarked vehicle, propositioned him, and was promptly dispatched to Scates for processing. The prostitute caught in the vice unit’s net was a fragile, ghostly, almost child-like blonde. Barely five feet tall and scarcely 90 pounds, she was strung out, desperate, and terrified. “This girl did not fit in with the Hartford streets,” Scates says.
Scates tried to get information from the girl, but “she was too high,” she says. The girl took the lady cop’s name and phone number, put them in her pocket, and was sent to Community Court, which in Hartford processes up to Class A misdemeanors. Gwen, as the girl was called, was put on ice at the York Correctional Institution, in Niantic, for two weeks to dry out, ordered to attend a women’s holistic-health seminar and a 14-day counseling program, and eventually placed with her Aunt Lucy, her only relative in the area.
Late one afternoon, Detective Scates received a call from Community Court coordinator Chris Pleasanton, who said the girl named Gwen attending the counseling class was in hysterics, afraid for her life, convinced that someone was coming after her.
Scates met again with Gwen. “She was telling me how she had been shot with heroin and raped, how men would come in and have sex with her. And I thought, Yeah, sure—I thought she was trying to talk her way out of the program. Then she mentioned the name ‘Rahmyti’—a name I’d known since my first day on the force—and her story started making sense. And she told me about another girl, Alicia. So I started looking into the allegations”—a thorny undertaking that would consume her attention for nearly four years, and, Scates says, “change my life, and how I am a police officer.”
Officer Deborah Scates of the Hartford Police Mounted Unit, who cracked the breakthrough domestic trafficking case involving two New England blondes, in full-dress uniform on Zeus, in South Windsor, Connecticut.
‘Rahmyti” was the self-aggrandizing alias of Dennis Paris, a short, 300-pound, 32-year-old smooth talker who inhabited the dimmer fringes of the local club scene, and who had aspirations to become a rapper, like the musicians he claimed to represent. Gwen, the product of a broken home (her mom, caught up in an abusive relationship, did not allow her to know her father) in a lily-white Vermont village, had met Paris in an irregular fashion. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, she had been sold to him, for $1,200, in a package deal with her best friend, Alicia. The vendor was Brian Forbes, a six-foot-five-inch, 40-year-old bodybuilder, whom local law enforcement understood to be employed in the bail-bond business.
In the fall of 2003, after turning 18, Gwen headed down to Hartford to visit her Aunt Lucy, her mother’s sister. Her aunt, in turn, introduced her niece to Brian Forbes. “She told me he was a really nice guy and stuff,” Gwen said. Employing a technique not unlike the “love-bombing” used by cults, Brian Forbes began to wine and dine her. “He was really nice,” Gwen recalled. “You know, he could give me, you know, anything I wanted.” Pimps refer to this trust-building courtship phase as “seasoning,” and they can be extremely patient. Forensic pediatrician Dr. Sharon Cooper, a specialist in treating juvenile victims of sex trafficking, terms the process “grooming.” Girls acquainted with “the life” call it “spitting game.” Forbes, Scates notes, was a master at singling out, on the high-school campus or at the shopping center, the vulnerable girl with abysmal self-esteem. “And,” she says, “he sensed what lines would be most effective on which girl.”
When Forbes took Gwen to his two-bedroom apartment above a hair salon in East Hartford, he introduced her to “Toni,” a woman in her 20s living there. Toni (real name: Shanaya Hicks), he explained, was his girlfriend. Gwen was startled, as she had every reason to believe that Forbes had fallen head over heels for her.
Gwen’s Aunt Lucy, of course, had set her up. Intra-familial recruiting of sex slaves is a common practice. Eva, a Norwich, Connecticut, girl, was forced by her mother-in-law—via starvation, drugs, and threats to her baby boys—into prostituting herself at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, the Connecticut casinos. Caroline, the former 4-H member, was taken to a brothel by her best friend’s mom and a pastor, the Reverend Henry L. Price. Gwen was especially easy prey for her aunt and Forbes because, before she had even left Vermont, she was hooked on heroin—a virtual epidemic nowadays in the New England and New York suburbs because of its current purity, potency, and cheapness.
During the honeymoon period of perhaps a month, Forbes asked Gwen if she knew of any friends back home who might want to join them in Connecticut. Gwen thought that Alicia, a pal since they were 12, might be interested. Like Gwen, Alicia had come from a broken home, and had developed a heroin habit. She too was a pale blonde, but a little tougher and taller than her more delicate and docile friend. On a Friday night in the fall of 2003, Brian Forbes and Gwen pulled up in front of a New Hampshire movie theater, directly over the bridge from Gwen’s hometown, and picked up Alicia, who had just been thrown out of the house after a dustup with her mother. The three of them rode the four hours back to Connecticut, with Gwen at the wheel.
“At first,” Gwen recounted, “[things] were fine, and then, all of a sudden, it was not fine.” After the girls returned to Connecticut, Forbes took them to a Holiday Inn in affluent West Hartford, where there was a man waiting to have sex with them, Alicia later testified. “Brian brought us upstairs,” Alicia recalled. “We did what the guy asked. He asked for us to fool around together and then have intercourse with him.… I was nervous … disgusted … confused.” Forbes pocketed the cash paid up front by the john. “We never got any money from Brian or from any of the calls,” Gwen said. Alicia begged Forbes to take her home. He vowed they would return “that Monday,” she remembered. When he failed to keep his word, Alicia protested—and Forbes retaliated, she later recounted in court, by “forcing himself” on her. To “break down” the girls further, Forbes began to withhold heroin from them for a few days, “and still have us do the work sick, which caused even more problems because we can’t operate,” Alicia said. During the enforced withdrawal, Alicia explained, “you can’t move. You’re cramped. You shake. You don’t want to shower. You don’t want to be touched.” Gwen added, “You can’t hold your bowel movements or anything.” Caroline, the 4-H girl, whom Forbes had preyed upon several years earlier, when she was 17, notes, “Customers like it if you’re high, because they can take advantage of you.”
The first time Gwen and Alicia tried to leave Forbes’s apartment on their own, their keeper tracked them right down. (“Pimps always know everything,” says Cheryl, a gems girl.) Forbes herded them back to their bedroom, Gwen testified, and this time padlocked them in and, Alicia added, nailed the window shut. “Toni,” who was not so much Forbes’s girlfriend as his “bottom” (a pimp’s female second-in-command), stood guard, and, Alicia said, “we were [incarcerated in the room] unless we had to go to the bathroom or [a] customer, client would come in for intercourse.” In addition to forcing the women to be available for sex with paying men in the padlocked room “24-7”—a term that Dr. Sharon Cooper says originates directly from “the game”—Forbes would force himself on her whenever and however he wanted, Alicia testified. “If I tried to refuse,” she said, “he would grab my throat and hold me down until he was able to get inside me.” Says Caroline, “Most rape victims get it once—for us, it happens millions and millions of times.”
Eventually, court documents show, Forbes, to maximize his profits, began to share Gwen and Alicia—whom he had renamed “Amanda” and “Jessica”—with Dennis Paris, a friend who had just been released from prison on a third-degree larceny conviction. Slicker and more entrepreneurial than Forbes, he distributed business cards, took out ads in Hartford’s Yellow Pages and the “adult” classified section of The Hartford Advocate (a local giveaway paper), and accepted Visa, MasterCard, and Discover—all under his L.L.C., Paris Enterprises Group, and Connecticut Companions. He also had at his command a fleet of drivers (“catchers”) to convey girls to “out calls,” to whatever location the client desired. “My clientele was usually upper-class, middle-class white businessmen,” Paris boasted. Before Paris allowed Forbes to lend him the girls, however, he submitted Gwen and Alicia to an inspection, in late November 2003, at his deceased mother’s condominium on Trolley Crossing Lane, in Middletown, Connecticut. There, Paris photographed their nude bodies, inventoried their piercings and tattoos, measured them from head to toe, and carefully jotted down his observations on a yellow notepad, Alicia later testified.
The girls complained to Paris about Forbes’s abuse—choking, raping, and imprisonment of them, according to court documents. If they defected, Paris adjured, there would be money for them, no physical harm, and a plentiful supply of drugs. “He was really nice,” Gwen said, “and it was so bad [with Forbes] that anything else would be better.” Says one Fed, who assisted Detective Scates with the Alpha Club bust, and, in time, the Paris case as well, “Paris is the proverbial ‘sell snow to the Eskimos’ BS-er.”
Then, one day in December 2003, at a sleazy motor inn on the Berlin Turnpike—an 11.2-mile time-warp stretch of asphalt, lined on either side with at least 37 other no-tell motels—Paris remitted Forbes $1,200, and the girls, court documents show, were his. Buying girls like livestock is not unusual. Cheryl, a gems girl, at about 14 was sold by one pimp, “Love,” to another pimp, “Junior,” for $600. The New York City Police detective Wayne Taylor—convicted in July 2008 for the attempted kidnapping of a 13-year-old—purchased his thrall for $500 from a Brooklyn “pimp partner.” In fact, the price for an adolescent female slave is far lower than it was in the mid–19th century, when, adjusted to today’s dollar, the going rate was roughly $40,000, the price of a car.
Convicted sex trafficker Dennis Paris (a.k.a. “Rahmyti”) conferring with defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island.
Once they were his chattel, Paris installed the girls at the two-story Motel 6 near Jennings Road, where he himself temporarily resided. He renamed the two 18-year-old blondes “Sasha” (Alicia) and “Ava” (Gwen) and “taught them how a woman should dress,” Paris said. “Gucci, Moschino, Blahnik.” He marketed them in The Hartford Advocate either under these exotic pseudonyms or by means of such time-tested come-ons as “Naughty Housewives,” “Gorgeous Blondes, Pure Pleasure, No Boundaries,” and “Girls, Girls, Girls!”
For the first few weeks, true to his pledge, Paris gave Gwen and Alicia a portion of their earnings. He took them to the mall and out to eat, and “you felt like you were free,” Gwen said. He even let them go home for Christmas in 2003. But as soon as their holiday leave expired, they went back “to hell,” Scates says. Alicia later testified that he forced them to do 8 to 10 calls a day, seven days a week, and deducted from the money earned the cost of their rooms, their food, their clothes (“mostly underwear,” Scates says), and their drugs—with which he manipulated them, much as Forbes had. Additionally, he devised what Gwen called “stupid little fines”—for being late, for complaining, for not combing their hair—so that, in effect, far from drawing a living wage, they were, according to Paris’s peonage economy, constantly in debt bondage to him. And, Paris estimated, the girls were each generating “at least a thousand dollars a day.” (This is not an idle boast: Caroline calculates that she converted her body into well over $1 million in cash for just one of her pimps, a former driver for Paris.) Paris’s friends, however, were allowed to gang-rape Gwen for free, she told a jury.
Paris’s captives (as various girls’ statements corroborate) were not permitted to refuse a john any request, no matter how frightening, harmful, vile, or degrading—be it videotaping anal rape, beating them black-and-blue (the evidence of which would excite admiring comments from Paris), or smearing them with puke. “Johns are even more dangerous than pimps,” says Caroline, who had her own close encounter with a necrophiliac. (Homicide is the No. 1 cause of death among prostituted females, ahead of aids.) Paris, court documents show, laughed when some of the girls begged to be spared a client known for abuse, and he knocked a tooth out of Gwen’s mouth, she recounted in court, when she became defiant. Only one of Alicia’s customers didn’t demand sex—he hired her to cook dinner while he watched the evening news naked. At a stag party, Alicia watched Paris choke another girl and take her out of the room. “She didn’t come back,” Alicia recalled in court. Before an audience of his cronies, Paris took pornographic photographs—of Gwen on all fours, for instance, naked except for a dog collar and a leash. “We couldn’t use the pictures in court because they were too prejudicial,” says one agent of the law. When Alicia called Paris from a session, crying, he ordered her to continue anyway, and even though she was “ripping and bleeding,” he took her “immediately … to another call,” Alicia recounted. He told Alicia that if she disobeyed him, trial transcripts show, he would dragoon her little sister into becoming a replacement whore. And he complained to Alicia that she and Gwen “weren’t worth the money he paid.”
At one point another pimp showed up, pretending to be a client, and kidnapped the two girls. He hauled them up to Boston, where they were cooped up in a shack. Though there is a system for acquiring girls from one another, known as “serving,” pimps often break their own rules and steal “bitches” outright. Gwen and Alicia were especially coveted because of their skin color. In a rigid hierarchy that clinical psychologist Melissa Farley—founder of Prostitution Research & Education, a San Francisco–based think tank—calls “eroticized racism,” the “snow bunnies” (white girls) outclass the “ducks” (black girls). “Maybe one out of 50 callers would request a black or Latina,” says Caroline. “Most asked for ‘the girl next door’—a blonde, thin teenager with big breasts. That’s candy to ants.”
In the summer of 2004, Alicia swiped some of the compromising photographs that Paris stored in his black briefcase, a portable office where he also kept his credit-card processing machines and terminal, credit-card receipts, copies of his ads, bank statements, and the yellow notepads on which he logged the names, addresses, and sexual tastes of johns (e.g., “Greek,” “girlfriend experience”), as well as directions to their houses. Enraged about the theft and convinced that Alicia was plotting with a hometown boyfriend to use the pictures to build a case against him, Paris took her to his room in the Motel 6, locked the door, beat her, stripped her, handcuffed her to his bed face down, raped her, rolled her in a blanket, and prepared to overdose her with heroin, according to court documents. He seized her Social Security card and other identity papers, and, Alicia testified, instructed an associate, Barry Perez, to obtain some shovels in order to dispose of her body, apparently along the Connecticut River near a marshland known as “the Meadows.”
“I’m already crying. I’m already begging, Why are you doing this? … I’m being completely ignored,” Alicia recounted. “So at this point I just give up… . And I just made myself deal with the fact that I was going to die.”
But, in the end, Perez later testified, he did not carry out Paris’s order. After a pit stop for McDonald’s takeout, Paris returned to the motel room and hit Alicia one last time. Alicia managed in the aftermath to phone her mother and, though hyperventilating, incoherent, disoriented, and sobbing wildly, instructed her to file a missing person’s report in Hartford if there was no further word from her in a couple of weeks, Alicia later testified.
Rather than kill her, prosecutors later charged, Paris had a bondsman cohort, Ronald Martinez, and his sidekick Kazimierz Sulewski arrest Alicia for “failure to appear”—while the pimp watched and chortled from a yellow convertible. Alicia had old warrants out on her for forgery and violation of probation, circumstances Paris had all along exploited as “a ploy to keep her in line,” Scates says. In fact, Martinez, through his state-licensed business, Liberty Bail Bonds of Connecticut, L.L.C., had been prostituting girls, too. He would frequent police stations, offering to pay the bail of girls arrested for shoplifting or breach of peace, and of their drug-dealing boyfriends, Scates explains—and then demand they work off their debt by selling their bodies, via his shadow organizations, Fantasy Entertainment Services, Fantasy Companions, and Fantasy Playmates.
Alicia wound up in the York Correctional Institution, in Niantic, Connecticut, where she, like Gwen, dried out, and where Detective Scates first interviewed her, on Gwen’s suggestion. “Both Alicia and Gwen got off heroin on their own,” Scates reflects, “which makes me really believe that Paris and Forbes kept them on drugs for their own purposes.” And, of course, their habits had turned into an insidious vicious cycle, too, because they self-medicated in order to numb out the nightmare their lives had become.
Gwen also freed herself from Paris through an arrest—this time his own, on June 17, 2004—nearly a year after her infernal ordeal had begun. Paris’s parole officer had found him in violation of his curfew, imposed upon him after the 1999 conviction for third-degree larceny. Without money, food, clothes, a bed, or a shower, Gwen wandered out to Wethersfield Avenue to turn a few tricks, on her own, to raise cash for bus fare. “I wanted to go home,” she said. Instead, she was picked up in the June 18 sting that landed her in Detective Scates’s custody.
The Task Force
Based on her experience with the Alpha Club, Scates knew she had a federal case on her hands, involving money-laundering, interstate commerce, conspiracy, and the Mann Act—the 1910 federal white-slave statute prohibiting the transporting of individuals across state lines for the purposes of prostitution. “First thing,” Scates says, “I went to [I.R.S. special agent] Douglas Werth,” her cohort on the Alpha bust, who, with his six-foot-five-inch frame and Glock 40, does not fit the stereotypical image of an I.R.S. number cruncher. “Criminals usually fear the I.R.S. more than the F.B.I. Going to jail is the cost of doing business,” Werth explains. “But nobody wants their stuff taken from them.” Adds Werth, who has spent more than 20 years with the I.R.S., “Pretty quickly, we realized that this was bigger than Alpha—there were more people, younger girls, and a real bad guy.”
From the instant, in late 2004, Paris was released from jail for his curfew violation, Scates and her colleague Sergeant Christopher McKee, a brawny, blue-eyed 12-year veteran of the neighboring Windsor, Connecticut, police department and supervisor of its Crime Suppression Unit, kept the fat pimp under constant surveillance. Christopher Fanning—one of Paris’s drivers—and Ronald Martinez’s flunky Kazimierz Sulewski picked Paris up from prison. Under the vigilant watch of Scates and McKee, Paris resumed business, this time from Hartford’s Super 8 Motel, at 57 West Service Road. “We had to be careful while he was out that he didn’t victimize people,” says Scates. “We did see him meet with one victim. It was very upsetting to watch and do nothing.”
Around nine a.m. on February 17, 2005, F.B.I. special agent Christine Grispino, I.R.S. special agent Doug Werth, Sergeant Christopher McKee, a postal inspector, and Detective Deborah Scates, armed with a federal search warrant, raided his Super 8 room, No. 204, where he was found watching TV. They arrested Paris on state charges—an independent victim had filed a complaint of sexual assault—and held him in state custody. From the MacDougall-Walker correctional facility three days later, an indictment would charge, Paris phoned Ronald Martinez, the bail-bondsman, and advised him to destroy evidence of their common illicit activities.
“Paris is highly intelligent,” Doug Werth says, “but—unlike Brian Forbes—he was stupid about using credit cards,” the method of payment for a percentage of his transactions. Paris liked using credit cards because they made it even easier for him to deny the girls cash; the cards also helped boost his revenues and gave him an ersatz aura of legitimacy. “When he was arrested,” McKee says, “he insisted he was legitimate because he took credit cards and paid taxes”—on an income, Paris’s defense attorney, Jeremiah Donovan, says, of between $100,000 and $200,000 a year. Werth continues, “The crazy thing is the number of men who use credit cards for this type of thing. Everyone seems to have a little room on his credit card, and nobody thinks it will be obvious what the service is.” Asks Scates, “How do you think we found the customers?”
Through the MasterCard, Visa, and Discover records, and Paris’s own, meticulous, files, Werth was able to follow the money back to the johns—there were scores of them—“but we could only go back five years, as that is the statute of limitations on money-laundering.” There is also a one-year statute of limitations on patronizing a prostitute, in the state of Connecticut a Class A misdemeanor. Says Sergeant McKee, who conducted interviews with johns, “No one at first wanted to acknowledge patronizing a prostitute.” (The average john is married, employed, and in his late 30s; their numbers, according to studies, are escalating.) Says Scates, “They came from every walk of life you could think of.” Remarks Caroline, the 4-H girl, “You name it, every guy is into it. I had a politician, a prosecutor, a police officer, a lawyer, doctors right in Saint Francis Hospital. There’s more of them than of us—and I don’t respect them.”
One 60-ish man, a former Fortune 500–company administrator, bragged, Sergeant McKee says, that his retirement plan consisted of having sex with as many prostitutes as possible. Most of the johns were startled to learn that the girls were not acting of their own free will—75 to 80 percent of prostitutes don’t. The men believed the ads, and the legend of the Happy Hooker. Each of them also assumed they were the one exception to the rule of the repulsive customer. Says Karen Stauss, the former staff attorney for Polaris Project, a D.C.-based not-for-profit anti-slavery-and-human-trafficking organization, “Johns don’t understand what they’re contributing to. It never occurs to them that the woman who is smiling is being abused. They really don’t know what’s going on—and they don’t care.”
As Scates, McKee, Werth, and F.B.I. special agent Grispino widened and deepened their investigation—Grispino traced the numbers of at least 23,000 calls from Paris’s cell phone—“it just continued to develop,” McKee says. Recalls Scates, “We were one team working together—no egos, no rivalry, which is unusual.” But, Werth notes, “Debbie Scates was the Derek Jeter of the team.” To prevent leaks (the offenders had law-enforcement contacts because of the bonding company), for two years the task force kept its activities secret. “The more rocks we turned over,” McKee says, “the more we found going on under them.”
In his checkered career, Paris alone, Scates says, had worked up to 100 females. “If we had a name, we did everything in our power to try to locate that person,” McKee says. “But because girls had ‘stage names,’ it often made them hard to find.” Observes Scates, though the economic circumstances of the girls varied and they covered the full racial spectrum, “a common theme with every victim is that they came from a dysfunctional home with no positive male role model.” If there was poverty of any kind, it was of the emotional variety. The men trafficking them also cut right across ethnic lines—Paris and Forbes are black; Kazimierz Sulewski (whose hideout was a suburban McMansion) is Polish; Ronald Martinez has a Hispanic surname; Christopher Fanning is white.
“It’s surprising how many of the females were willing to talk,” McKee continues. “It was partly relief about confessing, but mostly that there was someone listening. Detective Scates has a fantastic knack for being a good street investigator and for listening to people, but not too much like a social worker. She gives them attention and respect. That’s what broke the case wide open.”
Scates and her task force were “halfway through the case,” she says, when they stumbled upon sex-trafficking laws, recent, but little-known, federal statutes that have reclassified severe forms of pimping—such as those practiced by Paris and Forbes—as modern-day slavery, in violation of the 13th Amendment, and punishable by life sentences.
Introduced and signed into law under the Clinton administration, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. 1591, covers labor trafficking as well as sex trafficking, but only when a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or when the person induced to perform such an act is a minor, under 18. Trafficked foreign nationals, who were the original focus of the statute, are granted an automatic refugee-type status, which allows them access to health, education, and housing services, as well as to special “T” visas, a stepping-stone to a green card. The T.V.P.A. also created a large infrastructure to address trafficking overseas, and a State Department rating system—Saudi Arabia, for example, is a Tier III, pariah country—to penalize governments that fail to meet stringent U.S. anti-slavery standards.
One positive blowback of the T.V.P.A. was that it brought attention to domestic sex trafficking—pimping—which follows the same models and patterns as its international counterparts. “The logic was: if you get weepy-eyed about a young girl in Cambodia, why not feel the same way about the girl trafficked from Iowa?” explains Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Re-authorized in 2003 and 2006, the T.V.P.A. was updated again in 2008 with a bill introduced by then senator Joe Biden and signed into law by President Bush in December 2008. Ideally, the latest re-authorization will help to redress the fact that special restitution has not been readily available to victims who are U.S. citizens; help to remove from pimps the defense that they did not know a child’s age; and, advocates hope, help to transfer the burden of proof away from the victims—76 percent of whom suffer from post-traumatic-stress disorder and many of whom still have Stockholm-syndrome-like “trauma bonds” with their pimps. Says Karen Stauss, now program director of Free the Slaves, “Victims are terrified to testify. It makes it harder to bring a case.”
As states begin to adopt trafficking statutes of their own—New York did on November 1, 2007, and Connecticut on July 1, 2006—the Department of Justice, in its effort to “abolish vestiges of slavery,” an official there says, plans to concentrate funding on outreach and training (more than on victim services) to bolster anti-sex-trafficking efforts on state and local levels, much as it launched initiatives to combat domestic battering after the 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women Act. In May 2009, President Obama appointed Luis de Baca the State Department’s ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons. During the Senate hearing leading to his appointment, de Baca underscored the analogies between the anti-domestic-violence and sex-trafficking movements, and emphasized that “no one is for sale.” In March 2011, the Senate introduced a bipartisan bill, the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act, which, if passed, will authorize grants for both law-enforcement activities and direct services to American minor survivors.
The unlikely trafficking-abolitionist coalition—consisting of secular social-justice advocates, faith-based groups, black activists, second- and fourth-wave feminists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans—shares a peculiar adversary in the form of trafficking skeptics, coming largely from the left. The Nation, for example, ridiculed the “‘sex slave’ panic,” and both Slate and City Pages questioned the alarming statistics published by the Department of Justice, the State Department, and non–government organizations such as ecpat and the Salvation Army. “All the numbers we have on trafficking are inaccurate,” avows Deirdre Bialo-Padin, chief of the domestic-violence bureau of the Brooklyn D.A.’s office. “They’re too low. It’s an underreported crime. Who is going to raise her hand and say, ‘Hi, I’m a trafficking victim!’ when her family has been threatened? With the right laws in place, we will get harder numbers.” For victim advocates, saying that trafficking in America isn’t a problem is akin to J. Edgar Hoover saying the Mafia doesn’t exist. Melissa Farley believes “we’re still in the Dark Ages with trafficking because, unlike incest, rape, and domestic battering, trafficking generates massive revenues—$32 billion a year worldwide.”
What else, Dr. Sharon Cooper wonders, are we to conclude when Lee Iacocca tees off on a golf course with Snoop Dogg, a self-described ex-pimp who composes odes to beating women, “breaking bitches,” and (to use the vernacular) “turning them out” on the “track”—or, for that matter, when a country girl such as Caroline ends up with a pimp’s gun in her mouth so that she’ll go out and service a politician?
In the winter of 2006, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Genco began writing an indictment which would accuse Martinez, Paris, Forbes, Shanaya Hicks (a.k.a. “Toni”), Kazimierz Sulewski, Christopher Fanning, and four more of, among other crimes, a conspiracy to use interstate facilities (cell phones and telephone wires) to promote prostitution. Seeking some additional input, “Genco reached out to Washington,” Scates says. “That’s when Andrew Kline got involved.”
Special Litigation Counsel Andrew Kline, a Clinton appointee with an M.A. in human rights from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, was one of four attorneys in the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit of the Department of Justice, in the Civil Rights Division. It fell upon the curly-haired, bespectacled Kline (now a senior adviser in the executive office of the president) and one other colleague to provide U.S. attorneys nationwide with training on prosecuting trafficking cases.
Kline was the civil-rights expert who brought the T.V.P.A. to the attention of James Genco and the task force, and who helped bring to bear on the Paris case the full artillery of federal resources, which would include his services as a prosecutor, supplementary to Genco’s. By the time the case went to trial, says Paris’s defense lawyer, Jeremiah Donovan, “there were 12 to 14 feds on one side of the aisle—four case agents, each with his own paralegal. On the other side, there was just Paris and myself. The amount of money the federal government has to spend is immense. They invested in the case. ”
When Scates and McKee prepared to make their arrests, in March 2006—with Paris safely out of the way at the MacDougall-Walker prison as a result of the sexual assault complaint—they had a more advanced legal weapon in their arsenal. In addition to the charges of conspiracy to promote prostitution, money-laundering, and use of interstate facilities to promote prostitution, which also applied to the other offenders, Forbes, Hicks, and Paris were each indicted on two counts (one for Gwen, one for Alicia) of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion. In total, there were 56 counts and 10 offenders. “It had been so long, so involved,” recalls Sergeant McKee, “and then the turning point came—moving toward resolution, we scooped up everyone that was indicted within 24 hours.”
For six months Brian Forbes had been holed up off the Berlin Turnpike, in Room 101 of the Almar Motel, along with a few pit bulls and “several cars in the parking lot,” Scates says. “We watched him and watched him. We got his indictment down, and on the day of the indictment, we came back to the motel and he had checked out. By luck, we found out he had just been picked up in Meriden for a traffic ticket.” Scates drove 28 miles south in her unmarked car to Meriden, peered down a side street, and “there he was.” As she arrested him, Scates told Forbes, “If you like hitting women, go ahead and hit me now.” But on this occasion, the detective says, “he punked out.”
It emerged, during the now nearly two-year-long investigation, that a number of the girls Paris and Forbes had “turned out” had been minors as young as 14. But until the task force had Andrew Kline’s input, Scates and McKee had not recognized all of them as such. “In Connecticut,” Scates explains, “the age of consent is 16. But according to the federal trafficking laws, a minor is anyone under 18.”
“The most invigorating part of the case,” McKee says, “was when we turned up Minors A, B, and C,” three former friends who had been ninth-graders together at East Hartford High School when Paris and Forbes ensnared them. “Paris would take girls out of school during lunchtime, have them do calls, and bring them back,” Scates says. “He knew how to read each girl—this one likes to party, that one needs a job, this one wants drugs. He told them he could get them into clubs. Later, we showed the johns high-school-yearbook pictures of these girls as they had looked concurrently, as freshman. The guys were shocked.”
Minor A—now well regarded enough in the Hartford community that when it came time for her to testify in court she disguised herself with a dark wig—was 14 when she met Paris, then 27, in the winter of 1999. She had left home and started living with a friend. Paris asked her if she would be interested in a part-time position as a hotel housekeeper. He took her to the Days Inn on Hartford’s Brainard Road (a former manager there was Paris’s “baby momma”), led her up to a room, and then explained that the job would involve “just spending time with men and just going on dates,” the minor recalled. Then “he asked me to dance. So I danced. And he asked me to take my clothes off”—and he had sex with her. After that, he advertised her in The Hartford Advocate under the name Sasha, booked her for two or three calls a day, on and off for a year and a half, adding up to around 100 calls in total.
“There were so many, many girls,” Scates says. “It was frustrating for law enforcement. Where do we cut the line? After a certain point, we had to stop searching for them. We had enough for the case.”
“These guys,” McKee says, “truly are monsters. Most people committing crimes aren’t bad people—they act out of necessity, for financial gain. But these guys were bad people taking advantage of vulnerable, weak, troubled girls. This was the most significant case I ever worked on. What made it even more significant to me is that I have two daughters. Though they look like me, both my daughters were adopted from substance-abusing parents in low-income situations. So it’s real personal. It made me look at prostitution—everything—in a totally different light. Instead of ‘She’s committing a crime,’ I now think, Why is she there? Who put her there? But for the grace of God these victims could be my little girls.”
After the last of the juveniles was flushed out, in the summer of 2006, James Genco, acting under Connecticut U.S. attorney Kevin J. O’Connor, and advised by Andrew Kline, drafted a 64-count superseding indictment, onto which were added 2 counts for Paris and 3 counts for Forbes, of sex trafficking of a minor.
Ronald Martinez, who became a cooperating witness, was the first of the indicted to plead guilty, on August 22, 2006. Christopher Fanning—who was so scared of Sergeant McKee that he all but threw up right in the courtroom at the sight of him—pleaded guilty on November 16, 2006. Kazimierz Sulewski pleaded guilty on November 30, 2006, and was sentenced to 36 months’ imprisonment on December 11, 2007.
Shanaya Hicks pleaded guilty on March 14, 2007, and was sentenced to 46 months. On March 4, 2007, Brian Forbes pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to use an interstate facility to promote prostitution, three counts of sex trafficking of a minor, and two counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion.
Alone among the 10 co-defendants, Dennis Paris self-confidently entered a plea of not guilty to 21 counts. “If I were Paris, I would have gone to trial, too,” says his attorney, Jeremiah Donovan, appointed by Judge Christopher F. Droney, under the Criminal Justice Act (and now representing defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky in the home-invasion triple-murder case in Cheshire, Connecticut, involving endocrinologist Dr. William Petit’s family). The U.S. v. Dennis Paris, a.k.a. “Rahmyti,” thus became among the first cases ever to go to trial putting to the test the T.V.P.A.’s definition of sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion.
Right away, Paris attempted, unsuccessfully, to file a motion to exclude women from the jury. If anything, his efforts backfired; several of the jurors selected were doting fathers of young daughters. When the trial opened—at 9:30 a.m., on Monday, June 4, 2007, at the U.S. District Courthouse in the Abraham Ribicoff Federal Building, 450 Main Street, in downtown Hartford—Minor A, in her dark wig, was the first in the procession of prosecution witnesses to take the stand. Minor B immediately followed her former classmate. During her two-week stint with Paris, who threw her out because he tired of her complaints about staying up late on school nights, Minor B worked for Forbes as well, and had suffered at the hands of a john who, among other perverse acts, stuffed another woman’s underwear down her throat.
Later that day, the minors’ lurid testimony was sensationally amplified by Gwen’s. Cowering and gasping for air, Gwen had barely started speaking when she succumbed to a panic attack. Judge Christopher Droney called for a break. McKee recalls, “Gwen totally broke down. Our hearts went out to her. She was reliving the experience. Then the defense attorney was on her. He really had some zest in questioning her. He just wrecked this girl on the stand.” Reflects Scates, “Donovan’s only strategy was to discredit Gwen, but she was completely credible. Gwen was literally curled up in a ball with her knees up, leaning toward the judge’s bench, sobbing mournfully.”
Donovan, however, who terms Gwen “an airhead” and “a drama queen,” insists that “her testimony was so clearly false. There was no reason to believe her. It’s not like either she or Alicia was enslaved. You have to take their stories with a grain of salt. This is the same level of violence that you see every morning on the family-violence docket in southern Connecticut. They were free agents—it was in their own self-interest to spin the story to say they were tricked. They were young; maybe their judgment wasn’t as good as it should have been. But they could have stopped anytime they wanted. These were women with no skills. They would have been working at McDonald’s otherwise.” He does acknowledge that “Alicia had a more frightening experience.”
The next day, Tuesday, June 5, Scates says, “there was not a dry eye in the courtroom when Alicia, this tiny girl, told her story of being handcuffed, raped, and wrapped in a blanket. When he cross-examined her about it, Donovan wasn’t able to destroy Alicia like he was able to do with poor Gwen. Although at one point during the cross-examination she gave me a look that said, ‘Save me,’ and Donovan accused her of trying to get signals from me.”
Alicia’s would-be gravedigger, Barry Perez, serving time for possession of crack cocaine and given immunity, spoke after her. “He was a big guy, all tattooed up and in a prison uniform, corroborating everything Alicia had just said,” Scates says.
After Perez’s testimony came that of two johns. The phone numbers and credit-card information of both had appeared in the records reviewed by Douglas Werth and Christine Grispino, and both had answered Paris’s Advocate ads. Michael Huchko, an IBM retiree, who also took photographs for the Windsor Muster, the town’s fife-and-drum corps, had little recollection of what the girls whom he had hired looked like, but he did remember how much he had paid for them ($175 for an hour of “half and half”—intercourse plus oral—with one; $250 for an hour of the same with two).
On Wednesday, June 6, Caroline, the 4-H girl, chronicled the highlights of her odyssey with Paris. A diminutive blonde with fine, even features and a tiny voice, she kept her composure, even as Donovan tenaciously hammered away. When Donovan inquired about the price of an appointment with a prostitute, Caroline shot back, “You mean you don’t know?,” eliciting laughs from around the courtroom. “Caroline was our feistiest witness,” Scates says. “Her presence helped win the day.” On June 7, 2007, Grispino and Werth, the latter of whom hurried out of court on an afternoon to catch up with a 10-year-old daughter’s softball game, carefully explained to the jurors for four and a half hours how Paris’s business relied on facilities—condoms, cell phones, motels, beepers, pagers, a handheld credit-card processing device, and telephone wires—that affected interstate commerce.
Toward the end of the week, several poised, well-dressed girls entered the courtroom, and the task force thought for an instant that more minors had been rounded up. Paris appeared to appraise the young unknown females instinctively out of the corner of his eye, Scates says. Soon enough they all learned that they had been mistaken; Judge Droney had invited his two daughters and their college friend to observe the proceedings.
On June 12, Paris testified on his own behalf. According to him, he hired girls to go out on dates with men, for “companionship” only, and if sexual acts took place in the course of these trysts, then it was consensual and without his sanction. “These guys want women who are going to sit there and conversate [sic],” he protested. “Prostitution or sex was not part of the deal.” He claimed he never raped anybody or supplied any drugs—the very suggestion of such activities “makes my skin crawl,” he said. Paris also denied knowing that any of the minors were under-age, in spite of the fact that they fretted about homework, carried false IDs, and were unable to buy their own cigarettes. One victim could get her tattoo only if “Toni” accompanied her, claiming to be a guardian. Paris also shared with the assembled men and women the intimate anatomical fact that as a “big guy … I need big condoms.” He advanced the idea that he “treated [Alicia and Gwen] better than everybody else” and “without me [Alicia] would have been living under a bridge.” Scates says, “His attitude was ‘I was their Jesus and their savior, their knight in shining armor. I gave them food and shelter.’ And he believes it.”
To Donovan, “Paris was just a guy on a cell phone acting as an agent for the girls. Forbes was different—brutal, and not too bright. I always thought Paris had potential. He’s a really interesting character, charming, so fly. It’s showbiz: Paris is the talent agent, the john’s the audience, the girl’s the performer. This particular case is nothing more than standard pimping and prostitution—not human trafficking, bringing some girl in from Thailand. It’s the federalization of local crimes. Any street Connecticut pimp can now easily be found guilty of federal crimes. A hot-sheet motel has become an instrumentality of interstate commerce.… The feds are out looking for traffickers the way they’re all out looking for terrorists, going into some Pakistani’s shop. Human trafficking is a trendy topic now. That’s the ebb and flow of law enforcement. Prostitutes go to prostitution class, and Dennis Paris goes for life.”
On June 14, 2007, the jury found Paris guilty on every count. Paris complained to a U.S. marshal escorting him, “Twenty-one counts, and I didn’t even get one!” Scates recalls, “It was as if it were a game, or a bet. He is the most arrogant man.” On the way out of court, Paris taunted the detective: “You got lucky this time, Scates!”
In the wake of her arrest and the trial, Gwen, now 26, was re-united with her businessman father. “Gwen’s dad is a really awesome man,” Scates says. “He should have been in her life all along.” She returned home, completed her G.E.D., and attended a community college. In early October 2009, a Vermont district judge, impressed with Gwen’s exemplary recovery, ended the girl’s probation several years early and could wipe her record clean of heroin possession. Alicia enrolled in a long-term residential rehab program in New England, which she successfully completed on April 4, 2008. Included in her curriculum—designed to restore to her the life skills of which she had been deprived—was a course in child care. She gave birth to a baby boy, “and she is a good mother,” Scates says. “Alicia and Gwen are the most courageous people I’ve met. They’ve told their story—told the truth—and that’s all they ever really wanted.”
Caroline became a science student at a large university, on financial aid, and held a campus job. “It’s hard,” Caroline says. “I make peanuts—in a week less than I used to earn in a day. I have lifelong mental scarring, and flashbacks of bad episodes. I went to a psychiatrist and told her my whole story, and she said, ‘Don’t you think you did anything wrong? I can’t help you—you have too many problems.’ During my day-to-day routine, I wonder all the time, Do people know? Can they tell? Is it showing?”
Krishna Patel, Dr. Sharon Cooper, Sergeant Chris McKee, and Detective Scates all agree that the single greatest frustration of rescuing trafficked girls is finding a safe haven for them. The Rebecca Project for Human Rights estimates that there are only 200 residential beds dedicated to this purpose in the entire country, 13 of them at gems. (New York State’s Safe Harbor Act and Illinois’s 2010 Safe Children Act will try to rectify this shortage, at least for cooperative juvenile victims.) Typically, law enforcement will, as a stopgap, lodge girls in motels, “exactly the scenes of their traumas,” Scates notes. The second-hardest part is finding them treatment. “There are experts in rape, addiction, sexual abuse, battering, but not in counseling trafficking victims who suffer from all these problems combined,” Scates says.
“My girls will be in my life forever,” the policewoman continues. “I’m emotionally attached. I can’t walk away. From the start, I followed two rules: I never lied to them, and I never made promises I couldn’t keep. These people touch your heart. What can you do as a human being but help?”
Scates’s exertions on behalf of her girls did not go unnoticed. In 2006 the equestrienne turned detective won the Excellence in Performance Award from Connecticut’s Association of Women Police. On September 7, 2007, each member of the task force received a U.S. Attorney Award at a ceremony in New Haven attended by Alberto Gonzales. And on October 20, 2009, at Constitution Hall in D.C., Attorney General Eric Holder presented Scates and McKee with the William French Smith Award for outstanding contributions to cooperative law enforcement.
Exactly 10 months after the Paris trial, on April 7, 2008, Werth, McKee, Scates, Grispino, and Genco, as well as Gwen and Alicia (who drove down together from Vermont), were re-united in district court at Hartford’s Abraham Ribicoff Building for the sentencing of Brian Forbes. It had been nearly five years since the girls had last laid eyes on their oppressor. Both girls, whose figures had filled out, were in jeans. Gwen wore hers with a white puff-sleeved peasant top, and Alicia, with a pale-aqua hoodie. When Forbes entered the courtroom, in his prison khakis and with his muscle gone to fat—much of it deposited in the folds on the back of his neck—Gwen began to tremble. A reporter seated beside Gwen on the wooden spectators’ bench took off her shearling jacket and passed it to the wavy-haired, open-faced girl. Gwen nervously kneaded the garment, and covered her eyes with it when Forbes walked past her down the aisle; Alicia, hair dyed red, bent over in her seat, elbows resting on knees, and buried her face in her hands.
In a last-ditch effort to lighten his sentence, Forbes, stationed at the defendant’s table, swiveled his eyes in the girls’ direction and declared to Judge Droney that he was “sorry to the victims”—without, however, addressing them by name.
In mild, measured tones, the judge censured Forbes for having “lured these vulnerable young women into his care and then forced them to prostitute themselves. They suffered unspeakable acts.… On many days, they were forced to have as many as seven appointments with men they did not know, and often were not even paid by Mr. Forbes. He physically abused these girls and forced himself on them sexually. When they tried to leave …, he locked them in their room. He withheld heroin from them and beat them. This was a world of terror for these young girls, and Mr. Forbes did so much to create that world. He only released them when he sold them, like animals, to Mr. Paris. These girls lost many precious things that other young people treasure during their teenage years, and Mr. Forbes was largely responsible. This has been a day,” he concluded, “long in coming.”
And Judge Droney sentenced Forbes to 156 months—13 years of real federal time—with a supervised release of 3 years. Additionally, he mandated a restitution identical to the one he had imposed on Shanaya Hicks (“Toni”) at her sentencing the week before—$16,339.20. The sum covered Connecticut minimum wages plus overtime for the two-month, seven-days-a-week, 16-hours-a-day period of Gwen’s and Alicia’s enslavement to Forbes.
Alicia seemed relieved and Gwen buoyant as they departed the Main Street courthouse for the last time—they would not be back for Paris’s sentencing that coming October. “It’s all behind them now,” Scates says.
McKee and Werth, however, lingered by a marble pillar in the second-floor lobby, swapping anecdotes about their daughters and analyzing Droney’s decision. “The judge got it,” McKee said. “He was offended.”
Minutes later, under the porte cochère of the downtown Marriott, on Columbus Boulevard, Scates—dressed in her customary turtleneck, blazer, jeans, boots, and wire-rimmed glasses—shared some news that she’d been waiting at least 13 years to hear. Hartford would be resurrecting its mounted division, and Scates at long last would be joining it. “We’ve got 90 days of training ahead of us—we’ll patrol concerts and the big parks where cars can’t go. It’s going to be a huge community bridge. Imagine riding up to an elementary school and seeing kids’ eyes light up—how cool is that? It’s a totally different image—they’ll start to think maybe a cop’s a nice guy. People don’t understand why I would turn in my badge to become a regular police officer. But I’m just as proud to be an officer as a detective. No more stress! It’s time to give my husband and my kids peace of mind.
“Finally I’m doing what I set out to do 13 years ago. But it had to take this long. I needed to be in a certain place at a certain time for Gwen and Alicia. Everything happens for a reason. That’s how life works. I truly believe this.”
Nature Abhors a Vacuum
Sergeant McKee reflects, “This was a good case. It worked. A huge message was sent to local police departments about the existence of the T.V.P.A. But it’s no different from the drug trade. With Paris and Forbes removed, others will come along to take their place.”
A month into her training for the mounted police, Scates called again to say she just spent a sleepless night. At two p.m. the day before, she cruised past the Motel 6. “And there they were all over again—14-, 15-, 16-year-old girls in five-inch heels and miniskirts, walking across the parking lot. I called my old lieutenant and asked him if he could do something.”
Scates had noticed that the X-rated classifieds in the back of The Hartford Advocate had dwindled slightly, she hoped as a result of the task force’s valiant efforts. But she quickly caught on that a new, tech-savvy generation of pimps was filling the void by merchandising girls on Craigslist (in September 2010 the site succumbed to pressure to remove its adult-services section, which was expected to earn $44 million last year); on Backpage.com (owned by Village Voice Media); or via theeroticreview.com. Females on theeroticreview.com are rated for consumers—ostensibly by “hobbyists” but more often than not, victims say, by their ever shrewder pimps. With the help of untraceable, prepaid cell phones and credit cards, this futuristic breed of trafficker can, unlike Dennis Paris, obliterate any paper trail. “It’s degrading, it’s dangerous, it’s sickening,” says Eva, the Norwich girl whose in-laws forced her to turn tricks at the casinos. “People say about you, ‘You’re nasty. You had all those dicks in your mouth.’ But then guys are also like, ‘Oh, wow!! Let me see—how much is she?’ It’s so big, this industry, it’s everywhere. Strip clubs, pornography, the street, the hotel—for us, it all amounts to the same revolting thing.” Natalie, the gems girl, says, “Prostitution and pimping—it’s never going to stop. Tricks—they should start from there. If no one’s buying girls, then the pimps can’t make money.”
That, in fact, is exactly the theory behind the Sex Purchase Law in Sweden. As of 1999, johns are punished by up to six months’ imprisonment, traffickers are locked up for 2-to-10-year hits, and prostitutes are offered medical care, education, and housing. As a result, prostitution has been reduced by 50 percent in Sweden, and the purchase of sex, which is understood to be a human-rights abuse, has decreased by 75 percent. In contrast, Europol studies show, nations such as Holland and Australia, where prostitution has been legalized, have become lucrative, low-risk magnets for international sex-slave drivers and organized crime. On the subject of Sweden’s demand-side laws—which Finland and Norway have now adopted, and Denmark is currently considering—Sweden’s minister for justice, Beatrice Ask, notes, “If we could get rid of slavery, then I think this type of buying human beings is something that we have to fight too.”
In the meantime, here in the U.S., hot-pink patent-leather stiletto crib shoes for baby girls, aged zero to six months, and Abercrombie & Fitch push-up padded bikinis for eight-year-olds have been all the rage in downward-deviant fashion, prostitution is a mainstay of Las Vegas’s economy, and Ice-T has produced a documentary on the life of Iceberg Slim, who, in his dotage, expressed remorse in Pimp for his wasted youth and his squandered fortune, but never for any of the girls he thrashed into red jelly with his homemade wire whip. Slim did speculate, however, that his cruelty toward women arose from his “unconscious hatred” for his mother. “It’s disgusting,” Natalie says. “The pimp is winning out.”
Coda: Paris Is Burning
On the Indian-summer afternoon of Tuesday, October 14, 2008, Judge Christopher Droney sentenced an unrepentant Dennis Paris to 30 years in prison, at the bottom of the federal guidelines, and to three years’ supervised release. Additionally, Droney ordered Paris to pay a combined restitution of $46,116 to Gwen and Alicia. (As a result of the Supreme Court’s Santos decision in June 2008, the three money-laundering counts were dropped.) Characterizing the Paris case as among the “most sad and disheartening” of his career, Droney, for the record, concluded from his bench, “We will never know why Mr. Paris constructed this hell for these girls … a world of pain, humiliation, suffering, and sexism.”
At least eight U.S. marshals—“more,” Scates says, “than I’ve ever seen in a courtroom in my whole life”—converged on Droney, James Genco, Andrew Kline, and “talent agent” Paris to rush them out of the building. Explains Scates, advised for the first time in her career to bear arms in court, the marshals wanted to deter any outburst from Paris’ supporters.
Two years later, in September 2010, Chief Judge Jacobs and circuit judges Wesley and Chin of the U.S. Court of Appeals at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse, at 500 Pearl Street, in Manhattan, denied Dennis Paris his appeal. “We don’t need to worry,” Officer Scates said on a recent afternoon, fresh from the stable and a visit to her new grandchild. “That was his final chance.”