Via America’s LawyerMike Papantonio sits down with author and attorney Carissa Phelps to discuss having survived a sex trafficking ring herself at a young age, and how she now points to activism taken across the country against sexual abusers and traffickers, in their pursuit for justice among the powerful and famous. Then, Mike Papantonio is joined by attorney Kim Adams to break down the goal of “End Child Prostitution and Trafficking” (ECPAT), an organization that shines a spotlight on institutions like the hospitality industry for facilitating and even brokering the sexual exploitation of workers for the sake of profit.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             Full disclosure, you have been working, you’ve written one of the most important books about human trafficking. You have been working as an advocate in human trafficking for years.

Carissa Phelps:                  Yes.

Mike Papantonio:             And you’re involved in the very first national case that’s been filed up in Ohio. You’re the person we need to talk to that understands something else about it. As I listened to the reports and I heard all these reporters pontificate about conspiracy and, you know, how this person is not responsible and that person’s not responding. The thing they missed was in those documents is the road map to how the trafficking takes place, how the infrastructure works. Please talk about that.

Carissa Phelps:                  So the fact that, and even just the conversations that Maxwell had, that Ghislaine Maxwell had with friends, about how she bragged about going to trailer parks and spas and targeting the young women that she targeted. She targeted the same victims that street pimps target. She targeted the same ones. The young women that are out there, that even internationally that they went and targeted, they knew what they were doing, they were calculated and they got better at it every single time they did it and got away with it as a team, they did that together. So and…

Mike Papantonio:             Is that now, now you of course were a victim of trafficking.

Carissa Phelps:                  Yes.

Mike Papantonio:             Your book tells that story. It is a moving powerful story. Then, then you go, you, you’ve somehow escaped that. You get an MBA in a law degree and now you, you are the biggest problem the traffickers have. If I, if somebody would ask me, who’s the biggest problem? It is you, because you are on a mission and you’re attracting lawyers to this mission all over the country. At this point, you probably have more trafficking cases than anybody in America because you’re out there. Now leads me to this question. What’s your next step? How do you really tell this story in the court system? What’s your plan?

Carissa Phelps:                  Well, the story is really, it’s from the victim’s perspective and it’s believing what they’re saying. There’s so much truth like Virginia Roberts Giuffre, she’s, she’s, she said her truth. There’s evidence to back it up. There’s all this very consistent evidence to back it up. It’s circumstantial evidence, but very, very rarely is the actual act of the sexual exploitation and actual acts being videotaped or, or photographed. So all this evidence is being put together. She’s telling the truth. She’s telling the truth to America and we have to listen. We have to hear that truth. And every single victim that steps up, we, we owe it to them because we’ve been ignoring for so long their truth to listen, to pay attention, to hear their facts, to hear their details and to believe them. And that’s what, that’s what the story we need to tell. And it’s not just for victims here in America. This was an international trafficking ring.

Mike Papantonio:             It’s almost as if we’re unwilling to say to these girls that went through absolute hell that, you know, we can’t believe you because of the very people involved. That’s a typical kind of situation you see like Richardson.

Carissa Phelps:                  Yeah.

Mike Papantonio:             There’s nothing for, to distance…

Carissa Phelps:                  I’m part of the survivor tribe.

Mike Papantonio:             Okay.

Carissa Phelps:                  Right, so I’m, I’m part of this survivor tribe. There are a group of people out there who are part of the survivor tribe. That’s what we need to believe in. It’s across all political lines and the human trafficking movement has done really well about staying out of the politics in terms of picking sides. We’ve done really well as a group of survivors to say, we don’t believe in the politics of this, we believe in the rights of human beings. The people that are being harmed and hurt, that need to have their voices. So together as a group of survivors, not just me alone, we’ve really worked to do that and we want to keep it that way. And, and this is really a global issue, right? It’s not even about our own local tribes or our own local politics. This is a global concern. We’re talking about Prince Andrew being in a photograph, right? That was revealed. We’re talking about people that are from other, from, from other countries that are being implicated in this and modeling agencies that from, are from overseas that are recruiting young people from overseas to be trafficked here in the United States.

Mike Papantonio:             H2, H2A/H2B, I mean, let’s, let’s spend just a second on that. Okay. You have this infrastructure in America where we allow guests, you know, under guest visas to come to United States and work. H2B, let’s use that for example, service industry. They recruit in Europe. They have these setups come on by, we’re going to show you how to be a model, how you can move into modeling. We’re going to show, maybe from the Ukraine. Okay. Girls come in from the Ukraine, they go through the process, oh, I’m going to be a model. I’m going to be an au pair. I’m going to learn the service industry. They’re going to send me to America. What’s the next thing that happens to them?

Carissa Phelps:                  Well, unfortunately there are people who don’t have those plans for them. And again, they’re very well, they’re skilled, they’re trained, they know what they’re doing, they know how they’re offering them and who they’re offering them to. And whether that’s for domestic servitude or it’s for sex trafficking, it ends up being something that they are surprised with. They’re in another country, they don’t have any access to resources. They may be embarrassed and shamed to come forward. In some instances it’s, it’s a very well structured way that they’re bringing people over. And there’s, there’s an actual shame that goes back on the family if the, if the victim speaks up and, and really have, were to say I’m being harmed. Right? According to American law here on American soil, I am being harmed. If they speak up and say that they will bring shame back to their family. So they’re afraid to speak while they’re being hurt here.

Mike Papantonio:             The team that you’ve put together is a group of lawyers, Erik Bauer, great example. He’s gotten great results, tremendous results. So you say, okay, let’s put the group together. Let’s bring the national case in Ohio. I gotta tell you something. This is the first time that I, since I’ve been following this, even before we were involved in the litigation, it’s the first time where media is now paying attention. Why? Because there’s money involved. Because the people we’re suing are hotels. The people were suing are truck stops and truck stop businesses. They’re airlines, they’re all of these people who looked the other way and allowed this terrible epidemic of trafficking to take place. Is it?

Carissa Phelps:                  Well, you know what I think America is going to be really shocked to hear is that the investment companies that invest in some of these hotels are their pension money. So the cops that are out there trying to break up the trafficking rings at the hotels are actually paying for those hotels to be in existence and they don’t know. They don’t realize how much power and control they have in terms of that’s their pension money. That’s where my background was before I, before I went into back into the law and to doing the human trafficking work with working in pensions. And so I understand that we have a say in this. We have a say. We have a say not only in our justice system and in our courts, but this money that we’re handing over to these big investment firms and these banks to invest. If they knowingly, they’re seeing that this is happening. They know this is happening and we’ve got a case right now with a 15 year old girl where all these other girls are being trafficked at the same place again and again and again and over and over and over again. This is what it is run for and those, and that brand is funded by the same pension money that comes out of the police that are fighting it.

Mike Papantonio:             I’m glad you’re out there. This is going to be a case that really matters. It’s going to be a long fight. I’m glad you’re involved in the fight. Okay. Thanks for joining me, Carissa.

Carissa Phelps:                  Well me too. I’m glad you’re here too.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah.

Carissa Phelps:                  Thank you.

Mike Papantonio:             Human traffickers aren’t able to operate without corporations covering for them. Some of these companies are accomplices while others simply turn a blind eye to the abuse that’s happening right in front of them. But either way, these companies won’t be able to hide for much longer. Joining me and talk about this is attorney Kim Adams who is on all their trail with Carissa. You Know, Kim, I love what’s happening with this lawsuit. I like the players, the experiences being brought to this national case. I want to talk about ECPAT. What is ECPAT and why is it important to this case?

Kim Adams:                           So ECPAT stands for end child prostitution and trafficking. And it’s important because in 1990 this organization got together way ahead of most people and said, we need some guidelines. We need these businesses to be held accountable because we know that that’s where it starts. And so they created a certain guidelines and training programs, all of these things where businesses could say, I’m going to enter into this. I’m going to give my public pledge to help end trafficking.

Mike Papantonio:             Okay. So you’ve got industry that, you know, it’s really a funny thing. I mean, it’s a great thing. But since we filed this lawsuit since you and Carissa filed the lawsuit up in New York, oh, excuse me, up in Ohio, it’s almost like all of a sudden everybody’s paying attention.

Kim Adams:                           That’s right.

Mike Papantonio:             You have the hotel industry. What’s happening with the hotel industry? What, what are corporations doing right now? It’s almost as if they’ve had a wake up call, what is it?

Kim Adams:                           I think they’ve had a wake up call. They’re again, pledging to make right on their promises to try to put a stop to trafficking. They’re trying to let the public know we’re doing training programs, we’re gonna let everyone know that trafficking doesn’t exist in our hotels. Something they should’ve been doing when they made that pledge 20 years ago and they have that have not done. So, I think we’re seeing the public communication again, the, hopefully not empty pledges, but what has been tried and true of empty pledges. And so I think that we’re hopefully going to see some changes there.

Mike Papantonio:             Let, let me tell you about empty pledges. We, our law firm handled the tobacco litigation when it first started. As a matter of fact, we wrote the first legislation that launched the tobacco litigation. As soon as we did that, we had these ads coming out from the industry that made it look like they really care.

Kim Adams:                           That’s right.

Mike Papantonio:             Made it look like, oh man, we’re all in. We’re, you know, we’re so sorry about what we’ve done. But they made billions and billions of dollars for decades knowing exactly what they were doing. I don’t see any difference here. I mean, I, God bless them. I’m glad the hotels are saying we can do better. If you go through an airport nowadays, everybody is talking about if you see trafficking, that didn’t just happen.

Kim Adams:                           No.

Mike Papantonio:             They understood they’re a target. Matter of fact, Atlanta is a great example. You know, the, the trafficking takes place in Atlanta right there at that hotel. People come from all over the world, converge in Atlanta, stay a few hours with trafficked individuals and then go back home.

Kim Adams:                           That’s right.

Mike Papantonio:             So they’ve known this has been going on a long time. What are the claims, what are these claims that you’re bringing and who can bring these kinds of claims? You and Carissa are all out front on this.

Kim Adams:                           Right, so our claim is, is centered around the trafficking victim protections act. We’ve had this act for a long time, it’s gone through a number of modifications. It’s important though because it allows our survivors to finally have a voice against businesses and people who are benefiting financially from their trafficking. One of the common mis-conceptions by our survivors is that they feel like they’ve got to reopen this wound against their trafficker, and that’s not what we’re after here. We’re after, we’re following the money. We want to see real change and we want our survivors to have a real voice against these businesses who, as you’ve already alluded to, have made millions and millions of dollars off of their suffering for years, and that’s what we’re doing.

Mike Papantonio:             Well, one thing that, one thing that I see a difference here, I don’t know that there’s ever been a Carissa. You know, I don’t know that, I don’t know there’s ever been a Carissa that A is a lawyer, lived through trafficking, understands all the nuances, is an MBA on top of that is an author on top of that, she has empowered these women.

Kim Adams:                           That’s right.

Mike Papantonio:             She’s able to get on the telephone and say, I went through this and the thing to do so nobody else goes through it is engage yourself in a lawsuit and right now she’s traveling all over the country talking to, some of these stories that I’m hearing are the most horrendous you, you, you take the calls every day you take.

Kim Adams:                           We hear stories of victims who said, I wish that Doorman, that clerk at the desk, that manager who was getting a kickback, that trafficker who was getting a discount at that hotel, that hospitality worker who came in and cleaned my room and saw the evidence of trafficking all over that room, I wish just one of those people would have taken notice of what was going on. And you’re absolutely right, Carissa comes in with such a degree of knowledge and skill and compassion and trust, and I think that that’s what our, our survivors are finally realizing we are here for the right reasons. Our first priority is to see change. Our second priority is to make sure that the public’s perception of these victims is no longer a victim shaming world. That you hear them and you listen to them first, and then our survivors will tell you last on their list is some kind of recovery for the years of pain and torture they went through.

Mike Papantonio:             How, how do you you ever, yeah, there’s no way. There’s no way to get those years back. Okay, so what, give me quickly, what is your plan? Y’All have filed the first cases in the country, you’ve, up in Ohio.

Kim Adams:                           That’s right.

Mike Papantonio:             You’ve got a, your goal is hotels, trucking industry. I mean you go on there, there’s so many…

Kim Adams:                           Any industry that’s benefited financially, any industry, any business that has benefited financially, knowing where they were getting their, their benefits from, that’s our target. That’s the, that’s the industry that we’re going after right now. We have many, many cases after the hospitality industry. They’re the first on our list. Those are the first complaints that we filed. But there are other industry in line and we fully anticipate…

Mike Papantonio:             Will, will you let me take the first several depositions?

Kim Adams:                           I sure will.

Mike Papantonio:             Because I’m gonna make some folks suffer. Thank you for joining me, Kim. Okay.

Kim Adams:                           Thank you so much.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.