Four Brazilian Indian women, allegedly sex trafficked as minors by an American fishing tour operator, Richard Schair, operating Wet-A-Line Tours in the Amazon for many years up until 2009, are bringing a lawsuit for damages in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
Initiated and coordinated by international human rights organization Equality Now, the landmark civil case will be filed by Atlanta law firm King & Spalding. The case is noteworthy because it is the first time that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) will be used by alleged victims of trafficking to seek damages from a sex tour operation.
Wet-A-Line Tours, which organized fishing tours on the Amazon mainly for U.S. customers, allegedly lured girls from the surrounding indigenous communities onto the fishing boats promising them a chance to earn money.
Once on the boat, the girls allegedly were given alcohol and drugs and made to perform sexual acts with men on the fishing tours. The four plaintiffs in this case were all under the age of 18 when they were allegedly sold for sex on a Wet-A-Line fishing boat.
The youngest girl is believed to have been only 12 years old. Wet-A-Line Tours and owner/operator Richard Schair have reportedly been under investigation by Brazilian authorities. A criminal case has reportedly been initiated against Schair in Brazil.
Equality Now has been a leading voice against the sex tourism industry in the United States for over 15 years. Although there are still no official statistics on the number of sex tour operators in the United States, evidence shows that a significant number of sex tours are organized by individuals or companies on the Internet.
There are also dedicated websites that provide extensive information about travel, accommodations, tips and availability of women and girls for sale for interested sex tourists.
Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director of Equality Now explains, “This unprecedented case focuses on the criminal links between human trafficking and the sex tourism industry operating from the United States with impunity. We hope it sends a loud and clear message to all sex tour operators in the United States that sex trafficking victims anywhere can bring a case against those who exploit them by pressing for damages in the U.S.”
John Harbin, a partner with King & Spalding who will lead the litigation effort, states that, “With this lawsuit, we hope to shine a spotlight on such conduct and the real harm it does to the victims, and to get justice for the victims.”
While countless women and girls are victims of trafficking through sex tourism, these particular victims were children at the time of the alleged crimes.
UNICEF estimates that about 250,000 children are forced into the commercial sex industry in Brazil, the second largest number after Thailand and a top destination for sex tourism.
The 2010 Trafficking In Persons Report of the U.S. State Department highlighted concerns of “serious official complicity in trafficking crimes at the local level,” and “that police turned a blind eye to child prostitution and potential human trafficking activity in commercial sex sites” in Brazil.
“It is time for the U.S. federal government to take all forms of sex tourism seriously,” continued Bien-Aimé, “and apply the law to the fullest extent to punish the perpetrators and protect the victims of American sex tourism around the world.”
Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world. Equality Now’s Women’s Action Network comprises 35,000 groups and individual members in over 160 countries.