In December 2015, Hungarian Andras Vass was sentenced to just over 11 years in state prison for human trafficking of gay men. One of a trio of ringleaders, Vass was the first to be convicted of what is a growing crime in the state.
South Florida is the third largest sex trafficking area in the U.S., after New York and Los Angeles, according to the Department of Justice, and while most often it is straight teenage females who are drawn into prostitution, the number of gay, lesbian and transgender teenagers and young adults becoming victims of sex trafficking is expanding at epidemic proportions.
Vass himself was originally a victim of the sex scam allegedly originated by the other ringleaders, Gabor Acs and Viktor Berki who prayed on Hungarian males living in poverty, promising them a legitimate job in New York for several months from which they could make “tens of thousands of dollars before returning to their homeland and their families,” according to the arrest warrant issued by Homeland Security Investigations agent Melissa Pavlikowski.
Once they arrived in the U.S., the victims were forced to live in a small one-bedroom apartment in New York, continuously being forced to perform sex acts both in person and via webcam. After his arrival in the U.S., Vass was forced to marry Acs after his passport was seized by Berki.
In August, 2012, the business, ironically known as Never Sleep Inc., moved to Miami to take advantage of its international tourism and warm weather. Once there, the group of captives and their traffickers moved into a house in the 13300 block of NE 8th Lane in Miami.
According to testimony at Vass’ trial given by one of the victims, he was under their control day and night. “They used me like I was a machine,” he said. “They sold me to strangers. I was not allowed to be tired. I was not allowed to be sad.” He was threatened with harm to his family in Hungary, and repeated raped by his captors.
“It’s really hard for me to socialize, to mingle with people,” he said. “I started drinking heavily to try and forget. I lost all my friends.”
The witnesses in that case had returned to Hungary but came back to the U.S. to testify, with the help of Ark of Freedom, a group that offers aid to victims of sex trafficking. Originally headquartered out of Sarasota, the group now operates out of Fort Lauderdale.
“Boys and young men fall prey to human trafficking every day in America. Unfortunately, however, human trafficking is widely perceived as a female issue. This could be no further from the truth, In fact, a recent study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that as many as half of all sexually exploited children are boys,” according to Ark of Freedom founder Nathan Earl, “Countless boys and young men are lured by false promises of work and pay, only to find themselves imprisoned on migrant farms, fishing boats, and warehouses where they are forced to endure little or no pay, rationed food and water, violent beatings and rape right here in Florida.”
Homeless LGBT youth are at a higher risk for becoming victims of human trafficking because of homophobia, discrimination, maltreatment and social alienation, according to the latest U.S. Department of State’s latest Trafficking in Persons Report. “It is estimated that one in three runaway homeless youth are lured into some sort of sex trafficking within 48 hours of hitting the streets,” states Earl.
The LGBT sexual trafficking issue is at the center of a conference being held this weekend, April 29-30, at the United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale (2501 NE 30th St., 954-563-4271). Among the topics covered is “The Church’s Response to Human Trafficking,” “A Global Perspective on Human Trafficking,” “The Face of Sex Trafficking,” and “The Face of LGBTQ Trafficking.” Ark of Freedom is located at 103 Third Ave, Suite 1500, in Fort Lauderdale ((305-767-6524).