News/US: Sex Trafficking Cases Growing, Senate Panel Told

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Subject: News/US: Sex Trafficking Cases Growing, Senate Panel Told
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Apr 12 2000 - 05:14:29 EDT


                 Sex Trafficking Cases Growing, Senate Panel Told

RTos 4-5-00 2:03 AM

  Reuters Ltd.

     By John Whitesides
      WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Maria was working as a clerk and domestic
helper in Veracruz, Mexico, when an acquaintance offered her the chance to
earn more money in the United States working in a restaurant or bar.
      She jumped at the chance, she told Congress on Tuesday, but once she
was smuggled to Florida she found herself ensnared in a prostitution ring
run by bosses who raped her, beat her and threatened her life and her
family if she tried to escape before paying off her smuggling debt.
      "I am speaking out today because I never want this to happen to anyone
else," said Maria, one of an estimated thousands of women and children in
the United States and hundreds of thousands worldwide who are threatened or
tricked each year into sex trafficking rings.
      Maria, who used an alias and wore a scarf to hide her face during her
Senate testimony because of threats to her family in Mexico, was eventually
freed from the brothels by federal agents who held her and others in
detention centers for months until they were released.
      "While media attention has focused on a few countries in Eastern
Europe and in Southeast Asia, we believe that almost every country has a
problem with sexual trafficking," Laura Lederer, director of the Protection
Project at Harvard University, told a sub panel of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee.
      "The United States, a receiver country, has as much a problem as
Russia, a sender country," she said.
      Sens. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, and Paul Wellstone, a
Minnesota Democrat, are preparing legislation that would aid in the
prosecution of such cases and bolster protections and assistance for
victims.
      Wellstone estimated as many as 50,000 women and children were brought
into the United States each year and forced to work as prostitutes, forced
laborers or servants.
      "International sex trafficking is the new slavery," said Brownback,
chairman of the subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.
      "Many remain who are lost -- we think there are millions worldwide who
are suffering in the trafficking networks, enslaved, held against their
will, including children," he said.
      William Yeomans, chief of staff of the Justice Department's Civil
Rights Division, told the panel the number of such cases was growing. A
typical pattern involved women who were kidnapped into prostitution or,
like Maria, forced into it to repay a smuggling fee.
      He said law enforcement officials had met with success in some
high-profile cases of enslavement, such as the case of dozens of
hearing-impaired Mexicans who had been forced to peddle trinkets in New
York, Los Angeles and Chicago through beatings, torture and physical
restraint.
      Eighteen people eventually plead guilty to slavery conspiracy charges
in that case, he said. Seven guilty pleas were obtained in the case of the
Florida sex ring that enslaved Maria, in which the women and girls, some as
young as 14, were forced to have sex with up to 130 men a week.
      But Yeomans said the laws still needed to be strengthened to deal
adequately with the problem.
      Two other women, both from Russia, also testified to the panel about
their experiences being tricked and enslaved by sex rings in Israel and
Germany.
      For Maria, who was 18 when she came to the United States, the
nightmare has not ended. Even though some of her captors were imprisoned,
others were not and still live in her hometown of Veracruz, where they have
threatened her family and others.
      "We need the law to protect us from this horror," she said. "We came
to the United States to find a better future, not to be prostitutes."


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