News/USA: SEX TRAFFICKING CASES GROWING, US SENATE PANEL TOLD.

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Subject: News/USA: SEX TRAFFICKING CASES GROWING, US SENATE PANEL TOLD.
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Apr 12 2000 - 05:15:04 EDT


4-4-00 USA: SEX TRAFFICKING CASES GROWING, US SENATE PANEL TOLD.
By John Whitesides
WASHINGTON, April 4 (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 centres 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
labourers 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."

REUTERS NEWS SERVICE


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