[Stop-traffic] News/US: U.S. grapples with 'modern-day slavery' (fwd)

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/US: U.S. grapples with 'modern-day slavery' (fwd)
From: melissa (honeypot@panix.com)
Date: Sat Sep 02 2000 - 11:09:01 EDT


U.S. grapples with 'modern-day slavery'

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON, Sept 1 (Reuters) - When an acquaintance offered Maria a
way to land a good-paying restaurant job in the United States, the
young woman from Veracruz, Mexico, had no way of knowing the
magnitude of the lie she was being told.

She also had no way of anticipating the physical, moral and spiritual
degradation she would endure.

The phony offer lured her at age 18 into becoming an unwilling part
of what some are calling modern-day slavery. Maria was smuggled
across the border into Texas, then transported to Florida and forced
to work as a prostitute, having sex with 35 migrant workers a day in
rundown trailers.

Her horror did not end until months later when law enforcement
officials raided the brothels and brought criminal charges against
members of Mexico's Cadena family.

``I was enslaved for several months, other women were enslaved for up
to a year,'' Maria, using an alias to protect her identity, said
through a translator.

``We were constantly guarded and abused. If anyone refused to be with
a customer, we were beaten. If we adamantly refused, the bosses would
show us a lesson by raping us brutally. They told us if we refused
again it would be even worse the next time,'' she said. ``I was too
afraid to try to escape.''

Maria's story is tragic but not unusual. U.S. officials estimate that
50,000 people from Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia are
trafficked into the United States annually by organised crime gangs.
Officials say half of them are women and girls -- some barely into
their teens -- who are forced into prostitution, while the rest are
people forced into involuntary servitude in homes, sweatshop
factories and fields.

And the U.S. situation represents just a fraction of a massive
worldwide problem. The U.S. State Department says 1 million people
annually are ensnared in trafficking.

Local, state and federal officials are just beginning to recognise
the scope of the problem and the inadequacy of existing U.S. laws to
combat it. The Senate and House of Representatives both have passed
legislation to increase penalties against the perpetrators, provide
services and a new type of immigrant status for victims, and launch a
global campaign to get the word out about human trafficking.

``There's been no real concerted effort to end this morally
reprehensible, deplorable practice,'' Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Democrat
from Minnesota, said in an interview. He and Sen. Sam Brownback, a
Kansas Republican, are the chief sponsors of the Senate bill.

MULTIBILLION-DOLLAR BUSINESS

Trafficking in human beings, particularly women for prostitution, has
become a $9-billion-a-year global business, the United Nations says.
A key factor behind the recent surge in trafficking was the entrance
of crime syndicates from Russia and other former Soviet republics
that kidnap and exploit women from the old Soviet bloc seeking
opportunities in the West.

``I think much of the world isn't aware that this is going on,''
Brownback said in an interview.

Most people brought to America come from former Soviet bloc nations
(Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland), Latin
American countries such as Mexico, Honduras and Brazil, and Asia
countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, South Korea,
China and Vietnam, U.S. officials said.

A CIA report, ``International Trafficking in Women to the United
States: A Contemporary Manifestation of Slavery,'' found that weak
laws on trafficking people and the complicated nature of building
cases against those responsible have dissuaded many U.S. prosecutors
from taking trafficking cases.

The report pointed out that after raiding brothels, authorities
generally jail and quickly deport the women because they are
illegally in the United States, depriving prosecutors of potentially
vital witnesses against the perpetrators.

Bills now in Congress are intended to change all that. They would
criminalize all forms of trafficking in people and double the maximum
penalties for enticement into slavery or peonage and sale into
involuntary servitude to 20 years.

They provide for life terms for cases that result in death or involve
kidnapping or aggravated sexual abuse or for sex trafficking by
force, fraud or coercion or trafficking of children under age 14.
They would expand services for victims and would let them sue
perpetrators for monetary damages.

The measures would also bar victims from being jailed, instead
requiring authorities to give them shelter, medical care, food and
other services, as well as access to legal help. And they would
create a new immigration status for trafficking victims, letting them
stay in the United States and seek permanent resident status after
three years.

U.S. assistance also would go to nations aiming to stop the
trafficking of their citizens, and America would mount campaigns to
promote awareness overseas about trafficking schemes.

STRONG SUPPORT AMONG LAWMAKERS

The House unanimously passed its version on May 9 and the Senate
followed on July 27, also with no dissent. Representative Chris
Smith, a New Jersey Republican, and Representative Sam Gejdenson, a
Connecticut Democrat, are the lead sponsors of the House bill.

House and Senate negotiators are working to iron out the differences,
chiefly over whether to require U.S. sanctions on countries deemed to
be doing too little to stop human trafficking. Final congressional
approval is expected in September and Wellstone said he has a firm
commitment that President Bill Clinton will sign the legislation
into law.

Brownback said a trip he took in January convinced him that something
had to be done. ``I personally went into Nepal, to Katmandu, earlier
this year and met with young girls -- they were probably around 16,
17, 18 -- who had returned from being trafficked from Nepal into
India,'' he said in an interview.

``Two-thirds of them were coming back with AIDS and/or tuberculosis.
These are girls who were being trafficked at 11, 12, 13 years of age,
deceived, tricked, promised a job and forced into prostitution. And
then they come home to die. It is the most horrifying thing that I've
seen,'' he said.

``We like to stress that there's trafficking going on in just about
every country: Either they're a sender country, a transit country or
a receiver country,'' said Laura Lederer, director of the
Washington-based Protection Project at Johns Hopkins University and
an expert in human trafficking.

SURVIVOR TELLS HER STORY

Maria told her story to a Senate subcommittee in April, pleading for
lawmakers to ``not let this happen to anyone else.'' She wore a
disguise during her appearance alongside a handful of other
survivors, saying she feared her captors would recognise her and
threaten her life and her relatives in Veracruz.

Her ordeal began in May 1997. Maria said she had been working as a
domestic helper and jumped at the chance of making better pay working
in a U.S. restaurant or bar. She described her disbelief when, after
being smuggled into Florida, a member of the Cadena family told her
that she would be working instead as a prostitute to pay off a
``smuggling debt'' of $2,200.

``We worked six days a week and 12-hour days,'' she said. ``We mostly
had to serve 32-35 clients a day. Our bodies were utterly sore and
swollen.''

She also described being jailed after the brothels were raided. She
won her release only after the Miami-based Florida Immigrant Advocacy
Centre convinced authorities that the Cadena family's many victims
needed help, not punishment.

Rogerio Cadena, a ringleader, pleaded guilty in federal court last
year to civil rights violations and other charges and was sentenced
to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay $1 million in restitution to
the victims. Seven others also were convicted, but another seven
indicted members of the Cadena family remain in Mexico.

22:04 08-31-00

Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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