[Stop-traffic] News/US: Trafficking in human flesh

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/US: Trafficking in human flesh
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Thu Oct 19 2000 - 10:43:30 EDT

Sorry about the format.



in human
A landmark act
passed by the
Senate last
week would
protection for
slaves forced
                                      into prostitution.

                                      - - - - - - - - - - - -
                                      By Stephen Lemons

                                      Oct. 16, 2000 | Last Wednesday,
137 years after
                                      Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation
                                      Proclamation, the U.S. Senate
                                      passed the Trafficking Victims
Protection Act,
                                      the first modern anti-slavery
statute of its kind
                                      in the world. Co-sponsored by Sen. Sam
                                      Brownback, R-Kan., and Sen. Paul
                                      D-Minn., the legislation, which increases
                                      penalties for trafficking and
establishes special
                                      visas for victims, enjoyed
unusually strong
                                      bipartisan support. The Senate
approved the
                                      measure 95-0, following the
House, which had
                                      earlier OK'd it by a vote of 371 to 1.

                                      The act authorizes $94.5 million
over the next
                                      two years for enforcement. In addition, a
                                      provision of the measure reauthorizes the
                                      Violence Against Women Act for five years.
                                      President Clinton, a vocal
supporter of that
                                      provision, is expected to sign
the bill into law in
                                      the next few weeks.

                                      According to Ann Jordan, a
                                      lawyer with the International
                                      Human Rights Law Group -- a
                                      human rights organization in
                                      Washington -- a confluence of
                                      factors helped the issue reach
                                      critical mass.

                                      "There's been a recognition of
                                      trafficking as a crime by both the
                                      Department of Justice and the
                                      State Department," says Jordan.
                                      "The Department of Justice has
been pushing
                                      for improvements in the law
because they've
                                      been prosecuting these cases.
And the State
                                      Department, aware of the international
                                      implications and the involvement
of organized
                                      crime, commissioned a report
[from] the CIA on
                                      the matter."

                                      The 1999 CIA report has been a
wake-up call
                                      for many. But knowledge of the trafficking
                                      problem was growing even before
the report.
                                      Sen. Wellstone, for instance,
told the Senate
                                      during his floor statement on
the legislation on
                                      Wednesday that his wife Sheila
urged him to do
                                      something on this matter several
years ago. As
                                      early as three years ago he submitted a
                                      resolution in the Senate
regarding the matter.

                                      Wellstone informed his
colleagues that both
                                      Jewish and evangelical groups
supported the
                                      bill. "Something important is in
the air when
                                      such a broad coalition of people
including Bill
                                      Bennett, Gloria Steinem, Rabbi David
                                      Sapperstein, Ann Jordan and [Prison
                                      Fellowship Ministries founder]
Chuck Colson
                                      work together on the passage of
legislation," he

                                      The bill will offer protection to domestic
                                      workers as well as the more
visible victims --
                                      the thousands of sex slaves in
America's major
                                      cities. Just flip to the back of
any alternative
                                      weekly paper in the country, and ads for
                                      "Soothing Oriental Massage" or "Russian
                                      Models Offer Full Release" leap
out at you.
                                      Often they include silhouettes
of nude female
                                      bodies, in case you somehow
missed the point.

                                      According to anti-slavery activists and
                                      government agencies, the foreign women who
                                      staff such enterprises are often
the victims of
                                      organized crime groups who recruit them
                                      under false pretenses, bring
them to the U.S.
                                      illegally and force them into
prostitution to pay
                                      off outrageous debts.

                                      The Los Angeles-based Coalition to Abolish
                                      Slavery and Trafficking (CAST)
estimates that
                                      as many as 10,000 Asian women
from countries
                                      like China, Thailand and
Indonesia toil as sex
                                      workers in Southern California. The CIA
                                      believes that upwards of 50,000 women and
                                      children are trafficked to this
country and
                                      coerced to work unpaid as
domestic servants,
                                      factory workers and prostitutes
each year. And
                                      the INS has reportedly
discovered 250 brothels
                                      in 26 U.S. cities -- brothels
that likely involve
                                      trafficking victims.

                                      "This is the most comprehensive
                                      which any country has ever
passed regarding
                                      trafficking," says Jordan in praise of the
                                      proposed statute. "Though it
could be better, it
                                      does recognize that this is a
serious problem in
                                      many types of industries in the U.S. -- in
                                      restaurants and agriculture, not just in

                                      The legislation would provide
some succor for
                                      victims of trafficking who aid
law enforcement
                                      in the prosecution of their
captors. Formerly,
                                      such victims were themselves
subject to arrest
                                      and deportation, but now they'll
be offered the
                                      opportunity to stay and work
legally in the U.S.
                                      and get compensation from those who held
                                      them in bondage. Traffickers could face 20
                                      years to life for their activities.

                                      "The law also recognizes that the crime of
                                      servitude includes psychological
torture, not
                                      just physical coercion.
Traffickers tell victims
                                      that the police will be after
them. They threaten
                                      them and their families with
violence. These are
                                      women, and sometimes men, who are in a
                                      strange country and do not speak
the native
                                      language. It's a horrendous
crime," Jordan says.

                                      Jordan says that the proposed
law would have
                                      been even stronger had it not been for the
                                      objections of Sen. Orrin Hatch,
R-Utah, through
                                      whose judiciary committee the
law had to pass.

                                      "It was my understanding that
Sen. Hatch did
                                      not want a new law, and he had some
                                      provisions removed, including
one absolutely
                                      guaranteeing that victims of
trafficking will not
                                      be prosecuted for working
illegally. This limited
                                      the scope of the bill. But we
hope we can come
                                      back at a later date and correct
this," says

                                      Recent incidents have heightened
the profile of
                                      the issue. These include a
2-year-old Thai boy
                                      seized from traffickers in April
in a scheme to
                                      smuggle women into the country from Asia.
                                      The boy, known as Got, was drugged and
                                      used as a prop to convince INS
agents that the
                                      man and woman he was traveling
with were his
                                      mother and father.

                                      Also, the San Francisco Examiner
reported in
                                      February that Berkeley,
Calif.,'s largest landlord
                                      was under indictment for importing teenage
                                      girls from India for sex. In a
similar case last
                                      year, a Silicon Valley executive
was caught
                                      allegedly trying to "buy" a 13-year-old
                                      Vietnamese girl from her family
in Saigon and
                                      bring her back to the U.S. as a sex slave.

                                      And in August 1999, federal
                                      agents busted up a trafficking
                                      ring based in Atlanta responsible
                                      for importing nearly 1,000 women
                                      from various Asian countries to
                                      work in American brothels.
                                      Women from Korea, China,
                                      Malaysia and elsewhere were
                                      forced to sign contracts saying
                                      they owed their captors fees of
                                      up to $40,000. They were to work
                                      as prostitutes until their debts
                                      were paid.

                                      These situations are only too
familiar to Jennifer
                                      Stanger, CAST's media and
advocacy director
                                      in Los Angeles. CAST was formed in 1998 in
                                      the wake of the infamous El Monte, Calif.,
                                      slavery case where more than 70 garment
                                      workers were held prisoner
behind razor wire
                                      and obliged to work in sweatshop
                                      for up to seven years without
pay. Since then,
                                      the organization has aided numerous women
                                      from Mexico, Cambodia, Russia,
China, Burma
                                      and elsewhere.

                                      Stanger says that women may come
to the U.S.
                                      expecting to work as prostitutes
or in other
                                      industries but, once here,
they're at the mercy
                                      of their captors. "They're
coming from really
                                      desperate economies and situations where
                                      women don't have many opportunities. Often
                                      they haven't done prostitution
in their countries
                                      of origin. But they agree to it
to get to the U.S.
                                      and because recruiters paint an attractive
                                      picture for them. Once they get
here, they learn
                                      they're in debt-bondage, which
is a form of
                                      slavery," Stanger says.

                                      Stanger describes working with four young
                                      Mexican women recruited by a small
                                      Cambodian criminal organization. The women
                                      ranged in age from 13 to 20 and
were illegally
                                      brought to Long Beach, Calif., with the
                                      understanding that they would work as
                                      prostitutes for a few months and
get paid when
                                      they returned home. Three of the women had
                                      children to support, which Stanger says
                                      explained their willingness to
be prostitutes for
                                      a short period of time.

                                      At the Long Beach brothel, they were kept
                                      under guard and told they had to
work for the
                                      Cambodians for free. They were
not allowed to
                                      turn down clients, even if they
were having
                                      their periods or unwilling to
turn a trick.

                                      "These four girls were together
when the INS
                                      got a tip off in 1999 and busted
up the brothel,"
                                      says Stanger. "Three of them had only been
                                      there a few months, but one had
been there for
                                      five months and was not being
allowed to go

                                      The ringleader of the Cambodian gang was
                                      prosecuted, and the women
eventually fled the
                                      country, according to Stanger.
But under the
                                      new law, she believes they might have been
                                      able to stay. Stanger also
described several
                                      other cases, like one involving
an Indonesian
                                      woman held as an unpaid domestic
servant for
                                      two and a half years until
repeated rapes by
                                      her boss -- a wealthy Indonesian
man -- drove
                                      her to write a desperate letter
in broken English
                                      that eventually made its way to
the local sheriff.
                                      Her tormentor was tried and
prosecuted, and
                                      she's since been allowed to stay
in the U.S. in a
                                      sort of legal limbo. Stanger hopes the new
                                      legislation will help her and
the other women
                                      suffering from forced servitude.

                                      "There are all of these organized crime
                                      syndicates involved, which are
very powerful
                                      in L.A. and elsewhere --
Russian, Thai, etc.
                                      That's why we're really praying that this
                                      legislation is going to be
helpful to the women
                                      we work with," she says.
"Everyone's calling it
                                      a model for the rest of the
world. We'll see. I
                                      consider it significant, though.
People should
                                      know this is going on in the
house next door.
                                      That Indonesian woman was being held by a
                                      man in Palos Verdes, which is a wealthy
                                      community. That's pretty
shocking -- to think
                                      that's happening in America."

                                      salon.com | Oct. 16, 2000

                                      - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                      About the writer
                                      Stephen Lemons is a freelance
                                      writer in Los Angeles. He
                                      contributes regularly to the
                                      New Times L.A., Art
                                      Connoisseur, SOMA magazine
                                      and GettingIt.com.

Melanie Orhant
Stop-Traffic Moderator

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Stop-traffic is facilitated, international electronic list
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dealing with human rights abuses associated with trafficking
in persons, with an emphasis on public health and trafficking
in persons for forced labor, including forced prostitution,
sweatshop labor, domestic service and some coercive mail
order bride arrangements.
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