The Modern Slave Trade
Rosa’s introduction to human trafficking began with what seemed to be an innocent offer in her own home in Veracruz, Mexico. A man promised her much more money cleaning hotel rooms in the United States than she was then making in the same line of work. Her parents acquiesced to her wishes, and she was smuggled across the border into Texas before being taken to Orlando, Florida.
The fourteen-year-old girl then learned she had been brought into this country to be a prostitute. For the next three months she served as a sex slave, constantly guarded and moved to a different trailer every fifteen days. She became pregnant and was forced to have an abortion.
Miya, nineteen, also was lured into the modern slave trade. She was selling sunglasses at a Phoenix, Arizona, mall as one of three jobs she worked to save money for college, according to ABC News. A couple approached her, then invited her to dinner at a restaurant where they convinced her to try a brief modeling stint in California. She agreed, only to find herself trapped in prostitution when she arrived.
Fortunately, Rosa and Miya were delivered from or escaped their captors, but the degrading experiences left scars.
Human trafficking does not just happen overseas; it occurs in the cities and towns of this country.
“I cannot forget what happened,” Rosa told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I can’t put it behind me. I find it nearly impossible to trust people. I still feel shame. I only wish none of this had ever happened.”
The slavery experienced by Rosa and Miya demonstrates a shocking reality for Americans: Human trafficking does not just happen overseas; it occurs in the cities and towns of this country.
It is uncertain how many trafficking victims there are in the United States. The latest estimate by the State Department, which houses an office that monitors and fights trafficking, is as many as 17,500 a year. That pales in contrast to the 600,000 to 800,000 people trafficked across international borders worldwide, according to the State Department, but the U.S. figure includes only those brought in from other countries. Those enslaved in their own states or taken to other states remain unnumbered. However many thousands there are, most are women and children.
“It is disgraceful that a nation that takes pride in the great strides it has made to ensure freedom for all people would have slaves within its own borders,” says Barrett Duke, who has worked for anti-trafficking measures as vice president for public policy of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
The federal government acted to combat the problem within U.S. borders a year ago. President Bush signed into law last January a reauthorization of the 2000 anti-trafficking law, which this time included a provision targeting domestic violations. The End Demand for Sex Trafficking Act aids state and local police investigations and prosecutions of traffickers. It also provides funds to help trafficking victims.
The ERLC pushed for passage of the End Demand bill, but it recognizes government action is not the only solution. Churches can help in combating the menace, Duke says.
“Church members know their communities; pastors work daily in their communities,” Duke says. “If our church members and pastors will just learn about what to look for, they can help rescue these enslaved people by reporting what they see and hear to law enforcement officials.
“We are most like Jesus when we reach out and help the helpless.”
“They can also assist those who have been rescued by offering them shelter and helping them to rebuild their stolen lives. Compassion demands that we act. I hope thousands of pastors and churches will see this great need in our own backyard and recognize that we are most like Jesus when we reach out and help the helpless.”
Recognizing the signs of trafficking victims and their work sites are keys to helping those trapped in sexual slavery or forced labor, according to the State Department. Sex slaves can be trapped behind the doors of such establishments as modeling studios, massage parlors, escort services, bars, or strip clubs. Victims of forced labor can be agriculture workers, maids, restaurant employees, nannies, construction workers, or custodians.
Indications that a business is holding people in bondage, the State Department reports, may include the following:
- There is considerable security, such as “barred windows, locked doors, isolated location, electronic surveillance.”
- Workers live at their workplace or do not leave without an escort, who may drive them to their quarters.
- In the case of prostitution, there is a steady influx of men.
There are other ways of identifying the prevalence of trafficking victims in a city or town, says Donna M. Hughes, a professor at the University of Rhode Island and a leading expert on the issue. “Most of what people see as prostitution is actually trafficking because it involves force, fraud and coercion or underage girls,” Hughes told National Review Online in January 2006. “You can get a rough idea of how much sex trafficking—foreign and domestic—is in your community by looking at the advertisements for massage parlors and other fronts for prostitution. These places are full of trafficking victims.”
Confinement, rape, beatings, threats, and psychological manipulation by traffickers work to keep victims in their place. Though a sex or labor slave may not volunteer her status to others, there are signs, according to the State Department, that may reveal her trapped condition:
- She appears to be malnourished or dehydrated.
- She has inadequate personal hygiene.
- She has bruises or other evidence of untreated ailments.
- She has no identification or travel papers.
- She has little, if any, pocket money.
- She is especially nervous.
Warning Signs >>
Businesses >> with barred windows, locked doors, in isolated locations >> with workers living at workplace and requiring escorts to leave >>with a steady influx of men
Victims >> with malnourished appearance >> inadequate personal hygiene >> bruises >> no ID >> little money >> nervous
Four people were charged with smuggling teen girls from Mexico, forcing them to stay in this house in Plainsfield, New Jersey, and work as prostitutes. (AP photo/Mike Derer)