Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Slavery in my backyard and a thousand points of light

Local slaves from Mexico, Russia, and…

(At the lecture) Coonan also said that it’s happening within the Chinese community as well, with traffickers promising young women a better life in America. According to Coonan, in nearby Quincy, a Chinese restaurant has Hispanic women working there and living in a small shed behind the restaurant. Many of these restaurants also have their employees living in the kitchen after hours as well.

“I think the most shocking thing is that everything is close to home,” said Danielle May, who attended the lecture. “This is not something that you see on the international news being in Cambodia, or Thailand. This issue is happening at home. I think it’s scary. Quincy is 45 minutes away and people are being enslaved. This is shocking that this is 2007 and slavery is still going on.”

According to the lecture, countries lose U.S. aid if they do not enforce trafficking laws. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, stipulates that if a victim testifies on being trafficked, they receive a Traffic Visa (T-Visa), which allows them permission to work in the U.S. for about three years and then they are eligible to apply for a green card.
Most Americans are stunned to find slavery still exists in the United States, let alone the rest of the world. Unlike the state-sanctioned, race-based crime of the past, modern-day slavery is largely an illegal, global phenomenon, fueled primarily by commercial gain.

Some are slaves in factories and farms. Others-primarily women and girls-are slaves in brothels in Mumbai, Amsterdam or Las Vegas. Still others are held in domestic servitude. Children are kidnapped as child soldiers, forced to become street beggars, or lured and abused as slaves to an underground industry known as child sex tourism.

Government alone can’t stop the international slave trade. That’s why a coalition of private citizens, nonprofit organizations and civic leaders are nurturing and leading a 21st century abolitionist movement by spotlighting the issue, increasing public awareness, pushing countries to do more, and producing programs to help throw the traffickers in jail and protect the survivors.

We are beginning to understand the tricks of today’s human traffickers, which are the same tactics as those used by the slave masters of old: deception, fraud, coercion, kidnapping, beatings and rape.

Victims obtained from a foreign country are often lured by deceptive schemes. They usually arrive indebted to their handlers, seldom know where they are, rarely speak the local language and have no one to turn to after the traffickers seize their passports and documentation.

Under the control of the traffickers, victims are subjected to overwhelming physical and mental pressures. Confined by beatings and threats against their families back home, trafficking victims surrender their dignity to poor living conditions and long hours in order to enrich their captors.

Trafficking victims-whether from across the ocean or the street-learn to trust no one, not even the police. Coerced to cooperate, trafficking victims become skilled at hiding in plain sight, disguising their shame from society, ever wary of discovery and fearful of retribution.

There’s a movement afoot. It asks each of us to be responsible, find out what is happening, pay attention to the signals, and insist on nothing less than abolition.

Categories of slavery are listed by the Department of State.

1-888-373-7888 is a number to call to ask for advice and report concerns:scared, foreign, unable to leave premises, demeanor is not natural might indicate employment is not voluntary.

Funding for a two year study of and help for slaves in the US under the The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 was won in 2003 in the area and then not renewed. Grants are notoriously fleeting.

The idea that there are 100,000 actual ‘domestic servitude’ slaves in the US is so stunning for most of us that in my opinion it simply slips away in denial rather than outrage, even for me.

Aside from the psychological aspects of slavery, 90% in one study of ‘freed slaves’ report that sending money home (meaning most of the money) was more important, as the perception was the money sent was needed to help avoid catastrophe at the slaves’ home of origin, or local traffickers would harm family that remained behind if trouble was caused. Powerful forces indeed.

Another point of view regarding US slavery is expressed in WAPO.

… Congress passed a law, triggering a little-noticed worldwide war on human trafficking that began at the end of the Clinton administration and is now a top Bush administration priority. As part of the fight, President Bush has blanketed the nation with 42 Justice Department task forces and spent more than $150 million — all to find and help the estimated hundreds of thousands of victims of forced prostitution or labor in the United States.
But the government couldn’t find them. Not in this country.

The administration has identified 1,362 victims of human trafficking brought into the United States since 2000, nowhere near the 50,000 a year the government had estimated. In addition, 148 federal cases have been brought nationwide, some by the Justice task forces, which are composed of prosecutors, agents from the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and local law enforcement officials in areas thought to be hubs of trafficking.

“The discrepancy between the alleged number of victims per year and the number of cases they’ve been able to make is so huge that it’s got to raise major questions,” Weitzer said. “It suggests that this problem is being blown way out of proportion.” The Department of Health and Human Services “certifies” trafficking victims in the United States after verifying that they were subjected to forced sex or labor. Only non-U.S. citizens brought into this country by traffickers are eligible to be certified, entitling them to receive U.S. government benefits.

Although there have been several estimates over the years, the number that helped fuel the congressional response — 50,000 victims a year — was an unscientific estimate by a CIA analyst who relied mainly on clippings from foreign newspapers…


Yet the government spent $28.5 million in 2006 to fight human trafficking in the United States, a 13 percent increase over the previous year. The effort has attracted strong bipartisan support.
Steven Wagner, who helped HHS distribute millions of dollars in grants to community groups to find and assist victims, said “Those funds were wasted.”
“Many of the organizations that received grants didn’t really have to do anything,” said Wagner, former head of HHS’s anti-trafficking program. “They were available to help victims. There weren’t any victims.”
. . .
Few question that trafficking is a serious problem in many countries, and the U.S. government has spent more than half a billion dollars fighting it around the world since 2000.
. . .
In the past four years, more than half of all states have passed anti-trafficking laws, although local prosecutions have been rare.

But information was scarce, so a CIA analyst was told to assess the problem in the United States and abroad. She combed through intelligence reports and law enforcement data. Her main source, however, was news clippings about trafficking cases overseas — from which she tried to extrapolate the number of U.S. victims.

Bipartisan passion melted any uncertainty, and in October 2000, Congress enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, significantly broadening the federal definition of trafficking. Prosecutors would no longer have to rely on statutes that required them to prove a victim had been subjected to physical violence or restraints, such as chains. Now, a federal case could be made if a trafficker had psychologically abused a victim.
. . .
Just as the law took effect, along came a new president to enforce it.
Bell, with Prison Fellowship Ministries, noted that when Bush addressed the U.N. General Assembly in 2003, he focused on the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism and the war on trafficking.
Soon after Bush took office, a network of anti-trafficking nonprofit agencies arose, spurred in part by an infusion of federal dollars.
. . .
The CIA’s new estimate, which first appeared in a 2004 State Department report, has been widely quoted, including by a senior Justice Department official at a media briefing this year. It’s also posted on the HHS Web site.

But at a meeting of the task force this year, then-coordinator Sharon Marcus-Kurn said that detectives had spent “umpteen hours of overtime” repeatedly interviewing women found in Korean- and Hispanic-owned brothels. “It’s very difficult to find any underlying trafficking that is there,” Marcus-Kurn told the group….

The article is heavily edited to shorten to blog format and eliminated some of the history of the efforts to assess the situation, except to point out it is ‘bi-partisan’.

Of course I have a response, but am awaiting answers from experts I can contact. Stay tuned.