Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Slavery Still Exists... In Your Neighborhood
Over 10,000 young girls (and sometimes boys) are brought into the United States every year to be sold as sex slaves, according to this 2004 NY Times article. Be forewarned before you click, the stories in this article are horrendous. It makes me unbelievably angry to read about the injustices done to these girls, often right out in plain sight.

What I can't fathom is the fact that this information is so easily found - it can't really be hidden after all; the men who pay for sex with these girls have to be able to find them - and yet no one does anything. Over and over again the article spoke of corrupt local officials in the countries of origin, or oblivious and under-resourced law enforcement here in the United States who would deny that human trafficking was a real problem, and, when they did take action, would often prosecute the girls themselves as prostitutes or illegal aliens. (Despite the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act passed by President Bush in 2000.)

And who are the men paying for these women? Do they even know what they are doing, that the women they are paying to have sex with are really slaves, kidnapped and taken from their own homes and families, or is the true nature of the crime hidden even from the customers? Regardless, if so many people are being trafficked, that means there must be a huge demand for it. Which means that tens of thousands of men, ordinary people who live in neighborhoods like yours and mine, must be seeking this kind of thing out.

And sometimes these girls are even kept in our own neighborhoods. The article described how most of the houses where girls are kept are in ordinary, middle-class neighborhoods. In a society where we keep to ourselves and don't bother to know our neighbors, this kind of things goes on right under our noses.

As just one example, here is just one story from this 11-page article:
The house at 1212 1/2 West Front Street in Plainfield, N.J., is a conventional midcentury home with slate-gray siding, white trim and Victorian lines. When I stood in front of it on a breezy day in October, I could hear the cries of children from the playground of an elementary school around the corner. American flags fluttered from porches and windows. The neighborhood is a leafy, middle-class Anytown. The house is set back off the street, near two convenience stores and a gift shop. On the door of Superior Supermarket was pasted a sign issued by the Plainfield police: ''Safe neighborhoods save lives.'' The store's manager, who refused to tell me his name, said he never noticed anything unusual about the house, and never heard anything. But David Miranda, the young man behind the counter of Westside Convenience, told me he saw girls from the house roughly once a week. ''They came in to buy candy and soda, then went back to the house,'' he said. The same girls rarely came twice, and they were all very young, Miranda said. They never asked for anything beyond what they were purchasing; they certainly never asked for help. Cars drove up to the house all day; nice cars, all kinds of cars. Dozens of men came and went. ''But no one here knew what was really going on,'' Miranda said. And no one ever asked.

On a tip, the Plainfield police raided the house in February 2002, expecting to find illegal aliens working an underground brothel. What the police found were four girls between the ages of 14 and 17. They were all Mexican nationals without documentation. But they weren't prostitutes; they were sex slaves. The distinction is important: these girls weren't working for profit or a paycheck. They were captives to the traffickers and keepers who controlled their every move. ''I consider myself hardened,'' Mark J. Kelly, now a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security), told me recently. ''I spent time in the Marine Corps. But seeing some of the stuff I saw, then heard about, from those girls was a difficult, eye-opening experience.''

The police found a squalid, land-based equivalent of a 19th-century slave ship, with rancid, doorless bathrooms; bare, putrid mattresses; and a stash of penicillin, ''morning after'' pills and misoprostol, an antiulcer medication that can induce abortion. The girls were pale, exhausted and malnourished.

It turned out that 1212 1/2 West Front Street was one of what law-enforcement officials say are dozens of active stash houses and apartments in the New York metropolitan area -- mirroring hundreds more in other major cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago -- where under-age girls and young women from dozens of countries are trafficked and held captive. Most of them -- whether they started out in Eastern Europe or Latin America -- are taken to the United States through Mexico. Some of them have been baited by promises of legitimate jobs and a better life in America; many have been abducted; others have been bought from or abandoned by their impoverished families.

I can't tell you how enraged all this makes me. What would it take to get our law enforcement officials to step up to the plate and crack down on this sort of thing - in a way that punishes the slave traders and not the girls themselves, indeed, in a way that helps the girls and restores a new life to them? What would it take to end the corruption in those foreign countries and stop the trafficking before it even starts? And whatever it takes, isn't it worth it? If this was your daughter, or sister, or friend, wouldn't you do whatever it took to rescue her?

Fortunately there are a number of organizations dedicated to rescuing these girls. My favorite is International Justice Mission, a Christian organization run by Gary Haugen, but there are many others as well. The Not For Sale Campaign is a coalition of the many smaller groups that have been working to fight this problem for many years. The website lists many ways to get involved in fighting sex trafficking and the global international slave trade.

Let's stop human trafficking NOW!


posted by Mike Clawson at 10:58 AM | Permalink |


At 11/06/2007 07:38:00 PM, Anonymous Karl

IJM is a great organization doing wonderful work. A local attorney quit his law firm job to go on staff with them in India a few years ago.


At 11/06/2007 08:37:00 PM, Blogger John


I couldn't agree with you more. Just last fall in my town they cracked a China Buffet restaurant that was doubling as a sex slave house. That place had been there for years and they just now found it?! I'm with you. This makes me very angry.

Thanks for the article Mike,



At 11/09/2007 01:19:00 PM, Blogger Nathan P. Gilmour

I realize I'm nitpicking, but how could Bush have signed a bill into law in 2000?


At 11/09/2007 03:18:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hmmm, good question Nathan. Perhaps I got that detail wrong. I think I was quoting someone else.


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