Human Slavery Is Happening In Your Own Backyard
By Desdemona Bandini
The Daily Titan
On a quiet suburban street in Irvine, Calif., while most teenage girls gossiped on their cell phones about cute boys at school, a 12-year-old Egyptian girl was living her own nightmare. She spent her days as a servant-slave to a couple and their five children during the day, cleaning, cooking and caring for the children.
She spent her nights on a urine-stained mattress with no sheets, tucked out of view in a windowless room. She was beaten, malnourished and called "stupid girl." Both she and her family were threatened from 2000, when her parents sold her to the couple for $30, to 2004, when she was discovered after a savvy neighbor noticed the girl was not going to school and tipped off police.
The Orange County Register reported it was the first case the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force has prosecuted since its formation in 2004.
California State University at Fullerton hosted a Social Justice Summit with a workshop Friday focusing on Human Trafficking to create public awareness for better detection of human slavery.
Human trafficking is the second-largest organized crime — after drug trafficking — in the world, with annual profits of $7 billion to $12 billion dollars. There are more than 17,000 estimated cases of human trafficking in the United States, with a majority of slaves forced into prostitution or domestic servitude, said Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, an outreach coordinator for Free The Slaves. Choi-Fitzpatrick said that number is a "dark number." Similar to the estimate of bicycles stolen each year, the actual number is likely much higher because few cases are ever reported.
Human trafficking is an international problem that lies low under the radar and is extremely difficult to detect but is happening right here in Orange County in the back of massage parlors, chiropractic offices, nail salons and private homes, he said.
The list continues and is ever evolving. Humans are enslaving, transporting and selling other humans in diabolical ways from small family-run rings to global organized criminal rings.
The stories are heart-wrenching. Men and women who are promised jobs, schooling and a chance for a better life in America are tricked into slavery. Women, teenagers and children from Eastern Europe and Latin America are locked into private homes that serve as brothels and are forced to service 20 to 30 clients a day. Near a brothel in Anaheim, 7,000 used condoms were found, Choi-Fitzpatrick said.
U.S. Attorney's Office Orange County Branch Chief Wayne Gross spoke of a man who was tricked into slavery by his church in Africa, sent to America and forced to sing in a choir four to five times a day in malls without food or pay. There is a sex tourism trade where men arrange to have sex internationally with infants, babies and children and post their experiences on sex forum Web sites. American women have been tricked into becoming sex slaves and held hostage in harems in Dubai.
Even deaf Mexicans were forced to approach strangers with notes explaining they were deaf and tried to sell 200-300 key chains a day before they could stop. Some tried to go to the police, but Mexican sign language is different from U.S. sign language and they were not understood.
They end up in sweatshops and fields. They can be mail-ordered brides or restaurant workers.
Sometimes their papers, passports or identification are taken away, they are threatened or their family back home is threatened or they are forced to work off an impossible fee for their arrival. Some can't speak the language or are told they will go to jail or will be deported or beaten and their lives threatened and humiliated.
They may be forced to work without pay, without freedom, without dignity and without a choice. They may not be physically jailed, but mentally jailed instead.
"One girl tried to escape the brothel. The pimp shut it down and got all the men out whether they were finished or not. He then gathered all the other girls around him and unwound a wire hanger and beat that girl for two hours straight until her back was filleted to show what would happen if anyone else had the same idea," Gross said.
In 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. In 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was created to establish rights, immigration status and aid to victims. Human trafficking is a federal crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Gross and Choi-Fitzpatrick said this is not enough.
"There needs to be a bill passed to allow enforcement at the local and state level because the federal level is too big. Assemblywoman Lieber has introduced Bill AB-22 that addresses this," Choi-Fitzpatrick said. "Also, human trafficking is new to many local law enforcement officials, and they need training."
"If you see a house with unusual activity — people coming and going, call. Be aware of what is going on around you, because human trafficking is happening right out in the open, and unless more people start to notice and speak up, the slavery will continue," said communications student and co-coordinator for the Orange County human trafficking prevention sub-committee, Raquel S-Saboor.
© Desdemona Bandini