Rosa, age 14, trafficked in Florida, originally from Mexico
When I was fourteen, a man came to my parents' house in Veracruz, Mexico and asked me if I was interested in making money in the United States. He said I could make many times as much money doing the same things that I was doing in Mexico. At the time, I was working in a hotel cleaning rooms and I also helped around my house by watching my brothers and sisters. He said I would be in good hands, and would meet many other Mexican girls who had taken advantage of this great opportunity. My parents didn't want me to go, but I persuaded them.
A week later, I was smuggled into the United States through Texas to Orlando, Florida. It was then the men told me that my employment would consist of having sex with men for money. I had never had sex before, and I had never imagined selling my body.
And so my nightmare began. Because I was a virgin, the men decided to initiate me by raping me again and again, to teach me how to have sex. Over the next three months, I was taken to a different trailer every 15 days. Every night I had to sleep in the same bed in which I had been forced to service customers all day.
I couldn't do anything to stop it. I wasn't allowed to go outside without a guard. Many of the bosses had guns. I was constantly afraid. One of the bosses carried me off to a hotel one night, where he raped me. I could do nothing to stop him.
Because I was so young, I was always in demand with the customers. It was awful. Although the men were supposed to wear condoms, some didn't, so eventually I became pregnant and was forced to have an abortion. They sent me back to the brothel almost immediately.
I cannot forget what has happened. I can't put it behind me. I find it nearly impossible to trust people. I still feel shame. I was a decent girl in Mexico. I used to go to church with my family. I only wish none of this had ever happened.
Rachel Lloyd, a survivor of child sex trafficking, and founder of GEMS in New York City. Here she describes the experience of children trafficked into prositution to the New York City Council
Who are we and why do we enter prostitution? Statistically, the average age that we enter prostitution is 13 years old, so we’re getting younger and younger. Eighty to ninety percent of us have been sexually abused as children, and therefore, struggling with many issues around sexuality, boundaries, shame and self-worth. Many of us are runaways, throw-aways, and often the street feels safer than home ever did.
Most of us never expected to be involved in the life, but because of our age, the abuse we already experienced and the pervasive messages about our sexuality and worth as young women that we receive every day in the media. We were vulnerable to a smooth-talkingrecruiter, who promised us the world, or at least a new pair of sneakers and jeans which at the time felt like the whole world to us.
Nationally we represent all ethnicities, but in New York City we are more likely to be young women of color; therefore we often don’t fit into people’s idea of exploited youth.
Unlike the 11-year old lured away from her safe and loving suburban home, and sold in Las Vegas by a man twice her age, we are often involved in the foster care system, do not appear to have many people care about us, are often being exploited in the same neighborhoods that we grew up in by a man who is barely out of his teens.
Because of the things we’ve experienced, we often don’t react with joy when law enforcement tries to intervene, but rather fear and hostility. It is hard to fit us in a nice little victim box, and much easier for society to look at us with scorn, and disgust, and to simply assume we’re out there because we like it.
So what’s it really like for us? The pimps tell us about the sneakers and jeans they’ll buy us, but they never tell us that we’ll never see any of the money we make. They don’t tell us what will happen when we don’t make the quota they have set for us that night, the beatings, the physical torture we’ll receive if we break one of the ever-changing complex set of pimp rules. Looking at another pimp, for example, can earn a severe beating, so we learn very quickly to look down at all times to protect ourselves no matter what, to be loyal or faithful to the man that scares us the most.
It feels like there’s no safe place for us, because out on the streets we take our lives into our hands every night. Every time we get into a car or go to a motel room, we never know if we’ll come back. We know girls who didn’t.
We learn quickly what it’s like to be kidnapped or raped, even though society feels like we can’t be raped, it hurts and it frightens us just as much as it hurts regular girls, except we learn to get used to it, and expect another beating afterwards when we come home because now our pimp wants the money that we didn’t see.
We people going to work in the morning as we’re ending our night, and we see the scorn in their faces, and sometimes we wonder what it would be like to live like them, but quickly we put it out of our minds because it seems like a world we’ll never know.
How does it affect us? Seventy to eighty percent of us are diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder even though we can’t articulate or understand why we feel so numb to the pain we experience. We have nightmares in the daytime and terrors in the night. Many of us have STD, some of us can no longer have children. Some of us are infected with HIV or AIDS.
Many of us have physical scars, but all of us have scars that no one will ever see. We know how society feels about us, and we begin to internalize the stigma and we always carry around a sense of shame and self-loathing for the things that we’ve done.
So, what do we need to get out of it? The first thing that we need is the understanding that we are not child prostitutes or teen prostitutes, but we are sexually exploited youth. This is not a choice we’ve made, its something that has been done to us, but we are the victims and we should be treated as such. We don’t need to be judged or stigmatized or made to feel any worse than we already feel about ourselves.
We often come into contact with people or professionals and workers in emergency rooms and shelters and programs that should be able to help us, but because either they don’t recognize the signs of what’s going on, or they have their own preconceived notions about the type of people that we are, we don’t receive the services or the intervention that we need.
We need support to leave, it’s hard to do it alone, and we need people to understand our fears are real. The people who hurt us are dangerous and we often genuinely are in fear of our lives. We need protection from these people, and sometimes we even need to be protected from our own choices, because we’ve been so dependent and brainwashed by these people, that sometimes we really do believe that this is our only option.
We need a safe place to go, a residential facility that’s designed just for us, where we’re treated from our emotional and physical injuries that we’re suffered and where we can begin to heal from our past. We need options, and alternatives, job training, access to education, assistance with basic life skills that often we’ve been denied. We need funding for programs and services that have been designed just for us because our needs are so unique and we can’t be fitted into a lot of traditional programs.
Most of all, we need to stop turning a blind eye for what is happening in the streets of our city every night, to recognize this as a growing phenomenon, and to hear our voices from the shadows, and to take action to stop the continued sexual exploitation of New York City’s youth.
Vi, trafficked in American Samoa, originally from Vietnam; testimony before the US House Committee on International Relations, 2001
My name is Vi. And I am 28 years old. I arrived in American Samoa on July 22nd, 1999. Two other groups of Vietnamese workers had been brought to this island before us. When I signed the contract to a Company 12, they told me that I would go to the U.S. And its Deputy Director promised that I would get paid $408 a month. I had to borrow $4,000 to pay to Company 12 and another $2,000 to pay the company official in charge of recruitment.
We were taken to American Samoa and not the U.S. As soon as we landed our passports were confiscated. At a Daewoosa shop, I had to work from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. and sometimes to 7 a.m. the next day, and also on Saturdays and Sunday without being paid. We had no money to buy food, amenities or soap. We had to pay $200 for room and board, which they said that they would provide according to the contract.
Meals at Daewoosa consisted of a few cabbage leaves, potatoes cooked with a lot of water. Those who were at the head of the line could get some cabbage and potato, later comers got only water. Hungry, we planted some vegetables to supplement our meals, but Mr. Lee, President of Daewoosa, destroyed our garden. Undernourished, I lost 35 pounds within 1 year.
Working and living conditions at Daewoosa were very suffocating. There was no air ventilation. Workers slept right next to each other. The temperature in the rooms sometime went up to over 100 degrees. We were not allowed to step out for fresh air. The supervisor even kept count on how many times we went to the toilet.
We lived 36 people in one room. Another worker and I share one tiny bed. We can only sleep on our side, we can’t – if we lay on our back, we would pile on top of each other.
Most of us were women. At night Mr. Lee often came into our room and lay next to whoever he liked. Once he forced me to give him a massage right in our bedroom.
He called pretty ones into his office and forced them to have sex with him. Three women have publicly denounced him for that. Once, several of his customers arrived in American Samoa. Mr. Lee pressed several female workers to sleep with them. They resisted.
At the workplace, he regularly groped and kissed female workers in front of everyone.
There were three among us who were pregnant women. Mr. Lee demanded that they have an abortion. He fired them when they refused. Evicted from Daewoosa, they had to seek refuge at a local church.
Movement at Daewoosa was very restricted. Everyone leaving the compound was searched by American Samoan guards. Female workers were groped all over their bodies. Those who protested were strip-searched. Those coming back from the compound after 9 p.m. were beaten up. I was once slapped.
Mr. Lee used big American Samoan guards to terrorize us. Once several workers staged a strike because they were not paid. He threatened that he would send these guards to short-circuit electric cables and cause a fire to kill us all. Everyone was fearful because two female workers, Nga and Dung, involved in the lawsuits against Mr. Lee had just disappeared.
On November 23 of last year, there was a dispute between the supervisor and a female worker. Mr. Lee ordered the supervisor: ‘‘If you beat her to death, I will take the blame.’’ The supervisor dragged the female worker by the chest. Other workers came to her rescue. The American Samoan guards, already holding sticks and scissors, jumped in and beat them. Everyone was so frightened. We ran for our lives. Mr. Lee ran after to beat the fleeing workers. We were terrorized for days after that.
The guards paid special attention to the five or six workers known to have supported the lawsuit against Mr. Lee. They beat them the hardest. Ms. Quyen, the key witness in this lawsuit, was held by her arms on two sides by two guards. A third guard thrusted a pointed stick into her eyes. As a result, she lost sight of one eye.
A guard beat a male worker with a stick, breaking his front teeth and bleeding his mouth.
Another male worker was pinned down to the floor and repeatedly beaten at his temple. His blood was spilling all over the floor. The next day, the FBI agent took pictures of the bloodstains.
During the assault, Daewoosa’s lawyer and the police were there but did nothing. Only when the lawyer representing the workers showed up did the guards stop the beating.
From 1999 to the above incident, Tour Company 12 and the International Manpower Supply, another Vietnamese company hiring workers for Daewoosa, forced us to continue working without pay and threatened to send us back to Vietnam if we disobeyed. Everyone was deeply in debt. If we got sent back, how could we pay our debt?
Since my arrival to the U.S., I have sent every dollar earned back to Vietnam to pay my debt. However, this has barely made a dent because the interest rate is so high, 50 percent. My parents in Vietnam are very worried. Their hair turned all gray. They told me that it is fortunate that I have come to the U.S.; otherwise, we would be in a hopeless situation.
If sent back, it would be hard for me to find employment. My previous workplace will not take me back. Because of my involvement in the prosecution of Mr. Lee, I am afraid of running into trouble with the government if repatriated to Vietnam.
I am getting used to life in the U.S. Here I am free to choose where I want to work. If dissatisfied with one workplace, I can always go to another one.
I have been thoroughly helped in my first step toward a normal life, and I find everyone to be very kind. I now live with a Vietnamese family without having to pay rent. That family offers me employment. They take care of my food, transportation and other things. They also give me a phone card to call my family in Vietnam once a week.
Staying with me are six female workers from American Samoa. Two of them are here today.
I have received a certification letter from the Department of Health and Human Services for public benefits. I have a temporary visa which will expire on October 30, 2002, and a work permit. I work at a nail salon in DC to pay my debts. If allowed to remain in the U.S., I would like to go back to school because in Vietnam I had to stop schooling at 7th grade. I also wish to be reunited withmy child left behind in Vietnam.
I am thankful to everyone who has helped me get out of American Samoa and everyone who has assisted me in this new life in the U.S.
WHAT IS HUMAN TRAFFICKING?
Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, is modern-day slavery, involving victims who are forced, defrauded or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. It is the third largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world, victimizingmillions of people and reaping billions in profits. Annually, about 600,000 to 800,000 people – mostly women and children – are trafficked across national borders which does not count millions trafficked within their own countries. People are snared into trafficking by many means. In some cases, physical force is used. In other cases, false promises are made regarding job opportunities or marriages in foreign countries to entrap victims.
Human trafficking may take many forms, including trafficking in the sex industry, into forced labor in factories, restaurants, or agricultural work, into domestic servitude as a servant, housekeeper, or nanny, as a bride, of organs.
Traffickers use a variety of techniques to control their victims. A hallmark of the criminal industry is the sophisticated use of psychological and financial control mechanisms, often minimizing or precluding the need for physical violence or confinement.
Victims of trafficking often come from vulnerable populations, including migrants, oppressed or marginalized groups, runaways or displaced persons, and the poor. Traffickers may be individuals, families, or more organized groups of criminals, and are facilitated by other “indirect” beneficiaries, such as advertising, distribution, or retail companies or consumers (who may include you). Trafficking occurs in almost every country in the world, though some countries are primarily sites of origin, transit, destination, and/or internal trafficking.
Human trafficking is a multi-dimensional threat: it deprives people of their human rights and freedoms, it is a global health risk, and it fuels the growth of organized crime. Human trafficking has a devastating impact on individual victims, who often suffer physical and emotional abuse, rape, threats against self and family, passport theft, and even death. But the impact of human trafficking goes beyond individual victims; it undermines the safety and security of all nations it touches. Trafficking is considered one of the most urgent human rights issues in the world today.