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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons > Releases and Remarks > Op-Eds and Articles

The Orange Grove: Slavery Alive and Well in the U.S.

Ambassador John R. Miller, Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Orange County Register
November 15, 2006

Hats off to the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force. The work of local officers-together with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents-helped free a girl from modern-day slavery and put her traffickers in jail.

In fact, last month, an Egyptian couple from Irvine who pleaded guilty to charges of enslaving and forcing the girl, who was 10 at the time, to work nearly 2 years as a domestic servant in their home, without pay, didn't just receive jail sentences. U.S. District Judge James Selna also ordered the couple to pay their victim, now 17, compensation in the amount of $152,000 in restitution and penalties.

When she was rescued by authorities, "the...girl was shabbily dressed with reddish hands caked with dead, hard-looking skin-the result of being forced to work as a domestic servant for a large Irvine family," The Orange County Register reported.

On a larger scale, federal and local law officials this summer raided nearly a dozen brothels disguised as acupuncture clinics, health spas and massage parlors in California as well as six East Coast states and the District of Columbia. Altogether the raids resulted in 31 arrests on charges of trafficking in persons, and the rescues of more than 70 suspected sex slaves, who were sheltered and provided food, counseling and health care.

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.

In August, three people from Toledo, Ohio, pleaded guilty to federal sex trafficking charges after police uncovered a nationwide sex-slavery operation. Traffickers, according to federal prosecutors, had prostituted girls as young as 12 at motels and truck stops. Under U.S. law, minors exploited in prostitution are considered victims of human trafficking.

How could this happen? Why didn't anyone notice?

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.

Today, however, everyday citizens, local police, and even the media have begun to recognize them-and take action.

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.

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