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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 > Remarks > 2005

Human Trafficking in Massachusetts

Laura J. Lederer, Senior Advisor on Trafficking, Office for Global Affairs
Remarks at Massachusetts State House Regarding Legislation Proposed by Senator Mark Montigny Massachusetts State Senate
Boston, Massachusetts
May 4, 2005

On behalf of Ambassador John Miller, head of the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, I want to thank Senator Montigny for his heroic efforts to draft and pass a comprehensive state law on human trafficking, and for organizing this event. As many of you know, we have made tremendous progress at the federal level in addressing trafficking, but we have only begun to work at the state and local level. And yet it is the local police that have uncovered trafficking rings in Florida, Georgia, California, Texas, Arizona, Michigan, Washington, and many other states, and it is the local non-profits and NGOs that have largely given the shelter and services for victims that have been rescued.

If Massachusetts passes this law to develop a Commission to Study Human Trafficking in Massachusetts, your state will be one of the few taking the lead. When we started our work on human trafficking at the federal level, people thought of human trafficking as something that happened in other countries, not in our own. I am sure you are facing the same kind of astonishment and incredulity at the state level. People just continue to say, "It can’t happen here"—and so we need to gather specific facts and data that will help convince them.

That is why I want to tell you the story of a child who was trafficked because I believe it illustrates the harm of trafficking, and it also demonstrates why we need local and state laws to respond to trafficking.

Rosa's Story

So this is the story of Rosa, who was trafficked from Mexico to the United States. She was 13 and waiting tables in a restaurant in a small village near Vera Cruz, Mexico when she was approached by an acquaintance of the family who told her, "You know you can make ten times more money in the U.S. doing what you’re doing here. I know someone who can find you a job in Texas—you can send money home to your family, you can have your own life. If you don’t like the job we’ll get you a new one. If you’re homesick, we’ll bring you back across the border. You can’t lose."

Rosa was young and hopeful. She asked her parents if she could go but they forbid her. But she wanted a better life than what she had, and so, against her parents and friends’ warnings, she accepted the offer. She was told to go to the main hotel in town on Friday evening.

When she got there, a car was waiting, with several other young girls in it from other neighboring villages. They drove into the desert as far as they could toward the U.S. border. There, they met up dozens more young women and girls from other towns in Mexico.

On the ground were backpacks and water bottles. They were told to put the backpacks on their backs, and then they began to walk. They walked four days and four nights – through the desert, across the Rio Grande, and into Brownsville, Texas, where they were picked up by a white van and driven across Texas, across Louisiana, and into rural Florida. They were dropped off in a rural town called Avon Park, in front a series of trailers. They were ordered out and the van drove away.

A big, burly looking man came out and told them, "I’ve just purchased you. Now you work for me." A little later an older woman took them to one of the trailers. She told Rosa that she was in a brothel and that she would have to buy her freedom by sexually servicing men.

Rosa was young. She was a virgin. She was Catholic. She knew what the woman was telling her was bad—a sin. She began to cry and begged to be taken to a restaurant to work. But she was told, "There are no restaurant jobs—only this." When she refused to do what they said, the burly man brought out three other men who took her into one of the trailers and gang-raped her to induct her into the "business." Then they locked her in the trailer without food and water until she succumbed.

For the next six months she was a prisoner. She was forced to service 10 or more men a day. On the weekends it was as many as 20-30 men. The men bought a ticket, which was a condom, for $20. But they often didn’t use it.

Twice Rosa was impregnated and twice forced to have an abortion. And twice forced back into the brothel the next day. She was beaten if she refused a customer’s demands. She was guarded twenty-four hours a day, even when she went to the bathroom. She was passed around at private parties that the trafficking ring held in the evenings and on weekends.

Once she and several others tried to escape. They were caught and pistol-whipped around the head and face in front of the other girls—to deter them all from trying that. Shortly after the second abortion and this beating, Rosa became sick and felt crazy. In order to keep her functioning in the brothel, the traffickers gave her drugs and alcohol to numb her pain.

She was only "rescued" when one of the young women jumped out of a second story window at one of the private parties and ran to a neighbor’s house. The neighbor called the local police. The police called the INS and FBI, and a sting operation was set up. Over 40 young women and girls were rescued and 14 traffickers were arrested.

A medical doctor examined Rosa. She had several STDs; she had broken bones that hadn’t healed properly from the beatings; she had pelvic inflammatory disease and scar tissue from the forced abortions. She was addicted to drugs and alcohol, was suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, including nightmares, flashbacks, depression, and suicidal tendencies. In short, she was physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually broken.

To make matters worse, when Rosa was discovered, the U.S. didn’t have a trafficking law. Instead of really rescuing Rosa, the police arrested her and the other young women and children, and locked them up in jail along with the traffickers. We simply didn’t have a victim-centered approach to trafficking and did not know how to handle the case.

Later Rosa and the other victims were taken from jail to a battered wives shelter. There they were told not to talk about what had really happened to them, but to pretend they were victims of spousal abuse because that was the shelter’s mandate. To make matters worse, Rosa wanted to see a priest, but was instead taken to a psychiatrist because that was the medical model this shelter had for addressing violence against women.

Scope of the Problem

Now if you take Rosa’s story and multiple it by hundreds of thousands, even millions, you will get an idea of the magnitude of the problem. The CIA says that between 600,000 and 800,00 people are trafficked per year globally; and between 14,000 and 17,000 are trafficked into the United States every year. If you take these numbers in the aggregate, or cumulatively, it may be many millions of people who have been trafficked over the years. And the estimate is that around 80 percent of these are women and children.

U.S. Government Response to the Problem

Six years ago, in 1998, the realization that this was a growing problem around the world—and that it was being largely unaddressed—led to the formation of a very unusual, broad-based coalition of women's organizations, faith-based groups, children's groups, labor groups, and health groups. This bi-partisan coalition determined that they would do something about human trafficking.

Together, they drafted and helped pass the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. The law provides a comprehensive approach to elimination of trafficking in persons through a three-pronged strategy—prevention, prosecution, and protection.

I'd like to take a moment to talk about the law, because I believe the U.S. law is a model that can be utilized to help in every aspect of this work.

The law does a number of things:

  • First, it broadens the definition of trafficking to include recruiter, transporter, buyer, seller, harborer, brothel owner, manager, and guards. This is important because it gets to the whole pipeline of activity in trafficking. 
  • Second it increases penalties from 20 years to life. This is important because it sends a message to traffickers that we take human trafficking as seriously as drug trafficking—and that the penalties will be commensurate with the crime. 
  • Third, it has a victim-centered approach, including a "T visa" for victims of severe forms of trafficking—which allows the victim to stay in the U.S. temporarily for 3 years and then apply for permanent residency. 
  • Fourth, it appropriated $60 million the first year—this has quadrupled in the last couple of years—in resources to address trafficking. This is important because we all know that a law without resources is only worth the paper its on. 
  • Fifth, it mandated the creation of a President's Interagency Task Force on Trafficking in Persons. This cabinet level task force, is chaired by the Secretary of State, and includes the National Security Council Advisor, the Attorney General, the CIA Director, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Defense, and the US AID USAID Administrator. This is important because it creates political will at the highest levels, which streams down into each agency.

The law also mandated a new Office to Combat and Monitor Trafficking in Persons (TIP). The Office does a number of things, but I want to talk about three of the most important.

First, the TIP Office leads the diplomatic effort to address trafficking in persons in around the world. It does this through high-level meetings with Ambassadors and other senior policy officials, and through public awareness campaigns here and abroad.

Second, the TIP Office produces an annual Trafficking in Persons Report. The TIP Report, as it is known, assesses and rates the progress of every country in the world in addressing human trafficking. This TIP Report is one of our major foreign policy tools, and we use it to help increase dialogue with other countries and to provide an impetus for serious action. As many of you may know, if a country falls into Tier Three, it may be subject to non-humanitarian, non-trade sanctions. These sanctions are the "stick," if you will, to help leverage action on the part of recalcitrant countries. (The "carrot" is the $200-plus million in grants that the U.S. Government makes each year). Just the threat of being put into Tier Three often galvanizes serious action from a country.

The TIP Office also manages an International Grant making program, which receives about $20 million from Congress each year and makes grants to non-governmental and non-profit organizations running programs that provide economic alternatives for vulnerable populations. It also assists victims by providing for shelters and services, including medical, psychological, legal, and counseling services. It also works to encourage countries to draft and pass good trafficking laws, and to arrest, prosecute, and convict traffickers, as well as to train law enforcement officials including police, prosecutors, and judges.

We hope, as Massachusetts looks at what kind of law is best for your state, that you will examine the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and use it as a model for your own state law. The U.S. government understands that trafficking is a problem that cannot be solved by federal government alone. We must learn to coordinate and collaborate, to work together towards a common goal. We look forward to partnering with Massachusetts to stop the traffickers.

Thank you.

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