Magazine article Insight on the News

Congress Targets Traffic of Sex Slaves into U.S

Magazine article Insight on the News

Congress Targets Traffic of Sex Slaves into U.S

Article excerpt

Three new bills intended to stop `trafficking in women' -- or modern slavery, as reformers call the practice - also would address forced labor and human-rights violations.

The United States is about to ban a lucrative import -- sex slaves. Congress is considering legislation that would make it more risky for smugglers and pimps to lure women and girls to this country and force them to work as prostitutes, usually after beating and raping them.

Rep. Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican, has introduced one measure in the House; Rep. Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat, has offered a second. And Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat, has submitted to the Senate a companion to Slaughter's proposal.

Precise numbers defining the extent of the problem are hard to ferret out. But the State Department estimates that 50,000 women and girls are brought to the United States each year to labor in sleazy discos, clubs, cafes and brothels. It's an immensely profitable trade. As scholar-activist Laura Lederer puts it, "Unlike drugs ... human beings can be sold over and over again."

Lederer, of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, has been studying the issue and laws relating to it for 20 years. "The problem has always been marginalized" she says, "but it is so great now that it can't be ignored any longer." A broad coalition of religious, human-rights, children's and labor organizations are backing the proposed legislation.

Evidence of the problem, which Smith calls "the brutal, demeaning and disgusting abuse of women and children" has been accumulating for years -- and is exemplified by the case of Rogerio Cadena. Cadena, a 50-year-old illegal alien from Veracruz, Mexico, and head of a family of pimps, persuaded mostly impoverished women and girls as young as 14 to pay -- or promise to pay -- as much as $3,000 each to be smuggled into the United States. They were told they'd be placed in good jobs as nannies or housekeepers.

Once here, the Cadenas destroyed whatever fraudulent documents the women possessed and told them they would have to work as prostitutes to repay their loans. The women were molested, then taken to mobile-home brothels near migrant-worker camps in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.

There the women were forced to service men every 15 minutes for 12 hours a day, six days a week, the women later testified. Cadena's men, called ticketeros, sold $20 packets of condoms that served as "tickets" the patrons exchanged for sex. The women were allowed to keep $3 per encounter, from which they were to pay their smuggling "fees and expenses."

Mostly, the women were locked in windowless rooms, they testified. But two 15-year-old girls escaped from a West Palm Beach brothel, fled to the Mexican consulate in Miami and revealed Cadena's operation. In April, Cadena was found guilty in Florida of running a sex-slave ring and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Two weeks before Cadena was sentenced, federal agents captured two Koreans identified as smugglers plus a group of Korean aliens, including five women ages 20 to 30, who were sneaking across an isolated stretch of the U.S.-Canadian border near Champlain, N.Y. The agents reported the women were destined to work as sex slaves in New York or Chicago to repay the $30,000 fee each was charged for being smuggled from Korea to the United States via Canada. All were charged with immigration or smuggling offenses and detained. …

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