- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2000

For all three women, it began innocently enough: a conversation with an acquaintance, a businessman promising a job, an idle chat with a woman at a train station.
For all three, it led to kidnapping, transport to a foreign nation, and their shocking coercion into the sex trade a cruel punishment for women lured by the glimmer of hope from an existence otherwise hopeless they testified yesterday before a Senate committee.
"We are talking about slavery," said William R. Yeomans, chief of staff for the Justice Department's civil rights division. "This is as barbaric as the trade that brought African-Americans to this country."
Reliable estimates are hard to come by, but some say as many as a million women and children are enticed from their homes every year and forced into the sex trade or sweatshops. The Clinton administration has formed a task force representing the Justice and Labor departments, the FBI, INS and other agencies. And several bills are working their way through the House and Senate.
"This is one of the cruelest human rights abuses," said Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, who warned that it is growing, spurred by economic desperation in developing countries and the economic collapse that followed the fall of the Soviet Union.
"Every time we expose [this practice], another ray of light invades this darkness," Mr. Brownback said.
Marsha, a woman from southern Russia testifying under a pseudonym, said she left her home when a woman promised her work in Germany as a housemaid. But when Marsha arrived in Hamburg, the woman said she owed $1,000 and "that I would have to earn that money by providing sexual services to men."
"She and her husband threatened to beat me if I tried to leave, and said if I went to the police, I would be deported," Marsha testified through a translator.
"Olga" was lured from Russia by an acquaintance promising a job as a tutor in Israel. Instead, after she arrived in Tel Aviv, she was sold to a man for $10,000, and told she would have to prostitute herself to pay off the debt.
She fought to no effect, tried to escape, and was sold from brothel to brothel.
"If I refused to work, they would not feed me. They beat me, but only across the back near my kidneys, so it would not hurt my appearance," Olga said in a written statement.
Mr. Brownback and Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat, are working together on legislation to fight the problem.
The two would not discuss their plans, but still-pending legislation Mr. Wellstone introduced last year would provide short-term visas for victims in return for their cooperation with law enforcement officials. It would impose punishments of up to 20 years in prison for those engaging in sex trafficking, and create an international listing of known traffickers.
The bill also would provide aid to countries trying to combat the problem, and deny all non-humanitarian aid to those that were not.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, has authored similar legislation in the House.
Each year, at least 700,000 and possibly millions of women and children worldwide are forced into sweatshops or brothels, human rights groups say.
The United States alone sees 50,000 women and children transported across its borders, they estimate.
But getting a solid grasp of the problem is difficult, Mr. Yeomans said.
"It is hard to estimate. The victims are invisible," he said, noting that women smuggled into the country are afraid to contact authorities lest they be prosecuted.
And that's exactly what happened to Marsha.
After a raid of the German bar in which Marsha worked, she was arrested and deported. By contrast, the woman who kidnapped her, the pimp to whom she was later sold, and "the network of people who trafficked me" were never charged, she said.
Maria, a woman from Veracruz, Mexico, was brought to Florida, shuttled around trailer-home brothels by the Cadena ring, and warned by her oppressors that U.S. officials would send her to prison if she tried to flee.
"My captors were correct," Maria said, also through a translator.
"After the INS and FBI freed us from the brothels, we were put in a detention for many months," Maria said.
They were released only after the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center intervened, according to Virginia P. Coto, supervising attorney for the group.
Mrs. Coto and other survivor specialists said the victimization can continue even when the women return home. They are left helpless, with psychic scars and sexually transmitted diseases and little chance of gainful employment.
Mr. Yeomans would not identify the countries most responsible for the problem, and objected to suggestions they be punished for their trafficking.
He supported other provisions of Mr. Wellstone's bill, but argued that more can be accomplished by working with these countries to encourage local law enforcement than by punishing them.
Once sanctions are applied, it "becomes very difficult to work on this level," Mr. Yeomans said.
"I think there should be sanctions," Mrs. Coto said.
Mrs. Coto added that Congress' own immigration reform efforts have exacerbated the problem.
She said the "extremely harsh" 1996 Immigration Reform Act made deportation without federal review more likely and made kidnappers' threats more real.

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