May 8, 2000

Sex trade 'alive & well in America'
___ARLINGTON, Va. (RNS)--Wearing scarves and dark sunglasses to protect their identities, two women from Mexico told of the nightmarish months they spent as two of the estimated 50,000 women brought to the United States by sex traffickers.
___"I was given tight clothes to wear and told what I must do. At the end of every night, I was to turn in the condom wrappers. Each wrapper represented a deduction to my smuggling fee," said "Inez," who wore the disguise because she feared her former captors might discern her identity and retaliate against her family in Mexico.
___She said her captors lured her to the United States in 1997 with promises of a job in a restaurant, then told her she owed them a $2,500 "smuggling fee."
___ "Every 15 days, we were transferred to another trailer in a nearby city. This was to give the customers a variety of girls and so we never knew where we were in case we tried to escape. I could not believe this was happening to me, but even worse was that some of the girls were as young as 14 years old," she said.
___Inez's story, and that of her friend "Maria," was the dramatic highlight of a rally sponsored by the Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking--a group of faith-based and human rights organizations--aimed at drawing attention to the plight of the estimated 2 million women and children transported around the world each year in the sexual trafficking trade.
___Inez said her nightmare ended when law enforcement officials raided the brothel where she was kept. Though some of her captors were arrested, others evaded capture.
___"Those are just two stories," said Lisa Thompson, policy representative for the National Association of Evangelicals, after both Maria and Inez finished speaking. "Now multiply that by thousands."
___The rally was staged as Congress considers anti-sex trafficking legislation that would give sex traffickers harsher penalties as well as offer social services and visas for victims brought from other countries. The legislation also would permit the United States to enforce sanctions against nations that participate in sex trafficking.
___Cambodia announced its own national campaign to end sexual trafficking March 6, though the government chose not to ban government officials from visiting brothels to have sex with children and women. The country's Ministry of Women's Affairs estimates 40,000 women and children in Cambodia have been trapped in the sexual slave trade.
___Sandra Hunnicut, founder of the anti-sex trafficking organization Captive Daughters, said sexual trafficking does not only happen outside the United States. She identified Oregon, Michigan, Nevada, Connecticut, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas as several of dozens of states through which children and women have been brought into the United States.
___"Americans want to believe it doesn't happen here, that it's 'over there,"' Hunnicutt said. "Let me tell you, the sex trade is alive and well in America."
___Graham St. John-Willey, a member of the United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, said fear often keeps victims from testifying against their captors, who are difficult to capture since the sex trade crosses national borders.
___"An old Japanese proverb says 'The traveler knows no shame,"' said St. John-Willey, who also is founder of Action for Children Campaign, a human rights organization. "The abusers are also men traveling from developed countries, your fellow countrymen and mine ... someone's husband, someone's boyfriend, someone's brother, someone's workmate and everyone some mother's son. If there were no purchases of sexual services, there would be no sex trade."

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