Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Slavery on our streets

by Cassandra Clifford

As April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, events are taking place throughout the month to highlight the various forms of sexual assault which plagues millions of young girls across the globe. However one does not have to look outside our borders to see the face of modern slavery, nor does one have to look into the eyes of a foreign born national to see the pain and suffering for which it causes. Modern slavery, or human trafficking, is a problem that plagues us right here at home. There is no country immune to this disease of power and greed, which binds some 27 million people around the world, including the US and our Nations Capital. The average of entry into prostitution in the United States is 12-13 years-old, and DC streets ranked among the top 14 cities for human trafficking by the FBI, are see their fair share of young victims each night.

The US State department estimates that some 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year and about 80 percent of them are female and at least 50% are children. The numbers given by the State Department do not included the millions of victims which are trafficked with in countries borders, including the United States. The US government has stated that there are some 17,500 victims of sex trafficking in the United States each year, however all of these government figures are well understated and the true number of victims is unknown.

As brought to your attention in last weeks piece, The Dark Side of The Washington Post, DC is a strong hold for brothels posing as massage parlors, a fate which is sadly not unique to the capital, as seen in a report by MSNBC Undercover: Sex Slaves in America. The MSNBC piece gave great incite into the plight of those enslaved within the US borders, and is highly recommended as a starting point when looking into the depth and scale of this issue and how it effects cities across the country. You will see in the report a large focus on San Fransisco, which has made their message of non-tolerance for sex trafficking and slavery very clear, however is still tied by the hand of bureaucracy and is only beginning to scrape the surface of this enormous problem. San Fransisco is tackling the massage parlors, the ones that look just like those in every major city, and many not so major cities. While the issue of slavery is not the stated premise for the cities surprise inspections, the requirements of permits for masseuses, require girls to be covered from the neck down. Surprise raids have uncovered false walls reveals rooms where slaves are hidden out of the view of the public eyes, unable to leave, locked into fortress like buildings, under the watchful eyes of guards, cameras. The Task Force with the health department; they say they cannot fully eradicate trafficking but they are having some impact. The city of San Fransisco while not free and clean of slavery, is working to crack down on those who prey on the innocence of young girls. Those who use sex and fear to enslave women and girls for nothing more than greed and profit.

In DC the cities own Task Force on Human Trafficking, in addition to increased cooperation, training and awareness by the cities police force, other law enforcement agencies and NGOs, have been increasingly successful in raiding brothels since the establishment of the Task Force in 2004. However as seen in the Post piece the issues must be tackled from all sides, including demand, and while DC does require masseuses to be licensed, it is rarely a deterrent to illegal operations who often just reopen under a new name after raids. As San Fransico saw, surprise inspections and fines alone will not end the trafficking of women. As long as the demand continues women and children will continue to be forced into sexual slavery, and their lives will continue to be torn apart by greed and demand.

To better understand the effects of the demand for commercial sex services, on human trafficking, see Shared Hope's video Demand, which you can watch on-line or download, the video gives great incite into the fate of domestic victims of sex trafficking.


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