As many as 50,000 women and children from Asia, Latin America and
Eastern Europe are brought to the United States under false
pretenses each year and forced to work as prostitutes, abused laborers
or servants, according to a Central Intelligence Agency report
that is the government's first comprehensive assessment of the problem.
The carefully annotated and exhaustively researched, 79-page agency
report - ''International Trafficking in Women to the United
States: A Contemporary Manifestation of Slavery'' - paints a broad
picture of this hidden trade and of the difficulties that
government agencies face in fighting it.
Completed in November, the report is based on more than 150 interviews
with government officials, law-enforcement officers, victims and
experts in the United States and abroad, as well as investigate
documents and a review of international literature on the
Law-enforcement officials have seen episodic evidence for years of
trafficking in immigrant women and children, some as young as 9
years old But the report says that officers generally do not like to
take on these cases because they are difficult to investigate and
prosecute. What is more, it says, the nation does not have sufficient
laws aimed at this problem, meaning that the penalties often are
Two years ago, Attorney General Janet Reno chartered an interagency task
force, saying, ''We are not interested in containing modern-day
slavery; we want to eradicate it.'' The report mentions many efforts to
fight the problem, but also many barriers to doing so.
Over the last two years, while up to 100,000 victims poured into the
United States, where they were held in bondage, federal officials
estimated that the government prosecuted cases involving no more than
250 victims. The Justice Department said it could not provide
The report was prepared by a government intelligence analyst who was
working on assignment to the CIA While the report is not
classified, it has not been made public. Another government official who
wanted the report's findings publicized provided a copy.
It describes case after case of foreign women who answered advertisement
for au pair, sales clerk, secretarial or waitress jobs in the
United States but found, once they arrived, that the jobs did not exist.
Instead they were taken prisoner, held under guard and forced into
prostitution or peonage. Some of them were, in fact, sold outright to
brothel owners, the report says.
''Examples of this may include Latvian women threatened and forced to
dance nude in Chicago,'' the report says. Thai women were brought
to the United States ''but then forced to be virtual sex slaves.''
Chinese-Korean women were ''held as indentured servants.'' And
''Mexican women and girls, some as young as 14,'' were promised jobs in
house-keeping or child care but, upon arrival, ''were told they
must work as prostitutes in brothels serving migrant workers.''
Girls from Asian and African countries, some 9 years old, were
essentially sold to traffickers by their parents, ''for less than
the price of a toaster,'' one government official said. This mainly
happens in cultures where female children are not valued. The
girls are smuggled into the United States where, in a typical case, they
are forced to work ''in an indentured sexual servitude
arrangement,'' the report says.
A Nigerian smuggling ring, the report says, citing an Immigration and
Naturalization Service case, charged parents from that country
$10,000 to $12,000 to bring their children to New York so they would
have ''better educational opportunities.'' But once here, the
smugglers ''forced the Nigerian children to work as domestics.''
Some of these cases received news coverage when they were discovered.
But they are only a tiny fraction of the problem. The report says
700,000 to two million women and children worldwide are victimized by
traffickers each year. Although the numbers who come to the United
States are relatively small, the report says that the problem ''is
likely to increase in the
At a conference in Manila this week, delegates from 23 Asian countries
called on governments to seize the profits of the crime syndicates
involved. A Filipino group estimated those profits at up to $17 billion
The countries that are the primary sources for traffickers are Thailand,
Vietnam, China, Mexico, Russia and the Czech Republic, the report
says. Other countries that are increasingly providing victims include
the Philippines, Korea, Malaysia, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, Brazil
and Honduras, the report says.
The I.N.S, one of several federal agencies with jurisdiction in this
area, noted in an internal assessment last fall that agents had
found 250 brothels in 26 cities that appeared to be holding trafficking
victims. It was not always easy to tell, the C.I.A. report says,
because the victims generally did not speak English and might have been
even more afraid of law-
enforcement officers than of their captors. After raiding one of these
brothels, the immigrations officers generally move to deport the
women because they are in the country illegally. Often the officials do
not have enough information to prosecute their captors.
Government officials said the problem is not new, but the scope seems to
have increased in recent years. The biggest reason is that, since
the mid-1990's, traffickers from Russia and the former republics of the
Soviet Union have aggressively entered the business, taking
advantage of women from those countries who are looking to the West for
''It's accelerated tremendously in the last 10 years,'' said Donna
Hughes, director of the Women's Studies Program at the University
of Rhode Island. She has monitored the issue for a decade. ''An
important reason is that there's increased migration of women now
for purposes of work.''
A C.I.A. analyst derived the estimate of 50,000 victims per year from
public and classified intelligence data, a government official
said. No comparable estimates were made in previous years, the official
said, but the widespread opinion among government officials was
that the number was uch smaller 10 years ago.
One reason for the scrutiny of the problem now is that Clinton
administration officials, including Secretary of State Madeleine
K. Albright and Attorney General Reno, in addition to the first lady,
Hillary Rodham Clinton, have spoken out on the issue.
The task force that Ms. Reno established federal efforts to fight the
problem meets every two or three months. It sponsors training
seminars for law-enforcement personnel and pilot projects for victims,
among other efforts. The Justice Department set up a hot line for
victims, staffed during business hours, Monday through Friday.
Other federal officials, and the report itself, say the government's
efforts are often fragmented and ineffectual. Many agencies have
theoretical jurisdiction - the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the
I.N.S., the Department of Labor, the State Department, among
others - but none of them see trafficking of women and children as their
clear responsibility, or as a desirable assignment because
''investigating trafficking and slavery cases is arduous'' and
unrewarding, the report says.
Even when traffickers are convicted, the penalties are usually light. In
fact, there are few federal or state laws aimed directly at this
crime. One federal law does forbid ''sale into involuntary servitude.''
It carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Many recent
trafficking convictions have brought sentences that were shorter than
In one case last year involving 70 Thai laborers ''who had been held
against their will, systematically abused and made to work 20-hour
shifts in a sweatshop,'' the report says, seven defendants received
sentences of four to seven years; one received seven months.
''These low penalties and the long, complicated and resource-intensive
nature of trafficking cases tend to make them unattractive to many
U.S. attorneys,'' the report says.
Despite interest in the issue from the Clinton administration,
government officials said, few resources have been devoted to it.
''We have hundreds and hundreds of government analysts looking at drugs,
arms, economic issues,'' a government official said. ''But hardly
anyone is on this.''
Two pending bills, in the House and the Senate, would increase prison
time for traffickers, provide assistance for victims and increase
resources and training for law-enforcement officers.
The bills would require the State Department to public an annual report
on trafficking and recommend sanctions against countries that are
not, in the administration's view, fighting it aggressively enough. This
would be similar to the annual State Department reports on human
rights and drug trafficking. But the department strongly opposes this
idea, threatening the bills.
Although the C.I.A. report was distributed within the government last
November, it does not appear to be getting much attention.
''No one really knows what do with it,'' one government official said.
''I'm not sure people are really focusing on this.''