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United States - Latina Women and Children 

at Risk


Vast Trade in Forced Labor Portrayed in C.I.A. Report.

(c) Copyright 2000 - New York Times

By Joel Brinkley 

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 subject. 

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 insubstantial. 

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 precise figures. 

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 
United States.'' 

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 a year. 

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 opportunities. 

''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 that. 

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.''