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Latin America
Women & Children at Risk
Title:  Possible Slavery Victims Missing
  Potential witnesses flee Collier shelter
Publisher:  (c) 2005 The News Press
Author:  Jeff Cull - JCull@News-Press.com
Publish Date:  2005-08-24

Authorities are looking for two female victims of suspected human trafficking who ran away from a Collier County shelter.

The girls, in the country illegally, had come to the U.S. seeking work but were forced into prostitution, said Doug Molloy, chief assistant U.S. Attorney in Fort Myers.

One is a minor, Molloy said.

The Collier County Sheriff's Office has refused to identify the girls or provide information about the case while it's still under investigation, said Cpl. Dennis Huff, a sheriff's spokesman.

The initial incident report, which is public record, had not been written as of Tuesday, Huff said.

Officials said they want the girls back because they are witnesses to potential human trafficking. They were placed in a shelter by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, one of the leading advocates in the anti-slavery campaign in Florida.

They decided not to stay and left the shelter, Molloy said.

"This is the problem we have with slavery prosecutions," Molloy said. "They were scared and they left."

Coalition spokeswoman Laura Germino refused to comment.

Two other cases of suspected trafficking have been reported in Southwest Florida in the past three months. In May, three Guatemalans were arrested in Fort Myers. One was charged with sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion in the case of a then-13-year-old Guatemalan girl. Last week, FBI agents and Lee County Sheriff's deputies busted a prostitution ring in Fort Myers. A federal report said young Mexican women were smuggled into the U.S. to work as prostitutes in Southwest Florida.

Getting trafficking cases in front of a judge can be very difficult, experts said. Often, victims distrust the legal system, which may be corrupt in their home country, or may have been threatened by their captors. Their families are often at risk of reprisals. Victims also may have been returned to their homes before they can testify by well-meaning social workers or simply return to their native country on their own.

Farm labor, domestic servitude and prostitution are the most common forms of slavery.