I stumbled across this article from the Associated Press about a pair of trafficking cases that have been dismissed.
Human trafficking — a fancy term for slavery — is alive and well in America. It isn’t legal, but it is extremely hard to prosecute.
A chunk of Sisterhood deals with human trafficking, because this is a subject that is dear to my heart. I was very young when my mother came back from talking with the neighbor. She was confused. “She said she is sending to her home country for a girl to watch her kids. What an odd custom.”
The neighbor had asked a relative to buy a nanny for her children. When Cita showed up next door, I was delighted to find a girl not much older than myself. Cita spoke no English, so at first we just waved over the fense. I’m certain her owners did not know this was going on. They went to work, leaving her with the children and the television all day.
Cita was not a stupid girl. She watched the TV and she learned English. When the boys napped, she’d slip out into the garden and if I was home, she would practice her English. Over time, I learned her story, how she’d been bought from her family so that they could have food to eat. At first, she had been okay with the arrangement, but then her owner had become mean to her. The children were brats and she was not allowed to correct them. Years went by, and Cita realized that she would spend her days caring for this family. When their children grew up, she would be sold.
She would never fall in love.
Only Cita was a rebel, and this was America, and she’d had her head filled with those Disney fairytales.
One day her owner brought a young co-worker home for dinner. He noticed Cita.
Cita told me that he saw her in the kitchen and immediately fell in love with her. Over a couple of months, he came for dinner and slipped away, searching her out. He came over when her owners were at work. He told her that slavery was illegal in the US and that he would rescue her. She whispered this to me over the fence just before she disappeared. A new nanny came a few weeks later. She did not speak English. She also did not come into the garden.
I’d slipped City my phone number. A few weeks later, I received a phone call asking me to come and see her. She wanted me to know how happy she was.
Cita’s directions led me to a penthouse apartment, very nice. Her boyfriend did not live with her, but had set her up in this beautiful residence and bought her many clothes. She showed me the lovely silks and satins, skimpy lacy things that no one would wear outside of their apartment — maybe not even outside of the bedroom. When I asked where her street clothes were, she said he hadn’t bought her any yet. She couldn’t go outside anyway, because she had no passport. If she was caught, she would be deported, so she would stay hidden.
I was so young, and Cita’s situation was beyond my experience. If I’d known about trafficking visas, I would have explained them. But I didn’t know, then, that victims of trafficking can apply for a visa that will give them legal status. If the trafficking is proven, they can not be deported.
I did have enough experience to know that she wasn’t living a fairytale. I begged her to leave, to let me take her somewhere safe. Cita told me not to worry.
I never saw her again.
Cita’s story is not unique. A 2004 UC Berkley study shows that slavery is alive and well in the US.
Americans read a story about foreign slaves, and think what a tragedy, but there is more to trafficking. American children are kidnapped and sold. Americans in general are considered rare and prized as collectibles. Slavery happens in America, to Americans.
Sadly, we don’t have a specialized team of psionics to infiltrate the trafficking rings and sort out the victims from the abusers. Our modern law enforcement is often thwarted when they try to investigate these cases because the slaves are afraid to seek help.
A young woman sat at my desk the other day and explained to me that she reads the labels on every piece of clothing she buys, for fear of supporting slavery.
Shyima Hall was freed because a neighbor called CPS. (I’m not a big fan of CPS, but I wish my parents had called for Cita.)
Slavery is not just a page from a history book.
What are we going to do about it?