On Domestic Servitude, the Inescapability of Death, and Visa Manipulation

Last week, I attended a conference put on by the Catholic Network to End Human Trafficking. As always, I was exposed to new horrific realities which I wish to pass on.



One of the concepts that felt substantially new to me was that of domestic servitude. I know about it as a manifestation of human trafficking, yet I have never been more exposed to the stories of those affected by it as I was today.

In the privacy of the home, family members are exploiting their own family members. A FIlipina woman was always a generous host to her sister and niece whenever they visited her back home in the Philippines. She would cook and clean for them, honoring them with traditional hospitality. When they offered to bring her over to the US, she agreed. They gave her another person’s visa, and instructed her to push a man’s wheelchair through security at the airport and not say a word. Once she arrived in their home, she was forced to work 24/7. She did all of their family chores, cooked, cleaned, tended to the children, whether her relatives were home or not. They kept her up until 2 AM, commanding her to massage each family member to sleep. A few months in, they demanded $10,000 to pay off the debt of the visa the had gotten her. Moneyless, she had to start working to raise the money. When she was finally able to pay it off, they raised the rate to $27,000, telling her it was a bargain, for the normal charge was $30,000. Soon after, she was brought to an elder care facility and forced to work and live there.

What can be done about a situation like this? There is such a grey area between someone who is simply caring for her family, and someone who is being held a slave. How was she to know that they were manipulating her? How was an outsider supposed to see that she was being coerced and toiled with? And to prosecute, witnesses are required. Who is going to testify against his or her own family members? It becomes a he-said-she-said situation, convoluted and usually too complicated to successfully punish the perpetrator. When human trafficking occurs behind the closed doors of someones’ home, detection is close to impossible.

People are also often lured by recruiters in their home country. They trust people who are from their same background– they speak the same language, share customs and beliefs, and have no reason to doubt their motives. In Egypt, a wealthy couple planned to moved to the US. They approached the parents of a destitute young girl, offering to take her abroad with them. They promised to give her a home, an education, food– a better life than the one she had. With no seeming alternative, her parents felt obligated to sell their daughter, thinking that it would benefit her. They sold her for $30. THAT is the price of a human being.

Once she arrived in the US, she was forced to sleep on a mattress on the cement floor of the couple’s basement in their extravagant new Malibu home. She was deprived of heating and cooling, and was only allowed to eat the leftovers of her masters’ meals. She did their chores, day in and day out. When she tried to wash her laundry along with theirs in their washing machine, she was beaten and told that she had to do her own washing in a tin bucket outside. This girl was stuck in domestic servitude from the age of nine until she was seventeen, when she was finally rescued by ICE  agents.

Some women are bought online as mail- order brides and literally shipped overseas to their awaiting husbands. They are degraded to the status of a package-  purchased, transported, and ripped open, to be used at the will of the recipient. Some girls and women are forced into arranged marriages, only to become the slaves of their new husbands and mothers in law. They are raped by whoever enters the house and wishes to take their turn.

One woman in the Bay Area was told that she was going to be given a job. She was dropped off at the house of a man in his 60s and essentially told that she was his slave. He asserted the utmost degree of coercive control upon her. He beat her, raped her, abused her mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. “The only thing I felt was fear,” she says, “fear all the time.”

One of the most prevalent myths about human trafficking is that it is an issue that rages solely overseas. It is very blatantly splashed across the pages of our seemingly easy West Coast world. There are slaves in our own backyards. They are in our neighbors homes. And most of us don’t see them.



Most of the individual stories that we hear are those of girls who have escaped, of people who have found a way out. But those people are the exception. They are not the rule. When it comes to sexual trafficking in the US, the average entrance age is twelve years old. The life expectancy is seven years from that date. Seven years. Most of these girls endure the turmoil for seven years. And then they die. Death is the end of the story for most victims– not services, not rehabilitation, not freedom. Death. A client of Missy, an organization rescuing and rehabilitating children in Oakland, said “If I were not here because of Missy, I would be dead.” That is the reality. Humans are expendable. Children who have been trafficked by sales crews, forced into vans and dropped off at street corners to sell things from dawn until dark, have been found dead in overturned vans on the side of the road, abandoned by their perpetrators. When the traditional form of slavery was alive and well in the United States, slaves were regarded as valuable pieces of property. They may have been abused, but their masters recognized their worth- at least their economic worth. Modern day slavery has tainted even that conception. Humans are worth nothing. In Haiti, a young boy can be bought for less than $2. 60 an hour. And when humans are cheap, the next step is that they can be disposed of whenever their trafficker sees fit. Some are abandoned like the children in the vans. Others are killed. Still others are literally worked to their death.




We are trafficking and killing our own children. 72% of those trafficked in California are actually identified as US citizens. Yet, the other 28% are smuggled from abroad. Some come in legally or with fraudulent documents. Others are snuck in by way of the coasts

Visa exploitation is one of the most common methods of fraudulence used by traffickers. Many have recruiters in the home countries of victims who promise to pay the travel expenses to bring people over to the US. However, once they are here, their documents are taken, the agreed upon debts are skewed and the people are forced into harsh conditions of slavery. Some of the most commonly manipulated visas are the H-2A Certification, the JI Student Visa, and the R Visa. The H-2A Certification allows for employers to bring over an unlimited number of labor workers to work their agricultural fields if they “anticipate a shortage.” Many of these laborers are brought over and offered work, only to be abused, unpaid, and trapped. JI student visas are dangerous in a different sense. Student with these visas are typically impressionable, young, and want to earn money– making them a very at- risk population. Recently, a group of Chinese girls arrived in the San Jose airport with JI Student visas, claiming to be going to school on the East Coast. In actuality, they were driven to Fremont and sold into brothels. And the third, and possibly most dangerous visa is the R Visa. This is delegated to those traveling with religious organizations, yet can be exploited by traffickers. The R visa does not require worker compensation, it allows for housing and food to be provided as sufficient payment, and is the longest running visa– maxing out only after five years. For a nun traveling abroad for service work, this visa is ideal. For a girl from Vietnam who thinks she is being given a job in the United States, a visa like this can be used by a trafficker for extended entrapment.


I can only begin to touch upon the new trove of information I have been exposed to. It is as if every time I peek my head into the world of human trafficking, new horrors are unsheathed. Yet I hope to teach you. Together, we can fight this most atrocious crime.



Action in New York

It looks like New York is standing up as a front- runner in taking action against the rampancy of Human Trafficking that is plaguing their state. Now, the rest of the country needs to take a hint and follow in their footsteps. Read the New York Times article about the targeted court system that is being implemented.



With Special Courts, State Aims to Steer Women Away From Sex Trade

Published: September 25, 2013

New York State is creating a statewide system of specialized criminal courts to handle prostitution cases and provide services to help wrest human- and sex-trafficking victims from the cycle of exploitation and arrest, the state’s chief judge announced on Wednesday. The initiative is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.

Eleven new courts across the state, modeled on three narrower pilot projects in New York City and Nassau County, will bring together specially trained prosecutors, judges and defense lawyers, along with social workers and an array of other services, the chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, said in a speech to the Citizens Crime Commission in Midtown Manhattan.

“Human trafficking is a crime that inflicts terrible harm on the most vulnerable members of society: victims of abuse, the poor, children, runaways, immigrants,” Judge Lippman said. “It is in every sense a form of modern-day slavery. We cannot tolerate this practice in a civilized society, nor can we afford to let victims of trafficking slip between the cracks of our justice system.”

The new Human Trafficking Intervention Courts will handle all cases involving prostitution-related offenses that continue past arraignment, Judge Lippman said. Cases will be evaluated by the judge, defense lawyer and prosecutor, and if they agree, the court will refer defendants to services like drug treatment, shelter, immigration assistance and health care, as well as education and job training, in an effort to keep them from returning to the sex trade.

The new program is in some measure modeled after specialized courts for domestic violence and low-level drug offenses. They are intended to end the Sisyphean shuffling of victims of trafficking through the criminal justice system, a process that fails to address the underlying reasons for their landing in court — or on the streets — in the first place, the judge said.

The initiative comes at a time of growing consensus among criminal justice professionals across the country that in many cases it makes more sense to treat people charged with prostitution offenses as victims rather than defendants. It is a view that is in some measure born of an increasing focus on the widespread trafficking of under-age girls; women typically enter prostitution in the United States between ages 12 and 14, Judge Lippman said.

That consensus was reflected by some of the people who joined Judge Lippman for the announcement. There were district attorneys from across the state, including Cyrus R. Vance Jr. from Manhattan, Richard A. Brown from Queens and Daniel M. Donovan Jr. from Staten Island; Kathleen M. Rice from Nassau County, who heads the state’s District Attorneys Association; Steven Banks, the Legal Aid Society’s attorney in chief; and Lori L. Cohen, director of Sanctuary for Families’ Anti-Trafficking Initiative, a leading advocate for trafficking victims. Representatives of some of the dozen other service providers involved in the new program also attended.

The consensus was also reflected by three laws passed by the New York Legislature in recent years, including the Anti-Human Trafficking Act, which criminalizes sex and labor trafficking; the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act, under which anyone younger than 18 who is arrested on prostitution charges is treated as “a sexually exploited child”; and a law that allows trafficking victims to have their prostitution convictions vacated.

The new courts, one in each of New York City’s five boroughs and six others situated from Long Island to Buffalo, will all be functioning by the end of October, Judge Lippman said. They will handle 95 percent of the thousands of cases each year in which people are charged with prostitution and human trafficking offenses.

Other cities across the country have special trafficking courts, including Baltimore; Columbus, Ohio; Phoenix; and West Palm Beach, Fla. A law that took effect this month in Texas requires the largest counties to start prostitution diversion programs, and Connecticut has two courts that deal with so-called quality-of-life offenses, including prostitution.

But New York State’s new courts, Judge Lippman said, represent the first statewide system to deal with human trafficking.

He said setting up the courts would require minimal to no additional spending because the system would simply be handling the same cases in a more creative manner. He said there would be more costs to the service providers, which are financed largely by government grants and private sources, but he could not provide a dollar figure.

Mr. Banks, of the Legal Aid Society, said in an interview that the new system was “an extremely important step forward nationally” to set up courts where people accused of prostitution and prostitution-related offenses can be connected to programs that offer what he called “a pathway to change.”

“It’s certainly critical that underlying all of this is the concept of providing a helping hand rather than the back of a hand,” he said. “Survivors of trafficking are left with literally an indelible scar in the form of a criminal record that affects employment, housing, financial aid for college and government benefits and even the ability to stay in this county.”

The approach being tried in New York, he added, “can give human trafficking survivors a second chance in life.”

A Word on Sexual Abuse

I know this is not exactly human trafficking, yet in some cases, trafficking is an extreme version, an extension, of sexual abuse. Across the world, girls and women, in particular (but boys as well) are abused– made to dress, touch, suck, perform, and surrender– in ways that no one deserves to be treated. This is not an issue specific to a single population, it is not confined by race or socio-economic status or education. It is an issue that manages to transcend all boundaries.

According to RAINN (the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) every 2 minutes, someone in the US is sexually assaulted. 54% of those assaults are never reported to police, and 97% of rapists never have to step foot in a jail. They never have to spend a single day, living with the consequences of their crime. Yet the survivors of assault — they live with the consequences every day.

These girls are among us. Some of them are us.

Project Unbreakable has risen up as an outlet for pain, and a blinding light of exposure to the pervasiveness of sexual assault. Their mission is to “increase awareness of the issues surrounding sexual assault and encourage the act of healing through art.” Since the project began in 2011, over 2000 photos have been collected, featuring victims of sexual abuse holding posters of quotes from their abusers.

Taking it to Congress

In the quest to end human trafficking, advocacy and raising awareness are always important elements. Rehabilitating victims is essential. And prevention is crucial. Yet one cannot forget the legal angle. Political leanings and frustrations aside, our government does have significant power in working to combat human trafficking, domestically and abroad.

The Office to Combat and Monitor Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office) has far reaching impact. It extends grants to organizations and governments seeking to curtail human trafficking. It establishes, funds, and works to implement anti- trafficking models worldwide. Furthermore, it publishes an annual TIP report, ranking 180 countries on their efforts to address human trafficking and slavery. The report gives the US diplomatic leverage to encourage other nations to amp up their resources in fighting this rampant crime.

At the size that it is, the TIP office has an incredible amount of impact. It is the United States’ most important diplomatic resource in the eradication of modern day slavery. It is able to support NGOs with about $22 million a year, in their efforts to free slaves, aid victims, prosecute perpetrators, and build sustainable systems of justice to discourage further trafficking. However, as the TIP office is a office and not a bureau, within the State Department, it is hampered in its outreach. Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, who directs the Office does not have direct access to the Secretary of State. The Ambassador and his staff are the government’s leading experts on slavery, but they are currently left out of some of the most pressing decisions. For example, when anti-trafficking “tier rankings” are determined for the TIP Report,  political considerations sometimes outweigh a countries true anti-trafficking efforts.

The office of the State Department which has the most knowledge and understanding about modern day slavery needs to have a voice when important decisions are made. The office is responsible for the voices of millions of the most marginalized people on the Earth. It needs to have more political clout.

And this is where legislation comes in. Earlier this year, Representative Christopher Smith proposed the Human Trafficking Prioritization Act, a bill seeking to simply elevate the TIP office to the status of a bureau. This bill, H.R. 2283, is budget neutral and would add no more staff members. It would simply raise the Trafficking in Persons office to a place of priority, and give it equal footing in the major decisions regarding modern day slavery.


Now this is where my lobbying comes in. As a representative of the International Justice Mission, I met with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren to advocate her co-sponsorship of this bill. She has done tremendous work so far against human trafficking, co-sponsoring a multitude of trafficking- related pieces of legislation, including the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Acts of 2007 and 2008. I assumed that co- sponsoring this bill would be a no- brainer for her, as she had been so active on past efforts against trafficking.

In our meeting, she was receptive, engaged, and obviously passionate about the issue. However, she was less readily on board with the bill than I expected her to be (judging by her co-sponsorship and voting record). As she is friends with the Ambassador, Luis CdeBaca, she seemed to have an insiders look on it– and she quite blatantly said that he’s never complained about an inability to be present at major decisions or anything of the sort… By her knowledge, he was perfectly content with the TIP office staying an office. But she also committed to speaking to him about it and doing outside research to form a more informed opinion (which gave me hope). So… it was positive, but not as positive as I’d anticipated. I recognized that choosing to co- sponsor a bill is not simply as easy as supporting the issue that it pertains to. The inter-weavings of Congress are so much more complicated than I had pre-judged.

Despite my unsureness about her decision, I was overjoyed to receive an email that she has indeed spoken to the Ambassador and has decided to co- sponsor the bill–  SUCCESS! Until she had spoken to me, Zoe Lofgren had not even heard of the bill. After talking to me she was an informed inquirer. And a few days later, she was a full supporter. When raised, are heard.  I was able to bring awareness to a women who has the power to enact change. It is that sort of connecting and passing on of information that is instrumental in being an abolitionist against modern day slavery.

To sign a letter appealing to Congress to pass this bill, visit http://freedomcommons.ijm.org/action-alert/ask-congress-pass-human-trafficking-prioritization-act.

Stubborn Cycle of Runaways Becoming Prostitutes

September 15, 2013
Victoria, 20, shown outside Covenant House, a West 41st Street shelter, became a prostitute at 18. “I was so innocent,” she said.

At the age of 14, Ann ran away from home. She had been living with her aunt and uncle in the South Bronx, a situation made untenable, she said, because she was frequently being raped by her cousin.

With very few options on the street, Ann soon accepted an offer of housing from a man whom she began to think of as her boyfriend. Her view of him would change with each beating he administered, and the many paid sexual liaisons she would have for him.

He would take her to Manida Street, a section of the Hunts Point neighborhood in the Bronx that is notorious for prostitution.

“I would go out there and I would give him the money,” said Ann, who is now 25, and, fearing retaliation, spoke on the condition that only her middle name be published. “And he would beat me up.”

Her experience is not unusual. The Justice Department has estimated that about 450,000 children run away from home every year and that one-third of teenagers on the street will be approached by a pimp within 48 hours of leaving home.

The situation can be particularly acute in New York City, where there are an estimated 3,800 homeless children but only 250 city-financed youth shelter beds.

In June, the City Council held a hearing to consider granting more funds for services for runaway and homeless youths; the Council ultimately decided against the request.

The money from the state that is funneled into the budget for beds and services for runaway and homeless youths has been cut more than half since 2008, to about $745,000.

A joint study released in May by Covenant House and Fordham University, which interviewed nearly 200 randomly selected runaway and homeless youths in New York City over the last year, found that nearly one in four participants either had been victims of trafficking or had exchanged sex for basic needs like food and shelter.

Of those participants, almost half reported doing so because they had no safe place to sleep.

“The stories look very, very similar. Depressingly similar,” said Rachel Lloyd, the founder and chief executive of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, or GEMS, an organization that provides services to youths in the city who are caught up in trafficking or otherwise exploited.

“There has been trauma, abuse, neglect, something that is going on,” Ms. Lloyd said. And there was an intervention or a failed intervention. Then they meet a boy, a man, a friend.

“It’s, ‘I ran away, I was sleeping on the trains for two days, I met a guy. He was nice to me. He said he’d take care of me,’ ” explained Ms. Lloyd, herself a former prostitute. “Then adult predators take advantage of them, very quickly.”

Even when children make it to the shelters, there is no guarantee that a bed will be available; Covenant House turns away 200 to 400 children each month. And the pimps know that those who tend to approach Covenant House may be vulnerable.

“Kids tell us, ‘I was down the block and this guy offered me a place to stay,’ ” said Simone Thompson, director of operations at Covenant House.

A pizza shop at Ninth Avenue and 41st Street, about a block from the shelter, she said, is a popular target area. On West 41st Street, between the pizza shop and the shelter, there is a block of scaffolding that the Covenant House staff tells children to avoid, because it is another hot spot for pimps on the prowl for new recruits.

“You just don’t know who is who,” Ms. Thompson said.

Victoria, 20, sat quietly in an office in Covenant House, near the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Wearing a pink knee-length skirt, a denim jacket, low heels and a cross pendant, she looked like someone on the way to church, rather than someone who had spent the last four years homeless, on and off the street, and the better part of the last two years working as a prostitute.

Falling into the child welfare system when she was 16, Victoria was staying at a group shelter on Staten Island when she met a man on the street. He was nice to her, he offered her a place to stay and they started dating, she said.

“I was so innocent,” Victoria said, “I fell right into the trap.” For the next year and a half, this was her pimp.

“Out of 10 girls, I would say nine girls do it or have done it. That’s how many girls. Even here,” she said, referring to Covenant House.

“They feel like it’s the only option they have.”

Adriana, 23, grew up in the South Bronx and started working as a prostitute when she was 14, after running away from home. Her stepfather had been raping her since she was 11, she said, and he would leave money next to the bed every time so that she would keep it a secret.

When she first ran away, she would sleep at the “trap house,” a neighborhood spot where people would sell drugs and hang out. That was when the man who would become her pimp started talking to her about working for him, Adriana said in an interview.

“He gave me a place to sleep, he gave me food,” she said. “At that point, that’s all that mattered.”

Adriana stayed with her pimp, on and off, for the next six years.

For those unfamiliar with the dynamics of prostitution, it might be puzzling that these women do not leave their violent pimps. In a recent case that Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, brought against a father and son running a sex trafficking ring, women who worked for the pimps testified on their behalf.

“It’s the Stockholm syndrome,” said Linda Poust Lopez, now a judge in Bronx Criminal Court, who as a longtime Legal Aid lawyer often defended “commercially sexually exploited” girls and young women.

“This is the only ‘love’ they’ve ever known. Quote-unquote love.”

Ann, Adriana and Victoria are no longer with their pimps, although their time spent with them is marked by pregnancies and, for two of the women, arrests.

Adriana now works at GEMS as a mentor to those who have been commercially sexually exploited. On a recent afternoon at the organization’s headquarters — the location and clients’ full names cannot be used, because of the staff’s obligation to protect clients from retaliation by pimps — Adriana spoke of her concern about the public perception of teenage prostitutes.

“I think people need to realize that it’s not a choice that we make. It’s life situations that cause us to do the things we need to do to survive,” she said.

“I feel like people don’t stop to realize that these are girls. No one wakes up and says, ‘I want to be a prostitute today.’ ”

Labor Trafficking: A Play

Human Trafficking: A Play on Labor Exploitation in the Agricultural Sector

By: Izzy Ullmann


Overseer: What are you doing in bed, you lazy shit? Get to work. You think this is preschool– you can just take a little nappie? This is the real world. Get on it.

Boy: I’m sorry, sir, but I am very sick. I have been barfing all night and am extremely nauseous… I think I just need the day to sleep it off.

 Overseer: Day to sleep it off? Who do you think you are? The queen of England? Get out of bed. I’m not asking.

 Boy: Sir, I don’t mean to contradict you, but I really don’t think I can work today. I can barely stand to go to the bathroom.

 Overseer: Well it’s your call. Either you work today, or you don’t work at all. If I don’t see you out in the fields in five minutes, don’t even think about coming to them again. (stomps out)

 Boy: (aside) I’ve been working on this tomato plantation for a year and a half now. When I was twelve, I was working out on a tobacco plantation in Cuba. My parents had sent me to work there, practically selling me off to the owner, because they thought I would have a better life working for him then living the life of poverty I had grown up with. On the contrary, my life on the plantation was grueling– I worked to the point of fatigue every day and then spent the nights cleaning his house and feeding his children. When this guy came to the farm one day, offering me a job on a tomato plantation in Florida, I grabbed at it. He said he’d pay me more than I was being paid (which really wasn’t saying much, cuz I only got paid a few cents every few months on the tobacco plantation). I needed money. I needed an escape. So I went with him. But then he made all of these false promises:

 Trafficker: You’ll have to give me your passport so that I can arrange for your travels. I’ll give it back to you as soon as we get to the US.

 Boy: (aside) Well, I gave him my passport. It’s been a year and a half. I still haven’t gotten back my passport. Once we got to the US, I realized I was indebted to him

 Trafficker: Ok boy… I paid for your transportation, your travel documents, everything… you owe me a couple thousand. So you’re going to have to work off that amount for the first few months. Once you work off your debt, you’ll start getting paid.

 Boy: (aside) But it hasn’t worked that way. While I was working off my debt, it grew instead of shrank! Everything I do costs me money that I don’t have. He’s made me live in the “migrant housing” camp,  a cramped, dirty, roach- infested poor excuse for a thing… but even that ain’t free. Shit, nothing’s free! I take a shower and the money for the water is added to my tab. I eat a meal and that’s added too. Every time I need clothing or supplies or whatever, I am charged for it… There is this never-ending list of money I owe and I can’t work fast enough to keep up with it.

 So what my overseer is doing today, making threats about firing me… all the time. Whenever I do anything against his wishes, he just tells me I can stop coming to work. But I can’t do that man! I’m still in debt. So today, I drag myself out of bed, my stomach sloshing and groaning. It’s my only option. Either this or it’s on the streets for me.

Overseer: Someone decided to wake up! Now grab that plow and start using it.

 Boy: (aside) I work and work. I work for hours. I barf through it all, completely unable to keep it down. At one point, I sit down after a particularly violent hurl. Bent in half, I touch my head to the ground, trying to stop the spinning. My overseer comes up behind me and kicks me in the ass. He then pulls me aside.

 Overseer: You think you can stop on the job? You have such nerve you little prick. You think my time is worthless. You think this is some game. We have a business to run boy. Every second you spend wasting my time, is one less dollar in my pocket.

 Boy: (aside) And then he rapes me. Right there in the field. I howl but no one comes running. I bleed right onto that tomato field, and no one mops it up. And you can guess what he does next. He sends me right back to work. And I have no choice but to plow that damn field.

 When it’s finally dinner time, I stand in line with the other boys, completely starved. I’ve been denied a lunch break as punishment for my “tardiness” and can hardly stand up due to the hunger.

 Overseer: (scanning boys) (spots Boy and grabs him by his collar) Boy, you are going to be working tonight. The outhouse needs cleaning. And since you’ve been so disobedient today, you won’t get paid for it.

 Boy: Um sir… Yes, Sir.

 Boy (aside): I consider protesting. I really do. But what’s the point anymore? Getting paid overtime? What does that mean when you’re not really getting paid at all? When it comes down to it, I’ve just got to suck it up and work with what I’ve got. Without a passport, a single penny in my pocket, or any family within a 200 mile radius, I am quite literally stranded. So I hold onto a plow and my tears, trying to let neither of them falter.

Sex Trafficking: A Play

Human Trafficking: A Play on the Sexual Exploitation of Minors

By: Izzy Ullmann

 (Girl walks in the door)

Father: (aggressively) Where have you been?

Girl: Out with my friends.

Father: Doing what?

 Girl: Just hanging out at the mall, dad.

 Father: How am I supposed to know that’s what you were doing?! Dressed the way you are, you might as well have been at a strip club! Cover yourself up.

 Girl: (looks down at too- short dress) (aside) The only reason I am wearing the clothes that I am wearing is because my parents have refused to buy me anything new. This is the same dress that they bought me in 5th grade! That was years ago. But they say there’s not enough money for new clothes. Not enough money? There’s enough money for them to buy themselves those drugs that they keep hidden away in the closet. But not enough to buy me a dress that fits right?

 Girl: Dad, if only you’d buy me a new dress, I wouldn’t need to wear this one to the mall.

 Father: (voice raises) Who are you to tell me what to buy? I bought you this house and the food that you eat. Now leave me the hell alone!

 Girl: (aside) This has been going on for months, years. My parents only pay me any attention when they want to accuse me. Otherwise, I’m like some bug that’s washed up into the house. Well, today I walked away… ran away, I guess you can say. I have endured the pressure and the distrust and those scowling looks for too long. Every time I walk in the front door of my own home, I felt judged. My parents– they assume I have been out with the wrong boy or wearing the wrong clothes or whatever. I just can’t take it anymore. When I left, I didn’t know where I was going to go. I just wanted out.

 (walks down the street, looking around)

 Girl: I walked and walked. It got darker and I got more and more nervous cuz honestly, I had no idea where I was going. After a little while, I saw that a car was following me. Some guy.. I don’t know. Who knew what he wanted… After a couple blocks, he pulled up along beside me. He stuck his head out the window. He was..  I don’t know. 28, 29. But pretty cute.

 Man: Hey baby. Someone’s lookin fine tonight. Whatchu doin walking out here all by yourself? A pretty girl like you should be inside! Look at those sparklin eyes! Why do they look so sad?

 Girl: (aside) Man it felt good to be noticed. He called me pretty. He said I looked fine. He noticed my eyes! Do you know how long its been since anyone’s commented on my eyes? Too long, that’s forsure. So I told him. I just let it all out.

 (to Man): I ran away from home. I can’t handle the rents anymore, you know? Always on my back about everything… I was outta there.

 Man: Aww suga, that’s too bad. How about you come inside and I’ll go get you an ice cream. Ice cream can always cheer a person up!

 Girl: (aside) I had nowhere to go and nothing better to do, so I got in that car and we drove to Dairy Queen. We ate ice cream and talked for hours. He was so nice. He told me I was beautiful and special. He told me I didn’t need my parents– that I could be my own person. It felt amazing. Especially cuz I was only 13. I liked getting all this attention from an older guy. I felt sexy, you know?

 Girl: That night, I stayed at his place. He gave me my own room and it was great. Every day, he would take me to do things. We would see movies and go bowling and stuff… He told me he loved me. He held me in his arms. He kissed me. After a couple weeks, we had sex. It hurt a bit but I thought it would make him love me even more. And it seemed to. I stopped having time to see my friends and I sure didn’t see a peep of my family. But that was fine. I liked being with him. He was so nice to me. I hadn’t felt this much attention in years. I couldn’t get enough of it. But then, things started to change a little.

 Man: Baby, I need help paying the rent. You sit on your ass all day and don’t bring in any money. You gotta get out there and start makin some dough or else we’ll be out on the streets, beggin for food. Tonight, you gotta put on this dress (hands shorts, sparkly dress) and you’re going to get out on the street and get yourself some customers.

 Girl: (in shock) Wh-wh-what kind of customers?

 Man: (sneers) You know exactly what kind of customers I’m talking about. And don’t be shy about it. I’m expecting $200 by tomorrow morning.

 Girl: No! I’m not going to be a prostitute for you! That’s sick!

 Man: (slaps girl) You’re going to do what I tell you. I’ve given you a home. I’ve fed you. I’ve taken care of you. The least you can do is make us some money.

 Girl: (aside) Well, when he put it like that, how could I say no? I was indebted to him… It was true. I mean, he had taken care of me. And I guess we did need the money, right? But I still tried to protest…

 Girl: NO! You can’t tell me what to do! This is my body!

 Man: No.. that’s where you have it wrong. This. right here. This is MY body.

 Girl: (aside) And he raped me. He threw me down and raped me.

 Man: (when he’s done) Now put on this dress. And go outside. And make yourself useful. I don’t want to see your face until the morning. And if there is no money in your purse, don’t even think about coming back.

 Girl: (aside) In shock, I walked outside. I couldn’t believe what was happening. This didn’t really feel right, but I couldn’t let him down. I had to impress him. I didn’t want him to hate me. I loved him. I stood by those cars driving by in that teeny pink dress and stared at them, open mouthed, no clue what to do. And the whole time, I could feel him standing a couple feet behind me, watching me. An hour passed like that.

 Man: (stomps up to her) Girl, what you think you’re doin? You gotta wave at them. Do a little shimmy. Show em a little somethin’ somethin’. How you think you gonna get anyone like this?

 Girl: (nervously shimmies boobs and gives a weak wave… a car pulls up)

 Guy: (leans out window) How much?

 Girl: (looks terrified, and turns to Man questioningly)

 Man: A hundred.

 Girl: (stammering) A hundred.

 Guy: Get in. (drives away with girl)

 Girl: (aside) It continued like that for about a year. I struggled for a while, fighting back when he would try to teach me a new technique or whatever. Sometimes he would beat me. Real hard. I have bruises all over my stomach, my arms, my neck. Sometimes he would rape me. Sometimes he would have his buddies over and they would all rape me. None of it felt real. But it all felt real. I didn’t like it. But I didn’t really have another choice. Even if I ran away, where would I go? Where COULD I go? I had no money– that all went to him. No way in hell my family would take me back! And I hadn’t talked to a friend in over a year… I was stuck.