By Katia Lopez-Hodoyan
The vivid image of a 14-year-old Mexican girl, lying in a twin bed in a small room in Florida, is one of the images engrained in Bradley J. Schlozman’s mind. This 14 year old, undocumented and once innocent girl was confined to sex slavery day after day. Forced to succumb to the threats and wishes of dozens of men daily. As a Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the U.S Department of Justice, Scholzman has dealt with several human trafficking cases that usually end in the sexual exploitation of women and children, just like this 14-year-old girl. In fact, low estimates show that close to 400,000 children are current victims of sex trade in the U.S. Of those 50,000 are believed have been trafficked into the U.S each year, according to the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition. However, despite the increased awareness of this phenomenon, the general public in San Diego County knows little if anything of these human trafficking cases. What is perhaps most startling is that several “sex camps” have been running in North County for years.
“People don’t talk, they don’t respond, they don’t file charges and they don’t rescue those in need,” said Marisa Ugarte from the Bilateral Safety Corridor here in San Diego. “Every day young girls are being raped and those who know about it don’t do anything. They are just accomplices.”
Currently there are 178 open cases of human trafficking cases in the U.S and since January of 2001, 157 traffickers have been convicted under the law. However, documentation provided by the U.S Department of Justice shows that in the last 13 years, only four human trafficking cases have been prosecuted resulting in guilty verdicts in San Diego County. Three of which dealt with sexual exploitation in addition to trafficking. U.S vs. Romero-Flores July 2004 and U.S vs. Salazar Juarez, June 2003.
“The biggest challenge we face is educating the public and exposing them to the facts,” said Scholzman. “There is not a lack of man power in the Department. What we need are referrals to these [sexual exploitation] cases from the public and the victims themselves.”
Despite the growing awareness of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, the problem is deeply rooted in the strong combination of a steady demand for sex slaves and undefined laws for criminals, according to State District Attorney of Human Rights in Mexico, Ismael Chacon. Among his recommendations for trafficking prevention lies the international exchange of information beyond the U.S and Mexican border. There are several countries throughout the world that face human trafficking and sexual exploitation dilemmas.
Such was the case a decade ago when the U.S Crime Bill was implemented to deter Americans from traveling with the sole purpose of engaging in sexual activity with women and or minors. This bill was signed into law but has been overshadowed throughout the years. World wide over 2 million children are enslaved in the child sex trade with an estimated U.S clientele of 25 percent. The most vulnerable Latin American countries are Mexico, Cuba, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, according to ECPAT (End to Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children) based in New York.
In an effort to combat the blatant disregard for the law, the State Department, Immigration authorities and Church groups have begun a nation wide campaign in airports, hotels and streets to remind tourists that they can face up to 30 years in prison for engaging in sexual acts with a minor, according to John Miller from the U.S Department of State.
In San Diego county efforts to combat the crisis is well under way. On October 12, 2004 the Department of Homeland Security announced a multi-agency enforcement program to eradicate human smuggling in Lindbergh Field.
“Attacking this problem is a top Homeland Security priority. We are committed to using the wealth of resources and expertise at our disposal not only to disrupt the current activity, but to identify and dismantle the criminal organization behind it,” said Secretary for Border and Transportation Security, Asa Hutchinson, via press release.
Agencies involved in this new operative are U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S Customs and Border Protection and the U.S Border Patrol. Last week alone seven undocumented immigrants, (one with suspected links to smuggling activities) were detained as they attempted to board a flight out of Lindbergh Field.
Nonetheless, it is a well-known fact that thousands of smugglers do get through U.S borders and airports to operate a series of sex trafficking rings of minors. For those who are victims of sexual exploitation but fear deportation because of their immigration status, there exists the T Visa. The latter was established to grant temporary U.S residency to undocumented victims who were subject to sexual, violent or labor exploitation acts while in the U.S. After three years, T Visa recipients may be eligible for permanent residence status if they comply with the following conditions. 1. Person of good moral character. 2 complied with reasonable request for assistance in the three-year investigation. 3 if the victim will suffer extreme hardship of her well being if removed from the country.
Cooperation between several non-profit organizations and governmental agencies has become stronger in the last years. As Melisa Ugarte explains though, there is still much to be done.
“This is a serious problem,” said Ugarte. “As long as there is one victim out there, my heart and my conscious will motivate me to keep on fighting.”
For more information on what you can do to combat human trafficking contact the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition at 619- 336-0770 or visit www.bsccoalition.org, www.sdycs.org or www.freetheslaves.net