Trump’s sex trafficking stories inaccurate, experts say
Border kidnappings are rare, with most victims arriving on visas obtained by traffickers
U. S. President Donald Trump has been painting a wildly inaccurate picture of human trafficking in his effort to sell a border wall that would not make a meaningful difference in fighting the problem, experts on trafficking say.
Over the past two weeks, Trump has repeatedly told lurid stories about women being “thrown into the back seat of a car, or thrown into a van with no windows, with no form of air,” and smuggled over undefended parts of the border with “tape over their mouths, electrical tape.”
“They tape their face, their hair, their hands behind their back, their legs. They put them in the back seat of cars and vans, and they go — they don’t come in through your port of entry, because you’d see them. You couldn’t do that,” he said in his speech to the American Farm Bureau on Monday.
Six trafficking experts from around the U.S. told the Star that they had met no victims who had suffered anything like the experience Trump described.
These experts said such border kidnappings might occur on rare occasions but are, at most, extremely uncommon — a tiny fraction not only of all U.S. trafficking cases, many of which involve U.S. citizens who never cross a border, but of the subset of cases involving women brought in through Mexico.
A high proportion of trafficked Latin American women, the experts said, come into the country legally, on U.S. visas. Others enter illegally but are not bound and gagged, nor driven in vehicles through remote unfenced areas.
“Either he’s watching action films or he’s watching some other type of movie that involves handcuffs and tape over people’s mouths. But in neither case is it based in any reality of what individuals helping trafficking victims see,” said Lori Cohen, director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at Sanctuary for Families, a New York service provider for sex trafficking victims.
“His depiction of human trafficking is practically unrecognizable to those of us who have spent decades in the trenches combating these abuses,” said Martina Vandenberg, president of the Human Trafficking Legal Center.
“I have never had a case where someone’s mouth was taped up and they were brought across the border in the way the president described. Could it ever happen? Of course. But I’ve worked hundreds of human trafficking cases, and what the president describes, that’s just not what my life looks like in this work,” said Bridgette Carr, director of the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School.
Trump has also claimed that a border wall could “eliminate” human trafficking from Mexico, or at least “90, 95 per cent; a tremendous percentage would stop.” This is not even close to accurate, the experts said, given how traffickers use the visa system.
Many victims, they said, arrive on visas fraudulently obtained by traffickers. Others are exploited after they independently arrive in the U.S. on visas.
None of these people would be helped by a wall.
Even in cases where women fall prey to traffickers before they reach the border, experts said, they are rarely if ever gagged in vehicles for the journey.
Rather, they are subjected to either verbal coercion, such as threats against their families, or promises of a hopeful future.
“It is far easier to lure victims with false promises of a better life in the United States,” said Vandenberg. “Why kidnap someone when you can convince them to travel willingly?”
Many of the women are persuaded they are coming to the U.S. to earn a good living or live in a loving home, either through legal ports or as typical unauthorized immigrants on foot. Then, upon arrival, they learn that the job does not exist or that the supposed romantic partner was lying to them.
Trump said last week that trafficking victims “can’t fly in, obviously, for obvious reasons.” Experts say that is not true. Bill Bernstein, deputy director of Mosaic Family Services in Dallas, said his organization has served approximately 400 foreign-born trafficking survivors. “Most have entered the country through legal means, such as airports or other legal ports of entry,” he said. He added: “Coercion, rather than physical force, is most often used to control those who are trafficked.”
Cohen has worked closely with victims of traffickers from Tenancingo, Mexico, a hotbed for sex trafficking. In13 years at her organization, she said there was “only one client I know of who was driven across the border from Mexico.”
One anti-trafficking activist in San Antonio, Dottie Laster, said she had perused her files and found 12 cases in which victims reported they did have their mouths covered. She said she believes a border wall would be one of many helpful tools against trafficking.
“I’m for throwing anything in the way of traffickers that trade on rape and torture for money,” she said.
Others disagreed, saying a wall would merely cause certain traffickers to take more risks and impose higher debts. And they noted that Trump’s own policies have quietly made life harder for the trafficking victims.
His administration has cut the number of “T” visas that protect trafficking victims from deportation when they agree to work with law enforcement. It has also decided to routinely require people whose “T” applications are denied to appear before an immigration judge, the first step in deportation proceedings.
If Trump is serious about addressing trafficking, Cohen said, he should abandon policies that “play into the hands of the pimps.”
“I have never had a case where someone’s mouth was taped up and they were brought across the border in the way the president described.” BRIDGETTE CARR UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN