Slav­ery in 21st cen­tury Cal­i­for­nia? Yes

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY DAN WAL­TERS CAL­mat­ters Colum­nist CAL­mat­ters is a pub­lic in­ter­est jour­nal­ism ven­ture com­mit­ted to ex­plain­ing how Cal­i­for­nia’s state Capi­tol works and why it mat­ters. For more sto­ries by Dan Wal­ters, go to cal­mat­ters.org/ com­men­tary

Some years ago, I was fly­ing from Or­ange County to Sacra­mento and hap­pened to sit next to a woman who was headed to a meet­ing in the cap­i­tal on hu­man traf­fick­ing.

She told me that she had es­caped from an abu­sive mar­riage to a wealthy man in Pak­istan and since com­ing to Cal­i­for­nia had devoted her­self to help­ing slaves es­cape from their masters, run­ning a kind of un­der­ground rail­road.

Slav­ery in 21st cen­tury Cal­i­for­nia?

Yes, in­deed. Cal­i­for­nia’s sta­tus as a des­ti­na­tion of choice for rich and poor im­mi­grants has also made it a cen­ter for new forms of slav­ery — not un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who are vol­un­tar­ily work­ing in sub­stan­dard con­di­tions for sub­stan­dard wages, but ac­tual slaves.

Typ­i­cally, as my seat­mate ex­plained and as later re­search con­firmed, they are brought into Cal­i­for­nia as in­den­tured ser­vants and/or pur­vey­ors of il­licit sex­ual acts, are kept un­der lock and key by their masters, and are se­verely pun­ished when those own­ers are dis

pleased.

A Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia study, cov­er­ing five years, eas­ily dis­cov­ered at least 500 peo­ple from 18 coun­tries work­ing in slave-like cir­cum­stances in Cal­i­for­nia. The UC study said 80 per­cent were fe­male and half were chil­dren.

The Na­tional Hu­man Traf­fick­ing Re­source Cen­ter says that it re­ceived nearly 4,000 com­plaints about hu­man traf­fick­ing from Cal­i­for­nia in 2015.

The As­so­ci­ated Press gave us a peek into the un­der­ground world of Cal­i­for­nia slav­ery a few years ago with an ar­ti­cle about one Egyp­tian girl, Shylma Hall, whose par­ents sold her into slav­ery at age 10 and, when her Egyp­tian own­ers moved to Or­ange County, was brought along as an un­paid ser­vant and treated like chat­tel.

Hall was re­moved from the fam­ily when au­thor­i­ties fi­nally in­ter­vened, but she is just one of many Cal­i­for­nia slaves, women mostly, who con­tinue to la­bor in sweat­shops, in broth­els, and in the homes of wealthy ex­pa­tri­ates, par­tic­u­larly those from the Mid­dle East, where slav­ery is of­ten tol­er­ated.

Ex­actly how many is un­known, which is why a state task force on hu­man traf­fick­ing, in a re­port is­sued a decade ago that got scant me­dia at­ten­tion, rec­om­mends that au­thor­i­ties co­op­er­ate on iden­ti­fy­ing vic­tims and pros­e­cut­ing their own­ers.

An­other ex­am­ple: In 2016, fed­eral au­thor­i­ties pros­e­cuted an Iraqi cou­ple in San Diego for bring­ing an In­done­sian ser­vant into the U.S. The woman fi­nally es­caped by plead­ing with a nurse for help in her na­tive lan­guage. The charges said the cou­ple threat­ened the woman with “phys­i­cal re­straint if she did not per­form la­bor and ser­vices.”

Still an­other: In 2013, po­lice ar­rested Me­shael Alay­ban, de­scribed as one of six wives of a Saudi Ara­bian prince, for keep­ing five women as slaves in a three-story Irvine con­do­minium. One of the women, a Kenyan, es­caped and told po­lice of the other four women, all Filip­inas, still in captivity.

The good news, more or less, is that Cal­i­for­nia has of­fi­cially rec­og­nized such slav­ery as a crime and, a new re­port tells us, that the state is a leader in pros­e­cut­ing traf­fick­ing cases.

The Hu­man Traf­fick­ing In­sti­tute re­port, is­sued last month, says that Cal­i­for­nia ranked 3rd in the nation in the num­ber of ac­tive fed­eral traf­fick­ing pros­e­cu­tions last year with 47.

The bad news is that the pros­e­cu­tions are still too few and fall well short of ef­fec­tively curb­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing in Cal­i­for­nia. Hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, of slaves are be­ing kept, afraid to com­plain to au­thor­i­ties and fear­ing phys­i­cal abuse and/or be­ing shipped back to their coun­tries of ori­gin.

Along with the nation’s high­est rate of poverty, the ex­is­tence of slav­ery is some­thing that should be shame­ful to all Cal­i­for­ni­ans and the peo­ple we elect to high of­fice.

Fresno Bee file

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, cen­ter, stands with com­mu­nity lead­ers, law en­force­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives and speak­ers from the 10th an­nual Con­fer­ence on Hu­man Traf­fick­ing, while in­tro­duc­ing his Hu­man Traf­fick­ing Ini­tia­tive dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the Dou­ble Tree Ho­tel Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in down­town Fresno on March 27.

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