In a blog several days ago, I highlighted how in some acute cases of mistreatment of domestic servants, diplomats are complicit in human trafficking. Their diplomatic immunity has become diplomatic impunity. Yet, diplomats are by no means the only enslavers of domestic servants in America. Human trafficking is typically a hidden crime. Its victims are afraid to identify themselves, for fear of retribution by exploiters, or fear of being treated by law enforcement, immigration officers, or society at large as criminals or illegal aliens, as dirty and expendable. To help them, we need to find them first.
The hidden nature of human trafficking is made all the more acute in the case of domestic servitude. This enslavement takes place in the confines of a home, and the abuse is often purposefully shrouded by the exploiters seizing the papers of domestic workers and strictly limiting their freedom to leave the home.
In 2006, former husband and wife Abdelnasser Eid Youssef Ibrahim and Amal Ahmed Ewis-abd Motelib pleaded guilty to counts of conspiracy, holding someone in involuntary servitude through force or coercion, obtaining labor through unlawful force or coercion, and harboring an illegal immigrant. In 2000, they brought a ten-year-old girl to the United States from Egypt, and then forced her to work as a nanny and housekeeper in their Irvine, California home.
They had seized the girl’s passport and paid her nothing. They admitted to a judge their threats to send her back to Egypt. They prevented her from going to school, regularly slapped her, and caustically derided her.
How can we uncover more such cases to hold the exploiters accountable?
For a year and half, Polaris Project has been operating the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline. Those who contact the hotline not only seek information, training, and technical assistance – they also frequently draw attention to potential victims of human trafficking. Indeed, of the roughly 6,000 calls Polaris Project fielded at the NHTRC last year, there were 2,300 potential victims referenced.
A number of calls to the NHTRC in the last several months involved domestic servants.
In one case, a woman called to report that she was not being paid for her work as a housekeeper and nanny. The woman was brought here from another country five years ago and was told that she would get assistance securing proper documentation. When this woman complained about not being paid or requested to go to school, she was threatened with deportation and received physical and emotional abuse from the family who was enslaving her. The victim escaped and was brought to a local domestic violence shelter by a neighbor. The woman called with the help of the shelter social worker to get more information on her legal rights as a trafficking victim. The Polaris Project NHTRC staff provided technical assistance to the shelter staff and referred the victim to pro-bono legal services as well as case management.
You too can keep a vigilant eye for suspicious signs of such slavery – and become the best kind of enabler…an enabler of freedom. One place to turn is the NHTRC, at 1-888-3737-888 or www.TraffickingResourceCenter.org.