Starting in Feb 2012, CAPM intern Michelle Sham will be reporting on the issue of human trafficking, an issue that has often been associated with foreign populations or countries. It is our hope that this blog series will help shatter myths about human trafficking, provide an alternative view of the realities of this grave human injustice, and to offer information that can aid in catalyzing social action against human trafficking.
Part 2: Human Trafficking in the Asian Community
Human trafficking is not absent in our communities. Instead, it is everywhere around us, except we do not notice them because they are being disguised. Some are locked away in houses as maids, some are toiling away at construction sites or in farms, and others are walking the streets forced to sell their bodies. There are 12.3 million adults and children bonded in forced labor and forced prostitution all around the world.
Trafficking of humans is a very profitable business. If you sell arms or drugs, once your products are sold, they do not belong to you anymore. However, when you are selling the service of a person as a product, the person belongs to you even after you receive payment and you can reuse him or her over and over again. The human trafficking industry earns $32 billion dollars every year. More specifically, human trafficking profits in the United States can go up to $15.5 billion dollars.
Minnesota is a major trafficking hub because the rural areas surrounding big cities, Duluth’s international port, the large unpatrolled border with Canada and not to mention the infamous Interstate 94 which is used very often to transport victims up and down the mid-western states. The number of victims coming through Minnesota everyday through trafficking is unknown.
In our Asian community
In addition to our ideal geographical placement for human traffickers, Minnesota also has large populations of minorities and newly arrived citizens. New citizens and even illegal immigrants are more vulnerable targets for traffickers because they are not familiar with the rights they are entitled to and may have less ability to seek help or resources. Furthermore, children of those families have to struggle with balancing their traditional culture that they learn at home and American culture that they are exposed to in school. When some children and teenagers cannot find solutions to their problems through teachers, family or mentors, they turn to the streets where they are vulnerable.
“A lot of problems start with the family. A lot of Hmong girls turn to the streets. I have a cousin who witnessed her mother being beat up by her step father all the time. Her parents are constantly arguing. She really doesn’t exist for them except to do the chores and watch the younger siblings. She turned to the streets in order to escape the violence at home. When she is with a boy, at least they give her attention. These girls have a need to be loved and accepted and allowed a social life.”
– A testimony from a Hmong Professional
In 2005, there was a well publicized human trafficking case uncovered from within the Hmong community, where girls, many of whom were runaways, were raped and forced into prostitution by Hmong gang members.
97 Hmong men and teenagers were charged with sexually assaulting or prostituting Hmong girls.*
Xiaoying Chen, the Asian American Health Coordinator from Office of Minority and Multicultural Health at the MN Department of Health, and an active member of the community working against human trafficking reasoned that there are many cases like these (runaways who become victims of trafficking) from within the newly arrived communities because of generational differences and disputes between the second or third generation children and their immigrant or more traditional older family members. Young people who are impressionable and naive are also usually more easily seduced and enticed into human trafficking.
Human trafficking is not only exclusive to the Hmong community but is a problem that the whole Asian community, domestically and internationally, has been dealing with. Chen also said that trafficked victims are everywhere and sometimes are even right in front of our eyes. One of her personal encounters with human trafficking was at an Asian restaurant in Saint Paul where she was having lunch at. She accidentally overheard the conversation of a few neighborhood church members who were trying to help the bus girl at the restaurant who may have been smuggled and trafficked from China to Minneapolis to work.
In fact, Chen’s encounters is not a rare case. There were many brothels in guise of Asian massage parlors that have been busted in Rochester, Woodbury and all around the Twin Cities filled with women brought over from China and Southeast Asia who are forced to perform sexual favors for customers. Many Asian women who are brought over are also usually forced to be maids, farmers and factory workers.
The effects of the lack of awareness
There is a great lack of awareness, and thus research and action about human trafficking especially in Asian communities all over the nation and in Minnesota. In the whole state of Minnesota, there are only 2 shelter beds dedicated specifically for children trafficked for sex! We need more awareness throughout the state so that more people will be educated and be out-spoken on this issue. This would also encourage state legislators and politicians to join the fight in eradicating human trafficking from our state. Only from this unity can we start to stop human trafficking.
Next week’s post will be about the complexities of human trafficking. One can only really understand human trafficking after knowing how it works. Please read next week’s blog post about the business of human trafficking.
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Part 1: Introduction
*Source from St. Paul Police Gang Unit.