California is the top destination in the United States for human traffickers who force women and girls into hard labor and sex trade, local TV channel ABC 7 reported.
A new report released by the state's anti-human trafficking task force shed light on how bad the problem is in California, and the team wants police and prosecutors to have more power to fight these crimes. Though exact numbers don't exist, thousands are somehow brought in across the borders and coerced into the sex trade or hard labor, officials and activists said.
Researchers at U.C. Berkeley found 57 forced labor operations over a five year period in about a dozen California cities, involving more than 500 people from 18 countries. A Mexican woman named "Esperanza" was lured by human traffickers to California from her destitute hometown five years ago with the promise of a good job making good money, but it turned out to be grueling work in a Los Angeles sweatshop.
"I had to live and sleep in the shop. I had to work 17 hours a day, sometimes more," Esperanza told a press conference Tuesday at Sacramento, the state capital. When Esperanza asked to leave, her employers threatened her family members and close ones. "She said someone who I love would pay the consequences," said Esperanza.
San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, who is on the task force to help state leaders find solutions for the problem, said that about 80 percent of the victims of human trafficking are women and girls, and up to 50 percent of them are minors.
Esperanza spent 40 days in the Los Angeles sweatshop before she pretended to go to church and escaped, and now she has become a victims' advocate. "I want to tell victims that there is hope, there is help," she said. To raise public awareness about the human trafficking problem, a new resolution is expected to take effect next month declaring every January 11 in California as "National Human Trafficking Day."
Adapted from: Yan Liang, "California top spot for human trafficking in U.S." China View. 5 December 2007.
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