Joseph Yannai’s neighbors expressed shock last month when a young Hungarian woman told Westchester County police the 65-year-old man had forced her into sexual slavery. Yannai maintained his innocence, yet police had long wondered about the succession of foreign-born women living in his house.
“You’d think a warning bell would go off in a neighbor’s mind,” said Ron Soodalter, author of the new book “The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today.” Yannai, police said, hired the women as au pairs, though he has no children.
The State Department estimates 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. and enslaved each year as housekeepers, farm hands, factory workers and prostitutes. But that’s a guess, because less than 1 percent of cases get prosecuted.
“It’s the invisible crime,” said Nassau County Detective John Birbiglia. He thinks the number of enslaved people is much higher, though he’s only solved three cases over four years running the Long Island Anti-Human Trafficking Task Forces. His most notorious case involved a couple who held two Indonesian women as captive domestic workers.
These days Birbiglia’s focused on massage parlors. “We used to arrest these women,” he said. “Now we know they’re victims.”
Safe Horizon’s Jennifer Dreher says her group has seen 350 cases since 2001. Sixty percent involved forced labor, and most were women from Latin America. “It’s very real,” she said.
Adapted from: N.Y.’s hidden trafficking, Metro, 21 June 2009.
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