By Prisca Bejjani
Immigrant women throughout history have always been more at risk from immoral men and the systems that abuse their vulnerability. Today, the story is no different. There are over 2 million The largest at-risk populations in the US, Hispanic immigrants and Asian immigrants, both face horrifying, though different, risks of sexual exploitation. In many cases, this exploitation turns into sex trafficking itself. Women and girls comprise 71% of all modern slavery victims; moreover women and girls women and girls also comprise 99% of all victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors, according to the International Labour Organization. Children make up 25% and account for 10 million of all the slaves worldwide.
Migrant women and girls from Mexico and Central America have always been at risk of sexual assault for years while crossing the border; but recent unsavoury events have heightened this danger to them. Over recent years, the power gained by Mexican cartels has led to a single-fisted control of border-crossing guides. “Coyotes” or guides are now almost always members of a cartel or employed by a cartel.
The United Nations says the migrant-smuggling industry was worth US $5.7 to $7 billion worldwide in 2016. Because the US remains the top destination, the North American market is the crown jewel of the global smuggling trade.”The Crime Report.Org, “How Coyotes Smuggle Migrants Across U.S. Border”
Even when traveling with their family members, women and girls and children crossing the border with a coyote are often intimidated and raped. The threat of leaving them alone in the desert is often enough to shut down any opposition from any other member of the party. One mother who refused to let a coyote rape her daughter was left alone in the desert, and would have died if border patrol had not found them. The expectation of rape is so common that pharmacies in northern Mexico even offer birth control to women before women begin the hazardous border crossing. The anti-trafficking organization, Vets for Child Rescue, which works along the border, has reported the sickening evidence of “rape trees” or trees where the underclothes of women and girls hang as horrific trophies of rape committed there.
Smuggling and trafficking victims across the border has long hurt the economy, with Tijuana being a notable hot spot for such nefarious activities. But the recent surge of migrants in 2021 has had some unexpected and damaging consequences to minors. Thousands of unaccompanied minors have been coming to the US, sent by their parents. First hand accounts in Texas report organizations connecting migrant children to “sponsors”, people who pay for the child’s transportation costs and agree to “take care” of them. Unfortunately, while it is easy to demonstrate the illegality of this new practice, it is very difficult to stop. The organization employees are reticent about giving out information and bystanders can do little to prevent the transportation.
While trafficking continues recklessly at the Mexican border, there are other additional forms of trafficking that keep putting women at risk. Asian immigrant women face severe hurdles when they come to the United States and find that the job they were offered is, in fact, a trap. Many of these “jobs” are fronts for sex trafficking, popularly called massage parlours. In fact, however, women are forced to take up to a dozen customers per day. The massage parlour owners further intimidate the women by piling debt on them, and restricting their movement by taking their passports.
Polaris, an anti-trafficking organization, estimates that there are around 9,000 of these “parlours” scattered throughout the United States. While the police continually make the effort to capture the owners, it is challenging to put an end to such massive and widespread nexuses of exploitation. One officer explains that the traffickers move location and change their business names frequently in order to evade detection. Moreover, even when stings operations are successful, their long-term effectiveness is often questioned. The CEO of Polaris, Brad Myles, notes that the failure to capture the “masterminds” of such mass-horrors definitively undermines the ability of law enforcement officials to predict future outcomes or goals with eradication of the trade.
Multiple barriers continue to prevent immigrant women from achieving their much-deserved hard-earned freedom. One is the common fear that immigrants carry of being deported or punished if they report the crimes committed against them. However, the Department of Homeland Security offers three forms of relief (the T visa, the U visa, and the T and U visa) for victims of human trafficking to enable them to live safely in the United States. Other barriers include the lack of access to adequate resources, such as bilingual safe homes or legal help if they are rescued. Finally, there is always the barrier of cultural indifference—the tendency to turn aside and ignore questions or problems that threaten the comfortable existence of the natives of the host country. To truly end the trafficking of immigrant women, we must join forces, link arms (wallets and networks) and truly care about those who are most vulnerable and in danger of being consistently abused and devalued.