Politics & Policy

Set Them Free

How can the Washington Post turn a blind eye to sex slaves?

Those who have vigorously built a national movement to confront modern slavery, and who had effectively established a legacy for the Bush presidency on the subject, discovered that, according to an article on the front page of last Sunday’s Washington Post that the problem of modern slavery never even existed.

Jerry Markon, the 26 year-old reporter from the Washington Post’s Virginia desk, was tasked to determine if there really are sex slaves here in the United States. Sure, he admits, the Bush Administration spent a lot of money forming task forces, sponsoring public awareness campaigns, and starting hotlines. Sure, after many speeches, events, and advertising, after law enforcement training, meetings, and public forums, as well as TV dramas and movies, there are fewer victims than the CIA reported, forced to travel here for sex — about 17,000-50,000 yearly actually. Since the inception of the T Visa (visas for trafficked victims by Rescue and Restore), in April 2004, only about 1300 have been issued.

Many of us are outraged and alarmed by the deliberately misleading piece in the Post. It accuses Bush, and Congress, and the Christian Right of wasting tax money finding and protecting sex slaves, money that according to the piece would be better spent on domestic violence. But why is it that domestic violence ought to be considered a priority over sex slavery?

The attack is two tiered: it is another attempt to discredit the work done in the Bush years, and at the same time, it is a signal for women to return to the domestic violence money trough where government saves them from their husband’s and their boyfriends, but not from slavery.

I was a subcontractor for the Department of Health and Human Services Rescue and Restore campaign to find trafficked victims here in the United States. Everywhere we searched, we found victims of trafficking. Everywhere. Did they get T Visas? Not all, but the effort to search and rescue is ongoing, and the struggle to get the agencies to comply with the needs of victims continues. But we should not stop. We should not ridicule those who are heroically doing all they can to find those who suffer here in the United States. We should continue to help and support those who do this noble work.

In 2007, how can any reporter at the Washington Post deny seeing the reports of rape trees at our border, or the reports of the property owners in border towns in Texas who find abused and discarded women and children naked on their land? Has the Post missed talking to doctors, who, having once described the sight of a trafficked victim, in tears admit, “I have treated victims and not known it.” Or have the reporters discussed trafficked victims with the forensic nurses who help capture the evidence and then accompany abused girls to trial if allowed? Or, has any Post reporter asked the DC Task Force about the prevalence of the forced prostituted women criminal abuse on 14th and K?

Has any Post reporter checked the drug resistant TB rates in hub cities like LA, Detroit, Atlanta, Seattle, San Diego, and wondered why that happens? Has any Post reporter wondered if the MS-13 gang, which headquarters in the Shenandoah Valley, to do their drug runs, also sell girls up and down I-95? Has any Post reporter checked out the number of brothels, day spas, and massage parlors around military bases in America, to see if these girls inside want to do this for a living?

Does any Post reporter want to really find out why the United States is now exporting HIV/AIDS to Mexico? Migrant workers, who toil here to send home their income, use the services of trapped women who must turn 20- 30 tricks daily. Once those workers return to small towns in Mexico, they give their wives a present from the U.S. — — HIV.

No, the Post says, this is all a rumor. Bush is a religious zealot, the people working to help trafficking victims are mostly conservative Christians, this cause has failed, and all of those critics who want to legalized prostitution were right — there is no slavery here in America. We shouldn’t find the trafficking victims; we should just defund the programs, and deny that those poor people are here.

Peter Landesman of the New York Times, who wrote a series called Girls Next Door (no relation to the Playboy show, of course), knows otherwise. His reporting on slavery in America was made into a movie called TRADE which comes out on September 28. He hasn’t gotten work since he wrote that series for the New York Times, and he has been ridiculed for what he found to be true.

I suppose if the Post really believes there are no sex slaves in America, then maybe it also believes there are no gays in Iran either.

— Claudia Barlow is a consultant on medicine and trafficking.

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