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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Modern Day Slavery

A Long Island couple, Varsha (age 45) and Mahender Sabhnani, (age 51) were convicted earlier this week for imprisoning and torturing two Indonesian housekeepers in what prosecutors called a case of modern-day slavery.

The case came to light when one of the Indonesian women, in desperation, ran away and was found, wearing only pants and a towel, outside of a Dunkin Donuts shop, where an employee bought her inside and called the police.

That was when the crimes committed in a home on Coachman Place were investigated, leading to the arrest and conviction of both the husband and wife. After the conviction, the husband, Mahender, was allowed to remain free on a $4.5 million bail, but is under house arrest, until sentencing on March 28, 2007.

Because the jury determined it was the wife, Varsha, that inflicted physical torture on the two Indonesian slaves, her bail was revoked, despite pleading by her husband and children.

Prosecuters accused the Sabhnani of working the women 18 hours a day, beat them, slashed, burned with cigarettes and scalding water, and forced to choke down hot chili peppers and vomit.

The couple were convicted of all charges in a 12-count indictment that included forced labor, conspiracy and involuntary servitude.

When the verdict came in on Monday, the wife fainted and had to be hospitalized.

New York State passed an anti-trafficking law this year to counter modern day slavery, making it a felony to force immigrants into prostitution or other labor, and provides victims with emergency housing and health care and other services, to make it easier for them to come forward.

It is new and cases like this are important to let the immigrants know they will be listened to and their captors or tormentors will be convicted, which hopefully will encourage more to speak out against crimes committed against them.

According to North Country Gazette, other things the two women were subjected to include, but are not limited to, beatings with brooms and umbrellas, scalding water thrown on them, forced to repeatedly climb stairs and take as many as 30 freezing showers in three hours.

The Sabhnani's could face up to 40 years in prison upon sentencing. The jury also said that the couples 5,898-square-foot home could be seized because it was used in the commission of a crime.

Slavery in America and human trafficking is not a new story but each case that is prosecuted helps and a little research finds many stories similar to these two Indonesian women.

In February 2005, two girls confided in a customer at a strip club where they were being forced to work and were brought to ICE and the FBI, which resulted in the arrest of Alex Maksimenko and Michael Aronov, both of whom pleaded guilty and are serving time in federal prison for their crimes.

The girls stories are not unique but tell the tale of how big of a problem this is in America.

In 2004, the two girls, like many foreign exchange university students were looking for a summer job and arrived at Dulles Airport from the Ukraine, where they were met by a fellow countryman that spoke Russian who told them that they were reassigned from the job that was supposed to be in Virgina to a job in Detroit, where they would be waitresses and perfect their English.

They were put on a bus and sent to Detroit where their nightmare began.

The arrived at their hotel were given clothes and told they would be working in a strip club called Cheetahs,

According to immigration customs agent Angus Lowe, the men controlled the women through intimidation with guns and threats to hurt family members back home, and forced the girls to work 12-hour shifts stripping for local Detroit men’s clubs.

March 2007, another report made national headlines, the case of Emily Nicely, was forced to quit school, deliver papers for free, beaten with broom handles, a metal pipe, belts and wooden boards.

Another report from June 2007 tells of three other young women from Mexico that were smuggled to the United States in mid-May and sold in an underground world for prostitution.

Justice Department records show such cases are a fraction of the thousands of overall immigrant smuggling cases. Between 2001 and 2005, federal prosecutors handled 555 "matters" involving human trafficking.

May 2007, the DOJ issued a release announcing that a Chinese national, Shengji Wang, plead guilty in Hawaii "to one count of conspiracy to violate the civil rights of women who were smuggled into the U.S. Territory of American Samoa. According to the plea agreement, Wang, along with several co-defendants, was involved in a scheme to recruit and import Chinese women and hold them in prostitution in nightclubs and brothels in American Samoa. Fu Sheng Kuo, another Chinese national, pleaded guilty to the same offense on May 10, 2007."

Next to the illegal trades in drugs and arms, human trafficking is the third-largest and fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world, according to government figures. The departments of Justice and State, as well as anti-trafficking groups, estimate there are about 27 million people worldwide in modern-day slavery.

While doing research into this, one site, called Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery, lists dozens of cases from 1999 to 2005 as well as more recent stories found throughout the media.

From Rhode Island to Texas, in Tennessee and New York, Maryland and Minnesota, we find story after story, convictions, guilty pleas, investigations and from all accounts, this problem is getting worse, not better, as people are selling and abusing human beings across America.

Modern day slavery is alive and thriving, right here in America and convictions like one I started this article with will encourage those being abused to step forward and be heard, be counted and to be treated like a human being.