Friday, July 22, 2011

New Awareness Campaign

Human Trafficking Awareness Campaign

U.S. Customs and Border Protection
has launched two public service announcements as part of the “Don’t Be Fooled” campaign—a public awareness campaign designed to educate citizens and encourage public vigilance to combat human trafficking within local communities, and invite others to join the fight against this form of modern-day slavery. The two public service announcements, titled “Masquerade” and “Bird Cage,” will begin airing July 25 in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and the Washington, D.C., metro area. Click the link above for links to the announcements.

Consider the facts of one case of human trafficking and forced labor:

In 2001 and 2002, Varsha's mother, known as "Mrs. Joti," arranged for Samirah, a 53-year old woman from Indonesia, to obtain an Indonesian passport and United States visa in order to travel to the United States to work in the Sabhnanis' home. Samirah, a rice vender who spoke no English, did not know what a visa was. . . . She traveled to the United States in February 2002 in the company of Mrs. Joti, who carried Samirah's passport . . . . Varsha Sabhnani took Samirah's passport and other related documents and kept them until approximately April 2007, about one year after Samirah's passport had expired. Mrs. Joti returned to her home in Indonesia shortly after delivering Samirah.

Samirah worked as a domestic servant for Varsha and Mahender Sabhnani from February 2002 through May 2007, even though the visa that Mrs. Joti obtained for her authorized Samirah to enter the United States solely as Mrs. Joti's employee and to work for her in this country only until May 2002. During her time with the Sabhnanis, Samirah was responsible for cooking, cleaning, laundry, and other chores at the couple's large three-story residence, which included about seven bedrooms, seven baths, and separate offices from which Mahender Sabhnani operated PVM International and Eternal Love Parfums . . . . Varsha told Samirah that her $200 per month salary was being paid to her daughter Lita in Indonesia. Lita was in fact paid only $100 per month. Samirah received no money herself.

The circumstances of Samirah's employment were more than severe. While at the Sabhnanis' home, Samirah . . . was required to sleep first on the carpet outside the bedroom of one of the children and then on a mat on the floor of one of the residence's kitchens. Samirah was not given adequate food to eat -- to the point that she was often forced by hunger to eat from the garbage. She worked for extremely long hours per day and was often deprived of sleep. . . . Various witnesses testified that Samirah wore “torn or tattered,” “messy" clothing, rags "used for cleaning the floor" and clothing that left her “private part . . . visible.” Tr. 1786, 3834.

Samirah was subjected to extremely harsh physical and psychological treatment in the Sabhnanis’ home. On one occasion sometime before 2005, for example, Samirah drank milk directly from a container, without using a glass; the incident was reported to Varsha Sabhnani by one of her daughters. Varsha responded by beating Samirah and pouring scalding hot water on her arm. At her mother's instruction, one of Varsha's daughters took a photograph of Samirah with the milk container. Varsha Sabhnani told Samirah that the photo would be sent to Samirah's family in Indonesia to prove that Samirah was a thief. The photo, which Varsha thereafter kept in a locked cabinet in a closet adjoining the Sabhnanis’ bedroom, was introduced into evidence at the trial. It depicts the discoloration on Samirah’s arm from the scalding.

The milk incident was not an isolated one. Samirah was beaten by Varsha Sabhnani with various household objects, such as a broom, an umbrella, and a rolling pin. She was punished for sleeping late, for not receiving permission to throw out the garbage, for stealing food from the trash, and for failing to clean the garage. Varsha threw boiling water on Samirah on at least three separate occasions. She also mutilated Samirah, pulling on Samirah’s ears until they bled, causing scabs and scars, and cutting Samirah with a knife, leaving scars on her face and various parts of her body. Wearing plastic supermarket bags on her hands, Varsha Sabhnani on more than one occasion pulled on Samirah’s ears and dug her fingernails into the flesh behind them, causing blood to trickle down Samirah’s neck. She punished Samirah for various alleged misdeeds by forcing her to eat large quantities of hot chili peppers until Samirah vomited or moved her bowels uncontrollably. Varsha forced Samirah to walk up and down flights of stairs many times in succession. Samirah was required to bathe several times in a row, sometimes with her clothes on, and was not infrequently made to work while wearing wet clothing. Varsha Sabhnani also cut Samirah's hair with scissors and shaved her pubic hair, threatening Samirah that if she resisted her children in Indonesia would be murdered by Mahender Sabhnani and by the couple's teenage son. Samirah “never fought back,” according to her own testimony, “because [Varsha Sabhnani] always said, mind you, if you fight me off, then you [will] be killed by the mister,” referring to Mahender Sabhnani. Tr. 1774. The abuse suffered by Samirah caused her to become so fearful that she would sometimes urinate on herself.


Subject to this recurrent abuse, Samirah often asked to return to Indonesia or to be “give[n] . . . away” to another person. Tr. 1881. When she did so, Varsha Sabhnani told her that she would have to pay money to make up for the expenses the Sabhnanis had incurred in bringing her to the United States. Varsha told Samirah that Samirah’s children would be killed if she escaped. Varsha also threatened Samirah that if she ran away, Varsha would falsely report to the police that Samirah had stolen food and jewelry and . . . have Samirah sent to prison.

United States v. Sabhnani, 599 F.3d 215, 225-27 (2d Cir. 2010) (footnote omitted) (affirming criminal conviction of forced labor, peonage, and involuntary servitude).

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