Human slavery - not just crummy pay and lousy work conditions, but outright forced servitude, including the kidnapping, buying and selling of people - is going on in New York City, which is a major hub and destination in a monstrous, global slave trade.
The modern resurgence of this ancient horror will continue for exactly as long as cynical politicians and an apathetic public allow it.
Some estimates put the number of people in bondage worldwide at 12 million, with as many as 17,500 people newly smuggled into the U.S. every year to be forced, or sold, into brothels, sweatshops and domestic service. Many are women and children, and you may be walking past them every day.
"New York is a major port of entry, transit and destination for human trafficking," says Taina Bien-Aime, the executive director of Equality Now, a Manhattan-based international human rights group. "It's in our own backyard."
In 2005, my Daily News colleague Nicole Bode traveled to the slums of Tijuana, Mexico, to trace one strand of the slavery network from the Southwest border to the streets and brothels of New York.
"Pimps promise to smuggle the impressionable girls into the United States, telling them they can get jobs as nannies, cooks and maids - making enough money to support their families back home," Bode wrote. "These traffickers charge the girls as much as $7,500 in illicit crossing fees - but once they get to the United States, the girls are raped and forced into prostitution. By the time the girls realize they have been kidnapped, it's too late for them to escape."
A few months later, sexual servitude burst into the headlines again when a Korean couple accused of running brothels in Queens allegedly bribed two undercover cops.
That led to a federal investigation that netted dozens of arrests and freed 70 sex workers caught up in a multistate human trafficking network stretching from Rhode Island to Virginia.
Much to its credit, the Bush administration has put modern slavery high on its agenda, committing hundreds of millions of dollars and using the bully pulpit of the White House to condemn the practice.
But New York remains one of several states with no law that specifically outlaws trafficking.
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