Tuesday, December 4, 2007

NY: Couple Prosecuted for Enslaving Women

CENTRAL ISLIP, NEW YORK — The two tiny Indonesian women know just a handful of English words. They know Windex. Fantastik (the cleanser, not the adjective). They know the words Master and Missus, which they were taught to use in addressing the Long Island couple they served as live-in help for five years in the sylvan North Shore hamlet of Muttontown.

Their employers, Varsha Sabhnani, 35, and her husband, Mahender, 51, (above) naturalized citizens from India, have been on trial in U.S. District Court here for the past month. They are charged with what the federal criminal statutes refer to as involuntary servitude and peonage, or, in the common national parlance since 1865, the crime of keeping slaves.

The two women, the government charged in its indictment, were victims of “modern-day slavery.”

It is a rarely prosecuted crime. But since passage of the 2000 federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, prosecutions have increased from less than a handful nationwide per year to about a dozen. The law is probably best known for its focus on prostitution and child-sex traffickers; yet in the last few years, in a few highly publicized cases like the Sabhnanis’, federal and state task forces set up to deal with sex trafficking have also begun to focus on the exploitation of domestic workers...


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