A labour trafficking case in California appeared in the news today.
A Saudi Arabian princess, Meshael Alayban, was arrested on July 9 for holding a domestic servant against her will. Irvine Police Detectives, working closely with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, made the arrest.
In March 2012, the victim contracted through an agency in Kenya to work for Alayban’s family in Saudi Arabia. After she arrived, her passports and contract were allegedly taken from her and she was made to work excessive hours. According to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, she only received $200 per month instead of the $1,600 she had been promised.
In May 2013, Alayban’s family traveled to the United States, bringing the Kenyan woman and four other women from the Philippines who were on similar contracts and whose passports had also been taken from them. At this time, there are no indications of physical abuse and no charges have been filed in connection with the Philippine women.
When the Kenyan woman was issued her travel visa by the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia, she received a Department of State pamphlet which described her rights and warned of human trafficking. It appears that she may have used this to explain her situation when seeking help from a woman she met on a bus.
Why this is important
In 2011, I attended an international symposium on human trafficking which had been organised by Polaris Project Japan (PPJ). Experts flew in from the U.S., Korea and Taiwan to speak at the event and they were given the opportunity to join PPJ in a closed door meeting with the Japanese Minister of Justice.
Japan, which is consistently ranked as a tier 2 country on the annual TIP report, does not distribute information to people entering the country which is similar to that of the U.S. Department of State. One of the outcomes being sought by PPJ at the closed door meeting with the minister was to have materials distributed in the arrivals section of airports. Unfortunately, the minister was completely dismissive of the suggestion.
I spoke with one of the people who attended the meeting, and they speculated that the minister’s view was that distributing anti-trafficking materials would give Japan a negative image as an unsafe place to visit. The minister did not make this point explicit, but rather simply rejected every logical argument which favoured a new approach.
By making victims aware of their rights and letting them know that officials have a special awareness on human trafficking, they become empowered to seek help. As the speakers at the symposium pointed out, a common tactic of traffickers is to coerce their victims into compliance by making them believe that, should they go to the police, they would be viewed and treated as criminals.
I applaud the U.S. State Department in this matter and would urge more countries to follow their example.