Last update: 11-Dec-2013 5:59 am
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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The law is catching up with real life
This is the conversation that used to take place at kitchen sinks, dining tables and over fences in upwardly mobile neighbourhoods throughout Trinidad: “I going in the country this weekend to see if I get a girl.’’
“What happen to Seeta?’’
“She gone. You know them. As soon as they get accustom, they does run away.”
“You does treat them too good, yes. I tell mine plain—I don’t have no money right now, she have to live like a family. Room and board.’’
“Well, I could borrow your Guyanese for the weekend?”
Back when Trinidad was turning into an uppity, self-absorbed boom town, a live-in maid was a status symbol. A half-day maid would also put some shine on your mailbox.
As more wives and mothers began to move into the workforce, they certainly needed help at home, and the source of this household labour for upwardly mobile urban families was some docile teenager or young, impoverished woman from the villages of Penal, Oropouche or Behind God’s Back.
When that source began to dry up, immigrants (often illegal) from Guyana, St Vincent, and Grenada made up the shortfall. Some of these young women were lucky and found really nice Madams (not the bordello kind) who enrolled their maids in secretarial classes, “adopted” their children, gave Christmas presents, and paid for their medical care.
Other employers were no better than slavers—their maids lived in servitude; were sexually harassed; and were rented out to Madam’s friends to clean windows, polish floors, muck out bathrooms and bathe the yapping pompeks, which had also become an appendage of the middle-class.
Back then, we called this state of affairs Just the Way Things Are. Now, we call it human trafficking. The law is catching up with real life.
I was mulling over all this when I read the news that several men were arrested last week for human trafficking and two in Tobago have been charged for importing foreign women to force them to work as prostitutes.
As Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews, the director of the Counter Trafficking Unit, said on TV two Sundays ago, human trafficking is also domestic servitude, forcing someone to provide labour or services, whether the victim is a foreign national or a local.
Traffickers everywhere have similar patterns: they lure desperate women with promises of jobs as waitresses, bartenders, babysitters, models and entertainers. Some use romantic ploys, professing undying love for their pigeons, promising to marry them, only to pimp them out to every creep who can pay the price.
Once the women arrive, they are beaten, placed under guard, their passports are seized, and they are forced to do things they never dreamed of.
Often, the women cannot speak the language; they have no money; and even if they can escape, who is going to walk into a police station and endure the stares and sniggers when she announces: “Hello, I have been working against my will as a prostitute in the dens of iniquity of Port-of-Spain.”
Hispanic women in and around recreational clubs and bars have been a feature of local nightlife for decades. I used to shrug and figure they were “working girls” who were making a better living here than there.
I wonder now, how many of them were trafficking victims.
Unthinkable things happen under our noses every day.
You can help: don’t look the other way; get informed; spread the word; motivate others; lobby politicians, police, customs and immigration departments to be vigilant and weed out the creeps who facilitate the evil; volunteer to help victims, at shelters, hotlines, safe houses; sponsor a family at risk because poverty makes women and children vulnerable to traffickers; help them escape.
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