Saturday, December 20, 2014

World War II Sex Slaves Bear Witness

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/nyregion/world-war-ii-sex-slaves-bear-witness.html?emc=edit_tnt_20141220&nlid=52322620&tntemail0=y&_r=0

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An image from the exhibition “Comfort Women Wanted,” named after the headline in ads intended to lure women into prostitution for the Imperial Japanese Army. Most of the women were unpaid and unwilling, and were kidnapped or tricked. “It hurt me inside,” one woman says. “Some of them beat me.” CreditChang-Jin Lee
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Chang-Jin Lee, a New York artist, wanted to commemorate what she feared would become a “forgotten history,” she said. After reading anarticle in The New York Times in 2007 about the experiences of an estimated 200,000 women and girls who had been forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II, she decided to do something about it.
From 2008 to 2012, Ms. Lee, who grew up in Seoul, South Korea, took four trips to seven countries to interview survivors, take photographs and gather images, which she has exhibited in different ways across the United States and in other countries over the last few years.
The latest exhibition — seven striking panels showing survivors when they were young and two videos with interviews, photographs and folk songs — is now on view at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University. Titled “Comfort Women Wanted,” it is named after the headline in newspaper advertisements intended to lure women to work as prostitutes for soldiers in the Imperial Japanese Army.
The advertisement did not work very well, Ms. Lee said, though a few women may have been paid for their work in the beginning. The rest were kidnapped or deceived with offers of other jobs that did not exist. They ended up being raped up to 100 times per day by one soldier after another in spaces, euphemistically called “comfort stations,” which came in the form of huts or rooms in industrial complexes throughout imperial Japan, and occupied territories. A former Japanese soldier — one of only two to publicly acknowledge and apologize for the practice, she said — describes the conditions in one of Ms. Lee’s videos.
“It was fast,” says Yasuji Kaneko, the former soldier. “No hug, no kiss. We had no time to do such things.” The women sat, wearing kimonos, he says, as men stood in front of them for a few minutes “and just had sex.” His video runs concurrently with a longer one featuring interviews with some of the survivors.
Emah Kastima, an Indonesian woman who was kidnapped from a market when she was 17, says in a whispery voice: “It hurt me inside. Some of them beat me. It hurt my heart. I hated being treated like that.” Jan Ruff O’Herne, who Ms. Lee said was the first European to come forward, describes being selected at age 21 at a Japanese prison camp where she had already spent three and a half years, as her mother and the families of nine other young women who were also being hauled away with her cried and wailed. Lee Yong Soo, a Korean and a former comfort woman, says, “If I am ever born again, I hope to be born as a woman soldier.”
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Another image from the exhibition. CreditChang-Jin Lee
The cacophony created by the battling sounds of the simultaneous videos is intentional, the artist said; it is meant to draw a visceral response. It also reflects the controversy that still surrounds the issue. Though Japan issued an apology in 1993, the current government’s policy, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is to deny that the women were coerced into working in brothels. However, many other nations and most scholars believe the testimony of the survivors (who represent only about 25 to 30 percent of the women who went through the ordeal, Ms. Lee said).
Jinyoung Jin, the associate director of cultural programs at the Wang Center, who invited Ms. Lee to show her work and curated the exhibition, said it was not about “finger-pointing” but did highlight a continuing global human trafficking problem. “The video is very caring,” Ms. Jin said. “This happened to women who didn’t have a strong voice in society.” The exhibition has elicited strong responses from viewers and has benefited both history and art students. “How you interpret a historical subject in a visual language is also important for students studying art,” she said.
Logan Marks, an master’s student in fine arts at Stony Brook, helped to install the show. “Its location is very effective, because it’s kind of in the belly of the building” on its lowest level, he said. “It has darker and more ominous subject matter, so it fits well with the space.” He added: “It’s a heavy-duty subject. If you’re not moved by that, what kind of person are you?”
Ms. Lee agreed that she set out to make bold artistic choices. “I’m not a documentarian,” she said. To help present the women “as individuals rather than as victims,” she said, she asked each to record a favorite song in her own language to introduce each segment. With support from several grants and fellowships, including aid from the New York State Council on the Artsand the Asian Cultural Council, she traveled to Japan, Korea and Taiwan in 2008, to China and Indonesia in 2010, to Australia in 2011 and to the Philippines in 2012. Seven languages are represented in her video.
For the large prints showing the women who were able to give her photographs of themselves as teenagers before, soon after or, in one case, during their enslavement, she went for a “strong visual impact,” she said. “I want it carved into your memory.” Each print is more than five feet tall.
Fashioned after the advertisements, the photographs are at the center, framed in black and red with “Comfort Women Wanted” boldly displayed in English, Chinese, Filipino and Korean. But the background is gold leaf, “like a saint’s halo in a Renaissance painting,” Ms. Lee said.
The one she finds most moving is of Mei Chen, a Taiwanese survivor whose unsmiling face was photographed by a Japanese soldier. “It’s like she’s no longer there,” Ms. Lee said. “Her expression says something about what these women went through. She’s just not there.”

For Family Sued by Nanny, a Vacation Becomes Legal Limbo

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/20/nyregion/for-family-sued-by-nanny-a-vacation-becomes-legal-limbo.html?emc=edit_tnt_20141219&nlid=52322620&tntemail0=y

The family vacation in Italy began in August and lasted three weeks. A family photo tells the story, all smiling faces, four children and their parents perched at the prow of a boat in the Marina di Portofino.
The vacation ended Sept. 6, but their time in Italy has not. The family, from Manhattan, has been stuck in an Italian limbo ever since, refused re-entry by the State Department. The reason for the refusal is related to an allegation by the family’s former nanny that she was physically and emotionally mistreated and underpaid in the eight weeks she spent in their employ in New York.
The family will spend the weekend finding a new place to stay in Italy, after several weeks living in a rented house outside Portofino, which has humbly called itself the “eighth wonder of the world.”
At first glance, this does not sound like cause to reach for the handkerchiefs, but the mother, Malu Custer Edwards, 30, said the last three months had been exhausting.
“'Well, what’s so bad about Italy?'” Ms. Edwards asked, repeating a question she has heard from friends. “Well, just wait until you are anywhere in the world, and you think you’ll be there a couple of weeks, and then be told you can’t go back to where your life is.”
The family — Ms. Edwards, her husband, Micky Hurley, 37, and three of their children, a 7-year-old son and daughters, age 5 and 3 — arrived in New York in January 2011 from Chile, where they lived. Ms. Edwards later gave birth to their youngest daughter in New York while she was studying graphic design at Parsons the New School for Design.
They were accompanied by a nanny, Felicitas del Carmen Villanueva Garnica, whom they had hired via an agency. They settled in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
By the middle of March, Ms. Garnica no longer worked for the family. Two years later, she sued Ms. Edwards and Mr. Hurley in Federal District Court in Manhattan, accusing them of human trafficking.
Ms. Garnica, in her lawsuit, claimed the couple took her passport, locked her in the apartment, left her without decent food or her medication for hypertension and allowed the children to hit her. Once, she claimed, a child smashed a refrigerator door on her head.
The parents denied the allegations. They were, however, ordered by New York State Department of Labor to pay Ms. Garnica $6,302.54 in back pay, court documents show.
After an article in The New York Post about the case, other stories about the family emerged, including several unpleasant email exchanges between Mr. Hurley and photographers who worked for him, which portrayed Mr. Hurley as a privileged bully and went viral.
The case was wending its way through court when the family decided it was time for a vacation. In Italy, Ms. Edwards learned that in order to return to New York, she had to renew her student visa. That request was denied by the United States Consulate on Sept. 9.
The reason given: She had been untruthful on her application to renew the visa by failing to report having engaged in human trafficking.
Of course, she has never admitted anything of the sort, and had never been charged by the authorities. But the family was stuck. Shortly after the ruling, Mr. Hurley suffered a collapsed lung and spent two weeks in a hospital, Ms. Edwards said.
School started in New York without the family. Back home, “the children have their friends, their toys, their clothing,” Ms. Edwards said. “You come on vacation with your summer clothes, and all of a sudden it’s colder.”
In New York, on Dec. 10, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of Federal District Court in Manhattan, citing “rampant inconsistencies,” ruled against the nanny and dismissed the case. Ms. Garnica, in a deposition for the case, seemed to retreat from most of the allegations, he ruled. For example, she kept a diary that showed she came and went from the apartment as she pleased, the judge wrote. And as for the abuse by the children, Ms. Garnica testified that the main source of the supposed beatings, the 3-year-old girl, was only as high as her waist when the nanny was working for the family, according to the ruling.
A lawyer for Ms. Garnica did not return calls for comment on Friday.
The family hired a lawyer in Italy, Nicoletta Montefusco, who on Friday requested reconsideration of the visa denial.
In the meantime, the Italian non-vacation continues.
“I spend most of my days in communication with lawyers,” Ms. Edwards said.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

More Than 100 Vietnamese Brides Are Said to Have Disappeared From Hebei Villages

More Than 100 Vietnamese Brides Are Said to Have Disappeared From Hebei Villages

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Workers at a steel factory in Handan, China. With a shortage of prospective brides, and limited financial resources, many men in the community have paid matchmakers to introduce them to Vietnamese women. CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times
When Yuan Xinqiang’s last negotiations for marriage with a Chinese woman fell through over monetary matters, he, like many other men in China, asked a matchmaker to help him find a Vietnamese fiancĂ©e. But his happiness, he told The Beijing News, was short-lived: His bride-to-be vanished just two months after they were introduced, along with dozens of other Vietnamese women in the area.
In that cluster of villages in the Hebei Province city of Handan, about 300 miles southwest of Beijing, the police have set up a task force to investigate reports of marriage fraud, the official English-language newspaper China Daily reported.
Since January, a Vietnamese woman who had lived in the area for more than 20 years had helped introduce other Vietnamese women to local men, collecting thousands of dollars in matchmaking fees. By late November, however, more than 100 of the women had vanished, China Daily reported. Several had lived in China for only a few months.
Several calls to the Quzhou Public Security Bureau, which is reportedly leading the investigation, went unanswered.
Like many other young men from the region, Mr. Yuan, 22, had struggled to find a wife, The Beijing News reported on Monday. A local official told the newspaper that there was a surfeit of men in the area because of China’s one-child policy, which was initiated in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and because of gender-selective abortions.
There are 118 men in China today for every 100 women.
Mr. Yuan’s parents are in poor health, and his father said this was the main reason his son’s efforts to find a Chinese wife had failed, the paper reported. Another obstacle was a lack of funds. “You spend 200,000 on just betrothal gifts, and besides that, the woman also demands that you have a car and a new house,” the article quoted Mr. Yuan as saying. An expenditure of 200,000 renminbi is equivalent to more than $32,600.
Instead, for gifts worth 100,000 renminbi  — some of which Mr. Yuan borrowed from relatives — he brought home a Vietnamese woman who went by the Chinese name Lan Lan. He intended to apply for a marriage certificate at the end of the year and to hold a celebratory banquet. But the Vietnamese matchmaker, Wu Meiyu, had kept Lan Lan’s Vietnamese identity papers, along with those of many other Vietnamese women, on the pretext that she would soon return to Vietnam to process their visas.
On the morning of Nov. 21, Lan Lan told her prospective in-laws that she was going to visit a friend. She never returned, nor did several other Vietnamese women in the surrounding area, villagers told The Beijing News.
The only woman who returned, Wu Xiaohong (no relation to Wu Meiyu), said that she had been drugged at a banquet on Nov. 21 and that she had woken up in Handan city. She told the Chinese news media that her captors wanted to find her a new husband, but that she had refused and called her husband, who came to pick her up. Her version of events could not be verified.
The villagers also told The Beijing News that Ms. Wu, the matchmaker, had been brought to the village as a bride more than two decades ago but that she had managed to communicate that fact only after she learned Mandarin. After an early escape attempt, she had returned to the village, they said.
The police in Quzhou County have reportedly detained three peoplein connection with the investigation and are searching for Ms. Wu and another suspect, who has the surname Li. Although news reports have put the number of missing women at more than 100, the police said that only 28 villagers had reported such fraud, China Daily reported last week.
Those who filed police reports were all from villages under the jurisdiction of Handan, which is best known as the birthplace of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.
Stories of Vietnamese brides have become common in rural China, where many bachelors say they are squeezed out of the marriage market because they lack the funds to satisfy the demands of Chinese families. Unfortunately for these men, runaway foreign brides are also common — though 100 in one area is a larger number than usual.
Although the police suspect that the Hebei case involves marriage fraud, Chinese government officials and international rights organizations have expressed concern that some international marriages involve human trafficking.
From 2009 to 2012, the Chinese police returned to Vietnam more than 1,800 women who had been brought to China illegally, Chen Shiqu, the head of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s anti-trafficking office, told the official news agency Xinhua last year.
It is difficult to estimate how many trafficked Vietnamese women are in China, said Annette Lyth, the regional project manager for the United Nations Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking in Persons.
“Both China and Vietnam are extremely difficult countries when it comes to any kind of data collection, and even more so when it comes to such a sensitive issue,” Ms. Lyth said. She added that the Chinese government appeared to be taking the issue more seriously in recent years.
“Due to the one-child policy being a root cause to marriage trafficking, it used to be extremely sensitive to discuss this,” Ms. Lyth said. “However, recently the government has started to acknowledge that it exists, and the importance of finding ways to counter it.”
A British government report found in 2011 that 60 percent of women who had been brought to China by traffickers from 2005 to 2009 had escaped. The Chinese police rescued 25 percent of those women, the study said, and the rest were released after their families paid money to the traffickers.
In October, a Chinese court sentenced five people to prison terms ranging from six to 12 years for trafficking Vietnamese with the intent of arranging their marriage.
In an interview with China Daily, Wang Ying, an anti-trafficking official at the Ministry of Public Security, said that many Chinese websites and agencies that introduce Chinese men to foreign brides were involved in trafficking.
In many ways, fighting such trafficking is difficult. The border between China and Vietnam stretches about 750 miles. Thousands of day laborers and traders cross it every day, either through one of the official crossing points or by way of dozens of semilegal and unofficial forested pathways.
A search of Chinese websites turns up numerous services that promise to introduce potential suitors to Vietnamese women, and many of them feature photographs of purportedly happy couples. One website, 51888.com, offers to handle paperwork, including visas for travel to Vietnam, Cambodia or Indonesia to find a wife, for the equivalent of about $8,800.
But there are terms and conditions, the website says: The fee cannot be returned, no matter what happens after the marriage.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Don't Look Away

Florida Law Student And Filmmaker Join Forces To Make A Unique Film For A Worthy Cause!
Orlando, FL: Today, a production team of Orlando natives have announced shooting dates to produce a unique film highlighting the growing problem of Modern-Day Sex Slavery in the United States, but in order to make the project more impactful, the duo will need your help.
“Don’t Look Away” is a film highlighting the growing problem of Sex Slavery in America. The film cumulates factual recounts of human trafficking victims and incorporates them into a compelling story of a young lady who is forced into the sex industry. The film explores the physical, emotional, and psychological effects that every victim suffers.
Alex Couch, a third-year student at Florida A&M College of Law, says that the issue has hit too close to home for this community to ignore. “The number of children being used for sexual exploitation in Florida is considerably higher than I would’ve ever imagined,” said Couch, producer of “Don’t Look Away”. “The battle against ‘slavery’ is far from over.”
Stephen Morgan, a local Filmmaker, says when he heard the news that sex trafficking was present in Orlando, it caused him to think about the lives of his own children. “The facts were hard to believe at first, but having kids of my own motivated me to look into the issue further. After doing so, I walked away broken-hearted for these victims,” said Morgan, the film’s director. “Once I knew the truth, I couldn’t think of anything more urgent than getting the word out to the masses that this is really happening”.
The filmmaking duo will highlight the plight of victims that have survived as well as those that are currently suffering from being victimized in the sex-trade industry. They named the film "Don't Look Away" with three goals in mind: (1) That society will re-shape the way it views victims in human trafficking, (2) that society will change the way it handles the issue and helps victims, and (3) the film will be used
as a risk-reduction and prevention tool by providing insight into the tactics and methods currently being used by human
traffickers. Currently, Florida ranks third behind only California and Texas, in forced labor and sexual exploitation. In 2013, the Central Florida Human Trafficking Task Force opened 24 new cases in Orlando alone. Nationally, in 2008 – 2010, the Department of Justice opened over 2,500 sex trafficking investigations, and 83% of them involved U.S. citizens. The number of sexually exploited children in the U.S. continues to grow every year. “Don’t Look Away” is designed to bring these issues to light in a way that only film can.
Couch and Morgan have launched a website for the public to learn more about this growing epidemic. The duo is currently seeking donations to assist with the production of the film. To read more about the “Don’t Look Away” film, the issue of sex-trafficking, or to learn how you can donate to this worthy cause, please visit dontlookawayfilm.com or visitfacebook.com/dontlookawayfilm. All donations to the project are eligible to receive a tax donation through the film's fiscal sponsor, "From the Heart Productions", a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. 

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ALEXCOUCH
Phone: 407.603.6031

Friday, November 21, 2014

In a Queens Court, Women Arrested for Prostitution Are Seen as Victims

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/23/nyregion/in-a-queens-court-women-arrested-for-prostitution-are-seen-as-victims.html?emc=edit_tnt_20141121&nlid=52322620&tntemail0=y

By 9:30 a.m. on a Friday, the defendants start filing into the fluorescent-lit hallway outside Judge Toko Serita’s courtroom in Queens Criminal Court in Kew Gardens, checking anxiously for their names on a sheet of paper behind glass. Many of the women are Chinese and find that their names, typed in English, are misspelled.
In the hallway, they speak mostly in Mandarin, in accents from across China. Some speak Korean. They meet with their court-appointed lawyers in the hallway, often helped by an interpreter born in Fujian Province and hired by the city courts. A snazzy dresser, the interpreter bounces from one defendant to the next; he has found himself adding terms to his usual vocabulary: prostitution (“maiyin”), illegal massage (“feifa anmo”), unlicensed massage (“wuzheng anmo”).
This is the Human Trafficking Intervention Court in Queens, which is marking its 10th anniversary next month, and which serves as a model for astatewide 11-court program that began last year. The intention is to change the legal conversation around the multibillion-dollar sex trade by redefining the women in it as victims instead of criminals. Most are offered a deal: Take part in a set number of counseling sessions, usually five or six, and the charges will be dismissed and the record sealed.
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Outside the courtroom. CreditUli Seit for The New York Times
After 13 months, the five New York City courts are still a work in progress, their success tracked more in individual stories than statistics.
“This court is not devised to solve the problems of trafficking,” Judge Serita said of the program, “but to address one of the unfortunate byproducts, which is the arrest of these defendants on prostitution charges.”
All defendants in the specialized courts are presumed to be victims at risk, the first of many assumptions made, in part, because of the silence surrounding sex trafficking. That silence also makes it tougher to shift social mores. Not only do the police and the justice system still treat prostitution as a crime, but the women themselves, most undocumented, often don’t define themselves as having been trafficked — whether out of fear, shame or choice.
New York State’s progressive anti-trafficking law has no definition of a victim, but describes the coercive tactics a trafficker uses. These include fraud, physical injury, withholding or destroying immigration documents and exploiting debt.
At no point in the proceedings does the judge, the prosecutor or the defense lawyer ask if the defendants have been trafficked; nor is there a quid pro quo to give up a trafficker. It is rare, but the hope is that the women, perhaps after working with counselors, will feel comfortable describing the conditions that led them to prostitution.
“It’s a trigger mechanism to establish contact between individuals and service providers,” Judge Serita said of the court. “We know that five sessions is not necessarily going to change some people’s lives, but if they can establish meaningful contact with somebody else that can be used in the future, that’s what we’re hoping for.”
Inside the courtroom, the drama may seem perfunctory. The defendants have been charged with prostitution or loitering with intent to engage in prostitution, both misdemeanors. After arraignment, Kimberly Affronti, the assistant district attorney who has been the Queens court’s only prosecutor since its inception in 2004, decides what to offer the defendants after discussing options with their lawyers.
“This court is a lot more nonadversarial than other courts,” Ms. Affronti said. “It’s a team effort.”
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Judge Toko Serita listening to cases. She may hear 40 cases in three hours during one Friday session.CreditUli Seit for The New York Times
For a first offense, five counseling sessions is the primary option. A defendant can also plead guilty to disorderly conduct; a small percentage of clients choose to fight their charges and get sent to an all-purpose court.
During an initial appearance, Judge Serita will refer the defendant to one of the court-approved counseling organizations. Upon completion of the sessions, she will grant an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, which means that if the defendant stays out of trouble for up to six months, the record will be sealed. Over the past year, her court has issued 398 such adjournments out of 639 cases heard.
The Queens court has changed significantly in the decade since Judge Fernando M. Camacho founded it. Dismayed at seeing the same American-born teenage girls reappearing in his court for prostitution, Judge Camacho said he wanted to break the cycle by offering them alternatives to a criminal record or incarceration.
Now, a majority of the defendants who sit in the worn walnut benches are either Latin American women or, even more often, older, undocumented immigrants from Asia, ranging in age from 30 to 50. According to statistics Judge Serita’s court has kept, Asian defendants represented 27 percent of the cases in 2010. In 2014, they have made up 40 percent.
If Judge Serita, 53, seems sensitive on the bench to the plight of new immigrants, perhaps it is because she, too, was an immigrant, coming to this country with her parents as a 5-year-old from Sapporo, Japan. As an only child attending elementary school in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, in the late 1960s, she would bring the lunch her father, an artist, packed for her in a bento box. “I used to get teased all the time,” she said.
She turned an inclination for public service into work as a Legal Aid appellate lawyer and was appointed to the bench by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2005, becoming the first Japanese-American judge in the state court.
On Fridays, Judge Serita usually hears more than 40 cases in three hours. “How are you today?” she asks each of the women, inquiring whether they take English classes and praising their progress. Several defendants said they noticed less that she was an Asian woman and more that she had a warm demeanor. On other days, she presides over the drug treatment andmental health courts in Queens.
The trafficking court, she acknowledged, is a Catch-22: For people to feel less like criminals, they must first go through the criminal justice system.
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A woman leaving Human Trafficking Intervention Court after her case was heard.CreditUli Seit for The New York Times
Leigh Latimer, the Legal Aid Society lawyer assigned to Judge Serita’s court, agreed. “There is a somewhat more recent view that clients are potentially victims, but we’re still arresting them at a very rapid pace,” she said. “We’re trying to solve their problems through being arrested, which is not an affirming process.”
Judge Serita has tried to offset that by assembling a large network of counselors and court advocates. Judge Camacho originally partnered with Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, and Judge Serita has added a half-dozen more, including two that work with Asian women: Restore NYCand New York Asian Women’s Center. On Fridays, counselors from those groups stand with clipboards outside the courtroom, waiting to sign women up.
Moving in and out of the courtroom is Paul Puma, 40, the head court officer for the trafficking court. He, too, must make assumptions.
“When at any time a defendant comes in escorted by a male, I just ask the male to step outside,” Mr. Puma said, adding: “Nine times out of 10, I know I am speaking to their handler, or whatever you want to call them.
“I don’t want them in the court,” Mr. Puma continued. “I want the women free to be able to take advantage of the services this court offers. I don’t have a legal right to stop them from coming in there. But I tell them, ‘I’ll let the judge and the prosecutor know that if you insist on being here for this young lady, they’re going to want to know who you are.’ ”
One Mandarin-speaking man who waited outside seemed less than encouraging about the counseling sessions his female friend would be attending.
“As far as I’m concerned,” he said in Mandarin, “this is just propaganda.” He would not give his name.
On several Fridays, nearly a dozen women said during interviews in Mandarin that they did not feel like trafficking victims, but victims of the police. The women all spoke on the condition of anonymity because their cases were still pending.
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Paul Puma, the head court officer.CreditUli Seit for The New York Times
“My name has been tarnished,” said one woman, who was upset that her case was “lumped with all those others.” She denied performing a sex act, but the police report contradicted that, Ms. Affronti said.
Another woman explained that she was arrested at 4 a.m. on her sixth day of work. She and her sister, who quit after the second day because she sensed “something was not right,” owed more than $80,000 to friends and family members who raised the money for them to come to the United States from Fuzhou.
That type of pressure to pay back smuggling agents — often with interest as high as 12 percent — is considered “debt bondage.” It is a more subtle condition of human trafficking, but is pervasive in New York’s Asian communities, lawyers say.
“Of course we have to borrow,” said the sister who was not arrested. “Who has that kind of money?”
The women who accept the court’s deal attend full-day group counseling sessions once a week; they often begin the day with yoga, and then learn about the court process, their rights and prostitution laws.
X. — who asked to be identified only by her first initial because she had not told her family in China she had worked as a prostitute — told a common story of debt bondage. Last November, she owed $60,000 to the travel agent who arranged for her entry to the United States. Because she had to pay $500 for her airport pickup, she soon began running out of money.
She could not find a job without work papers, and by the time she started looking through the classifieds of World Journal, a popular Chinese-language newspaper, she was desperate.
The section is full of ads for so-called authentic massage — “tuina” — and there are plenty of questionable ones, too, like those looking for a “spicy little sister” or “a woman tender and warm.” One ad seeking massage workers promised $500 daily; another, “tens of thousands” for a month.
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The hallway outside the courtroom.CreditUli Seit for The New York Times
She was 42, alone and broke; she agreed to work at the first place that was hiring.
It was not until her new boss drove her to the job — in a Queens house — that first day, she said, that he told her she would be performing sexual services instead of massages. “All the women like you who come here and don’t have friends to help them — they all do it,” he told her.
One month later, she was arrested and felt humiliated. But after she appeared before Judge Serita and completed the counseling sessions, the charges were dropped and her case was sealed.
Ms. Latimer, the Legal Aid lawyer, put X. in touch with Sanctuary for Families, an organization helping victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence; Sanctuary is now working on a visa application for her and arranges medical appointments for her problems incurred during that dark month last fall.
“I recognize that I took the wrong path,” X. said in Mandarin in an interview recently, interpreted by Rosie Wang, 26, a legal fellow at Sanctuary and recent graduate of Columbia Law School.
“But,” X. continued, “I also think that if I didn’t, and these bad things didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be connected to so many people who have helped me so much.”
Despite the court’s innovative ambitions, it hasn’t always been able to meet the day-to-day needs of the women whom it aims to help. As the number of Asian defendants has surged in Queens, the private counseling agencies, already short of money, have had trouble keeping pace. Over the summer, defendants faced waits of up to six weeks to begin their court-mandated counseling with the New York Asian Women’s Center or Restore NYC. Both organizations said recently that there currently were no waits.
Danielle Sennett, a public defender with Queens Law Associates who is assigned to the court, said any delay could make it more difficult for clients to get work and could keep them stuck, living in danger. “Some women who are in high-risk situations are not being served,” Ms. Sennett said.
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Rosie Wang, a legal fellow with Sanctuary for Families, an organization that helps victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence.CreditUli Seit for The New York Times
The courts do not keep a record of recidivism, although if women are rearrested, they often return to fulfill more counseling sessions. Despite efforts by the New York Police Department’s vice enforcement squad, advocates say the message has not always filtered to the precinct level to treat women as victims when arresting them.
So far this year, the Police Department recorded 686 arrests in Queens on misdemeanor charges of prostitution and loitering, including 149 in the 109th Precinct, covering Flushing, which is where most of the massage parlors in the borough operate.
Queens Criminal Court has only 15 cases pending for trafficking, a felony that is tried in a separate courtroom, deliberately far from Judge Serita’s court.
“In a system that prioritizes a high volume of low-level arrests, you still have to ask: ‘Who is getting arrested?’ ” said Kate Mogulescu, the supervising lawyer of the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project for the Legal Aid Society in New York. “What’s the endgame?”
The New York State chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, acknowledged that “the focus should be on the demand, on the traffickers and the buyers.” But he added: “The reality is we don’t make decisions as to who gets arrested, and we want to assure that these victims get the assistance that they need and ultimately get out of ‘the life.’ ”
M., 40, who asked to be identified only by her first initial because she is undocumented, is one of those trying to get out. Arrested on a prostitution charge in Queens in May, she went through the counseling program at the New York Asian Women’s Center; when it was over, the group told her to call if she ever ran into trouble again.
M. said she had been working at what she thought was a legitimate Manhattan massage parlor in September when her bosses forced her to perform commercial sex. They beat her and threatened her life if she did not continue, she said. Desperate, she called the Women’s Center, which swiftly connected her with Sanctuary for legal help.
Ms. Wang, who came to this country from Chengdu when she was 1 and jokes that she speaks Mandarin with an American accent, met with M.
Gradually, M. felt comfortable telling her of the abuse and became emboldened by Sanctuary’s support. “After the incident happened where I was trafficked, I was feeling very lost,” M. said in an interview, with Ms. Wang interpreting. “But now I feel like I have the courage to talk to people about it, including law enforcement.”
Like many Chinese immigrants who settle in Flushing, M. had applied for political asylum when she arrived. The lawyer she approached said it would cost $3,500 and demanded $500 upfront, which she paid. His office has since closed.
Sanctuary explained to her and many other clients that political asylum is rarely granted and applying for it risks deportation. Instead, women like M. are better off applying for a T Visa, reserved for victims of trafficking, said Melissa Brennan, Sanctuary’s senior staff lawyer in Queens. In July, Ms. Brennan created a free project involving seven New York law firms that have since given 34 immigration consultations. The program is now helping nine clients, including M., to apply for legal status.
“Launching this project, I never expected to see the level of disclosure that we have,” Ms. Brennan said. Six women have told Ms. Wang that they were victims, and Sanctuary is following other cases of potential trafficking.
In a court that is based on assumptions, success can be hard to define. Or it can come splashing down in grateful tears.


“I just don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else,” M. said.