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September 18, 1999
Column #942


     WASHINGTON -- Anita Sharma Bhattari told a Conference on Sexual Trafficking how she was abducted from Nepal to a Bombay brothel.

     A couple gave her a banana on a bus, and she became sick. The solicitous couple then gave her a pill. She fell unconscious and woke up in a train in India, shattered: ''I am from a mountain village. I did not know what a train was.'' A man told her not to cry out because drugs were tied around her waist, which she had smuggled across an international border.

     Five days later they arrived in Bombay where the man took the drugs and handed her to a brothel where she was told she ''had been bought and would have to work as a prostitute to pay them back.'' When she insisted on leaving, other Nepali women slapped her face and cut off her hair, marking her as a prostitute.

     When Anita's first client tried to rape her, she resisted so much that the brothel owners beat her. By the next day she had three or four clients a day. Eventually, she escaped.

     There are 200,000 other Nepali girls, many under age 14, who are virtual sexual slaves in India alone, according to Dr. Laura Lederer, director of the Protection Project of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. From one to two million children and women are forced into prostitution each year, several hundred thousand of which are being abducted from the former Soviet Union.

     Dr. Lederer tells of Lydia, aged 16, hanging out with friends in a Russian city, ''who is approached by an older, beautifully dressed woman who tells them they are so nice-looking she could get them part-time jobs in modeling. She buys them dinner and then invites them home for a drink. That drink is the last thing Lydia remembers. The drugged girls are driven unconscious across the border into Western Europe, flown to Israel or even as far away as Japan.

     ''When Lydia awoke she was alone, in a strange room, in a foreign country. Her friends were gone. A while later, a man came into the room and told her that she now belonged to him. `I own you,' he said. `You are my property and you will work for me until I say stop. Don't try to leave. You have no papers, no passport and you don't speak the language.'''

     He told her, if she tried to escape, his men would come after her and beat her and bring her back, and that her family back home would be in danger. She owed his agency $35,000 which she would work off in a brothel by sexually servicing 10 to 20 men a day.

     Even though Lydia was stunned, she angrily refused to cooperate. The man then beat her raped her and sent in his friends to gang rape her. She was left in a room for three days without food and water. Frightened and broken, she succumbed, and became a prostitute.

     The U.S. is not immune. Between 50,000 and 100,000 are lured into sexual slavery into America each year, reports the State Department, primarily from Russia and the Ukraine. I interviewed Sgt. Walter Zalisko, of Jersey City Police, whose parents are Ukrainian. He has  interrogated 400 girls smuggled here by the Russian mafia. ''We have bars in Newark, N.J. where you can find 18 Slavic women dancing.'' They have ''student visas,'' but can't name their college.

     Rich Cizik, Washington director of the National Association of Evangelicals, an organizer of the Conference on Sexual Trafficking, says, ''We can no longer hide from this evil. We intend to confront it, engage it, stand up to it and lastly, show the world another way.''

     How? He rounded up support from such prominent religious and moral conservatives as Chuck Colson, William Bennett, Bill Bright, James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, and from such liberals as Gloria Steinem and Rabbi David Saperstein, and had them sign a letter to Congressional leaders supporting a ''Freedom From Sexual Trafficking Act'' proposed by Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH).

     ''The Act authorizes assistance to victims of sexual trafficking, calls on all countries to criminally prosecute their traffickers, and mandates the withdrawal of non-humanitarian aid to those countries that refuse to take minimal action against sexual traffickers,'' they said.

     A National Council of Churches spokesman called the bill ''misguided'' while Catholic bishops have remained silent..

     Cizik can't understand it: ''Sexual slavery today is comparable to the slave trade of the 18thand 19th Century.''
Yet there is only one known case in the U.S. where traffickers were prosecuted.

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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