Outrageous Stories of Abuse as Immunity Shields Diplomats in the US From Trafficking Women
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“That’s why you cry,” C.V. says.
Poverty, says the New England Law School’s Haynes, is the biggest driving force on the supply side of human trafficking. It originates where there is structural, economic or social pressure on victims to migrate.
Certainly, this is true of the Filipina workers who agreed to share their experiences with The Washington Spectator.
Diplomats also exaggerate their political power to intimidate workers, Haynes says. Their residences are sometimes isolated and language barriers contribute to feelings of helplessness.
“I’ve seen a pattern of victims being told their employers were especially well connected, which increases the level of threat,” Haynes says.
C.V. had a difficult life in the Philippines. When she was pregnant with her fifth child, she bid farewell to her husband and took up work as a caregiver for the elderly to make enough money to support her children. Through this job she was introduced to Soborun. Within a month she had a generous contract listing a U.S. visa and entitlements she ultimately never received.
On her first morning at work, C.V. says, the diplomat confiscated her passport and ordered her to sign a new document promising that she would serve his family for two years.
“They told me I cannot go outside. ‘You stay here. You can’t take your day off. I don’t want you to talk to other people,’” C.V. recalls her boss saying. “‘What you do here, what you see here, just leave it here.’”
Last year, Soborun pled guilty in U.S. district court to a misdemeanor charge of failing to pay C.V.
the federal miniumum wage (see “No Way Out,” page 3). He is now an ambassador to the U.S. in Washington, D.C.
Soborun did not return calls to his office requesting verification and comment, nor did his lawyer, Nicholas Doria of New Jersey.
But the U.S. Attorney’s Office of New Jersey issued a statement following Soborun’s guilty plea, saying that, “C.V. worked in the Soborun household by cleaning, doing laundry, ironing, and taking care of the family dog, usually for 12 hours per day, six days per week. Although Soborun signed a contract which provided for an hourly wage as well as for overtime pay for any hours exceeding 40 per week, Soborun only paid C.V. $1,000 per month, regardless of how many hours she worked each month.”
Yet the abuse continues
Since leaving Soborun’s employ, C.V. has watched her own children grow up on Skype. She is waiting for papers to be processed for their arrival in the U.S.
“You know, when I fly, my baby is only one month?” she says. When C.V. first saw her baby girl on her computer screen, she was startled. “She is so big.”
You never know when the worker taking another woman’s child for a walk in a stroller may be missing a child of her own. Pick any weekday morning in New York’s Central Park and you will find these women, pulling out lunchboxes for toddlers or chatting to one another on a bench.
According to the International Labour Organization, 83 percent of the world’s domestic workers are women and girls, many of whom are migrants. Damayan’s Leah Obias says domestic workers deserve the same rights and benefits as other workers, including sick days, fair wages, paid overtime and vacations days.
“The work they do makes all other work possible and yet it is the most undervalued work,” Obias says. “We actually don’t see it as real work.”
After being separated for years, a woman I will call “Patricia” and her youngest daughter now share a room in New York City. Her two older children couldn’t come to the U.S. as dependents because they are over 21.