Some alleged “sex slaves” arrested in Colorado raids at massage spas are in custody at an immigration detention center despite a federal law saying victims of trafficking should not be incarcerated, the Rocky Mountain News reports. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 requires the women to say they are unwilling participants, and some have refused to do so, sources told the News. Said Katherine Chon, co-executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Polaris Project: “We have found that the owners and managers of these spas drill into these women that they are to tell a story and not the truth.”
The women are told they will be deported if they talk, the newpaper said. Some are threatened with harm to family members in South Korea, or that their families will be told how the women are making a living.
At least eight women were picked up by officials at various spas under Operation Rising Sun, an investigation into international money laundering and human trafficking that began in 2001. The inquiry involves 40 Colorado spas that are allegedly fronts for brothels. The women working in the spas are illegal immigrants from South Korea who are often shuttled from state to state as they earn money to work off their smuggling fees.
Although they are not physically imprisoned, they are a form of slave, experts say. “Coercion doesn’t have to be a loaded gun over your head, it can be psychological,” said Michele Clark of the Protection Project at Johns Hopkins University. “Their condition is one of dependency, unfamiliarity, a lack of language – coercion in the trafficking industry includes the exploitation of this type of condition.”
Clark said human trafficking ranks closely behind the sale of guns and drugs as revenue sources for organized crime. “Every country in the world has been impacted by this,” she said. “The conservative estimates are that between 800,000 and 900,000 women and children a year are trafficked across international borders.”