Congressman Frank R. Wolf (R-10) and special guests tackled big issues over coffee and donuts, Saturday morning, at the Loudoun County Public School Administration Building, in Ashburn.
Wolf’s Human Rights Conference began with a video on human trafficking, the buying and selling of human beings for sex and labor.
Loudoun County residents were surprised to find out that this growing problem not only happens in Third World countries, like Cambodia, Ethiopia, Jamaica and Thailand, but in Northern Virginia as well.
"This isn’t just happening in Thailand. It happens in our land. It happens in this region," Wolf said. "It happens in our community."
JEANNE SMOOT WORKS for the Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit organization promoting justice for women and girls around the world.
On Saturday morning, Smoot talked about women as global commodities. In her presentation, she unveiled a world of physical and mental abuse, indentured servitude, rape and murder in the international marriage broker — commonly referred to as mail-order bride — industry.
"Many of these women come over to the United States in hopes of a better life, in pursuit of a fairy tale," Smoot said. "Instead, in many cases, a nightmare comes true."
International marriage brokers advertise on the Internet. One Web site, www.submissive.net, claims ordering a bride is easier than ordering a pizza. Web sites make it easy to add women to "shopping carts," and are plastered with slogans like "Buy foreign, not domestic" and "Satisfaction or money back guarantee."
"There is a sense of ownership, where the man is the client and the woman is the product," Smoot said. "This language is coded to appeal to predators."
Oftentimes, when women come to the United States through these services, they are treated as slaves.
"When women come here, they speak little to no English. They are isolated," Smoot said.
Smoot told a story about an Ethiopian woman who was brought to the United States by an anesthesiologist, who drugged and raped her over and over again.
In an effort to stop human trafficking, Wolf plans to help pass the International Marriage Broker Act, which would prohibit the marketing of minors. The act would impose stiff fines on human traffickers and limit the number of marriage-based visas issued to foreigners.
"We’re going to put an end to the perversion of marriage-based visas," Wolf said.
THE POLARIS PROJECT is an international grassroots organization combating human trafficking. In February 2006, the Polaris Project reported human trafficking in Northern Virginia.
The Polaris Project’s Katherine Chon said there are three primary sex trafficking networks in Northern Virginia — Asian, Latino and domestic.
"Children as young as 12 are set up in homes," Chon said. "It has been recorded that girls in Latino brothels sleep with an average of 30 to 40 men a day."
The nonprofit organization claimed there to be 43 commercial sex organizations, posing as businesses, in Northern Virginia, including 13 Asian massage parlors, seven Latino brothels and six escort agencies.
"It’s happening in plain sight, but it’s still hidden," Chon said.
Human trafficking is taking place on Northern Virginia streets, but it is difficult to combat it for a number of reasons.
"Victims of human trafficking are falling through the cracks of the criminal justice system because the response from law enforcement is too slow," Chon said.
When raids have been conducted, primarily women are arrested, making it easy for brothel owners to hire new women and reopen for business. Brothel owners are used as witnesses against women, rather than charged as coconspirators.
After her presentation, Chon advised Loudoun County residents to take action on the issue.
"For us to remain silent, it empowers the traffickers," Chon said.
Wolf advised parents to become more involved in their children’s lives because human trafficking is taking place right under the community’s noses.
"Some of you drive by these locations on your way to work, to PTA meetings," he said.
THE FOUR-HOUR presentation was the beginning of an educational process Wolf spearheaded Saturday.
"You hear these things and you think Thailand, but it is taking place in Tysons Corner," Wolf said.
While Wolf talked about human trafficking and modern-day slavery, he pounded his fist on the podium and said, "There has to be more we can do."
Aside from funding law-enforcement programs, passing legislation and enlightening members of the General Assembly and local government officials on human trafficking, he is educating the community.
To do so, he invited men and women like Smoot and Chon from the Tahirih Justice Center and the Polaris Project to speak at the conference.
Wolf welcomed guests like World Vision, an international Christian relief and development organization, spokesperson Rory Anderson to talk about war and conflict in Africa, including the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
"We could not have held this conference five years ago. These organizations weren’t in existence five years ago," Wolf said. "The more educated we are the better."
Amnesty International spokesperson T. Kumar encouraged citizens to get involved.
"Read the information out there," Kumar said. "Write letters to local newspapers, members of Congress, join human-rights organizations. We bring your anger to change the policy. The world is changed when people stand up."