A Q&A with Laura Lederer

The new Senior Director for Global Projects on Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of State offers sobering information and empowering hope.

Dr. Laura Lederer is standing on a stage at Vanguard University, a small Christian college in Southern California. She's telling the group of students, media representatives, and ministry leaders, gathered for a sex-trafficking conference, about her wake-up call to the problem of sex trafficking: the story of Rosa.

"Rosa was 13 when she was trafficked to the U.S. from Mexico," Laura begins, then recounts the story of a poor, small-town waitress who jumped at a family acquaintance's promise of more money for her parents and nine siblings if she took a better job across the U.S. border. One Friday evening, Rosa and girls from neighboring towns were driven overnight through the desert. Then they walked four days and nights into Brownsville, Texas, where they were driven to a series of trailers in Florida. There a big, burly man told them he'd purchased them for $10,000 each, a debt they'd have to work off as prostitutes. "Rosa was a virgin," Laura explains. "She cried and begged, 'I want the restaurant job.' 'There's no restaurant job,' the man told her, 'only this.'"

When Rosa refused to prostitute herself, a group of men gang-raped her and left her in a trailer for three days without food and water until she complied. So for the next six months, Rosa was forced to service 10 to 20 men a day on weekdays, 20 to 40 on weekends. She was twice impregnated (the men often didn't use the condom that served as their $20 "ticket" to buy some time with Rosa) and twice forced to abort. Men with guns guarded the girls 24 hours a day.

Rosa was rescued only after one of the girls escaped from a private party they'd been hired to work in town. That girl ran to the house of a neighbor, who contacted the police. Through a sting operation, the FBI and what was at that time the Immigration and Naturalization Service rescued 40 girls and arrested 14 traffickers. When the medical examiner checked Rosa, she had several STDs, pelvic inflammatory disease, and scar tissue from the forced abortions. Addicted to drugs and alcohol, Rosa also was suicidal. "In short," Laura explains, "she was physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually broken.

"The Justice Department's head of the new human trafficking unit told me they have a case of trafficking in every state of the country now."

"To make matters worse, because the U.S. had no trafficking laws in place at the time of the sting, Rosa and the other girls were arrested and held in detention centers. Not until several weeks later during interrogations did government officials realize, Wait, these young women aren't criminals, they're victims." Because trafficking shelters didn't exist, the girls stayed in domestic violence shelters during the two-year trial, never receiving the specific medical, legal, psychological, and spiritual help they needed.

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May 25

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