Human Trafficking in the CNMI

Posted by Wendy L. Doromal

February 15, 2008

When H.R. 3079 comes up for a vote in the Senate, I hope that the U.S. Senators will consider how it will help to end the human trafficking of young women and minors into the CNMI for the sex trade. Human trafficking has been a problem in the CNMI at least since the early 1990’s when I first started documenting cases. Victims of human trafficking passed through the underground railroad on Rota after escaping from clubs, restaurants, or bars. They had been recruited from the Philippines to work as “waitresses” and then forced to dance naked, perform sex acts on stage, or were forced into prostitution. Some of the cases were documented in this 1993 report that was given to members of the U.S. Congress. At that time, similar activities were taking place in Saipan as the nightclubs, bars, and massage parlors were multiplying in Garapan and along Beach Road. Even now as sun sets, the gaudy neon lights flash above scantily clad young women who linger at dark doorways to beckon customers.

The CNMI government has contributed to this problem by issuing the business permits for these establishments, and by issuing hundreds of work permits to non-resident workers to be employed at the sleazy nightclubs, bars, restaurants, karaoke clubs, and massage parlors where prostitution is taking place. Although some victims of human trafficking have come in on legitimate work permits under the category of "waitress", or "dancers", many others have been illegally recruited and brought in on tourist visas. In her February 2007 Senate hearing testimony, Lauri Ogumoro said:

"It was reported in the local media in April 2006 that from 1999 to 2005, the number of non-resident workers in the CNMI with permits to work in nightclubs and bars ranged between 456 and 679 a year, according to data compiled by the Department of Commerce. It was further reported that the government issued the most permits for these workers in 2005, at 679, an almost 10 percent increase from the previous year's 618 permits."

When looking at immigration and labor policies it seems that the government should examine what job or categories foreign contract workers should be recruited to fill. Is it really necessary to import women for non-essential jobs? If these were legitimate "waitress and dancer' jobs wouldn't local women be interested in filling them? One has to also wonder, why these places aren't regulated and checked regularly by law enforcement officials. In July 2007 several people checked out bars and clubs and reported that prostitution was taking place in back rooms of the establishments. One man reported that he was solicited by a woman from a massage parlor during the day. The truth is that no one can deny what is happening in Saipan.

Some CNMI government officials have owned such places or are frequent customers at these places. What goes on behind the doors and in the V.I.P. rooms of these places is no secret. Some of the victims have documented who their customers were. One young minor even brought the “V.I.P” list out when she left the club. The V.I.P. list was a list of names and telephone numbers of regular customers. The list was a who’s who of government dignitaries and employees and even included an American attorney.

Years of human trafficking cases have been covered by the press both in the CNMI and internationally. Stories about Rota clubs, including La Sabi and Bistro, and Saipan’s Stardust, Tea House, Red Heart Massage, Mayi Night Club, Club Jama, and others have been covered in newspapers. Cases are well-documented and Saipan even made it to an internet sex guide site giving site visitors tips on how prostitution on the island operates, the rates, and where the girls can be found." The CNMI's government's take on the situation has generally been to say, "that's old news", "they're trying to make us look bad", or to adopt the "kill the messenger" mode.

Never has the government worked to abolish this trade. Attempts to make it less obnoxious have been made. In 2006, Governor Fitial ordered adult entertainment places to keep the women inside the establishments:

"In a March 13, 2006 letter, Fitial asked each Garapan business owner or operator to stop their practice "of placing numerous young women in slinky dresses outside of nightclubs, strip-tease bars and massage parlors."

Attempts to cover-up or keep the activities behind closed doors will not solve the problem. Attacking the statistics and challenging the facts will not solve the problem. Governor Fitial submitted a supplementary statement after the July 19, 2007 Senate hearing held by the US Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to refute the information on human trafficking in the CNMI provided in testimony by DOI Insular Affairs Deputy Secretary. The article said:

“Identifying the CNMI as a major offender in this regard was an unnecessary and inappropriate accusation by a Department of Interior official, and we believe that Mr. Cohen owes us an apology,” said Fitial."

Mr. Cohen responded saying:

“Rather than debating statistics, let’s all acknowledge the obvious: We have a problem here, and we should all work together to address it"...

...Cohen made this statement after the administration accused him of “[misusing] statistics in concluding the incident of human trafficking in the CNMI was up to 10 times more prevalent than in the United States.

Cohen stood by his argument. “Indeed, my calculation is correct, except that it errs in favor of the CNMI,” he said.

Certainly there are more human trafficking cases than are reported. Intimidation, threats, false imprisonment, and financial pressure keep some human trafficking victims from coming out. Yet, for the number of cases that have been reported, there have been few serious prosecutions. Additionally, there have been complaints that the sentences for those found guilty have been too light. A case in point is the recent sentencing of those involved in trafficking minors and women for the Stardust Club. There were originally 226 charges and after a pleas bargain the CNMI assistant attorneys reduced the charges to a handful. Even the charge of human trafficking was dropped. However, a case prosecuted by the US Attorney's Office against two Chinese who trafficked three women from China to be prostitutes at the Tea House resulted in a 4 year sentence for one defendant and a six year sentence for the other. Lives are destroyed by human trafficking, and harsh sentences should be given to those who commit these inhuman crimes.

As I sat at the February 2, 2007 U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Hearing and listened to testimony on human trafficking from three credible witnesses- Kayleen, a victim of human trafficking, Lauri Ogumoro, director of Guma Esperansa and Sister Mary Stella Mangona of the Good Shepherds. The youngest person to testify was Kayleen who had been a victim of human trafficking. She was lucky because she escaped and was sheltered by Guma Esperansa, House of Hope. Guma Esperansa is run by Karidat a Catholic Charity and is a shelter for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. Lauri Ogumoro, the director said that they predicted they would serve 50 victims of human trafficking in three years, but had that many just in 2007. The situation is serious and the numbers are significant for such a small population.

Kayleen’s testimony was compelling:

“I am 23 years old; I am from Laguna Province in the Philippines. Laguna Province is about two hours by bus from Metro Manila. I am the eldest child in my family. I have four brothers, my father passed away when I was in elementary school. My mother works sometimes as a housekeeper. When I was recruited in the Philippines for work in Saipan in September, 2005, 1 was excited about the opportunity to work abroad. I was promised to be paid $400.00 a month to work as a waitress, they told me I would be working in a restaurant. I was looking forward to earning money to help my family and to go back to college. My Mom did not want me to go to Saipan. She was worried because everything happened so fast. I told her I wanted to go because I trusted what Sir Ed and Arne1 were telling me.

I arrived on Saipan early in the morning. Sir Ed was on the plane with us from the Philippines. His wife met us at the airport. She told us to call her Mamasong. They took us to the restaurant; they showed me to my room and told me to take a rest.

Later in the afternoon when I woke up Mamasong came to my room and gave me a box of small yellow pills and a box of condoms. She told me to take one pill everyday, she told me it would make me feel good and that the pills were for my health. I did not question the box of condoms because I did not look inside the box when she gave it to me. I remember after about one hour Mamasong knocked on my door she was with a guy, I think he was a Korean: Mamasong told me to massage him. I was shocked. I did not know what kind of massage. Mamasong left. I started massaging they guy's back, he told me "not that kind, I already paid Mamasong", then he said you "give me satisfaction". I did not know what I was going to do, I was scared, I started crying, I told him, "I don't like, I don't like", he then started to rape me. I started crying, the man complained to Mamasong, he told her "your girl is no good", he wanted a "yellow massage", which is having sex with a guy. Four men raped me in this same way on my first day in Saipan.

This kind of thing went on for almost ten days to me and the other girl from the Philippines. We tried to run away twice, but they were always at the front, we did not have a chance to get out. Mamasong told us if we tried to leave she would call the police.

We were very scared. We begged Mamasong to give us the jobs that they promised us in the Philippines. Mamasong was really mad; she told us if we are only waitresses we would not make enough money to pay for our plane tickets and passport. I wanted to kill myself, but the girl with me told me "don't do that, we came here together, God is here with us and He will help us, He will not forsake us". She told me we have to be strong. She said, " I have a son and I need to be strong because of my son. You, you are the eldest in your family so you need to be strong too. When we have the opportunity we will run away".

We asked everyone that came into that place to help us. Most said they were scared they did not want to get involved. Finally a young guy, 21 years old, who was half Chamorro/half Filipino and his friends, helped us. His friends were young too; one of them was only 16 years old. Mamasong served them drinks. I did not know that if you are only 16 years old you are not allowed to drink in a bar.

When a group of Japanese customers came into the bar we decided it was the right time to run away, but Mamasong saw us, and we went back inside. Later that same night when Mamasong was busy with the customers we ran away and kept on running to where the young guys told us to meet them. The guys were waiting for us; they took us to one of their houses. One of the guy’s mom helped us, we told her our story and she called Immigration. Finally, they took us to Karidat. I am not sure what would have happened to me if all of these people didn’t help us.

I want the CNMI government and Immigration officials to revise or make their requirements stricter for entering Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. I am hoping that this kind of illegal system will stop, the way it happened to me, the way I was treated. I do not want this to happen to anyone. I know that there are other women out in the community like me. They are just as afraid to speak out because they don’t know where to go or just because they have to support their family back home. Please help change the way the government functions here on the CNMI. If there’s no change or people are not held responsible for their actions then it will continue to happen to innocent victims. I hope you will hear my wish. I am forever grateful.”

Lauri Ogumoro's testified that the other young women trafficked with Kayleen suffered a similar fate. She said:

"Much the same happened to the second young woman. Both women stated they pleaded with Mamasan to give them the waitress job that was promised. One of the victim's states she even begged to be a ``washer woman''. Mamasan threatened them if they did not comply. She told them she would turn them into the police. Mamasan told them that they needed to work as prostitutes because they owed her money, and if they didn't pay her back they would never see their families again. Mamasan took their passports and travel documents. The two young women stated they would sometimes find themselves locked inside the massage parlor...

...The two young women in this case were able to testify at the criminal trial against their traffickers. The traffickers were found guilty on all counts but two. They have been sentenced to three years in jail, ordered to pay an $8,000.00 fine and to serve 7.5 years probation. They are also barred from ever hiring non-resident workers again and their business license was revoked. The female trafficker in this case, Mamasan, a Chinese national, has been ordered deported after serving her three-year sentence. In December 2006 this particular Chinese woman was found amongst a group of 16 Chinese nationals on a boat in CNMI waters that was intercepted by local and federal authorities as the group was allegedly trying to be smuggled to Guam."

Almost a year to the day after Kayleen testified an editorial appeared in the Pacific Daily News, U.S. committed to combat trafficking by Leonard Raspadas, the U.S. Attorney for Guam and the CNMI. In it he stated:

"President Bush in January 2006 stated, "Human trafficking is an offense against human dignity, a crime in which human beings, many of them teenagers and young children, are bought and sold and often sexually abused by violent criminals. Our nation is determined to fight and end this modern form of slavery."

Mr. Raspadas explained that the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution outlaws slavery and involuntary servitude:

"Federal law criminalizes trafficking in slavery, involuntary servitude, peonage, or forced labor, nonviolent coercion used to force victims to work believing they are subject to serious harm, confiscation of identification, travel, and other documents by defendants. Trafficking can result from a real or a perceived threat to the victims or to loved ones of the victims. The victims must believe that there will be dire physical, financial, or other consequences of their noncompliance. Traffickers make use of sophisticated psychological and financial control mechanisms, often minimizing or precluding the need for physical violence or confinement.
Victims believe they have no other choice but to do as the trafficker tells them. Traffickers also use deception, fraud, illegal contracts, lack of information, isolation and lack of freedom of movement, and absence of communication with the outside world.

Trafficking does not require transnational movement of persons. Anyone can be a victim of human trafficking: documented and undocumented immigrants; migrant workers; U.S. citizens and residents. Victims are often poor, frequently unemployed or underemployed, may lack access to social safety nets and are often lured with false promises of good jobs and better lives, then forced to work under brutal and inhuman conditions."

Mr. Rapasdas said that a coalition, Human Trafficking Coalition (HTIC) was formed in the CNMI to combat Human trafficking:

"It embodies the principle of coordination of efforts. The stakeholders are the USAO, Attorney General's Office, Departments of Public Safety and Labor, and Karidat, Inc. The coalition is working.
In 2007 in the CNMI, we charged, tried, and convicted three defendants in two separate cases for trafficking violations. Two defendants are serving six and a half years and almost five years apiece in a federal prison. The third defendant, a karaoke bar manager, is awaiting sentencing."

Listening to Kayleen’s testimony made me cry, and it made me angry. As I listened to her words I thought if the US Congress had taken action after I testified in 1995 telling very similar stories on behalf of several other victims of human trafficking, Kayleen would not have been sitting there today. If they had passed legislation after Katrina, a young 15-year-old victim of human trafficking testified in 1998, Kayleen would not have been testifying. If for no other reason, than to stop the trafficking of young women and minors for the sex trade, I urge every Senator to vote to pass S 2483.



Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

You comment points to what I wrote -make excuses, detract, point fingers, but don't solve the problem. I seriously doubt that the people you mentioned in your comment exploit victims of human trafficking.

Anonymous said...

Now we have anonymous people smearing Tina, Mark, and Ron. I am an experienced veteran of Saipan's clubs and have never seen Tina in one. Hanson and Hodges wives do not let them go. Tina stops at the VFW and Hodges and Hanson hang out at Godfathers or Wild Bill's for happy hour.

Unheard No More said...

I had removed this comment (below) by request of one of the accused, but others asked that it be put back up to show how some people cannot even get behind ending human trafficking or supporting human rights, but have to make it a "me versus them" issue. Here is the original comment:

"Does it make you cry to know that Tina Sablan, Ron Hodges, and Mark Hanson go to strip clubs on a regular basis and exploit foreign girls?"

Why not come out and say who you are if you are going to make such a comment?

John Reed said...

I recently attended a human trafficking Forum in Canada, and for two days I was indicated with information on the problem and the consequences of human trafficking.

The problem is that all of these forums, discussions, or books never provide any real solutions on how to end human trafficking. Its alot of talking about stuff we already know about.

This time there was this guy by the name of Jefferson Mesidor that I heard speak briefly he is an executive from the financial industry and could very well be Canada's Barrack Obama if he continues to speak and inspire people the way he did for me.

He went on to say, "that the only way to stop human trafficking is by having a new vision of what we want the world to look like, and even though not everybody is going to believe in the new vision, it only requires a few people to believe.

Basically instead of focusing on the way things are, let’s focus on the way we want it to be and by doing so we can create a huge shift in Canada that will have a worldwide ripple effect."

That was Martin Luther King’s approach and look what happened only a few decades later.

I think this guy Jefferson Mesidor is right, lets start to focus on solutions instead of the problem.

Unheard No More said...

Thank you for the very thoughtful and inspiring comment! Desmond Tutu said, "At times of despair, we must learn to see with new eyes."

Anonymous said...

The people of the C.N.M.I are finally opening their eye's to the injustice that is happening but what are most of the government officials doing about this injustice. Please give us youth a reason to look up to you with respect when you can not aid those most in need of your protection. Ate Kayleen and companions who experienced this torment if you ever stop by this website I am deeply sorry that you all have went through this ordeal. I am from the CNMI and there are some of us who do treat people with respect no matter where they come from. Also who ever commented about Tina Sablan, Ron Hodges and Mark Hanson you are probably one of those people who is unsatisfied with their life so you decide to smear the name of other people with lie's and childish gossip. SHAME ON YOU.

- Voice of a Youth

Anonymous said...

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Wendy said...

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