by Brian Long
A young girl is riding her new bicycle down an unpaved road in Mexico. She is almost hit by a black vehicle. Two men emerge, grab her and force her into the back seat.
This is the beginning of Trade, which was screened Tuesday for Rider students. The film was part of a presentation by the American studies program featuring author and Newsday journalist Anthony DeStefano, who recently published The War on Human Trafficking. The book focuses on the issue of immigrants being coerced into prostitution or forced labor here in America.
Following the film, DeStefano spoke with students about human trafficking. He said the movie was controversial because it was based on an article by Peter Landesman from Jan. 25, 2004, in New York Times Magazine entitled “The Girls Next Door.”
The article was criticized by the blogosphere and by columnists from the magazine Slate. The criticisms brought up the fact that Landesman made numerous claims, without any credible sources to back him up, about statistics related to human trafficking that seemed too high when compared to data gathered by Slate.
However, according to DeStefano, it is impossible to get a full count of the number of victims of human trafficking.
“The number is elastic,” DeStefano said. “You don’t really know the level of any crime but the scope of human trafficking is a difficult thing to get a hold of [because] arguments are often raised as to just what a trafficked person is.”
DeStefano also stated that some immigrants volunteer for jobs knowing they will be working in brothels, but they are doing it for the money and do not consider themselves victims.
Besides the confusion over how to identify a trafficking victim, DeStefano also showed that it is difficult to make trafficking cases for various reasons such as weak evidence, witness problems, lack of federal influence and lack of criminal intent.
DeStefano pointed out that the issue of human trafficking is not just limited to prostitution; many people are coerced into forced labor situations as well. According to DeStefano, the media will often focus more on the prostitution angle.
“I sometimes wonder if our focus on prostitution skews our perception on what we go after,” he said.
Because of the increasing number of immigrants entering the United States, this issue has become a growing concern. DeStefano said that he was unsure of what President Obama’s administration is planning to do in order to curb human trafficking.
“It’s still too early to tell what will be done, but hopefully in the next year or so we can get a better idea of how this problem will be handled,” he said.
DeStefano was invited to Rider by Dr. James Castagnera, associate provost and associate counsel for academic affairs, who is currently using the book as a part of the curriculum for his American Ethnic Groups class.
The class focuses on a study of ethnic groups in America and how they have assimilated into the “melting pot” of this country as well as how they have mingled with each other.
Castagnera said he chose this particular book and topic because he wanted to discuss in his class how policies, such as those relating to immigration, are formed in this country.
“I came across the DeStefano book in the library,” Castagnera said. “I’m interested in the illegal aspect of immigration including human trafficking. When I realized he was focusing on the 2000 law, The Traffic Victims Protection Act, I wanted to relate it to the policy discussions we would have in my class.”