'Ghosts of My Home Country' and Human Trafficking

These two young Thai migrant construction workers, both women, are typical of the populations who are vulnerable to human trafficking. (Ronn Aldaman/Flickr)
These two young Thai migrant construction workers, both women, are typical of the populations who are vulnerable to human trafficking. (Ronn Aldaman/Flickr)

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2011 — "Ghosts of My Home Country," a two-part panel discussion at Asia Society Washington, focused on the violence and discrimination that migrant women face before and after their migration to the United States, addressing such issues as domestic violence, hurtful traditions, legal challenges and employment opportunities.

Alakananda Paul, former member of the Advising Committee of the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP) and a member of the Multicultural Taskforce of the Maryland Network against Domestic Violence, cited isolation and language barriers as a significant obstacle for women seeking help after domestic violence. "They don’t know who to trust, and who to call for help, because they don’t know if that person will tell the family and they will be abused even more," she explained.

On Clipped Wings author Jameela Alter described one Indian immigrant community in the US that still practices female circumcision as a way of keeping with their traditions and because "faith is a very hard thing to let go of."

Marga C. Fripp, president and founder of Empowered Women International, discussed the need to provide economic empowerment opportunities for immigrant and refugee women, while Elizabeth Grayer, President of Legal Momentum, admitted that the legal framework to help immigrant women is not perfect but it can be used effectively with good advocacy and good lawyers.

Arnedo Valera, Executive Director of Migrant Heritage Commission, described the Filipino diaspora as the "largest post-modern diaspora of migrants" facing a range of issues all over the world. With regard to the United States, he stated that the cases of racial profiling his organization was handling were simply overwhelming, and that the rise of Internet dating and Internet brides has become "a venue for human trafficking and domestic violence."

Brad Mitchell of the U.S. Dept. of Justice's Human Trafficking Services Program described some of the services his agency provides to victims of human trafficking, explaining how the operations his agency performs came about as a result of the need to collaborate between different agencies. "Within communities, there needed to be a multidisciplinary approach with both federal and local law enforcement working with NGOs as well as all the interested and necessary parties in the community to develop a task force to combat human trafficking."

Jay Womack, Deputy Director of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons (ATIP) Division with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), mentioned that his office is responsible for public awareness about issues of human trafficking. "A lot of what we do is just bringing information to people's minds," like creating a short "elevator speech" for public awareness. “For me, human trafficking is modern slavery, and my goal is to help free all slaves,” said Womack.

Ariana Rabindranath, Associate Director of Asia Society Washington and moderator, concluded the discussion by saying she hoped the forum would promote greater dialogue and cooperation to address these issues facing migrant women.

Reported by Adrian Stover, Asia Society Washington