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WASHINGTON – As you read this story, about 10,000 people in the United States are being forced to work against their will under threat of violence, according to a new report.
“Hidden Slaves: Forced Labor in the United States,” released yesterday by the Human Rights Center at University of California, Berkeley, and a Washington-based nonprofit group called Free the Slaves, was based on interviews with social service providers, government officials, and labor advocates, as well as newspaper stories published between 1998-2003 that described incidents of forced labor.
One of eight cases explored in the report concerned Lakireddy Bali Reddy, the Berkeley landlord and restaurateur sentenced to more than eight years in federal prison in 2001 for smuggling teen-age girls from India for sex and cheap labor.
Reddy came under investigation in 1999 after a 17-year old girl died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a Berkeley apartment he owned. Reddy was also ordered to pay $2 million in restitution, and the report said a civil suit associated with the case was settled in April for $8.9 million.
Researchers found that almost half of forced laborers are in prostitution or the sex industry, close to a third are domestic workers, and one in 10 works in agriculture. And while examples of forced labor have been found in at least 90 cities in the United States, most are concentrated in states with large immigrant populations like California, Florida, New York and Texas.
Researchers found that victims of forced labor come from at least 38 countries, but most are from China, Mexico and Vietnam. Some are born in the United States.
The report urged increased public awareness about human trafficking, increasing monitoring of workers in sectors where forced labor is prevalent, and ensuring that victims have adequate social services when they escape.