Modern-Day Slavery in America


March 26, 2007 — -- Emily Nicely, 19, was routinely beaten with broom handles, a metal pipe, belts and wooden boards.

She was forced to quit school, to do chores and deliver newspapers without pay. She was by any definition -- including those of the federal government and the family that held her captive for six months -- a slave.

Nicely's case made headlines last week, in part because a Pennsylvania family was accused of abusing and threatening her. The arrests of Mark and Cynthia Pollard, as well as their three teenage children, shed light on a problem most Americans believe was eradicated more than 140 years ago.

Human rights organizations and federal officials, including President Bush, however, insist that modern-day slavery, also known as "human trafficking," is alive and well today in the United States.

Next to the illegal trades in drugs and arms, human trafficking is the third-largest and fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world, according to government figures. The departments of Justice and State, as well as anti-trafficking groups, estimate there are about 27 million people worldwide in modern-day slavery.

The term "human trafficking" can be applied in all cases where the use of "force, fraud or coercion" is used to get people to work or have sex against their will, a senior official at the U.S. Department of Justice told

"Despite what the word 'trafficking' suggests," the official said, "it is not human smuggling … [and] does not require proof of movement or crossing of borders."

Human trafficking is a federal offense because it violates the 13th Amendment, which prohibits slavery.

The Department of Justice has conducted more than 700 investigations into cases of alleged human trafficking since 2001, an increase of 600 percent over the previous six years.

Last year, the Justice Department initiated 168 investigations, charged 111 defendants in 32 cases, and obtained 98 convictions involving human trafficking cases.

Two of those convictions in 2006 were for Jefferson Calimlim Sr. and his wife, Elnora, both doctors from Milwaukee, Wis.

In November 2006, the couple were each sentenced to four years in prison for "forcing a woman to work as their domestic servant and illegally harboring her for 19 years in their residence," according to the Justice Department.

The Calimlims were convicted of using threats of serious harm and physical restraint against their victim, whom they had brought to the United States from the Philippines when she was 19.

According to a Justice Department summary of the case, "The victim testified that for 19 years she was hidden in the Calimlim home, forbidden from going outside, and told that she would be arrested, imprisoned and deported if she was discovered. The Calimlims' son was also convicted of harboring an illegal alien and sentenced to 120 days of home confinement, three years of supervised release, and a $5,000 fine."

Trafficking very often involves an element of transnational smuggling. Of the 800,000 people trafficked across international borders every year, 17,500 of them ended up in the United States.

Just two months after the Calimlims were convicted, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales established a new unit within the department's Human Rights Division, tasked with investigating human trafficking cases.

Sex slavery is more common than other forms of forced labor, but experts say trafficking has infiltrated nearly every aspect of commerce -- from industry and agriculture to nannies and housekeepers.

Before their arrest in 2005, Mexican nationals Josue Flores Carreto, Gerardo Flores Carreto and Daniel Perez Alonso spent 13 years smuggling women into New York from Mexico to be used as prostitutes.

According to the Department of Justice, "The young women were repeatedly threatened, beaten and emotionally abused by the Carretos and their confederates, while being forced to service up to 20 men per day."

After pleading guilty to the charges, the Carreto brothers received sentences of 50 years in prison. Their co-defendant, Alonso, received 25 years in prison.

Emily Nicely wasn't kidnapped or smuggled across foreign borders. Nevertheless, the family who held her captive treated and called her a "slave."

"She moved in with the Pollards on her own accord," Detective Sgt. Henry Fontana of the Greensburg, Pa., Police Department told

Nicely, he said, had at times dated both of the Pollards' teenage sons, Mark Jr., 18, and Jonathon, 17, and had agreed to live with them after her family left Greensburg so she could finish school at Greensburg Salem High School.

But things took a turn for the worse. She was forced to drop out of school and "was abused physically and mentally and felt she couldn't leave," Fontana said.

"On numerous occasions, the Pollards punched her, kicked her and struck her with broom handles, a metal pipe, belts and boards," read a police affidavit.

The Pollard family referred to Nicely as its "slave," according to the affidavit.

Police were called March 10 by Greensburg resident Nelson Williams, a customer on the paper route Nicely was forced to work. When asked about the bruises on her face, Nicely "broke down and told [Williams] about her ordeal," Fontana said.

Cynthia Pollard told investigators that Nicely had been bruised after she fell while delivering newspapers. She also said the family had "numerous physical confrontations with Nicely but that it was always in self-defense," according to a police affidavit.

After being reached by for comment, Department of Justice officials said they would launch a federal investigation into Nicely's case.

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