A ‘Garden of Hope’ for Chinese Human Trafficking Victims

Garden of Hope NY held a ceremony to mark its 13th anniversary (Photo by Lan Mu via World Journal)

Sex trafficking has been an increasing problem in the Chinese community in recent years. World Journal has published two stories by reporter Lan Mu that describe how some victims were lured to the U.S. to work for brothels and how a nonprofit organization is trying to help them

Who are the Chinese victims of sex trafficking, and how did they end up in U.S. brothels? They are often the main breadwinners of their families and were lured to the U.S. by the smugglers’ advertisements for jobs that offer “$10,000 per month, board and lodging, and opportunities to travel around.” But when they find out that they have to provide sex services after arriving in the U.S., they don’t know where to seek help, said Shuqiong Liu, deputy director of human trafficking victim services at Garden of Hope NY during the ceremony for its 13th anniversary on June 17 in Flushing.

Liu said the number of women from China who come to the U.S. and work in sex services has been increasing. The women often come here alone, are on average 44 years of age with no college education. Facing a language barrier and under the control of their employers, they often don’t know they’ve become victims of human trafficking. Eventually, they are often able to regain their self-esteem and emerge from the muddy situation after social workers from the organization visit them at their workplaces. Since 2015, Garden of Hope has been working with criminal courts and provided services to close to 300 female crime victims, with the majority of them being human trafficking victims.

A victim had told Liu that a job placement agency in China told her she could get a job with a $8,000 to $10,000 monthly income, board and lodging and she could travel on holidays. The victim is in her 40s, married with many family duties. She was immediately hooked by the well-paid opportunity. She borrowed money from her relatives and from high interest loan companies to pay for the very high broker fee only to find when she arrived in the U.S. that this well-paid job was to sell her body.

Liu said this is not an isolated case. The predators of these victims often try to control their minds by telling them: “You have no immigration status, and you don’t speak English. What else can you do?” Or through drugs. She said some victims do try to escape but many suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. With no family or friends in the U.S., they tend to rely on predators. The workplace where the predators place them are often massage parlors outside of New York. But when the victims run back to New York, they often return to the same predator asking for a job.

Since September 2013, New York criminal court has considered workers at illegal massage parlors, or those charged for providing sex services, not as normal criminals, but as potential human trafficking victims. Liu said even for undocumented victims, as long as they have been compelled to work or perform commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, as defined in The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, they can stay and work in the U.S. [as protected crime victims].

Staff of Garden of Hope visit these Chinese women at their workplace to help them understand that they are victims of human trafficking, and to also provide counseling and job training. Many of the victims they helped now have regular legal jobs in nail salons or restaurants, or do cleaning work.

 

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Yuanfen Chi, executive director of Garden of Hope, said that over the past 13 years, the organization has help more than a thousand women and 400 young people. (Photo by Lan Mu via World Journal)

Garden of Hope New York has three shelters in New York and has helped 1,528 women and 420 youths since its inception 13 years ago, said Yuanfen Chi, executive director of the organization. This year, the organization also started a residency program at the Brooklyn Family Justice Center to help Chinese victims of sexual harassment, domestic violence and human trafficking in the borough.

Close to a hundred women attended the anniversary ceremony. Some brought their children with them. Many of the women are victims who have been helped by the organization. Chi said illegal massage and sex services have been growing in Flushing in recent years. Many sex workers proved to be human trafficking victims after their arrests, and therefore, in need of social services. Staff members of Garden of Hope have been to the workplaces of the women many times to talk to potential victims. They become friends with the women and help them establish a new life.

Chi said the organization only had a table and one staff member in the beginning. In the past 13 years, it has grown to three shelters and 11 employees. It has also launched service programs for domestic violence victims and children who witness domestic violence, and a residency program at the Queens Family Justice Center. Since 2015 the organization has been working with criminal courts to form a streamlined process together with prosecutors and attorneys to help women and children.

Its shelters now accommodate 143 women and 77 children. It has also helped another 95 women who were not able to get a bed in the shelter, after it reached capacity, to rent a safe place. Chi said the victims can stay in the shelter for a maximum of six months. They need help from society afterwards. “When they move in, they are in a mess. When they move out, they still worry about how to make ends meet. They need long-term assistance,” said Chi.

In May, the organization launched a residency program at the Brooklyn Family Justice Center so Chinese women in Brooklyn don’t have to take a two-hour train ride to Flushing to seek help. The address of the Brooklyn program is 350 Jay St. Chinese-language services are provided on each Wednesday and Friday. To learn more, call 1-877-990-8595.

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