Shackled by promises

Is there such a thing as domestic trafficking or sex trafficking in Samoa? Let’s go on a short journey into our own households. Do you have any person brought in to take care of all the household chores 24/7 in sickness or in health ie: cooking, cleaning, washing, laundry, child care or elderly care with no respite or pay?

Then there are the plantation workers, gardeners and landscapers who provide all the labor and food preparation with no pay because they are “family members”. Then of course, let’s not forget those brought in with skills ie; carpenters, plumbers, electricians, seamstresses, mechanics etc. Their pay is substandard or  live in over-crowded living quarters, neglectful attire and physical condition to include poor food or what they can forage?

Even more sad is when the domestic person has a family. They themselves will be subjected to a subservient role for life. Their children will remain as shadows. Many men have been sent into the mountains as plantation foremen where their children are brought up in squalor, not allowed to better themselves. They are there to improve the lot of the sponsor and the continuous enslavement for their children. These are high risk shadow children open for abuse, abandonment, exploitation and trafficking. The skilled ones are farmed out on lateral contracts. Many are denied the freedom to worship as they choose.

If you’re interested, check out your home or environment and see is there such a person there. You’ll find to no surprise, they do not have access to their passports or birth certificates. You’ll also find it disturbing that you’ve never really paid attention to these 3rd  and 4th class family members and took it for granted this is their lot in life. A trafficked person can go as far back as 2nd or 3rd generation. Because we did not have the letter of the law, it was considered the accepted  Islander’s way of life for lower class citizens, aliens, and foreigners? (I say this with tongue in cheek)

I’m pretty sure if you take the time to talk to some of them, you’ll find out, they were lured here and promised opportunities for education, employment and would be able to send money home. It has been reported that many domestic workers are forced to turn over their pay checks to their sponsors. These situations surface when the domestic is faced with desperation and a crime is committed by him/her in retaliation.

It is also the norm for them to be physically and emotionally abused and threatened. All this abuse is easily covered up with the same old saying, fa’alogo gata (hard headed), le usitai (disobedient), paie (lazy) le aog’a (good for nothing) etc. Witnessing a domestic being physically beaten, emotionally crushed one moment, then soothed with kind words and food the next, is the norm. At the same time they are blamed for their own punishment. It appears to be a form of conditioning, a slow strangulation process for them to conform to the master or mistress of the household. It’s about absolute power and control.

Where can they go as foreigners for help, how can they escape when the need and pull to survive is stronger, forcing them to remain and submit. They are chained by empty promises for a better life. Many are hog tied because their papers have been confiscated by their sponsors. These are the people who are held against their wishes and forced into life long servitude and enslavement or used as scapegoats. There is the fear of returning back to their home as failures to persevere. Unknowingly, these people are easily traded or sent to other households for forced labor-- or to the wharfs as prostitutes.

They have absolutely no say in the matter. They leave with these words on the sponsors lips;” be obedient, work hard and be trustworthy. Your new host will take care, provide and love you”. Meanwhile a dollar bill will never cross their palms.

For the past 40 years, I’ve seen enough elderly people being abused through conditioned and forced labor in Upolu and in American Samoa. They are at the point where they are just happy to have a little authority by seniority, a place to rest their head when they can and have something to eat. They are the labor force that keeps the domestic workers moving and kept in line. Many have not been back to their islands since they were first brought to American Samoa. However many are returned when they are too old, disabled, become medical liabilities or just to die. I’ve heard it being called, “The one way ticket for a well deserved vacation”…with the hollow promise to return.

More is the pity for female children. Their parents are powerless to protect them from the unwanted attentions of the sponsor or predators within the family, school or village. They are the easiest preys to be lured and subdued towards being sexualized.

Children living in these conditions are the easiest to traffic. All it takes is a promise to help their families as they are led to an awaiting pedophile. These children are silenced by threats. But we don’t call it sex trade or sex trafficking. We call it tautala’itiiti, le a’oaia, matavalea (cheeky, forward, undisciplined, stupid fool). If you notice, it blames the child, not the predator, the pedophile, the parent or the sponsor.

The year 2012 has already begun with the increase of children being sexualized, raped, endangered and abused. Until we start looking within our own beloved family or aiga situation and educate ourselves on domestic, sex trafficking and slavery, we will always remain in denial as God fearing people who value hospitality. We the people of American Samoa will be the gateway that allows domestic and sexual trafficking by victim blaming and condoning the behavior. Many situations go undetected due to lack of awareness.

We are already tainted by International trafficking ie; the infamous clothing factory incident and the Red Door scandal on prostitution. As unpleasant as it is to view our families as traffickers by using the culture and adoption, we are already seeing the ugly fruits of step fathers, grandfathers and fathers of adopted female babies, molesting and raping them at the age of 12 – 16.

In isolated homes, villages or islands, child victims are invited to stay with their aiga members. These victims are usually between 10 and 16 years of age. The crimes of molestation and rape are usually instigated by the aunts or mothers to provide sexual gratification for their spouses or partners. When the children tell, they are immediately threatened by the adult females to remain silent. Do you know of one such situation?

As the prosecutor Mitzie Folau stated, “If you don’t report it…who will?”




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