Human Trafficking in Small-Town Ohio

1/7/11 – Paul Bernish of Freedom Center

You’ve probably asked yourself, as you passed by one of those increasingly ubiquitous nail “salons” that are a staple of most shopping malls, who are these women — most of them Asian — and how did they end up in this place?

The hint of an answer can be seen in law enforcement charges of human trafficking against several people in Zanesville, Ohio this week. Those being sought or already arrested are Asian immigrants, police say. They are suspected of operating a multimillion dollar nail salon business in the Buckeye state, using women trafficked into the U.S. from Southeast Asia, who are given false papers and forced to work as indentured servants for little or no wages.

Not all nail salons are operated this way, of course. Many if not most are legitimate businesses whose employees are paid and not compelled to work. But the nature of the business makes it ripe for exploitation, law enforcement officials say, because salons are labor intensive and profits depend on low operating costs.

There’s a bittersweet irony to the Zanesville human trafficking arrests. Zanesville, in east central Ohio, was a significant stop on the antebellum Underground Railroad, the secret network used to shepherd escaping slaves to freedom. The area was settled by pioneer settlers from New England around 1800. Many were strongly abolitionist, and became quickly involved in assisting escaping slaves. Today, the Putnam Underground Railroad Education Center (PURE) tells this history in a small but compelling and fascinating museum. Diagonally across from PURE Center is the Putnam Presbyterian Church where Reverend William Beecher (brother of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” author Harriet Beecher Stowe) preached antislavery sermons. Another significant figure, A. A. Guthrie, the President of the Ohio Abolitionist Society, lived one block away.

One cannot help but wonder whether the women trafficked into Ohio are part of a perverse, 21 Century underground railroad that, instead of moving people to freedom, is transporting vulnerable individuals into slavery.

http://www.freedomcenter.org/freedom-forum/index.php/2011/01/human-trafficking-smalltown-ohio/

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