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On the radar: Young Trafficking Victim in the Marianas Tells Her Story

Young Trafficking Victim in the Marianas Tells Her Story

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For background on the situation for women in the Marianas, see Ms. magazine's investigative report and updates.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 – When Kayleen D. Entena was offered a chance to leave the rural Philippines for work as a restaurant waitress in far-off Saipan, in the Marianas Islands, she jumped at it. “I was excited about the opportunity to work abroad,” she told a Senate Energy and Resources Committee hearing here today. At 21, the eldest of five children of a widowed mother, she was told she would earn $400 a month, enough to support her family at home and go back to college herself.

Instead, she and another young woman from the Philippines were forced to work in a brothel. They became two of the countless young women who have come to the mid-Pacific Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory, in search of work and better lives over the past 20 years. If they are lucky, such women work 20 hours a day in sweatshop garment factories, living in shacks or barracks and earning $3.05 per hour, far below the U.S. minimum wage. But the clothes are for top-tier U.S. brands and are often labeled “Made in the USA.” If the women are not lucky, they end up like Kayleen and her friend.

The brothel owner, a woman they called Mamasong, took away their documents and told them they had to work to pay off their tickets or their families at home would suffer. On her first day in Saipan, Kayleen was raped by four men. “We tried to run away twice, but they were always at the front….Mamasong told us if we tried to leave she would call the police. We were very scared. We begged her to give us the jobs that they promised us in the Philippines.”

Eventually Kayleen and the other young woman were befriended by young clients who helped them escape and took them to Karidat, a Catholic shelter for battered women run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. “I’m not sure what would have happened to me if all these people didn’t help me,” she said.

The Senate committee is considering legislation to bring the Marianas under U.S. labor and immigration law enforcement jurisdiction, an idea Kayleen supported. “I am hoping that this kind of illegal system will stop,” she told the senators. “I do not want this to happen to anyone else.” Committee chairman Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) commended Kayleen for her “courage to endure” what she had suffered.

In an interview with Ms., Kayleen said she has obtained the T-visa that will allow her to live in the United States and apply in three years for permanent residency. “I want to find a job and to save money for my family,” she said, and to return to school. She hopes eventually to become an English teacher. “I’m not afraid any more,” she said.