Wellstone wife speaks on fighting human trafficking

Joanna Dornfeld

Each year, thousands of women are illegally smuggled into the United States and imprisoned in brothels and slave labor.

That’s what Sheila Wellstone, wife of Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., told approximately 50 human rights activists, University faculty and medical community members at the Gateway alumni center Thursday during a lecture about the international trafficking of women and girls.

Between 700,000 and 4 million women and children annually are smuggled throughout the world and forced into prostitution or slave labor. Approximately 50,000 are brought into the United States alone, Wellstone said.

The women and children believe they will be able to earn money working in hotels and restaurants to send back to their families, she said.

“The economy there is so desperate for women and young girls,” Wellstone said. “This is going to be economic survival for them.”

But the women quickly discover they have become the property of the people who transported them, she said.

International traffickers not only threaten the women if they try to escape but also threaten to physically harm their families.

Wellstone has long been an advocate for women’s rights but began campaigning against the trafficking of women and girls four years ago after hearing a report on Minnesota Public Radio.

On the broadcast, Wellstone said, a Ukrainian woman who had been enslaved and prostituted in Amsterdam played a tape of her son that her captors had given her.

Wellstone said that on the tape the boy said, “Mommy, please do what they tell you to do or they will kill me.”

The woman was able to escape, and her family remained unharmed. She said she spoke out to protect other women from unknowingly being forced into slave labor.

Of the three forms of illegal trafficking – guns, drugs, and women and children – Wellstone said the trafficking of people produces the most revenue.

“The trafficking of women and girls is fast becoming the most profitable,” Wellstone said. “If you are trafficking for sex, prostitutes or slave labor, they can be used over and over again.”

Sen. Wellstone co-authored the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 with Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. The bill focuses on preventing the trafficking of women, protecting women who have been enslaved and prosecuting those who have trafficked women and children.

“I know that laws don’t fix everything, but I think that we have to do something as a country to really look at what we can do,” Wellstone said.

Joanna Dornfeld welcomes comments at [email protected]