Maria Suarez Speaks on Trafficking and the Prison Industrial ComplexMaria Suarez Speaks on Trafficking and the Prison Industrial Complex
By Kit Rutter and Maria Suarez
Many people are shocked to hear that slavery still exists. But in reality, the transaction of human beings as commodities occurs in most countries. It is called human trafficking and is defined by the U.S. government in part as the transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons through the use of coercion, abuse of power or taking advantage of positions of vulnerability.
It is diffi cult to imagine the pain experienced by people who are treated as chattel. For example, Maria Suarez was imprisoned for 28 years, fi rst by her sexually and psychologically abusive captor, and then by the California state prison system. At age 15, shortly after emigrating to the United States from Mexico, Maria was tricked into slavery and sold to a man in his late 60’s, Anselmo Covarrubias. He claimed to be a witch and had a history of enslaving young women and girls from Mexico. Maria’s captor isolated her and manipulated her through fear and violence. He told her regularly that he could read her mind and that he might kill her family if she didn’t do what she was told.
Covarrubias rented a back house to a young couple. He attempted to pursue the wife and was eventually killed by the husband in an altercation over her. Maria was asked to hide the weapon. She was frightened and hid the weapon under the house, having grown accustomed to following commands after years of manipulation and abuse. Maria was charged with aiding and abetting the murder and sentenced to 25 years to life. She was released 22 years later after a judge ruled that the level of abuse she endured was sufficient evidence to lessen her sentence.
Maria’s story sheds light on the ways that immigrant women are used as slaves, as workers, as bodies to be bought and sold. The United Nations Offi ce on Drugs and Crime estimates that around 2.5 million people are bought and sold around the world at any given time. Approximately 80 percent are women and girls, and about 50 percent are children under 18. Nearly all are people of color from poor countries. The fact that immigrant women of color make up the largest group among traffi cked people illustrates the continuing violence against women in the global community.
the United States
the lives of people of color
and perpetuate violence against
women. Maria explained some of
the parallels between
her experiences as a
trafficked slave and as
Maria was able to come out of prison with an amazing spirit of strength. She is now working as a counselor for abused women and educating others to fi ght against abuse and slavery, including that which occurs in the prison system. She is currently organizing a project that would allow her to return to towns in Mexico to educate people about human traffi cking. There is little awareness about the realities of human traffi cking in poor countries, especially in rural areas, and traffi ckers often target these areas. People in these areas experience food shortage, medical problems and other vulnerabilities that make them more willing to take risks to immigrate. Maria hopes to tell them what to expect, and spare more people from the horrors she experienced.
Last updated January 6, 2011 06:17 PM