Friday, October 31, 2008

ARTICLE #132) Captive victims' cries go unheard: Anxious Kamloops mother awaits word of daughter she believes was forced into sex trade

Friday, October 31, 2008
Captive victims' cries go unheard: Anxious Kamloops mother awaits word of daughter she believes was forced into sex trade
Vancouver Sun by Daphne Bramham

Thirty-one months after her daughter disappeared from Las Vegas, Glendene Grant feels in her heart that she is alive.

The Kamloops mother believes that her daughter, Jessie Foster, is a victim of human trafficking, lured and enslaved in a life she never chose.

She believes that her beautiful daughter is either being held in a locked room somewhere and raped on a daily basis by men who pay to have sex with her or she's being force-fed drugs and no longer cares what men are doing to her.

Still, Grant is uncertain what North Las Vegas police might find Saturday when they do a ground search for her daughter's body on a stretch of desert north of Sin City.

Jessie's story is familiar to people trying to stop this multibillion-dollar slave trade that's ensnared an estimated 12.3 million people worldwide.

But it also illustrates how complicated it is to not only find the victims, but prosecute the traffickers and pimps who use and abuse them. In the past two years, Canada has identified only 31 victims and it has yet to successfully prosecute a trafficker.

In March 2006, Jessie was working at Boston Pizza in Kamloops. She planned to go to university.

When she wasn't working, she hung out with her DJ fiance on the weekends.

At one of his gigs, Jessie met Donald Vaz, who invited her to go with him to Fort Lauderdale. He had an extra ticket.

Jessie's family warned her not to go. Men never offer something for nothing, her mother told her.

But Jessie was 20. No one could stop her from what she saw as a glamorous adventure.

A few days later, Jessie called her mom from Manhattan. Vaz was out of money and he was trying to force Jessie out on the street as a prostitute.

"I asked, 'Is he violent? Are you afraid?' She told me she was not afraid of him, but she was really upset with what he was asking. I was nervous about her being in the lobby of a motel in Manhattan, so I told her to go upstairs and hop on the next plane in the morning."

But Vaz apologized and Jessie didn't get on a plane bound for home.

Instead, she ended up in Atlantic City. Next, she went to Las Vegas. With only two weeks until her 21st birthday, Jessie phoned home to say she wanted to stay.

Isn't that what lots of young people want to do for their 21st birthday, given all the hype about how exciting Las Vegas is?

As Grant bitterly says, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. No wonder they say that."

After her birthday, Jessie told her parents she'd been in a car accident and had to stay in Las Vegas until that was sorted out.

A few weeks later, she told her parents she was living the Pretty Woman dream.

She was engaged to a rich guy, 39-year-old Peter Todd.

When she came home for Christmas in 2005, Jessie told her mom that she and Todd had been fighting. Still, she went back.

In the beginning of March, Jessie called and told her mom that Todd had kicked her in the head.

A few weeks later, Jessie disappeared.

It was only after Grant and her ex-husband, Dwight Foster, hired a private detective that they found out Jessie had been prostituted through an escort service; that Todd had been arrested twice for spousal abuse; and, that his ex-wife had been arrested for prostitution.

As frustrated as she is about Jessie's disappearance, Grant has no answers when asked what law enforcement officers should or could do.

Nor, frankly, does anybody else, not even the experts who met in Vancouver for two days this week, searching for answers.

But Grant knows from experience that many people still think human trafficking is either the figment of television writers' imaginations or something that only happens in Third World countries.

She says people -- especially young women -- need to be aware of who they are involved with before they go on trips with "boyfriends" or before they fall for the promise of high-paid jobs as strippers and escorts.

Still, even if they go willingly, as Jessie did, the law says they can be victims of trafficking if they are held against their will and their choices taken away from them.

But by then, they are beaten or drugged and broken.

Even if they do cry out for help, who would believe them? They're only prostitutes.

And who would hear them? The police? They're more likely to arrest them.

The men who pay to have sex with them? Not likely.

They're usually married guys with kids, jobs and middle-class homes, who'd put all of that that at risk by outing themselves.

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