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Professor discusses sex slavery on NBC

Katie Peralta | Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The story of a 20-year-old Ukrainian woman and her months of forced labor at a strip club in Detroit shocked attendees at a Notre Dame panel on human trafficking in November, and now it reached audiences across America.

MSNBC and The Today Show aired reports Monday about slavery in America, featuring the young victim – who assumed the name “Katya” for privacy purposes – and Notre Dame law professor Bridgette Carr.

Carr and Katya, her client, told cameras that three years ago Katya and a friend left the Ukraine to study English abroad. The two young women had plans to work as waitresses in Virginia Beach while they learned the language, but instead, two human traffickers – Alex Macksimenko and Michael Aronov – picked them up at the airport and took them to Detroit, Carr said.

The men imprisoned Katya and her friend in a house with 15 other slaves, Katya said. Their captors forced the women to work 12-hour shifts as exotic dancers in Cheetah’s, a strip club.

“We would go to work, work 12 hours a day there. And, and the end of the shift, [at] 2 a.m., [the captors] were waiting for us outside of the club in the car. Sometimes they raped us there,” Katya said during the MSNBC documentary “MSNBC Undercover: Sex Slaves in America,” hosted by Meredith Viera.

Carr and Katya also spoke to Viera during The Today Show on Monday morning.

They said the men, using a variety of surveillance methods on the women, maintained control over them through intimidation, threats of harming their families back home and violence. The women were raped repeatedly and forced to perform other sexual acts whenever the men desired, she said.

“Emotionally, physically, they could do anything with us. That was every single day in my life for one year,” Katya said during the documentary.

Macksimenko and Aronov also imposed quotas on the women, forcing them to make up to $1,000 per night. The two traffickers used this money to pay for luxury vehicles and designer clothes, among other lavish expenses, Katya said.

Carr came to represent Katya soon after the girls escaped their captors in February 2005 with the help of a sympathetic Cheetah’s customer. When the police entered the house where Katya and her friend had been imprisoned, they found stashes of cash – adding up to about $500,000 – in different hiding spots, they said.

Macksimento and Aronov both pleaded guilty, but since Aronov cooperated with the authorities and confessed the men’s crimes, Carr said, he received a reduced sentence. He has to serve only four-and-a-half years in prison, while Macksimento received a 14.5-year sentence.

And while the men were convicted and jailed, Carr said Katya’s ordeal opened her eyes to all other human trafficking cases.

“Once I started looking into the case … it seemed like I could not turn around without trafficking hitting me in the face,” Carr said in the documentary. “I would find myself driving down the interstate and would see signs for massage parlors open from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., literally.”

She said human trafficking is a billion-dollar industry and the second-largest criminal industry in the world. She said that more than 17,000 trafficking victims end up in the United States.

“It’s not something that happens just in other countries,” Carr said.

Victims of human trafficking end up in large cities all over the country, from cantinas in Houston to massage parlors in San Francisco, she said.

“[Human trafficking] is happening because men are engaging in this illegal activity,” San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom said in the documentary.

Undercover investigators in San Francisco conducted surprise inspections on a number of massage parlors, each of which was secretly conducting sex services using trafficked women. Newsom said authorities need to think about trafficking in a different way.

“I wish our language [about trafficking] could change,” Carr said. “Saying someone is a prostitute denotes a choice. These women were prostituted. They were held against their will.”

But when authorities talk about prostitution, Carr said, they fail to specify that many of the women were prostitutes under duress.

“They do not mean [to say] that these women chose to do it as a profession,” she said.

An advocate for human trafficking victims since meeting Katya, Carr said she is currently working on a number of other trafficking cases.