Hidden in plain sight | May 8, 2015 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - May 8, 2015

Hidden in plain sight

Human trafficking reaches into Palo Alto, Silicon Valley

by Sue Dremann

The young man working at a Mountain View Safeway slammed his head on a commercial refrigerator door, unable to verbally express the ordeal he had been through for nearly a year.

This story contains 4397 words.

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Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at [email protected]


Posted by Barron Park Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on May 8, 2015 at 10:36 am

Barron Park Mom is a registered user.

Excellent article. I appreciate how in depth it is and the resources included at the end.

Posted by eyeswideopen
a resident of Professorville
on May 8, 2015 at 10:42 am

This issue--of modern day slavery--is one with which every one of us needs to be aware and concerned and take action. I applaud Sue Dremann for her excellent and timely cover story.
I'm attending the Freedom Summit tomorrow, Saturday, May 9. Please join me and others. How can we not fight slavery everywhere--but especially slavery right here in our town and neighboring communities.

I wish there were as many comments on this issue as about California Avenue re-do. Where are our hearts? Our values? Please open your eyes and take action. The problem is huge and the solutions are hard but the fight is worth it.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2015 at 10:51 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by surprised
a resident of Downtown North
on May 8, 2015 at 11:10 am

What surprises me is that many of these slaves are contracted out to mainstream American corporations like hotels. Shame on them for not doing a better job of vetting their partners. Or maybe they know what is going on, but look the other way to boost their profits?

Posted by Kaz
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2015 at 11:19 am

Thank you for this in-depth article.

It would seem that all those magazine sales people who get dropped off in a neighborhoid by a van in the afternoon and work until well past dark, to then be picked up again by a van, are definitely trafficking victims. A national magazine did an inside article on what it was like to be in a magazine sales gang and It seems to fit all the victim criteria: total control of their time; psychologically and sometimes physically abusive; Stockholm syndrome; required sales and punishment for meeting quotas; not being paid but being told their transportation, housing, and food costs are higher than their income; being heavily discouraged from contacting parents or friends. Most of the kids/young adults in the gangs are estranged from their families, essentially run-aways even if over 18, and they bond into family units with their sales gang traveling all over a state or across state lines.

I wish law enforcement could take on that whole big scam...

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 8, 2015 at 11:47 am

Surprisingly in-depth and important article.

Some of the more vocal "pseudo"-capitalist regulars here don't seem to get that there cannot be a free and efficient market when there is slavery involved and no real rule of law to corrupt market signals and regulation.

If the NSA is going to have to look through all our data, I would just as soon see them looking for organized crime and human trafficking signs as well as terrorism. We know our government and corporations can become corrupt and we could find it out if we had the will and determination to.

Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on May 8, 2015 at 1:15 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2015 at 1:47 pm

>require all employers to use E Verify to make sure the worker is a US citizen

@jerry99: That might be effective, IF Palo Alto was serious about human trafficking. But it is not. It doesn't even apply E-Verify to its own employees.

Posted by Bad memory
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 8, 2015 at 2:24 pm

When I was a child in the late 60's/ early 70's, living in a very nice neighborhood not far from Palo Alto, the next door neighbors (husband, wife, two teenaged sons) adopted two young girls from another country, solely to use as household help. Rumor was that they were most likely sexually abused by the adoptive father. My parents were building a house next door and had just sold our old house without the new one being ready to move in. The next door neighbors let us stay in their bonus room for a couple of weeks until our house was completed.

The two adopted girls were put to work like slaves. Before school they fetched the paper and then washed the dishes and cleaned the house, including the room where my family was staying. The two teenaged sons were waited on and didn't have to help.

On Saturdays we invited the girls to the movies but they couldn't go because they had too much housework to do. The oldest girl, who was my age (7), said that their new parents had treated them to ice cream on their first day in their new family but then put them to work and were beaten if they objected. The father was a violent, abusive alcoholic and there was a lot of neighborhood gossip about how he abused his new daughters. The very sad thing was that the entire neighborhood knew what was going on but no one did anything. I think back in the 60's and 70's people were more reluctant to report abuse. People "kept to themselves."

That family moved after the father was arrested for breaking into our house (he was drunk), attempting to rape the baby sitter when my parents were at a party.

Those little girls were adopted solely for the purpose of free labor and were most likely sexually abused. I often think about them and feel so badly that no one helped them. I hope they somehow got away and eventually had happy lives. Probably not.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2015 at 3:07 pm

@Bad Memory: Very good post. It happens way too often. Everyone pretends to not see it, or to make excuses for it.

However, in Palo Alto it hides its ugly head behind labor contractors. The city of Palo Alto is one of the biggest culprits. It doesn't require E-Verify for its own labor, and it fails to track down the scumbags that run the street vendors.

Since this is the PA Weekly blog, and this issue was the front page story on today's Weekly, I will ask Bill Johnson: Do you require E-Verify certification of your cleaning crew contractors? How about any workers you may employ to take care of your yard or cleaning within you home? In other words, do you walk your own talk?

Posted by Sue Dremann, Staff Writer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2015 at 3:08 pm

More than 50 percent of identified human-trafficking victims in Silicon Valley are born in the United States, according to a 2014 study funded by the Juniper Networks Foundation Fund and Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 8, 2015 at 4:23 pm

Here are a few other "secrets":

Vietnamese nail salons.

Massage parlors (many disguised as foot massagers). Some of these are located along El Camino close to our border.

Foreign restaurants - some owners purchase additional residential homes to house their workers, and grossly underpay them for years (sometimes decades).

Many small business owners like 7-11's. They provide a free room in a local home in exchange for grossly underpaying their employees.

I know of several Southeast Asian "professionals" who brought people from their home countries to work for them as cooks and cleaners. The sponsors stated that these people were relatives on the immigration forms, when in fact there was no blood relationship. The girls were brought in as servants. The situations I know of have been going on for over 25 years. I reported this many years ago to several agencies, but nothing was ever done.

Many of these people are unable to speak English, and keep silently working out of fear.

Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 8, 2015 at 4:32 pm

Thank you Sue Dremann for this story.

One of the difficulties in spotting the problem is that many cultures use the terms "Auntie", "Uncle" "Sister", etc. very loosely.

It helps if you speak the language (Spanish / Vietnamese / Tagalog / Mandarin / Thai) and can befriend one of the workers. In the cases I know and tried to help, it took many months.

Posted by nearby
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2015 at 4:36 pm

excellent in-depth article

Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2015 at 4:38 pm

If the trafficker and trafficked victim are found to be illegal aliens, deport them.

Posted by Nail Salon
a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2015 at 4:50 pm

I have often wondered about nail salon employees. These girls seem very young, do not speak English well - outside the amount needed to ask how you want your nails, some hold cards for you to point at what you want.

Is there any way of knowing if these girls are legit. I always tip them well with cash and give to the individual girls rather than on my credit card or at the counter.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2015 at 5:34 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Shallow Alto
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2015 at 6:21 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Sir Chasm
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 9, 2015 at 12:24 pm

Nail Salon ... well, come on now, what is more important, a young girl's life that probably won't amount to much anyway, or the grooming of the nails of rich Bay Area women ... and men in many cases too? Where are your priorities.

This ties in with the minimum wage and so-called nanny-state issues. It is very common to have "confirmation bias" and to only see the world through the lens of one's own experience and push one's beliefs and even class slogans onto everything one sees - and loudly when you are part of the dominant group, but lots of people who are not what we would call trafficked workers are virtual slaves too.

When people find ways to rationalize finding unfairness and injustice to make up integral parts of your political and economic system there is no surprise at all when we see things like human trafficking, indentured servitude, lack of options, coercion and what we call wage-slavery all growing out of how we do business. I think our super and powerful would be just as rich and powerful and our economy just as dynamic - more so, if we enabled people through education and assistance to bring their talents - other than being a robot for someone else - to bear on solving economic problems and participating fully in the economy.

The studies show this over and over, and like lots of studies are hushed up while sock-puppet voices are enlisted to come out of the woods in greater numbers to renounce them.

What we have now, we have because it maintains the power and influence of those who are already enabled ... in fact it does more than maintain their power and influence, it enables what South Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang referred to as kicking away the ladder ... in effect our system has a negative affect on itself by reducing possible contribution and participation in the economy by what is getting to be a majority, instead of just a large minority. Odd, how that coincides with the loss of majority status for European Americans too. Maybe part of the argument is that this only affects the "threatening" segment of society and so can be overlooked? If we want to maintain our lead in the world we cannot do the same thing that China does, we need to do better and do it in a way that China cannot duplicate ... without becoming more like us ... that is the long-term point.

Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Good article and very worth reading.

Scary to hear this is goin on right under our noses and the cteepy thing is we don't even give it a thought.

Somehow I think the City of Palo Alto does do a backgrond along with a ID check.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on May 9, 2015 at 4:51 pm

>Somehow I think the City of Palo Alto does do a backgrond along with a ID check.

Wrong! Palo Alto does not require an E-Verify verification with its labor contractors. It relies on a much lower level, the same one that Meg Whitman used...and look where that got her.

It is time to stop being naïve about this "hidden in plain site" issue. If you are part of the problem, you still have the opportunity be part of the solution...but only IF you want to be.

Posted by Frank
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2015 at 7:38 pm

Nail salon workers are perhaps some of the biggest victims. There is a home on the next block from mine that houses the employees. Each morning two black Toyota Rav-4s driven by males picks-up the the ladies and transports them to their nail salons. Down the opposite end of my block resides the owner of the salons. He purchased the other home and shortly thereafter brought the workers in to reside there. I know, he's just helping them out. Nothing to see, just move along.

Posted by Report Them
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2015 at 10:03 pm


So are you reporting this suspicious activity?

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2015 at 5:01 am

When you report activity, you become the one investigated.

Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2015 at 10:34 am

E-Verify won't hekp those in the underground labour market or trafficking victims. How many peopld walk into a business and demand to see all the people concerning workers. What about the ones that are here legally and yet are trafficked

Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2015 at 10:36 am

Should be paperwork concerning workers.

Posted by Report Them
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2015 at 11:12 pm


Are you implying the police are in on it? Why would reporting suspicious activity result in being investigated?

Your response is just weird.

Posted by Language Matters
a resident of Stanford
on May 18, 2015 at 9:40 am

Dear author,

There is no such thing as "child prostitution". I would greatly appreciate it if would edit your word choice in this paragraph:"Many young trafficking victims aren't found until they get into the juvenile probation system at about age 16, usually for other misdemeanor crimes, but the average age of entry into child prostitution is 12, according to Beckman. By the time they find their way into the juvenile-justice system, "it's likely they have been doing it for a while," she said."

No child can legally consent to sex; these children are being sexually exploited, not choosing to be prostitutes.

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