Violence against women of color is often reported out of context. The deeper social and economic injustices at work are overlooked.
Today, a coalition including (partial list) Narika, ASATA (Alliance of South Asians Taking Action), South Asian Sisters, Asian Women’s Shelter, Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, Maitri, and California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, will mark the 10th anniversary of the Lakireddy Bali Reddy sex and labor exploitation case with a vigil and press conference in Berkeley.
Lakireddy Bali Reddy is a wealthy South Asian businessman who owned more than fifty percent of the rental housing in Berkeley and the popular Pasand restaurant chain, second only to the University of California in Berkeley property holdings; he is still the largest owner of rental properties in Berkeley.
After one of the victims of his sex and labor exploitation activity turned up dead in late November 1999, his criminal endeavors were brought to light.
Today’s vigil will honor victim Seetha Vemireddy who was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning on November 24, 1999. She was one of nine young women found to be victims of Reddy’s labor and sexual exploitation, in addition to dozens more workers who faced labor exploitation at Pasand restaurant and Reddy Realty.
From the beginning the Reddy case was told by the media in sordid detail. It was easy to tell a story of man bites dog: a wealthy and respected real estate mogul from the model minority South Asian community engages in sexual slavery.
In 2001, Reddy and five of his relatives pled guilty to various counts of conspiring to commit immigration fraud, transportation of minors for illegal sexual activity, and submitting a false tax return. Reddy paid $11 million in restitution to the victims and their families, with an additional undisclosed amount for a workers’ class action lawsuit. Upon serving just under seven years in prison, Reddy was released in April 2008.
The Reddy case exposes a deeper truth about globalization and migration. Human trafficking has resulted from the particular nexus of global capital flows and subsequent restrictive labor flows. In many instances, trafficking victims are simply workers looking for jobs in richer countries who are cheated by recruiting agents, in this case a wealthy landowner from the migrants’ village in India.
The larger immigration debate points to the flawed terms of the conversation. Economics is purposely ignored, with the Right keen to focus the public’s attention instead on racism and xenophobia. This played well in the Reddy case as the media and some advocates were happy to focus on the cultural underpinnings of Reddy’s criminal behavior.
This is why the work of South Asian domestic violence and progressive activist organizations in the Bay area is so important, to highlight the deeper trends of labor and sexual exploitation in the global economy.
Ten years later trafficking remains a reality. Groups at today’s press conference will highlight campaigns working to end trafficking and the economics motivating these criminal activities.
Policy solutions are difficult to find however, as the government response to trafficking is led by the Department of Homeland Security which at best complicates matters and at worst contributes to the ongoing problem. Given that victims of trafficking often owe their immigration status to their exploiters, speaking out to Homeland Security means risking detention or deportation.
We need to continue to uncover the root economic causes of migration and trafficking, find community- and government-based solutions, and create safer environments for women of color in the Bay area and beyond.
Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach: http://www.apilegaloutreach.org/
NAPAWF Anti-Trafficking Resources: http://napawf.org/resources/issue-briefs-factsheets/#Anti-Human%20Trafficking
Human Rights Center at Berkeley: http://hrc.berkeley.edu/completed_initiatives.html