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NYTMag_Landesman_GirlsNextDoor_Jan252004 - The New York...

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January 25, 2004 The Girls Next Door By PETER LANDESMAN Correction Appended Editor's Note The house at 1212 1/2 West Front Street in Plainfield, N.J., is a conventional midcentury home with slate siding, white trim and Victorian lines. When I stood in front of it on a breezy day in October, I could hea cries of children from the playground of an elementary school around the corner. American flags fluttere porches and windows. The neighborhood is a leafy, middle-class Anytown. The house is set back off the near two convenience stores and a gift shop. On the door of Superior Supermarket was pasted a sign issu Plainfield police: ''Safe neighborhoods save lives.'' The store's manager, who refused to tell me his name never noticed anything unusual about the house, and never heard anything. But David Miranda, the youn behind the counter of Westside Convenience, told me he saw girls from the house roughly once a week. came in to buy candy and soda, then went back to the house,'' he said. The same girls rarely came twice, were all very young, Miranda said. They never asked for anything beyond what they were purchasing; th certainly never asked for help. Cars drove up to the house all day; nice cars, all kinds of cars. Dozens of came and went. ''But no one here knew what was really going on,'' Miranda said. And no one ever asked On a tip, the Plainfield police raided the house in February 2002, expecting to find illegal aliens working underground brothel. What the police found were four girls between the ages of 14 and 17. They were al Mexican nationals without documentation. But they weren't prostitutes; they were sex slaves. The distinc important: these girls weren't working for profit or a paycheck. They were captives to the traffickers and who controlled their every move. ''I consider myself hardened,'' Mark J. Kelly, now a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Se told me recently. ''I spent time in the Marine Corps. But seeing some of the stuff I saw, then heard about, those girls was a difficult, eye-opening experience.'' The police found a squalid, land-based equivalent of a 19th-century slave ship, with rancid, doorless bath bare, putrid mattresses; and a stash of penicillin, ''morning after'' pills and misoprostol, an antiulcer medi that can induce abortion. The girls were pale, exhausted and malnourished. It turned out that 1212 1/2 West Front Street was one of what law-enforcement officials say are dozens o stash houses and apartments in the New York metropolitan area -- mirroring hundreds more in other maj like Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago -- where under-age girls and young women from dozens of count trafficked and held captive. Most of them -- whether they started out in Eastern Europe or Latin America taken to the United States through Mexico. Some of them have been baited by promises of legitimate job better life in America; many have been abducted; others have been bought from or abandoned by their impoverished families.
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