Maria Suarez Speaks on Trafficking and the Prison Industrial Complex

Maria Suarez Speaks on Trafficking and the Prison Industrial Complex
By Kit Rutter and Maria Suarez

Many people are shocked to
hear that slavery still exists. But in
reality, the transaction of human
beings as commodities occurs in
most countries. It is called human
trafficking and is defined by the
U.S. government in part as the
transportation, transfer, harboring
or receipt of persons through the
use of coercion, abuse of power or
taking advantage of positions of

It is diffi cult to imagine the
pain experienced by people who
are treated as chattel. For example,
Maria Suarez was imprisoned for
28 years, fi rst by her sexually and
psychologically abusive captor,
and then by the California state
prison system. At age 15, shortly
after emigrating to the United
States from Mexico, Maria was
tricked into slavery and sold to
a man in his late 60?s, Anselmo
Covarrubias. He claimed to be a
witch and had a history of enslaving
young women and girls from
Mexico. Maria?s captor isolated
her and manipulated her through
fear and violence. He told her regularly
that he could read her mind
and that he might kill her family if
she didn?t do what she was told.

Covarrubias rented a back
house to a young couple. He attempted
to pursue the wife and
was eventually killed
by the husband in an
altercation over her.
Maria was asked to
hide the weapon. She
was frightened and
hid the weapon under
the house, having
grown accustomed to
following commands
after years of manipulation and
abuse. Maria was charged with
aiding and abetting the murder and
sentenced to 25 years to life. She
was released 22 years later after a
judge ruled that the level of abuse
she endured was sufficient evidence
to lessen her sentence.

Maria?s story sheds light on
the ways that immigrant women
are used as slaves, as workers, as
bodies to be bought and sold. The
United Nations Offi ce on Drugs
and Crime estimates that around
2.5 million people are bought and
sold around the world at any given
time. Approximately 80 percent
are women and girls, and about
50 percent are children under 18.
Nearly all are people of color from
poor countries. The
fact that immigrant
women of color
make up the largest
group among traffi
cked people illustrates
the continuing
violence against
women in the global

Prisons in
the United States
similarly undervalue
the lives of people of color
and perpetuate violence against
women. Maria explained some of
the parallels between
her experiences as a
trafficked slave and as
a prisoner:
?When trafficked,
you are not in control
of your body emotionally,
mentally, physically,
sexually, and
in other ways. When
you go to prison you still are
under someone else?s control. You
come from one type of ?closed
environment/prison? to another.
In both situations it is woven
around you?it is chains around
your brain that you cannot break
through. I couldn?t have a mind of
my own. It was always wanting to
but never able to do it.?

Maria was able to come out of
prison with an amazing spirit of
strength. She is now working as a
counselor for abused women and
educating others to fi ght against
abuse and slavery, including that
which occurs in the prison system.
She is currently organizing a project
that would allow her to return
to towns in Mexico to educate
people about human traffi cking.
There is little awareness about the
realities of human traffi cking in
poor countries, especially in rural
areas, and traffi ckers often target
these areas. People in these areas
experience food shortage, medical
problems and other vulnerabilities
that make them more willing
to take risks to immigrate. Maria
hopes to tell them what to expect,
and spare more people from the
horrors she experienced.