Rivertown Mom Tackles Domestic Slavery in YA Book

"Trafficked" is getting rave reviews and garnering readers of all ages, and tells a story that may exist, silently, here in Westchester.

Stranded in a foreign land with false documents, no money, and nobody who can help her, Hannah must find a way to save herself from her status as a modern-day slave before she loses the one thing she has left: her life. - Trafficked book blurb.

Modern day slavery isn't much talked about here in the rich 'burbs of Westchester, but this is precisely the place where this can exist, said Irvington mom and author .

Purcell has taken up the cause of young girls trafficked into this county to serve as domestic slaves in her first Young Adult book, Trafficked, which is garnering great reviews and readers of all ages.

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In statistics she cited from the United Nations, Purcell said between 14,500 to 17,500 mostly girls and women are trafficked into the county every year, about 5,000 of those for domestic slavery purposes. The number is “really disputed,” Purcell said. Some organizations believe this hard-to-track figure is much higher.

The numbers are hard to track because these girls are in hiding; they are invisible and afraid to come forward. “They've usually been threatened. Their families are back home and they have no protection," Purcell said.

About once a month in the United States, said Purcell, a family is found with a girl kept illegally in their house. There was the infamous case on Long Island a few years back of an Indian couple keeping Indonesian women as their live-in houseslaves, among other cases around the nation. Purcell noted a well-off woman she heard of right here in Westchester who allegedly housed an illegal helper in her garage, the asbestos there making her sick. "Because she didn't speak English, she had nowhere else to go," Purcell said, who interviewed the worker and incorporated her story in the book.

This is how the story generally goes, Purcell said: an immigrant family brings a naïve girl over with little or no ability to communicate. Perhaps she is beaten into submission a few times by the family she lands with, or, often, sexually attacked. She is tricked into thinking she will be paid as she works, hiding in a home so the neighbors won't see her.

While we hear a lot of late about sexual trafficking of girls, certainly more tantalizing for headlines, domestic slavery was the cause Purcell found herself drawn to. "I had to write about this," she said. She had a read a news story about the problem and it affected her deeply as she was teaching English as a Second Language to young students at the time. She looked around the room and thought, “it could be any of you.”

Purcell wondered what it takes for such a girl to come forward, and, perhaps more importantly, for someone around her to come forward. “What is that we don't do because we are too afraid. What is it that makes you step out of that box you form around yourself and say 'can I help you'... And what makes girls kept in homes step out and ask for help?”

Why write YA? Because, Purcell said, young adults are the victims she wanted to speak to directly for maximum impact. “If I can warn even one girl away from this fate, then all the years of work would be worth it," she said.

The story follows the sequestered life of a Moldavian girl in the West Hollywood home of a Russian family; she was coerced to come from her Eastern European homeland to serve as a modern day slave. Especially haunting are the moments when she longingly watches her boy neighbor through a crack in the backyard fence.

With Purcell's background in ESL, she knows that the “lack of language skills in itself is a jail.” And now having her own kids, two young girls, really brings the subject home.

Purcell tried on the first-person point of view but the Americanisms kept seeping in, so she kept the narrative in “close third person.” The ESL Russian students she had were helpful in their English errors. “A lot of what [Hannah] says are direct quotes from students in Russian,” she said joking that she almost encouraged her students to make the common translation mistakes for the sake of her research.

People ask Purcell: aren't these girls better off in these homes than in their former lives? She responds with an emphatic no. "That's not what they are agreeing to."

Next up? Purcell is going to take on the huge issue of the moment: bullying. She will continue with her YA novel approach.

“The books I read as a teen stay with me to this day," Purcell said. "The books you read at that age make such an impact. It can be such a crappy period of your life.”


To read more about Purcell, human slave trafficking her book, click here. Purcell is donating 20 percent of her book royalties to anti-trafficking groups to help teens in this situation.

Florence Reilly May 03, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Thank you so much, Kim for taking on a subject that really needs to see the light and make people aware of what actually goes on around us. Once we are aware, we need to know : what can each of us do about it???
j.L. Corona May 03, 2012 at 03:36 PM


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