Letters to the Editor

Week of Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The greatest damage, however, may be done to future victims of slavery in the United States who seek help and find neither resources nor sympathy, because the public has grown weary of such stories, assuming all such allegations will collapse into dust upon examination. Ms. Yeung's weak efforts at journalism may, in the end, cause more harm than good in an issue that clearly needs national attention.

As I told Ms. Yeung, when the lawsuit is eventually resolved and most of the allegations against Ms. Njuguna-Githinji are proved either false or grossly exaggerated, I hope there are organizations and newspapers that act just as aggressively to help Ms. Njuguna-Githinji recover her life and reputation.

It seems clear SF Weekly cannot be depended on for such basic fairness.

Jodi Upton
Investigative reporter
The Detroit News
Detroit, Mich.

Bernice Yeung replies: Upton and Njuguna-Githinji both participated in the Knight Fellowship program at Stanford in 2003. I called Upton and several other 2003 fellows during the course of reporting this story. During my conversation with Upton, she did, indeed, raise a number of arguments in support of Njuguna-Githinji, which I noted and then investigated. I attempted to address some of her points in the story. For example, she asked why Alice B. did not leave when she was left alone for a month. I dedicated a portion of the article to the practical concerns a new immigrant might face in seeking help, and I also discussed the psychological coercion that can play a powerful role in human trafficking cases. Upton's other arguments, however, did not sufficiently challenge the information that I had gathered (and that supported an opposing view). Specifically, Upton argued that it is likely that Alice B. filed a civil lawsuit against Njuguna-Githinji purely as a means to remain in this country. I found that argument lacking. None of the trafficking experts I spoke to had ever come across such a situation. Furthermore, if Alice B. is lying, she could have simply applied for a visa for trafficking victims and attempted to dupe the U.S. government discreetly. Why would a liar file a lawsuit in public court and expose herself and her visa application to greater scrutiny?

Upton claimsSF Weekly lacks basic fairness, even though I included a response from Njuguna-Githinji's attorneys to every allegation Alice B. makes. Ultimately, I think it is important to note that I wrote a magazine-style story, which is different in substance and philosophy from a newspaper story. Newspaper reporters hold "objectivity" as an absolute standard, and frequently their stories have a he said/she said quality that can leave the reader baffled and unable to form an opinion about where the truth may lie. Magazine-style articles, however, are supposed to have a point of view backed by thorough reporting and balance. After spending several weeks interviewing a string of people associated with both Alice B. and Njuguna-Githinji, and speaking with numerous human trafficking experts, I concluded that it is possible that Alice B. is a victim of human trafficking, a perspective I believe is supported by information presented in the article.

Editor John Mecklin replies:Jodi Upton makes four false statements that bear correction. Bernice Yeungwas not desperate to localize a national story; she began discussing the story with me more than six weeks before publication, and that discussion had almost nothing to do with national stories on trafficking. Ms. Yeung did not use one lawsuit as the basis of her story; in fact, she spent more than a month reviewing many documents and interviewing a wide variety of people who had interacted with Alice B. Ms. Yeung did not start reporting the story with "bias"; I know this because I spoke with her repeatedly about the story during its early stages, and know she was aware, from the beginning, of the need to report the story thoroughly and skeptically. Finally, although I'm sure Jodi Upton is a fine investigative reporter, she scrambled the headline on Ms. Yeung's story. The correct headline is "Enslaved in Palo Alto."

Comfort from a countrywoman:I read your story about Alice B. on the Internet and was moved by the situation she is in. I live in Boston not far from Harvard University. My original home is in Kenya, same district as Alice. I just want to talk to her to comfort her and be able to help her in any way possible. I would like to let her know that she is not alone from Bungoma, there are a number of us here and wish to give her some support. I also want to make sure that she is eating well and sleeping fine, and that she is warm. I would like to buy her some calling cards so she can keep in touch with her family and child.

The Bungoma Community in USA is very appreciative of Bernice Yeung's story, exposing this inhuman treatment to especially fellow countrymen. Alice's employer was so selfish. I hope she learns a big lesson on this.

Jane Namusia Wafula
Via the Internet

Correction

In "Masque of the Pink Book Slasher" [Art, March 10], Seth Eisen's name was misspelled. SF Weekly regrets the error.

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