If you thought slavery ended in 1865 with the inclusion of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution you were wrong. Tuesday, Jean-Claude Kodjo Toviave, an immigrant from Togo, was convicted of enslaving and abusing four boys from his West African nation.
According to law enforcement officials, Toviave, a former janitor at the University of Michigan, smuggled the boys into the country and passed them off as his sons. But after three of the youngsters complained of the abuse to counselors at their middle school, police arrested Toviave and found out he wasn’t really their father.
Toviave, whose sentencing is set for Feb. 6, smuggled the four boys into the country from Togo by using fake passports with false names and birth dates. Claiming the boys were his own biological children, he went as far as enrolling the three youngest – now ages 21, 20, and 15 – in a public middle school.
During the trial, the boys testified that Toviave regularly beat them with broomsticks, a toilet plunger, sticks, ice scrapers, and cell phone chargers if they failed to obey orders to do their house chores – which included cooking, housecleaning, ironing his suits, shining his shoes, washing and vacuuming his car, and cleaning one of his friends’ houses.
Toviave also starved and sleep-deprived them as punishment. In February, Toviave pled guilty to mail fraud and harboring illegal aliens in connection with bringing the four boys to the United States.
Human trafficking is a growing problem in the U.S., but rarely do we hear about black male victims. Despite this, the sale of young people is big business and Bridgette Carr, an Assistant Professor of Law and director of the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, says it affects several communities across the country.
“In Michigan, we have seen victims in the Upper Peninsula, in Detroit, and in rural areas,” she says. “We haven’t found a community yet that we haven’t seen a victim come from.”
“So, what I often tell people is: ‘Find a community that doesn’t have a drug problem, and I can talk about perhaps your community doesn’t have a human trafficking problem.’ That’s how prevalent it is.”
Toviave is scheduled to be sentenced on February 6. He is facing 20 years in prison.