A woman who was trafficked for forced labor for 10 years across the United States has been awarded $8 million by a federal judge in Kansas — the largest sum ever awarded to a trafficking victim in the country.
Kendra Ross, now 27, was exploited by a group originally called the United Nation of Islam, which split from the Nation of Islam in 1978. United Nation of Islam later changed its named to The Value Creators, setting up its headquarters in Kansas City.
The Value Creators is headed by Royall Jenkins, who reportedly governed all aspects of members’ lives, from where they lived and worked to how they spoke, what they ate and whom they married. He claimed that he was abducted by angels or scientists who took him through the galaxy and told him he was “The Supreme Being.”
No lawyers showed up to represent Jenkins or The Value Creators at the trial.
Ross was separated from her mother at 12 and forced to work in the organization’s bakeries and restaurants in Kansas City, Atlanta, Newark, Harlem, Tennessee, and Ohio. Later, when she was 20, The Value Creators pushed her into a forced marriage with another member of the group.
Betsy Hudson, Ross’ lawyer, said that “They stripped her of 19 years of her life, forced her to work for no pay, and subjected her to just inhumane conditions,” adding that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Washington Post reports:
After she testified, U.S. District Judge Daniel D. Crabtree told her, “The way you were treated was despicable,” according to a transcript of the hearing. “It’s not the way we treat each other in America. It’s not the way we treat each other here in Kansas.” Then Crabtree stepped down from the bench, walked over to Ross and shook her hand. “He said, ‘It’s an honor and a privilege to meet you,’” Hutson said.
It wasn’t until 2003 that federal laws permitted victims of trafficking to file civil suits against their captors. Martina Vandenberg, founder of the Human Trafficking Legal Center, said her group has tracked nearly 280 suits involving human trafficking, and Ross’s case was “the highest single-victim verdict that we’ve heard of.” In the center’s database of suits, Vandenberg said 93 percent were related to claims of forced labor.
Ross was finally able to escape The Value Creators when she was 21, finding a shelter for trafficking victims.
At trial her lawyers sought damages for the ten years of unpaid labor she was subjected to. The judge awarded Ross $453,517 for restitution, $2.92 million for emotional distress, $3.37 million for punitive damages, and nearly $1.2 million for racketeering damages and unpaid overtime.
After the verdict, Ross issued a statement saying she was happy that justice had been served, and encouraged others still being exploited to come forward.
“To all of the members who are still a part of The Value Creators, and those who have left, it is not too late to get out, to be free and get help, justice and closure,” she said.
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