Infamous Berkeley human trafficking case’s long shadow: KALW News interviews reporter Viji Sundaram


The story of Lakireddy Balireddy made international headlines in the early 2000s, but what happened in the decade since then was even more important, said reporter Viji Sundaram of New America Media and part of a team project on human trafficking in the Spring 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.

The case, involving a handful of girls who prosecutors said were forced into labor and sex, led to reforms such as California’s first anti-trafficking law in 2005, and a follow-up ballot initiative that’s gaining support this year.

Last week Sundaram sat down with KALW News host Holly Kernan to discuss her reporting on the history of efforts to battle human trafficking in the Bay Area and California.


Part of the problem that made the Lakireddy case the rallying cry for more attention on human trafficking was the imbalance of power. Lakireddy was one of the richest landlords in Berkeley in the late 1990s. His prosecution for the transportation and abuse of girls from his native India exposed clear abuses of vulnerable young women.

“It must be total hell, because she probably has glimpses of how other people are living,” Sundaram said of one of the victims she profiled. “Unlike in the village, where, surrounding Lakireddy’s home, it is utter poverty. So she probably thinks that’s how it is. But here she sees people driving in fancy cars, enjoying so much freedom, being allowed to dress the way they want. They are forced to dress in a certain way. They are never given an opportunity to go to school, or improve their chances for a better life. And they’re also limited in communicating with their families back home. It must be, I think, nothing short of hell.”

Read full coverage of human trafficking in the San Francisco Public Press Spring 2012 print edition, on sale at retail outlets around San Francisco and online at

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