One common thread shows up in each of the following stories…the people who lived to tell of their trafficking ordeal… SURVIVED! I was corrected today by an American who has lived in Kosovo to not say “victims” but rather “survivors.” This woman knows as she has worked in trafficking shelters with many “survivors.” That is a much more hopeful and optimistic term rather than being saddled with the fatalistic word “victim.” Those survivors who escaped at great peril, were proactive, they yearned for freedom again. People who embrace the label of “victim” usually wait for others to do something for them. I’m glad I was corrected, but the following report put together by the U.S. State Department still uses the term “Victims Stories” just the same.
OFFICE TO MONITOR AND COMBAT TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS
The victims’ testimonies included in this Report are meant to be illustrative only and do not reflect all forms of trafficking that occur. Any of these stories could take place anywhere in the world. They illustrate the many forms of trafficking and the wide variety of places in which they occur. Many of the victims’ names have been changed in this Report. Most uncaptioned photographs are not images of confirmed trafficking victims, but they illustrate the myriad forms of exploitation that comprise trafficking and the variety of cultures in which trafficking victims are found.
MEXICO – UNITED STATES
Maria Elena was 13 years old when a family acquaintance told her she could make ten times as much money waiting tables in the United States than she could in her small village. She and several other girls were driven across the border, and then continued the rest of the way on foot. They traveled four days and nights through the desert, making their way into Texas, then crossing east toward Florida. Finally, Maria Elena and the other girls arrived at their destination, a rundown trailer where they were forced into prostitution. Maria Elena was gang-raped and locked in the trailer until she agreed to do what she was told. She lived under 24-hour watch and was forced to have sex with up to 30 men a day. When she got pregnant, she was forced to have an abortion and sent back to work the next day. Maria Elena finally made her escape only to be arrested along with her traffickers.
Amina left her home in Bangladesh to take a job in Lebanon as a maid. Despite the promise of opportunity, she found herself exploited at the hands of an abusive employer. She was tortured, molested, and confined to the house for three months. “I was hardly given any food,” she later said. “In solitary confinement in a room, I had no idea what Lebanon looked like.” Amina managed to escape and was repatriated at the expense of the recruitment agency that had sent her abroad. She still suffers pain from injuries to her eyes sustained at the hands of her employer, but because the broker confiscated her passport and job contract, she cannot file a complaint with the authorities or receive compensation.
Gayan, a 15-year-old boy, was a school dropout when he was recruited by a broker who promised him a good job in the Jharsuguda district. Instead, Gayan, along with other boys, was confined to a factory to work, given little food, severely beaten, branded, burned with cigarettes, and allowed only a few hours’ sleep each night. It was not until Gayan returned home a year later that his parents learned what he had endured. “[O]nly now have we realized that he was threatened…the owners were always present while he was talking on the phone [to us],” they said. After Gayan’s parents complained to officials, the three traffickers responsible were arrested. The police have also initiated rescue efforts for the other boys held in forced labor and debt bondage in the same facility.
ROMANIA – UK
Uta was seven years old when she was sent from Romania to work as a domestic servant in the United Kingdom. Her family thought this was an opportunity to get Uta away from poverty, but the Romanian couple who recruited her physically and verbally abused her daily and forced her to sleep on the floor. The couple also enslaved and raped another victim, Razvan, a 53-year-old Romanian man. After being severely beaten and seeing the way the couple treated Uta, Razvan escaped and reported the offenses to the police. When the police rescued Uta she was dressed in filthy clothes, had scabs covering her head, and her teeth were so rotten they had to be removed. She had never been to school and could not even count to ten in her own language. The Romanian couple was found guilty of trafficking and was sentenced to a maximum of 14 years in prison.
PAKISTAN – UK
Saeeda, a deaf Pakistani woman, was ten years old when she left Pakistan for Manchester, England for a job as a domestic worker. For nearly a decade, she was abused, raped, and beaten by her employers, a Pakistani couple. Now in her 20s, Saeeda told the courts that she was confined to a cellar and forced to work as a slave. Her abusers have been accused of human trafficking, sexual offenses, imprisonment, violence, and fraud; they have both pleaded not guilty to the alleged charges. It remains unknown why the couple was permitted to recruit a girl of this age as a domestic worker.
For 10 years, Joel and Ronival were enslaved on a Brazilian ranch. They were forced to bathe in a reservoir contaminated with cattle manure, and they slept in a wooden hut. “There was no electricity, drinking water, or sanitation … this is not human job, this is slave job,” stated Joel. Eventually, they left the ranch in the middle of the night and walked 14 miles to escape their exploitation. Joel, 30, risked his own life in order to help guide Ronival, 69, who had lost 55 pounds and broken a shoulder, to safety. They made it to an NGO that helped shelter them and assisted with filing a legal action against their traffickers. Because of their courage, Joel and Ronival obtained compensation from their traffickers and have restarted lives free from fear of those who held them captive for so many years.
NEPALl – INDIA
At a carpet factory in Nepal, Nayantara met a labor broker who promised her a good job as a domestic worker in Lebanon. The broker convinced her to take the job opportunity, assuring her that she did not have to pay anything. He instead took Nayantara to India, confiscated her passport, and sold her to a brothel where she was forced to have sex with at least 35 men each day with only five hours of sleep. When she tried to refuse, the brothel owner would beat Nayantara with an iron pole until she gave in. She was not allowed to contact her family or anyone else outside of the brothel and her freedom of movement was constantly controlled. After six months, the police raided the brothel and imprisoned all the women and girls. The owner was arrested with them, but was released five months earlier than her victims because she bribed the police. When Nayantara was released from jail after 17 months, she was returned to the brothel, and sold to another owner within a month. Coming to the realization that she would never be able to pay off her debts, she ran away and eventually found her way back to Nepal. She has found refuge in a shelter.
LIBYA – MALTA
Shewaye, an Ethiopian woman, was forced to work as a nanny under abusive conditions and no pay for a family member of former Libyan leader Moammar Qadhafi. At the hands of her employer, Shewaye suffered severe abuse, including burns from scalding hot water poured over her head and body, and was never allowed medical treatment for festering wounds. After a year in servitude, Shewaye was found in August 2011 by a camera crew from CNN. The Government of Malta facilitated her departure from Libya to receive medical and rehabilitation services. The Maltese government has provided Shewaye with free accommodation, medical treatment, and legal assistance throughout her recovery process, and granted her temporary visa status.
When Ashley was 12-years-old she got into a fight with her mother and ran away from home. She ended up staying with her friend’s older brother at his house and intended to go home the next day, but when she tried to leave he told her that he was a pimp and that she was now his property. He locked her in a room, beat her daily, and advertised her for sex on websites. Once, she looked out a window and saw her mother on the street, crying and posting flyers with Ashley’s photo. When Ashley tried to shout her mother’s name from the window her pimp grabbed her by the hair and yanked her back, threatening “If you shout, I’ll kill you.” Ashley eventually escaped her confinement and is now at a treatment center for girls who have been sexually trafficked in New York.
BURMA – THAILAND
Raju, a migrant worker from Burma, traveled to Thailand when he was falsely promised 6,000 baht per month as a restaurant or factory worker—if he could first pay a 12,000 baht brokerage fee. Out of options, he agreed to borrow money for the fee and use his future earnings to repay it. Raju was instead forced and threatened at gun-point to board a fishing boat. Onboard the Thai vessel, Raju and the other workers were forced to work day and night, lived in cramped quarters, and were beaten if they took fish to cook and eat. Already saddled by debt, Raju never received his promised wages. Each time the fishing boat docked, the workers were taken to a house and locked in a room so that they could not escape. Raju recalled one worker who attempted to run away but was caught: “The man was tied to a post…the man was electrocuted and tortured with cigarette butts…later he was shot through the head.” Raju was finally able to escape the Thai fishing vessel by tying himself to a buoy, jumping overboard, and swimming six hours to shore.
Camila was only 14 when she was persuaded to leave her job as a maid and forced into prostitution in a bar in the Amazon. She was repeatedly restrained, raped and drugged. The traffickers coerced and bribed Camila with her freedom to get her to recruit her friend Sandra into sex trafficking as well. Camila was given her freedom but Sandra was then sexually exploited and humiliated. One night, while out riding with a customer, Sandra made a break from the car and shouted for help from the police. Instead of being rescued, they took her to a center for juvenile offenders where she was detained for two years. Camila was finally able to return home and filed a criminal complaint against her traffickers, but says she still feels trapped in her memories.
CAMEROON – SPAIN
Ivoline was at the top of her class in nursing studies at her hometown university in Cameroon. A woman from her village offered to help Ivoline complete her university degree in Europe. Ivoline and her father thought the offer was genuine and Ivoline’s father spent his entire savings to help her get to Spain. The woman had Ivoline pose as her daughter, using false passports while they traveled together to Europe. Once in Spain, instead of being sent to school, Ivoline was forced into prostitution on the streets. Ivoline eventually escaped from the woman and was homeless for a few weeks before she built up enough courage to go to the police. Although her trafficker was not brought to justice, Ivoline’s strength has given her new optimism and confidence; on her birthday this year, she toasted to hopes of finding work and creating a new life in Spain with her own family.”
We’d all prefer to dismiss these sad stories as “not our problem.” However, trafficking IS our problem if we care about what is happening globally and what is actually happening in our own country. Of course the stories go much deeper than these short samples but it gives an idea about how pervasive trafficking really is. Also, that it is more than just sex trafficking. These survivors, represented from all over the world, endured the sadness, pain, and horror of being trapped and trafficked. They should be listened to so this evil can be eradicated! We need to be aware and try to do what we can to stop this sinister crime against humanity.