Every year, the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons highlights victims’ stories in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Human trafficking affects men, women, and children from every community, culture, and country spanning the globe. These incidences of modern slavery could occur anywhere in the world; some victim names have been changed to protect their safety.
Eastern Europe-United States
Katya, a student athlete in an Eastern European capital city, dreamed of learning English and visiting the United States. Her opportunity came in the form of a student visa program, through which international students can work temporarily in the United States. But when she got to America, rather than being taken to a job in a beach resort, the people who met her put her on a bus to Detroit, Michigan. They took her passport away, and threatened her and her friends, forcing them to dance in strip clubs for the traffickers’ profit. They controlled the girls’ movement and travel, kept keys to the girls’ apartment, and listened in on phone calls the girls made to their parents. After a year of enslavement, Katya and her friend were able to reach federal authorities with the help of a patron of the strip club in whom they had confided. Due to their bravery, six other victims were identified and rescued. Katya now has immigration status under the U.S. trafficking law. She works in a health club and hopes to finish her degree in kinesiology. The traffickers are in federal prison.
Salima was recruited in Kenya to work as a maid in Saudi Arabia. She was promised enough money to support herself and her two children. But when she arrived in Jeddah, she was forced to work 22 hours a day, cleaning 16 rooms daily for several months. She was never let out of the house and was given food only when her employers had leftovers. When there were no leftovers, Salima turned to dog food for sustenance. She suffered verbal and sexual abuse from her employers and their children. One day while Salima was hanging clothes on the line, her employer pushed her out the window, telling her, "You are better off dead." Salima plunged into a swimming pool three floors down and was rescued by police. After a week in the hospital, she was deported. She returned to Kenya with broken legs and hands.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo
By 18, Christophe had been abducted by the Congolese army three times and forced to transport their supplies from region to region. Christophe and other abducted civilians, sometimes as many as 100, were forced to walk for days carrying boxes of ammunition, jerry cans of whiskey, cases of beer, and other baggage. Primary school children, some as young as 8, were forced to carry the soldiers’ children on their backs. If they got tired or walked slowly, they were beaten or whipped. They were given no food and ate only whatever they could find in the villages they passed through.
Vipul was born into extreme poverty in a village in Bihar, the poorest state in India. His mother was desperate to keep him and his five brothers from starving, so she accepted $15 as an advance from a local trafficker, who promised more money once 9-year-old Vipul started working many miles away in a carpet factory. He forced Vipul and the other slaves to work for 19 hours a day, never allowed them to leave the loom, and beat them savagely when they made a mistake in the intricate designs of the rugs, which were sold in Western markets. The work itself tore into Vipul’s small hands, and when he cried in pain, the owner stuck Vipul’s finger in boiling oil to cauterize the wound and then told him to keep working. After five years, local police, with the help of NGO activists, freed Vipul and nine other emaciated boys.
Ethiopia-United Arab Emirates
Mary left her home in East Africa determined to earn money for her family. But from her second day of work as a maid in a private house in the United Arab Emirates, she was beaten daily. "If she didn’t beat me in the day, she would beat me at night," Mary says of her employer. The beatings continued for two years. Once Mary’s employer threw boiling water on her and continued to beat her after she collapsed in pain. She was denied medical attention. Her clothing stuck to her wounds. Her employer ordered Mary to have sex with another maid on video. When Mary refused, the woman put a hot iron on her neck and threatened her with more beatings. After two years, a doctor noted wounds, scars, and blisters all over Mary’s body.
Harriet ran away from home when she was 11 years old and moved in with a 32-year-old man who sexually and physically abused her and convinced her to become a prostitute. In the next two years, Harriet became addicted to drugs, had two abortions, and contracted numerous sexually transmitted diseases. The police arrested Harriet when she was 13 and charged her with committing prostitution. They made no efforts to find her pimp. Harriet was placed on probation for 18 months in the custody of juvenile probation officials. Her lawyers have appealed the decision, arguing that since she could not legally consent to sex, she cannot face prostitution-related charges. She remains in a juvenile detention facility and has never been assisted in any kind of shelter for child sex trafficking victims.
Cristina flew from Bucharest to Lisbon where a friend’s boyfriend promised her a job serving drinks in a café. But instead she was taken to a town in southern Portugal and forced into street prostitution. Cristina was expected to give her traffickers 200-500 euros a day. Her traffickers verbally and physically abused her, one time breaking several of her teeth. They took her passport and forced her to use heroine and methadone. A Romanian friend helped Cristina escape and contacted Portuguese law enforcement officials, who took her to the government’s trafficking shelter after taking her statements. Her resilient spirit prevailed. With the shelter’s assistance, she relocated to London, where she is currently living and working.
Cindy was a poor girl in rural China when a neighbor and her husband offered to give her work at a restaurant their friends opened in Africa. Cindy dropped out of school and went with the couple to Ghana, only to fall victim to a Chinese sex trafficking ring. She was taken to live in a brothel with other Chinese women and her passport and return tickets were confiscated. Her traffickers forced her to engage in commercial sex and beat her when she refused. They made her peruse casinos to attract white men. The traffickers took Cindy’s money, telling her that she had to repay them for her travel and accommodation costs. A Ghanaian investigative journalist exposed the ring, and the traffickers were prosecuted in a Ghanaian court. With NGO assistance, Cindy and the other women returned to China and are now trying to rebuild their lives.