When does comfort return to a victim of human trafficking? How long does it take for the memories of a strangers’ touch and the abuse of madams to fade far, far away? For one young Eastern European girl who was trafficked to Turkey and forced to work as a prostitute at the age of 18, those questions are still without answers.
Jan. 11th is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. But for Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), one day is not enough. Every day must be about teaching the youth of the small Eastern European country of Moldova how to avoid falling prey to the horrors of trafficking and the worldwide sex trade.
According to the U.S. Department of State, Moldova is considered a major source for women and children trafficked abroad for sexual exploitation. This tragic truth has stared CERI in the face; and asked for help through tearful blue eyes.
It seemed like a great idea, remembered the young girl, now 20, who asked not to be identified. Her roommate planned a way for both of them to move to Turkey and find jobs taking care of elderly couples. They would cook, help around the house, and make more money than they ever could working in the open air market in downtown Chisinau. The plan seemed too good to be true. And it was.
When they touched down in Turkey and went to the place they were going to live it was immediately clear: this was not the job the young girl had signed up for.
The madam, who was only 23-years old herself, laid out the house rules. If they weren’t followed, she warned, the punishment would be severe. Turning to her roommate in horror and desperation, the young girl realized that she had been tricked into an awful situation by more than just this woman, her friend had been the pimp who trafficked her.
She started working that night.
When she got pregnant the first time, the same madam took her to a doctor whose office was run out of an apartment. They hooked her up to an I.V. in the afternoon and by the evening, she gave birth to a stillborn.
“I didn’t know what they were doing,” she said with her head down, fighting back tears. “I didn’t speak the language. I thought they were helping me. I would have fought it.”
She was put back to work and, only months later, discovered she was pregnant again.
This time, she would not tell anyone in the house. Instead, she searched through her list of clientele and identified the baby’s father. He promised to help her.
After a month of hiding, her paperwork finally cleared and the young girl could escape home. With the exception of his purchase of her flight back to Moldova, she would never receive help from her baby’s father again. “He has a wife and family of his own,” she said.
Today, she and her 1-year old son live with her younger sister. She told no one about what she went through. That was, until she met a CERI caseworker.
CERI’s Transitional Living Program teaches young adults in Moldova basic life skills such as building self esteem, career planning, finding housing and money management. It also raises awareness of human trafficking and teaches youth how to remain safe.
It is our hope that CERI’s program will protect youths from ever becoming victims of trafficking. For those who have experienced it already, we hope that these lessons will help ease their recovery and diminish their vulnerability in the future.
Knowledge is power, and National Human Trafficking Awareness Day presents a notable opportunity to share and learn more about this global problem.