Almasi was enslaved within Kenya. She was deceived by a childhood friend who said she could work as a cleaner in Mombasa. But instead she was taken to a house that served as a brothel and enslaved for six months. She escaped by jumping out of a moving vehicle. She later discovered that she was HIV positive. As part of the process of narrating her story, she also created artwork. Her narrative explains the images of a wing and a tortoise. Almasi is a fictional name to protect the narrator's identity.
Angela Guanzon was brought to the United States from Bacolod City, Philippines, in 2005, to work at an elderly care home in California. But upon arrival she was told she owed $12,000 in fees, to be deducted before wages. She worked 18 hours a day and slept on hallway floors for two and half years.
The FBI rescued Angela and several other workers in 2008. Angela testified against her trafficker in criminal court and the woman received a five-year prison sentence. Angela is now a survivor-organizer with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), a nonprofit organization that provided her with shelter and legal assistance.
There are hundreds of thousands of children trapped in India’s carpet industry. Most of India’s carpets are woven in Uttar Pradesh, where the majority of workers are low-caste Hindu boys. Some are lured into bondage by agents’ promises to their parents that they will receive good wages, and others are kidnapped. The boys are forced to work for no pay, for 10-18 hours a day, seven days a week. They are beaten, tortured, branded, kept half fed and half clad, and are usually made to sleep in the loom shed. Cuts and wounds are frequent. Ashok was trafficked into a carpet loom in Uttar Pradesh. He was liberated by activists from Bal Vikas Ashram (BVA), an organization that liberates and rehabilitates child slaves. He and other boys were found weaving carpets, wearing only underwear, and had been forced to weave rugs for 12-15 hours a day, beginning at 6am. After their liberation, the boys were taken to BVA, in Uttar Pradesh, where they received medical care, counseling, literacy training, and basic rights education. They returned to their villages after six months. BVA continues to liberate children.
In 2004, at age 16, Asia Graves was trafficked in Boston and spent two and half years trapped in sexual exploitation.
In 2009 she testified during a six-day trial that resulted in the conviction of two men at the centre of a major child-trafficking operation. They were both sentenced to 25 years in prison. Before testifying, she had moved to Tennessee, fearing for her safety, and returned to Boston only to speak at trial. In 2012 she moved to Washington DC and began work as the Maryland Program Coordinator and Survivor Advocate at FAIR Girls, a nonprofit group fighting sexual exploitation.
Barbara Amaya is an award winning author, advocate and survivor. From the age of 12 she was trafficked in Washington DC and New York for over a decade. A sought-after speaker and advocate for trafficking victims and survivors of trauma everywhere, Barbara has shared her story on television and college campuses as well as with multiple civic, legal, faith and women’s organizations. Barbara is called upon by law makers and law enforcement to train others and to add her expert testimony to aid in the passing of human trafficking legislation in her home state of Virginia as well as other states. In 2014 Barbara was awarded the James B. Hunter Human Rights Award. She is the author of the book Nobody's Girl: A Memoir of Lost Innocence, Modern Day Slavery and Transformation (2015).
After several months in slavery, Beatrice Fernando reached the point of no return. Standing on a fourth-floor balcony in Beirut, Lebanon, she realized there was “no other way to get home” but to “dive backwards.” In a recent interview she explained of her decision to step off the balcony: “When we take a step against slavery, the world will take another step.”In 1980, at the age of 23, Beatrice had responded to an advertisement for work as a housemaid in Lebanon. She left her home country of Sri Lanka, intending to send money to her parents and her three-year-old son. But in Beirut she became a domestic slave. She was locked inside a home, starved, beaten, never paid, and forbidden from communicating with the outside world. Guards were instructed to shoot her if she tried to leave. After she reached a turning-point and escaped by jumping from the apartment’s fourth floor, she spent 21 days in a coma. Doctors told her that she was paralyzed. After 14 months in hospital she recovered from the paralysis and returned to Sri Lanka. In 1989 she came to live and work in the US.
In 2000, some of the 220 residents of Sonebarsa, a quarrying village in Uttar Pradesh, India, revolted against their slaveholders. About 40 families lived in Sonebarsa, all of them Kols, an ethnic group near the bottom of India’s steep ladder of caste and discrimination, and all locked into hereditary debt bondage. Children worked from the age of three or four, and infant mortality was high. Choti was one of the slaves who rebelled. The villagers had begun meeting with organizers from Sankalp, a grassroots NGO that has so far helped 4000 slaves to free themselves from slavery in the stone quarries of Uttar Pradesh. Seeyawati, who works for Sankalp, explained that organizers offered the villagers two things initially: “an example of another village where we’d been able to get some progress done,” and the question: “how long could they live this life as a slave?” Bala, who also works for Sankalp, added: “Earlier on there was no hope at all amongst the people. They didn’t believe they could be free. We gave them a new hope, and said to them: ‘What has happened has happened. The past is past. But it’s up to you to make a change, because it’s your life and the lives of your children.’” The slaves began to organize. Women were particularly central to this process of self-liberation, as Bala explained: “When one of the slave owners came to a house and raped a man’s wife, 15 females came out of their houses and said ‘No more,’ formed their own self-help group and joined us in the movement.” The narratives focus on the role of women in the process of self-liberation: Choti observes that the women “played a very big role in getting revolution.The slaves called a mass meeting, and were joined by 3,500 people from 60 villages. Slaveholders interrupted the meeting, attacked the villagers, and shot guns into the air. The villagers retaliated by throwing stones and one of the contractors was killed. His friends set fire to Sonebarsa—“not a thing was left, everything was gone,” recounts Choti. Eight men from the village were scapegoated and jailed, including Choti’s husband. After the burning of Sonebarsa, Sankalp assisted the 40 refugee families and helped them form micro-credit unions. The villagers pooled their money, and petitioned for a mining lease. But the Allahabad Mining Corporation wouldn’t allow leases and so the villagers moved onto unoccupied land in Uttar Pradesh and began mining it. Authorities protested this in court, but a judge ruled that no unauthorized workwas being done and signed leases. Today the villagers continue to build their community, which they have named Azad Nagar, “the land which is free.”
Christina Elangwe spent five years as a domestic slave in Washington DC, held by Cameroonians. Promised an American education and a babysitting job, she was tricked into leaving her family in Cameroon at the age of 17. Upon arrival in the US, she worked long hours for no money, was not sent to school, and were beaten and verbally abused.A man called Louis Etongwe helped Christina and two other women to escape, then took tapes of all three to Cameroon to show their parents and gather evidence against the traffickers. Christina’s captors received five years probation and were ordered to pay her $180,000 in back wages. So far she has received about $2000.
Though most of the slaves in the US have been trafficked from 35 or more countries, some are American citizens. Christine, of European and American Indian ancestry, was born and trafficked in Minnesota—which is currently a sex trafficking pipeline to larger cities, like Chicago. In fact, incidents of sex trafficking have been discovered in all 50 US states, involving victims born and raised in the US, as well as those trafficked from abroad. Girls as young as 12 years old are forced to have sex seven days a week, with 10-15 people a day, and meet a quota of $500-1000 a night. Most likely, almost half of people currently enslaved in the US are in the sex industry. As Christine notes, she was “one such girl”—trafficked by her family as a child. Her narrative lays out the gender dynamics of slavery, whereby traffickers and pimps attempt to divide and conquer women: “They rape us in front of our mothers and grandmothers; they rape our grandmothers and mothers in front of us…They want us to dislike and distrust other women and girls.” But Christine counters this attempt at division with her assertion of “a bond deeper than blood to the very women and girls they tried to make you hate,” and with her first-person plural voice: “we endure…we are women in search of freedom.”
In 1993, Dina Chan was exploited in northern Cambodia. Women are internally trafficked for sexual exploitation in Cambodia, usually from rural areas to the country’s capital, Phnom Penh, and other secondary cities. Cambodian women are also brought to Thailand and Malaysia for commercial sexual exploitation. An orphan who got into debt for overdue rent payments and tuition fees, Dina was trafficked from Phnom Penh to Stroeung Treng at the age of 17. Her narrative describes police corruption, starvation, and gang rape.
She points out the irony that she fought for others’ freedoms as a soldier, “only to become enslaved,” and rejects the response of “pity” to her story. She also issues a call for prostitutes to unionize and “fight for basic rights.” On behalf of herself and her “sisters,” Dina demands recognition of her humanity: “We are people, we are women and we want to be treated with respect.”
"Edward" was beaten, degraded and made to work long hours in forced labour in the UK. At one point he was sold by one man to another man for £300. He was removed from a situation of exploitation by the specialist investigators of the charity Hope for Justice. The British Government estimates that there are around 13,000 people in modern day slavery in the UK today. Over 3,000 people, including nearly 1,000 children, were referred to British authorities as potential victims of slavery in 2015, a 40% increase on the previous year. The most common countries of origin were from Albania, Nigeria and Vietnam.
Evelyn Chumbow was taken from her family in Cameroon at age 10 by a man who convinced her parents that she would get a better education in the United States. Instead, she was forced to work as a slave in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, doing manual labor for her captor and being verbally and physically abused.In her narrative, which she delivered before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she asked Congress to address labor trafficking as well as sex trafficking, and referenced a House bill that addresses only sex trafficking.
Faith was taken from her home country of Zimbabwe into South Africa in 2004. Like many young Zimbabwean women, she was trafficked through the false promise of employment. Other Zimbabwean women are tricked into slavery through promises of marriage and education, and some are simply abducted. Zimbabwean women are also forced into prostitution in the UK, the US and South East Asia, and some are trafficked internally from rural to urban areas for forced domestic labor. High levels of poverty and unemployment are factors in Zimbabwe’s trafficking problem, and the low status of women in Zimbabwean society perpetuates gender violence. The situation worsened after 2005, when the Zimbabwean government began Operation Murambatsvina (“Operation Clean-Up”), a campaign to forcibly clear slum areas. This displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and left an estimated 223,000 children vulnerable to trafficking. In South Africa, where Faith was still in slavery as she narrated her story, the number of trafficking victims remains unknown but the International Organization for Migration reports that trafficked women and children arrive from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia (trafficked through Zimbabwe), and that several major criminal groups in South Africa now traffic women: Bulgarian and Thai syndicates, the Russian and the Chinese Mafi, and African criminal organizations, mainly from West Africa.
In 2001, Flor Molina was 28 years old and had just lost her youngest child. She was working two jobs in Puebla, Mexico, but not making enough money to feed and clothe her surviving children. At night, she took sewing classes. When her sewing teacher told her about a job in the United States, she accepted. But a woman confiscated her documents at the border. She was taken to Los Angeles, and immediately put to work in a sewing factory. There she worked 18-hour-days, was subjected to physical abuse, and wasn’t allowed to leave the building unattended. She escaped after 40 days and was helped by CAST, an LA-based NGO. She told her story in 2010, as part of the California legislature's hearings on the California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act. The law requires companies doing business in California with more than $100 million in annual global profits to report their efforts to eliminate slavery from their supply chains. Flor is now a member of CAST’s Survivors Caucus, a group of women from numerous countries who escaped forced labor in the United States. Another narrative by Flor can be found in the archive.
Holly Austin Gibbs (formerly Smith) is a survivor of child sex trafficking and an advocate for survivors of all forms of human trafficking. In 2011, Holly submitted joint testimony to Congress with labour trafficking survivor, Ima Matul, in support of reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Holly also testified before the U.S. Congressional Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations on the connection between sporting events and sex trafficking. In 2015, Holly testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of two bills: Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act and Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act. Another narrative by Holly can be found in the archive.
Jean-Robert Cadet, a former child slave in Haiti, confronts the problem of freedom. The slave experience is not over for him: “nightmares…haunt me well into my adulthood…the trauma lasts a lifetime.” His childhood can “never be recovered,” and he will “feel its absence for the rest of my life.” The narrative quotes his wife’s observation that sometimes the “reality from decades ago is up on us again."As a restavek (Creole for “stay with”), Jean-Robert was one of thousands of Haitian children who are sent by their poor rural families to stay with wealthier families. Supposedly they will be treated like one of the family and enrolled in school, in exchange for domestic labor. But this rarely happens. Instead they work 14 hours a day for no compensation and are frequently abused. Slavery was supposedly abolished in Haiti after the revolt of 1794-1804, when African slaves fought and overthrew their French masters, and declared the colony of Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispaniola an independent republic. But as Haiti’s economy collapsed, and the country became the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, the restavek system exploded. The Haitian government estimates that 90,000-120,000 children are enslaved as restaveks, but the UN puts this number at 300,000—or one in ten children in Haiti. Some are as young as four years old, and 75 percent are girls, many of whom are sexually exploited.
Hundreds of thousands of people are trafficked across international borders each year, but millions more are enslaved within their own countries. Unknown numbers have been held as slave laborers in China’s “Laogai” (labor reform camps). Created by the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong, the Laogoi system is intended to “reeducate criminals” and uses prisoners as a source of cheap labor. The camps produce major consumer goods and pay no salaries. Prisoners work for up to 16 hours a day and experience solitary confinement, torture, gang rape, sleep deprivation, malnutrition, drugging, and brainwashing. Some of the Laogai prisoners are practitioners of Falon Gong, a spiritual movement based on Buddhist principles that was banned in China in 1999. Jennifer Zeng was one of these individuals. She was held in Beijing Xin’an Female Labor Camp and forced to make toys.
An orphan who was tricked into leaving her village in northern Nigeria in 1998, Joy Ubi-Ubi fashions the turning-point from freedom to slavery as the moment when she drank blood during a voodoo ritual. Afterwards, once Joy was in Europe, her captors said this ritual meant the “juju” would kill her if she tried to escape. As Joy explains, she was thereby “forced to do the work” of a prostitute. She was enslaved for three years in the deprived Bijlmer district of Amsterdam—home to many West African immigrants. But the narrative also includes a parallel turning-point from slavery to freedom: the moment when Joy was asked to drink something again: a liquid that would make her bleed, and miscarry. This time, she refused to take the drink. Not wanting to abort her pregnancy, she made the decision to escape, then was helped by a West African Pentecostal minister who operates mission houses in Amsterdam. This use of native West African voodoo is a common feature of the slave experience for Nigerian women held in Western Europe (of whom there are around 10,000). The women and girls undergo an initiation ritual before leaving their country: for Joy this included the marking of her face and hands, and laying hands on a “juju” (statue), as well as drinking blood. They are often made to swear to the gods that they will work hard for their employers, and will never mention their real names, run away, or contact the police. Captors threaten the women with punishment by the gods for any disobedience, and warn that any attempt to escape will awaken a curse on their families. Once in Europe they are drugged, then resold. Held in brothels, they have sex with customers but are not paid: Joy notes that all money changed hands before the clients reached her room. Any pregnancies are aborted.
Karla Jacinto Romero was trafficked by a 22-year-old man at the age of 12, and enslaved until the age of 16 in brothels, roadside motels and homes in Guadalajara and other cities in Mexico. She estimates that she was raped 43,000 times, by 30 people a day for seven days a week during four years. She gave birth at 15 to a baby. The baby's father, a pimp, used the child to further control Karla, threatening to kill the baby if Karla tried to escape or resist.Karla was rescued during an anti-trafficking operation in Mexico City in 2008. She has shared her antislavery message with the US Congress, the Mexican House of Representatives, and the Vatican. Her testimony was used as evidence in support for H.R. 515 or Megan's Law that mandates U.S. authorities share information pertaining to American child sex offenders when these convicts attempt to travel abroad.
Twenty-year-old 'Katya' was trafficked from the Ukraine to the United States in 2004, and enslaved in a strip club in Detroit. She escaped in February 2005. The escape led to the arrest and conviction of her traffickers. In 2007 she told her story to a U.S. House of Representatives committee, using as assumed name, Katya, for her own protection. Another narrative by Katya can be found in the archive.