It is estimated that 290,200 people are living in modern slavery in Japan. The country is the destination for men, women and children trafficked for forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. The majority of trafficking victims are foreign women who migrate willingly seeking work, but find themselves trapped in debt bondage, having to work in domestic and sex work to pay off fees incurred. Despite warning from the U.N., it is reported that human trafficking is on the rise in Japan.
Marcela couldn’t afford to pay her daughter's hospital bills when she rang an agent who had recently offered her a job as a professional dancer abroad. The agent paid off the hospital bills and arranged for Marcela to travel to Tokyo. However, upon arrival Marcela was told that she would have to work providing sexual services to men in order to pay off the debt incurred from her travel costs. After 18 months, Marcela was assisted by one of her clients and was able to escape, making her way to the Colombian embassy in Japan and eventually back home to her daughter.
So, hello everyone, thank you for being here. It is awesome for us as survivors to have all this support. So, for all survivors out there without voice I want to say thank you to all of you.
My name is Marcela Loaiza, I’m sorry I need to say something important just because I saw her, Monique thank you for inviting me to this great event [laughter]. So, by the way and I have a complaint of the title of this panel is a little too much, we don’t need to say I was a slave, we are survivors, we don’t need to talk about that part because we already went through so many hard things. Thank you so much. I just forgive you because the hotel is so fancy [laughter].
But anyway, my name is Marcela Loaiza, I am from Colombia so when I was 16 I got pregnant and I was a single mother. So when my baby born, unfortunately she was born with health problems. When I was 21 years old, I had two jobs, one was a cashier at a supermarket. On the weekends I was a professional dancer. So, for many time I have to clarify I wasn’t table dancing or pole dancing or a prostitute, I was a professional dancer. And I get an offer to somebody to go international professional dancer, he say he is a manager representative, he want to help me to get a job, but when I get the offer at that moment, I have my two jobs and my regular life and I’m not interested. But unfortunately months later, my daughter went to the hospital with an asthma attack. She was for 2 weeks in the hospital and I was a single mother with her 24/7 in the hospital and I lose my two jobs.
So when I was economically struggling, it was stressful and I needed to pay the bills for the hospital, I remember this person, unfortunately I kept his business card and I called back him. So when I call back him, erm he said he said what do you want to go now? I offered it to you 6 months ago. And I said it was because I needed money, I needed help and I don’t know if you, one of you have one of those moment in your life a different situation or difficult situation but when we all have problems, nobody listens to us. And finally, when someone wants to listen to us we just throw everything out and that’s what I did with my trafficker. And I say I need to pay the hospital for my daughter, and he says how much? And I say it’s $500. And he gets a suitcase he get the money, right away on the table. And I feel that he is an angel, he’s just an amazing person because he helped me. So he says, okay this go do this, we’re gonna help you to go, let me find you a contract, I don’t know where you’re going yet because you’re such a pretty women you are, my God you have a great talent. But let me find a contract for you and I’ll let you know where, so no worries for the money. And I say okay and in less than a week, he processed my ticket, my passport, by the way I had never been on an airplane, you can imagine how excited I was to be come from the poor, the little neighbourhood, to become I suppose a celebrity. I was thinking I’m going to be close to Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, something like that. But it wasn’t that way, so and a week later I was in Tokyo Japan, on the streets, working in sexual exploitation. So when I went to Japan I was in shock because they lady, she was very nice with me and she say oh you’re so pretty, and I realize now she would say ‘oh you’re so pretty’ and she just turned around my body and I was thinking, yes I’m gonna be famous, yes. But now I realize she was checking who is the person she’d going to exploit for the next many more months. So, I was, I say why do you do this to me? Why do you want me to be a prostitute? And she say, so that it is the way you have to pay me my money back. And I said look, I am a hardworking, I have to pay your money of course I will, I work whatever I have to do, and I say I pay you $500 and she say no but unfortunately no. You’re not gonna pay $500, you’re going to pay $50,000.
So, this happened in 1999 when I was 21 years old so I still thinking oh my god if I got now $50,000 can you imagine? But I pay them. I pay $50,000 in 18 months. So I was trafficked by them in the streets in all kinds of prostitutions with the Yakuza mafia. Erm was very, for me I still, even when I get help, mental help, I still don’t understand how it’s possible. I was there with a man, he say me cry so many times but he don’t care, he just wants his services. It’s unbelievable for me how somebody know a little girl with 21 years old, with no language because I wasn’t even, well I wasn’t speaking English very good but you can imagine in that time I don’t even speak English in that moment, no Japanese, just Spanish, just body language. Imagine how that felt.
So, after 18 months, one of my guests helped me to escape. Erm he was my loyalty guest and I keep telling him for all of these months, please help me escape, I want to go back to my country I wanna just see my daughter again and my mother, my family. I just want to go back to my family. Crying many times. And he said no you like it, Colombian like it. You’ll like kissing money. I said how, how am I supposed to explain to you I don’t want this part of my life and so after I keep telling him, after sex, how I want to escape. He finally helped me escape. So, he buy a jacket and a wig and he put it in the McDonalds. So, he put the bag, plastic bag, with the jacket and the wig. And I get in to and I put on the jacket and the wig and I walk with him slowly because my pimp was in the corner. They usually was in each corner. So I was slowly with him as a regular person in the street so after I passed the corner where my pimp was, I ran, you have no idea how fast. So my loyalty guest, he get me a map and he showed me how I could get to the Colombian embassy in Tokyo, and I went there and I’m crying, I went crazy and I’m talking and knocking on the window. And I see a lady and I yell ‘help, help, I’m a prostitute, I’m a prostitute’. So and she opened the door and she look at me like what’s going on and I say please help I’m a prostitute. And I say that because that that moment I don’t even feel I was a victim. I say a prostitute, but I wasn’t. I was a victim of human trafficking. So why? Because I don’t even know it was that. So that’s why I said I was a prostitute. So she helped me, I remember she say no you’re a victim of trata de blancas, as they say in long time ago. So, when I say what no no, I’m a prostitute and I just want to go back to my country, I want to go. Finally, they helped me to go back to my country and I went back to my country. But unfortunately work-less, no help. I was depressing with no help, with no, any support from my government, I report my case, my case disappeared. I remember when I went to the judge and told me story the judge went to me with his face, are you sure you don’t know you were going to be a prostitute. So, tell me about it. How you feel, when you’re supposed to be going for help and the judge in your face make you feel guilty. So, who wanna keep talk about that kind of situation when they make you feel guilty. So that was very deep, very hard for me. So, I get out there and I say thank you so much. I never get any help. That was the way I, went back to Colombia.
So, for me as example, when I start to speak, when I published my first book and I remember I got a contact form an organisation in the US. So, I still was afraid to speak up because I wasn’t ready but feel just I was important for that organization that was a huge for us. So only that phone call from that organization interested in us as a victim or survivor that was huge for us. So, my advice to everybody is to involve with the survivors. We need to change the law and we need to listen to the stories more. This is very important but remember it’s so many voices out there without voice, we need to involve with them and listen to them.
One person make a difference with me. She get mental help for 3 years. You don’t take a victim or survivor to speak about their testimonies without mental health. Please don’t do that. We need to do that first before we publish them in public. That is one point, the other point is that we need to work together. We need to stop being so selfish, and I have an NGO, and I have support from another NGO, but we need to work together. Only together we make a difference because we are going for so many years in so many places. That’s why we don’t have a solution. I really appreciate, and I welcome to all, join us. We have a national survivor networks in the United States with 166 members. So why? Because we give a lot with but one organization as CAST. So if you want to enjoy us, we welcome to help you with our voices.
This narrative was recorded at Trust Conference, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s flagship event. Trust Conference is committed to finding real solutions to fight slavery, empower women, and advance human rights worldwide. The annual event convenes global corporations, lawyers, government representatives, and pioneers at the forefront of the fight for human rights.