Countries in Latin America are source, transit and destination countries for trafficking in persons. People are exploited within their own countries and trafficked to other countries in the region, with Latin America being the primary source region for people trafficked to the United States. Major forms of trafficking in persons include commercial sexual exploitation of women and children, labour trafficking within national borders and among countries in the region, and the trafficking of illegal immigrants in Mexico and Central America. The two countries in Latin America and the Caribbean with the largest percentages of their population subjected to modern slavery, are Haiti and the Dominican Republic, according to the Walk Free Foundation.
Romina was living on the streets with her father from the age of 9. One day her father was killed and Romina was put into the care of his friend Hugo. From the age of 13, Hugo trafficked Romina into commercial sexual exploitation. Romina was drugged and subjected to daily sexual violence until one day she was rescued during a police raid.
My name is Romina. I am sixteen. I can’t tell you very much about that day they found me because Hugo would drug Micaela* and me. I didn’t like the opium, but I took it. It made my mind numb.
I began living on the streets with my father when I was nine years old. He was part of a gang. We stayed in an area of the city that was very dangerous. People sell drugs there, they smuggle, they fight, they murder. One day, another gangster killed my father. I felt desperate and so alone. Now I had no one to protect me.
After that, my father’s friend Hugo took charge of me. He was cruel and I was very afraid of him. He was the one who forced me to sell my body when I was thirteen. There are lots of girls my age who have to do this to survive, like Micaela. She is seventeen and she has a baby now. His name is Luis. He is always crying and has a terrible cough. He’s not a fat, bundled-up baby, like you usually see tucked into a stroller. I wondered how long he would last out here. For his sake, death would be better.
Hugo would make us stay on the street corners day and night to find customers. Micaela was always worried that there wouldn’t be enough work because she needed to feed baby Luis. A man who owned a hotel nearby would let us rent rooms as long as we paid him part of what we earned, the rest of our pay went to Hugo. I felt hollow. I was just a shell that served six customers a day. There was no hope for me, and I had come to accept this.
One rainy cold night, Micaela and I had just arrived at the hotel with customers. She was two doors down. I was with Marco again. He is about forty-five and a member of another street gang. He would buy me regularly. I hated his breath and his smell of sweat. Suddenly, I heard a loud pounding on the door that shook the thin walls. A deep voice yelled, “Open the door!” Marco went pale and scrambled to unlock the door. It was a team of police in full gear, helmets on, guns drawn, in green swat uniforms asking for identification. I was shaking so badly I could barely walk and stumbled out into the hallway where I saw Micaela. We were both crying because we were so scared. The drugs made things even more confusing, and we thought we were going to be arrested. The police took the hotel owner, and they took the men who were paying for us. But they told us, “We will take you to a safe place. You’re not in trouble. You’re not of age. It’s okay, it’s okay...”.
Micaela and I locked arms. Micaela asked to go get baby Luis who was in another room. I went with her; he was squirming and fitful in her arms. Then the three of us walked past Marco, who was outside, in handcuffs, his head down, beside the lights of the police car. I felt so relieved I didn’t have to sleep with him that night. I hoped to God I would never see him again.
Someone had come for us.
Narrative provided by The Exodus Road, ‘Someone Came For Us: 3 Sex Trafficking Survivor Stories’