Roxana is originally from Mexico, but was forced into slavery in the US performing sex work from the age of 14. In the US, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), as amended, prohibits all forms of human trafficking, but there are still an estimated 57,700 people living in slavery within its borders. According to the Global Slavery Index, “The U.S. attracts undocumented workers, migrants, and refugees, who can be at particular risk of vulnerability to human trafficking upon their arrival and during their stay in the U.S. Research undertaken on vulnerable migrant labourer populations in San Diego, California, and in North Carolina suggests that these populations often include undocumented seasonal labourers who experience significant language barriers, cultural non-assimilation, and fear of deportation.” Here Roxana discusses how medical services she accessed while in slavery failed to seize opportunities to understand her situation and act appropriately to remove her from those who enslaved her. The US Department of Justice estimates that of the 14,500 and 17,500 foreign-born individuals trafficked into the US annually, some 80 percent are female, and 70 percent of these women end up as sex slaves. Feeder countries include Albania, the Philippines, Thailand, Mexico (many from the central region of Tlaxcala, a haven for modern-day slave traders), Nigeria, and Ukraine. Often the women are forced to work to pay off the debts imposed by their smugglers—debts ranging from $40,000 to $60,000 per person. They might perform 4000 acts of sexual intercourse each year to meet their quota, at $10 to $25 per act.
I want all of you to understand that I am going to tell you my story, or a little bit of my story, and mainly because I’m hoping that all of you will get a little bit more of awareness and understanding that I’m not just a number, that I’m a real person.
I am the victim of a web of traffickers in the state that I was trafficked. I was initially recruited and brought to the U.S. for this by a family member. And I am going to specifically focus on the neglect, on the health care industry, where I ended up many times as a result of what was being done to me.
Shortly after I got here, after being sold repeatedly, like you sell merchandise on a street, I started having health issues. I was taken to a clinic where the people who were handling me at the time filled out all of my paperwork. They answered most of the questions for me. And they gave me a rehearsed story that I had to tell the doctor once I went in the room, to the result of no one asking a single question about what was happening to me.
The doctor noticed that I had lacerations, that I was severely bleeding, and that I had a severe urinary tract infection, for which she asked what was going on that I had all these symptoms. And because I had been told to rehearse the story, I answered what I was told, which was – I was told to say that I had a partner, a romantic partner, who was very large and who was the cause of all these symptoms that I had. And the doctor believed it.
Looking back now, there were so many abnormalities with what was happening to me. These people were answering questions for me. They never left me alone. They filled out my paperwork. Still I was discharged back to these people. And she says the concerning thing here is the neglect, but also that responsibilities were delegated from everyone who came into the room and interviewed me and spoke to me. No one made the effort to make a phone call to get me help.
Like that occasion, there were many other occasions where I ended up in the health care industry. I’m going to tell you about the most powerful one. I ended up pregnant by one of the handlers. The second time that I ended up at a health care center, by then I was seven months pregnant. And as you can imagine, I had no previous care at all because I was being trafficked the whole entire time that I was pregnant. With four months of pregnancy, I was still being forced to serve between 40, sometimes 50 johns a day. One day I saw 59.
I was taken to a family health care center that had access to all of my medical records. They could see that I had been experiencing these lacerations and these infections. I had infections in my kidneys. I had all kinds of symptoms related to the amount of sexual activity that I was being exposed to. And once again no one asked a single question. No one asked if I needed any help. No one asked if I – if they could do anything to help me in any way. They accepted the same stupid, ridiculous answer that I was taught to say, that I had had a very large partner.
I ended up at the hospital one more time to give birth, and it ended up being a C-section. Once again these people never left me alone. The two handlers that I had at the time took turns staying with me in the room at all times. Once again no one saw this as a red flag. We talk so much in the health care industry about privacy. What happened to my privacy? I had none. And all of the people that came into the room could notice that no one was leaving me alone at any time.
This to me is still incredible. Every woman spends time choosing a name for their child. You start looking for suggestions. You start thinking of this. I didn’t have that opportunity, and it happened right in front of the health care professionals. I did not get to name my child.
The social worker was the only person at the hospital that realized that something was wrong; once again, did nothing. She realized that I did not choose the name on the birth certificate. And instead of asking for help, she simply came up to me and said I know this is not the name that you chose, so I’m just going to white out the first three letters, and then you can have this name instead. That’s how she helped me – did not call anyone for anything else. That was all I received.
That social worker asked me why I was afraid of changing the name, and I said because they are going to get mad at me. That was my response. She still did nothing. Eventually I was discharged with my daughter, who was kidnapped from me at nine months old and taken out of the United States.
During the three-year process that I was being trafficked, I saw other girls, of course, going through the same thing that I was going through, being repeatedly exploited, repeatedly beaten, and sometimes even killed. It’s my understanding that this is a $152 billion industry a year. And it is crazy that we like to think that all we need to be is aware. That’s not all. We need to get involved. We need to take action. Things need to keep changing, and we need to keep going. What kept me going was the thought of my kids.
Narrative as told to the Briefing on “Best Practices for Rescuing Trafficking Victims,” Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission, Washington, D.C., December 1, 2015