There are an estimated 155,000 people living in modern slavery in South Africa (GSI 2018). South Africa remains a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. South African children were recruited from poor, rural areas to urban centres, such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Bloemfontein, where girls were subjected to sex trafficking and domestic servitude and boys are forced to work in street vending, food service, begging, criminal activities, and agriculture. Local criminal rings organized child sex trafficking, Russian and Bulgarian crime syndicates facilitated trafficking within the Cape Town commercial sex industry, and Thai and Chinese nationals often organized the sex trafficking of Asian men and women. Nigerian syndicates dominated the commercial sex industry in several provinces. To a lesser extent, syndicates recruited South African women to Europe and Asia, where some are forced into prostitution, domestic servitude, or drug smuggling.
Grizelda Grootboom was 18 years old when a trip to Johannesburg with a friend ended in her being trafficked in Yeoville. She was tied up in a room for two weeks and forced to work as a prostitute. Grizelda now works for Embrace Dignity, advocating to prevent violence against women, commercial and sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
Being taped up and you're naked in a dark room and your hands cuffed, it was, you know you don't know who comes in, who goes up and I was really thinking that the person I came to see was a friend and it wasn't. It was just a lie and just being two weeks no food, no nothing, you just smell like semen and after that two weeks that was, the anger of life like you don't like life at all. And it was straight into drugs and prostitution from club to club in Johannesburg.
It was a very empty room, and I was like ‘wow your room is empty,’ and she was like ‘don’t worry, you know, as we go through the year, we’re gonna start buying stuff.’ And I’m like, oh okay. She walked out the room and that was the last time I saw her and then I think the first three guys walked in which were I think Zimbabweans. And then I was confused, and they just said well, didn’t your friend tell you? And I think that’s where my heart really reached my throat. They did everything and when they had had me, it went on for at least ten to eleven days.
There were times there’s this technique that I did of holding my breath and just trying to get myself out of conscious. And not breathe and that would help me. And then I would not breathe at all and I would just close my eyes and, as the choking that one guy does on one side of your body and the other guy does on the other side of your body and my mind would just switch off and that would be it.
After that two weeks just taking a bath was a problem, Because I remember I was in whatever shower, which was a public shower that was in Park Station. And smelling like semen went on for months because that's what I was soaked in for two weeks.
If you were trafficked, that’s what I learned in that particular time there has to be another new girl and I was kicked out of the house because there was another new girl. And I had to find my own way and I went straight to Station to find a guy, a truck driver, to give my first prostitution money. Had sex with him so I can buy clothes and dress myself up. And then went to the streets and whatever prostitution I did on Johannesburg streets was always for money and drugs. There was nothing of money to get out because there was too much anger going on. Tour day doesn't look like night, your night doesn't look like day because you're, you just have reflections on what happened to you.
So with my friend it’s somebody that I knew, but it wasn’t somebody that I know that could traffic me, because the way she put it, it was a girl, she was a student, and you know she was at UJ and all of that and I didn't know that she had other plans of making money for me because obviously when it turned out it's like the money she made off me was for her to continue to study.
I’m at an incredible place now I’m at a beautiful NGO working at Embrace Dignity and they’re just like, whatever you want to do with your life we’re here to help you. And I’ve met incredibly people that believe that I am a different person instead of the person they met when I was going through the process of change. So I’m in an amazing place and I'm looking forward actually to be on the frontline and say no to this thing of human trafficking and prostitution and rape.
It's important for me to speak about because I understand, a woman or a young girl, or a teenager being raped at that particular time what happens to her. My first time I knew that my everything was taken away. Me not even knowing if I'm a woman or a girl or a teenager or my dreams, everything it was just completely black. And it's so important that I have to speak out in every way that I can because it's still happening. Every 30 seconds somebody, a child under five or six is getting raped.
Say to the parents look at your daughters, talk to them tell them how beautiful they are because they’re gonna try to look somebody that's gonna take advantage of them.
Narrative as told to News24. All credit given.