Imagine you were so desperate to help your struggling family that you left your home country for an opportunity to earn extra money. Now imagine being tricked into working 18 hours a day as a dancer, often without food and for no pay. What would you do if you were terrified that if you tried to get out of the torturous situation you would be physically beaten?
This is exactly what happened to *Aurelia, an African woman who was trafficked for labor.
Tricked into Being Trafficked
Aurelia was from a small village in Africa. She lived with a large family that her parents struggled to support. She had been searching for ways to earn extra money when she heard about a man who was recruiting women to become dancers in the U.S. When they spoke, he personally assured Aurelia that she would make enough money to help her family.
Shortly after arriving in the U.S., Aurelia realized that she had been tricked into joining a group of trafficked women. The trafficker threatened to hurt all of the women if any one of them talked about leaving. Aurelia and the women lived in constant fear that they would be beaten, or worse.
After suffering for two years, one day Aurelia and the other women escaped to New York City where they had nowhere to stay, no money, no identification and no job. She did not give up hope. Aurelia saw a woman wearing African attire on the street. She took a bold chance and asked for help. At first, Aurelia and the woman couldn’t understand each other, so the woman asked a friend to help communicate with her. Fortunately, the friend understood what Aurelia’s situation was and she knew of Safe Horizon’s Anti Trafficking Program (ATP).
Aurelia Finds Support
ATP gives victims of human trafficking the chance to speak to a compassionate expert who personally guides them in obtaining critical resources to get back on their feet. At ATP, Aurelia was paired with a case worker who helped her set goals and create a plan of action to achieve them.
Even after escaping, human trafficking victims may face backlash from their traffickers in their native country. To ensure Aurelia’s safety, her attorney helped her file for and obtain a T-Visa. A T-Visa allows victims of human trafficking to stay and work in the U.S. This can help them avoid returning home to further violence.
The case worker also connected Aurelia to free English classes and emergency housing. With ATP’s help, Aurelia was linked to a special housing program that provided her a stable environment. Here, she improved her English skills and began looking for employment.
Aurelia Achieves Success
With ATP’s critical help in securing her safety and immigration status, Aurelia’s life began to flourish. Aurelia now has a stable job. She supports herself and sends money to her family to buy clothing and food.
Aurelia told her case manager she thanks the “good Samaritans” who helped her find ATP and the staff who saved her life, guiding her to the bright future she has today.
*John was a successful salesman in the Philippines with a master’s degree in Business Administration. He wanted to come to the United States to pursue a better life.
A friend told John about an agency that helps people like them become workers in California. To apply, they were required to pay a large application fee. In order to pay this hefty fee, John arranged a loan that used part of his mother’s ancestral land as collateral. With the loan secured, he applied and headed for America.
John worked hard every day at the various jobs including: being a desk clerk, driving shuttle buses and washing dishes. John knew it would take time to establish himself in a new career in the United States. He looked into filing an extension for his visa. Initially the agency that helped him come to the United States offered help in filing a visa extension. However, they soon stopped answering his calls.
John was terrified his visa would expire and that he would be deported. So he frantically searched the internet for companies who might help. An agency based in Kansas City, Missouri promised they would extend his visa.
The agency representatives charged John outrageous fees. They warned him to follow their instructions, or else he would be deported. The agency assigned John along with a group of four others to work in a hotel in Casper, Wyoming.
The Un-American Dream
In Casper, he lived in the hotel’s maintenance room and shared it with ten other people. The room had no air conditioning or heat. The bathroom they shared was small and didn’t have hot running water. John worked long and irregular hours. During his working hours, he was routinely exposed to toxic paint fumes. He developed insomnia, severe stress and high blood pressure.
He was not fairly paid. When he did get paid there was often a delay and he wasn’t paid for all of the hours he worked. John complained to the management of the hotel and to the agency who had placed him there. The agency would threaten him with the prospect of deportation. One day, he mustered the courage to leave.
Escaping Modern-Day Slavery
After John escaped, he spent three years traveling the country and staying with various friends. To get by, he took several survival jobs to make ends meet.
During a trip to New York City, a friend told him of a law firm who handled human trafficking cases. Although John had already sought help from five different lawyers, he persevered and tried again. Luckily, this law firm understood John’s situation and directed him to a resource that could actually help him find relief; Safe Horizon’s Anti-Trafficking Program (ATP).
John was assigned an intensive case manager at ATP who helped him work through the emotional and psychological effects of being trafficked.
ATP also assigned John an attorney from ATP’s legal team who coordinated with our Immigration Law Project (ILP). ILP provides legal services to thousands of undocumented immigrant victims of crime and their families in New York City. Together, our ATP and ILP helped John file a green card application so he could become a permanent resident of the United States.
After receiving help from Safe Horizon, John felt inspired to help other victims of human trafficking. He joined ATP’s human trafficking survivor leadership group, Voices of Hope. John is now part of a supportive community and continues to empower others who were taken advantage of during their weakest moments.
He tells us that no amount of money could ever replace what Safe Horizon has done for his life and that he is now pursuing his true American dream.
* Client names and identifying information have been changed to protect their privacy. Images used are representations of Safe Horizon’s clients.
Taken from http://www.safehorizon.org/page/human-trafficking-stories-184.html