Esperanza's Story: Hope and Freedom After Trafficking
Imagine being forced to go to a strange place to do something horrible. You want to find help, but you don’t know where to go or who to turn to. You are alone, and the only person you know is the person who has brutalized you for years.
Esperanza knew what this felt like, because it was her life. Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish, and it was an appropriate name for a 16-year-old girl who simply wanted to give her family and herself a better life. It was why she left her family, looking for work in her country’s capital city.
A few months after she arrived and found work, she met a man named Rey at a nearby park. He seemed nice, so she trusted him when he invited her one evening to come to a party. There was no party. When Esperanza arrived, Rey raped her.
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Esperanza was devasted. She'd been taught that women who were raped brought shame on their families, so she did not dare return home. Rey used her feelings of shame to control her. He told her she had nowhere else to go and so she would have to live with him. Rey turned Esperanza into a domestic slave, forcing her to care for him and his house. A few months later, Rey would take Esperanza to another city and force her into prostitution. Rey then decided he would take Esperanza to New York, where he expected her to earn more money through the sex trade.
Tragically, millions of people find themselves in the same situation as Esperanza. Human trafficking claims more than 300,000 lives each year in the United States, robbing children, women, and men of their freedom and protection. Many of the people who become victims are likely to wind up exploited for sex trafficking, where they face risks to their health, and to their lives.
Esperanza spent months being forced to work in basement brothels along the East Coast. She could not have friends and she could not go out alone. Rey also took all the money she earned. If Esperanza tried to leave, Rey would threaten to expose her to her family. Worse, Esperanza did not know who she could turn to even if she did escape. She did not speak the language and because Rey kept telling her the police would beat her, she did not dare try to contact authorities.
One day, one of the men who came to the brothel decided not to look the other way when he saw the bruises on Esperanza's body. He asked her if she needed help. Esperanza did not know where to find that help. Amazingly, this man knew where to take her. He brought Esperanza to Safe Horizon.
Esperanza had nothing but the clothes on her back and a great deal of mistrust. She had been abused for so long and Rey had told her repeatedly that the authorities would be worse, so she was too scared to accept even the slightest offer of help.
Fortunately, Esperanza had come to a place with more than 30 years of experience helping victims of violence and abuse. Safe Horizon not only has the expertise to help women like Esperanza; we have a program that deals specifically with the type of abuse she had endured. Our Anti-Trafficking Program staff reached out to Esperanza.
Esperanza needed to find a safe place to live immediately, and we were able to place her in one of our shelters. In the weeks that followed, our Anti-Trafficking Program staff helped her get the basics – food, shelter, and clothing – that would make her feel secure again. We also helped Esperanza get a medical examination, a cell phone so she could contact her parents, and transportation so she could travel to her appointments.
A few weeks later, Esperanza felt much safer, and she also felt more confident. She viewed herself as a survivor – but she also wanted to do something else. She decided that she wanted to report what Rey had done to her. Although she was still very much afraid of Rey, she did not want anyone else to suffer what she had suffered, and so she wanted to stop him.
Our legal staff helped Esperanza coordinate an investigation of Rey with law enforcement while we continued to help her find other services that would give her the chance to continue to heal and recover from being a victim of trafficking. With our support, Esperanza found community activities and also used our referrals for job and education programs. When she found work again, she would be able to keep the money she earned, instead of being forced to give it to someone else.
Esperanza had finally found hope – not only in her name, but through the help of Safe Horizon. With our guidance and support, Esperanza has begun to accomplish what she left home to achieve in the first place: a better life for her and her family. She is on the road to creating a life free of abuse and slavery, a life that allows her to hope again.