When darkness fades and light creeps in…
A big focus of our work in the field is prevention programs to help communities rise above the risks and vulnerabilities of trafficking. But what about those who slip through the cracks? Unfortunately, there are still over 40 million people in slavery today, caught in a vicious cycle of abuse, exploitation and hopelessness. Even if they aren’t literally chained up in a basement, their ability to be free and choose where they go and how they spend their time is completely restricted. The psychological effects of their enslavement keeps them there out of guilt, shame and/or fear.
For most of us, we cannot begin to imagine what it might be like to live in these situations. And for that we can only be thankful, yet it should also motivate us to want to do all that we can to ensure no one has to put up with it.
The Freedom Project is involved in rescue and restoration of trafficking and slavery victims. Although we do not conduct raids and rescues everyday, it is something our teams are always prepared for – ready to begin an investigation based on a tip from a local authority or community member.
Sometimes the tip runs cold, but other times trafficking is exposed in sex work, child labour, forced labour or other forms of exploitation such as child beggary. And out of this come individuals who are finally freed from their nightmare. But their problems are not yet over. They have a long road ahead of them in dealing with their trauma, finding peace and trust, and beginning to hope of a future they never thought would come.
Sandra* in India has a tragic, heartbreaking and unbelievably complex story. Over a period of 7 years, between the ages of 15-22, she was trafficked countless number of times. At one point she was even betrayed by her husband and the father of her baby and was forced to flee, then again ended up being trafficked. She was broken, traumatised and carried the additional burden of caring for her young child.
Finally after being rescued, she was brought to our safe house with her young child, where her journey of healing, restoration and hope could begin. Even trusting the other ladies in the house is a big leap of faith for Sandra. When you’ve been betrayed by everyone you meet, you find it very difficult to believe that there are people who are on your side.
But slowly Sandra is opening up to our staff and the other women in the house. She is sharing her story, feeling more comfortable in handing her baby to others, and finding hope in the dream of a better tomorrow.
When the team and I went to visit the safe house last year, Sandra was happy to spend time with us sharing her story. She would speak of the transformation that has taken place even since she arrived at the safe house only a few months earlier. Our team has been by her side every day equipping her with support, friendship and counselling. She holds a strength that is beyond her experience that is carrying her through her heartache and into a hope for her and her child’s future.
She may not know exactly where she will go or what she will do, but for the first time in her life, she is the one to call the shots. She is the one who will choose to stay or go, where to work, what to do with her pay, and what’s best for her and her baby. It’s incredible to sit with her, hear her testimony, and see her smile – daring to dream that things will never be the same again. It was a privilege to learn from her what freedom looks like. Her joyful spirit is contagious – not just to us, but to the other women in the house as they heal from their own hurts. She is an example that things can change and the cycle of exploitation is not inevitable. These women, though fragile, are strong and set on never returning to a place of slavery or abuse.
The Freedom Project is helping to enable that. We will look after them as long as necessary until they are back on their feet and equip them with what they need to create a safe and sustainable future for themselves, that they may never again find themselves in a situation of modern slavery.
Your support of $100 per month can provide restoration for a trafficking survivor. Donate here.
This post was written by Marissa Smithson – Director of Advocacy and Communications at The Freedom Project
*Not her real name.
Photos illustrative only.