How I Landed in the Hands of Human Traffickers
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Warning: This blog series includes content about sexual abuse and violence.
My name is Carmen, and I’m a survivor of human trafficking.
I’m from Mexico but currently live in the United States. After learning to speak English, I now work in the healthcare field, and I’m also completing my high school diploma. My goal is to become a doctor or social worker specializing in human trafficking trauma.
I grew up in a rural community in Mexico, and my family was of very modest means. We spent most of our time working in the fields, and walked four hours every day to to the town where I went to school.
When I was little, I dreamed of becoming a doctor or scientist when I grew up. Because of my family's economic situation, it was nearly impossible for me to stay in school and get ahead, but I promised myself I would achieve my goals.
I finished elementary school and was determined to leave my town and make something of myself. With my mother’s permission, I went with my cousin to Puebla, a bigger city where I could work and continue studying.
Over the coming weeks, and as part of Polaris’s new awareness campaign, “Join the Solution,” I’ll tell you a little about my experience in human trafficking.
I Thought She Was My Friend
All my dreams blurred, and my life seemed to end, when three men kidnapped me with the help of my coworker. Her name was *Rosi. I barely knew her, but I thought she was my friend.
Rosi was older than me, an adult. She’d spent her whole life in Puebla and knew the city well, including how to use public transportation.
I was a small-town teen, just 14 years old, who’d never lived in a city before. I wasn’t familiar with Puebla or its public transportation system, which, at first glance, seemed like a barrier to my success. But I didn’t give up on my dreams.
One Sunday afternoon, Rosi showed up at the house where I was living. She had gotten my address from work so she could take me around the city.
She promised my cousin that she’d see me safely home before dark, so I went with her to a nearby park. It was the first time I’d gone out since arriving in Puebla. Everything was new to me. I didn’t know much at all – about the city or, at that age, about life’s dangers – and I trusted her.
We were walking around the park when a good-looking man approached us. He and Rosi immediately liked each other and struck up a conversation. After a while, he bought us both an ice cream, and then a photographer with a Polaroid camera joined us, along with another man who said he had a “fortune bird” that could tell the future.
The bird took out a small roll of paper for Rosi, and another for me. The photographer took a picture of Rosi and her new friend, *Jaime, and then another of all three of us, as a souvenir. But the camera broke, so we couldn’t see the pictures right away. He gave us a receipt and told us to come back the next week to pick them up.
Rosi kept the receipt. Then Jaime left, and so did we.
The next Sunday, Rosi once again came to my house and asked to take me out – this time to pick up the photos. I again said yes.
We’d barely gone two blocks when I had a bad feeling, but unfortunately, I ignored it.
When we reached the corner, two men got out of a car and came to meet us. It was Jaime, the man from the week before, and a stranger he introduced as *Rodo, who fixed his attention on me. While Jaime talked about how he was now Rosi’s boyfriend, Rodo told me I was even prettier in person than in the photo.
Rosi quickly added that she and her boyfriend had already picked up the photos. “Let’s go to the park for a while, and then we can come back,” she said. “Get in the car!”
It Happened So Fast
I felt angry, nervous, and confused – all at the same time. I didn’t know what to say or do except go with them to the park. At first, I refused; I didn’t know these men. But Rosi insisted, “We’re only going for a little bit, and then my boyfriend will bring us back.”
I asked myself why she hadn’t told me she’d already picked up the photos, and why she’d shown my picture to someone else.
Right away, Rodo told me, “Get in the car. You won’t regret it. We won’t do anything to upset you -- I promise. Don’t you like me?”
“No! I don’t like you,” I said.
The serious look on my face told him I meant it, so he apologized for what he’d said. At their insistence, I finally agreed to go with them, on the condition that they take me home before dark, just as Rosi had promised.
To get help or to report a tip, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888). It’s a free, confidential, and anonymous resource that will help any caller in need, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, in your language.
This is the first post of a five-part series in which Carmen, a Polaris consultant and spokesperson, shares her experience in human trafficking. This series is part of Polaris’s new campaign, “Join the Solution,” to fight the sex trafficking of women and girls from Mexico and other Latin American countries. For more information and resources, and to participate in the campaign, visit: www.laredhispana.org/unetealasolucion.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.