RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — January is Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month, but advocates and survivors said awareness should not stop at the end of the month.
ValleyCentral sat down with a human trafficking survivor who shared her story but wishes to remain anonymous. For the purpose of this story, she will be referred to as “she” and “survivor.”
She left Guatemala seven years ago for the “American Dream,” but was instead met with abuse and exploitation for two months. She added it was a point in her life where it was “very violent” and she suffered verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.
During that time frame she recalled being with other women and about 200 others, some from Guatemala as well.
Her trafficker, female, bonded with her more than the others, as she spoke the same dialect as her whereas no one else who was trafficked could. She was taken to bars and exploited more often because of this.
She would be taken to bars to have men buy her drinks and then they would go to a hotel or different location for paid sex.
While out at a bar one night, she met with other sex workers who were there of their own will, also from Guatemala. She explained to them what she was doing is not what she came to the United States for and she wanted out.
One sex worker gave her a cell phone to hide in her underwear. “She told me to observe where I was, where I was going, and see what’s close so I can know where you are. That’s how I was able to contact her.”
That following day, she jumped the fence of the house her traffickers were holding her captive. Barefoot, she ran to a street in which she had contacted the sex worker to pick her up.
“Thank God, I was able to get out of the hell I was living in.”
Although free from her trafficker, she knew she was pregnant by one of her abusers. “It’s difficult to deal with because I felt at peace I was free, but at the same time, I didn’t know if I was gonna have it or not because it’s not something I wanted.”
Since then, she has been reunited with her sons in the United States.
Although she still has vivid memories of her time being trafficked, she said she feels “better, calmer, and I’m thankful for the services of Refugee Texas, for the moral support they have given, the support in every moment to come out ahead.”
Since 2016, the Refugee Services of Texas (RST) has received 243 referrals for human trafficking survivors.
Each survivor is screened for any element of fraud or coercion, according to Area Director for RST, Lizette Pacheco.
Of those 243 referrals, Pacheco added they’ve enrolled 79 into their Survivors of Trafficking Empowerment Program.
The RST provides counseling and looks at every need.
The goal of their program is to “encourage our survivors to be self-sufficient and integrate them into the community,” said Pacheco. Going the speed at which a survivor is comfortable with too, RST helps them seek justice.
Pacheco is hoping the survivor’s story continues the awareness that human trafficking “is still happening.” She added it’s not just happening to foreigners, but also to those who hold legal status in the United States.
If you happen to be a victim/survivor of human trafficking, Pacheco encourages those to contact RST for support. “If they’re not ready to disclose their trafficking experience, they don’t have to, but we are here to support them and to let them know they have rights and when they’re ready, we will be there with them.”
The RST phone line is open 24 hours with advocates on standby.