By Ruth Goldberg, LCSW-BACS, ACSW, BCD
In observance of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, held annually in January, Jewish Family Service of Greater New Orleans is sharing the story of one of our clients, a human trafficking survivor. While based on a true story, names and certain details are changed to protect their identity.
Indisputable desperation – feeling as if her survival and, even more importantly, the survival of her children were at risk. Never had she felt so desperate, and the relentless thoughts as to how she would protect her family from homelessness and provide for their next meal consumed every minute, every second of her day. In the depths of her despair, Rosa often envisioned the worst.
Rosa knew that losing her job, one she held for many years and allowed her to meet the basic needs of her family, meant she would be unemployed for a lengthy period of time. Rosa was not overreacting. Instead, she was embracing the harsh truth of her circumstances. She was facing the inescapable reality of the country she lived in, a country deeply destroyed by political corruption, rampant lawlessness, drug trafficking and gang control. A country in which ruthlessness towards humanity had become the norm. Rosa was desperate.
In her desperation, Rosa made a decision engulfed in risk and uncertainty. In her eyes, she saw no other viable solution. She spent her life savings, $2,500 dollars of severance pay she received when she lost her job, to come to the United States with her son. The journey was long and arduous, filled with deprivation and danger.
With the assistance of compassionate human beings whom she encountered along the way, Rosa and her son ultimately made their way to an albergue, a social service agency providing temporary refuge, food and shelter to immigrants, in the United States. While she made it to the US, Rosa was alone in a foreign country where she didn’t know the culture or the language. She had no place to live and no means of an income. Again, Rosa was desperate.
Others noticed her desperation. At the albergue, other Latino women claimed that they knew what it was like to be in her shoes, to be alone and desperate. They befriended Rosa, and convinced her to come with them. They promised a place to live, a job, and even to help watch her son while she worked to become financially self-sufficient. Rosa felt she could trust these women. After all, Rosa thought these women were seeking the same: a better life for themselves and their children. Perhaps, collectively, they could serve as a support system for one another as they started anew in the United States. Rosa left the albergue with the women. Unwittingly, Rosa had just left with a group of human traffickers who engaged in fraud to deceive her. They would soon force and coerce her into sex trafficking. The human traffickers knew Rosa was desperate. They knew Rosa was vulnerable. They exploited her desperation, her vulnerability. Human traffickers thrive on the vulnerability and desperation of others. In fact, they excel at it.
Rosa, sadly, came to be exploited in a way that she never anticipated. Rosa’s journey from this point forward became a hellacious one, but, ultimately, with the assistance of an anti-trafficking non-profit agency, Rosa escaped her traffickers. For her safety, she immediately moved to a different part of the country. It was at this juncture that Rosa was referred to Jewish Family Service of Greater New Orleans for assistance. Rosa’s journey continued to be a challenging one, but she discovered, with absolute certainty, that this agency had her well-being, her best interests, and her safety at heart. For Rosa, it was enough to know that we cared, and knowing that we cared was enough for Rosa to finally feel a degree of reprieve from her desperation. Finally, albeit slowly, Rosa began to feel respected, valued, and honored as a human being. Finally, albeit with caution, Rosa began to trust in humanity again. Finally, instead of desperation, Rosa began to feel something that she had not felt in the longest time. Finally, in spite of the darkness she endured, the betrayals she experienced, the uncertainties she faced, the exploitation she suffered, Rosa, with all the fortitude, bravery, and resilience she could muster, allowed herself to feel hope again.
For information on services available to survivors of human trafficking, please contact Jewish Family Service of Greater New Orleans at (504) 831-8475 and/or via https://jfsneworleans.org/services/refugee-human-trafficking-assistance/