"Enslaved: True Stories of Modern Day Slavery"
eds. Jesse Sage and Liora Kasten
Palgrave Macmillan | January 2007 | ISBN 1403973245
Selected edited excerpts from Enslaved: True Stories of Modern Day Slavery
Atop the Second Wave: Testimony from a Belarus Prison
This narrative was collected from Sveta, a young woman in prison. What immediately emerges from this chapter's halting language and impressionistic style is the deep psychological scars of sex trafficking.
A man of about thirty was watching my cousin Jenya and me while we waited for the bus. The man listened closely to our conversation and then he walked up to us and started up small talk, asking us questions like "What time is it?" and "Will bus twelve take me to Coach Park?"
He invited us to a café and we accepted. He treated us to a beer. He told us that he was from Moscow, and he was visiting some friends. We didn't have a clue that our new acquaintance had planned that meeting for a long time. The encounter seemed totally accidental.
Before he had met us, the man had already learned almost everything about Jenya and me. His girlfriend lived in my village, and she told him about our families, what we did, who our friends were, how much our parents made, and what our thoughts were about sex.
"You are so sexy," he said as he held our hands under the table in the cheap café. "Girls like you are being bathed in gold in Moscow. Let's go and you won't regret it. You'll be able to live on your own, afford to get whatever you want, and you'll depend on no one. You will also throw away the stuff you're wearing now and dress like famous actresses. And believe it or not, while living the high life, you'll be earning money for your family," he kept repeating.
A few days later, we boarded the Brest-Moscow train for the better life we had been promised. We didn't need any documents as our new friend had bought the tickets using other people's passports.
When we got to Moscow everything turned out differently. Our dream crashed against the reality: we had to pay back our debt - the money paid for our tickets and accommodation, food and clothes. The man threatened to put us in jail if we tried to escape. Every day we were taken to the ‘Point', pushed into the client's car, and taken to hell.
The Point, the meeting ground where we were dropped every day, was almost in the city center. About sixty prostitutes, watched vigilantly by a so-called ‘Mommy,' stood down in the underground crossing on almost twenty-four hour duty (starting at noon and finishing between three and four in the morning). Each girl came at her own price, and a client would order the girl he could afford.
There was no way to refuse to go with a client. Nobody dared to do it. The girls would be beaten violently and given no money for food. A prostitute was ‘to have a ride' for as many times as had been purchased. Once I was forced to serve twenty-four clients in twenty-four hours. I never got the promised ‘hundred dollar bill from a client.' The client directly paid the Mommy who kept track of all the ‘ridden away' girls. The Mommy later paid the pimp who had delivered the prostitutes to the Point. The pimp gave me and his other girls a hundred Russian rubles each (a bit more than three US dollars) for every ‘ride away.'
"Money likes order," he used to say. "This will be enough to buy food so far. The rest I will keep myself. Otherwise you will waste the money, because you are too young and you don't know how to deal with it." From the money he took from the Mommy, he paid for the apartment he rented for us and bought us clothes.
It was considered an indication of the pimp's special favor when he took a girl for a night for himself or for his friends. Although such a girl was thought of as lucky, it would cost a pimp nothing to beat her mercilessly. Once, the pimp didn't like Jenya's tone of voice. He made her undress, took off his belt, and flogged her back with the buckle till she started to bleed. Deep and long ugly scars will stay on her back forever.
Some other girls working with me at the Point advised us to take drugs. ‘Everything will be much brighter,' they said, ‘and you won't feel the pain.' So we did.
I realized that I was pregnant again. My stomach was getting round. It was an obvious obstacle to continuing my ‘work,' and the pimp insisted on an abortion, but I refused. My pimp let me go home, threatening that he would be ready to go to the ends of the earth to get me if I didn't find someone to substitute for me.
Jenya also managed to obtain leave at that time - her chronic acute asthma turned out to be a good excuse. She also had to find a substitute. Under the severe stipulation that we find substitutes and recruit new girls, Jenya and I were released home for a while.
Three months after coming home, I gave birth to a healthy girl.
"That's ok, we will raise her as well," mother said.
So a fifteen-year old child became a mother of two.
The pimp was caught red-handed when he came to my town to recruit the new girls that Jenya and I had found for him. The new girls "accidentally" happened to be the police officers. The pimp was sentenced to two-year imprisonment in a maximum-security closed convict colony.
I had to withstand incredible psychological pressure from my parents and my children, who required a lot of patience, care, and love, and from the pimp's wife, the police, and the litigation. They were pressing from all sides. My mother and step-father were concerned about the children a lot. The atmosphere in the house was really nerve-wracking.
During the investigation period, Jenya and I started taking drugs again, which we had first tried in Moscow. Jenya took everything of value out of her house that her mother hadn't yet boozed away. Everything that we managed to get for the carpets and crystal, we spent on drugs.
One day I made up my mind. "I'm fed up with it all! I just have to go, and I'll see what happens!" I thought. At that point I hadn't decided whether I would resume being a prostitute. "I will see. If I run into a decent pimp... I will be smarter this time, and I will not let anyone keep the money I earn!"
I was very familiar with the prices: I knew exactly how much a Mommy made, what a pimp's cut was, and how little a share of the money the prostitutes got. My new ‘pounce' must figure out straight away that the standard scenario would not work on me.
Sure enough, when I arrived in Moscow, I was picked up and carried away atop the second wave. I became a full-time sex trafficker.
I walked to the Point as soon as I arrived in Moscow. The first pimp who approached me was well-known and well-connected.
"You know you can't work for yourself," he started. "Everyone knows you can't survive without the protection of a good pimp."
"I'm not going to be one of your girls," I told him.
We talked for a while longer, and he offered to promote me to the next level, to be a full-time recruiter. In this new capacity, I came back home again, right before New Years Eve. This time I was not alone. My ‘guest' was a young man who was introduced to my mom as a fiancé. He was a security guard who escorted the girls to the clients and back. It was he who suggested that we team up, that together we could recruit a lot more new girls for a ‘better life' in Moscow and earn easy money. We went out everyday, to bus stops, bars, and street hang-outs talking to girls, promising them jewelry and new fascinating lives as city girls.
The pimp and I rented an apartment in a safer suburb of Moscow. The girls from Belarus and some other girls I knew from the Point had agreed to work for me and my pimp and lived in the apartment. I was in charge of bringing the girls to the Point and delivering to the pimp the money the girls earned and had given to the Mommy. The pimp occasionally gave me a few rubles for spending money.
When the police raided the apartment, we would move the girls to other pimps' apartments. The raiders were always from the special sex trafficking unit of the Moscow City police - the district militia officers left us alone; they knew about these kinds of apartments and the pimps paid them to shut up.
My pimp allowed me to call home occasionally, and I was even able to send some stuffed animals home for kids. I promised my mother that I would come back home by spring.
I returned in the beginning of March. Once again, I was escorted by a man. My new "admirer" was definitely older than forty. My new partner and I wanted to settle down in my town more or less permanently. He was looking for a job and kept saying that he was going to buy a house in the country. We traveled to Moscow several times to finalize some business deals.
It was my mother who eventually helped the police and IOM find two of the girls I took to Russia to work as prostitutes; she had gone to IOM for help. That's what led me to this prison.
Currently I am in the investigative isolation ward, accused of recruiting people for "sexual exploitation."
"What do you plan to do if you are released?" the investigator asks me.
"Yesterday my boyfriend told me that he loves me and that he will wait for me to marry regardless of the sentence," I tell him.
"He beat her!" my mother cuts in. "The girls that IOM found told the social worker he would thrash her."
I don't look at my mother and repeat to the investigator that my boyfriend "had nothing to do with it."
The investigator asks, "Did you feel sorry for the girls? You knew well enough what would happen to them."
"Nobody was sorry for me either, when they were taking me out."
He asks me what made the young girls leave behind both home and family and go as chance directed them.
"Greed. Everyone wants money, fast and a lot."
Since providing her story for this piece, Sveta was recognized as a victim of trafficking and released from prison. She is now receiving "reintegration assistance" and vocational training. She lives with her mother and her children in her hometown in Belarus. International Organization for Migration (IOM) hopes she will ultimately find a decent job and will learn to be a caring mother.
Reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan
*"Enslaved: True Stories of Modern Day Slavery" is an anthology of narratives of first-hand experiences of slavery, Sveta's story is just one of a number of such experiences. The chapters in this book include:
-The Journey of an Orphan: In and Out of Bondage from Haiti to Connecticut; M. Slattery
-I Am Not Abeeda: Surviving Ten Years of Slavery in Sudan; A. Bak
-Snapshots from My Life as a Slave in America; J. Leighton
-Trapped on the Balcony: The Tale of a Sri Lankan Held Hostage in Lebanon; B. Fernando
-Rescue by Email: The Desperate Plight of an Au Pair in Cairo; S.Juma
-Laogai: Inside China's Forgotten Forced Labor Camps; H. Wu
-Atop the Second Wave: Testimony from a Belarus Prison; Sveta
-Amazing Grace in Mauritania: A Slave Owner's Awakening; A. Nasser Ould Yessa
About the author:
Jesse Sage is the program director for Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance (HAMSA).Liora Kasten is an associate director of the American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG).