Respect Life Month
Human Trafficking: A Story of Rising Hope
By Danielle Koleniak
As we make our way into the third week of Respect Life Month: You Are Not Alone, human trafficking may just be the heaviest to hear and read. With statistics like, ‘Florida is the third in the nation for the number of human trafficking cases’ and ‘human trafficking is the second largest illegal business in the world (second only to drug trafficking)’ it can be uncomfortable to hear, hard to read, and even more difficult to even wrap your mind around. Though it may not be suitable for little eyes, this story brings a reality of what is happening right here in Southwest Florida—not through a number of statistics, but from a woman who tells her story, herself.DOWNLOAD THE BULLETIN
Roxanne was a human trafficking victim. She was sold countless times for years after she was lied to about a job opportunity and better life in Florida. Her heartbreaking story does have an ending of hope and healing. She says that began when she met Yaroslaba Garcia, Clinical Director at ACT (Abuse Counseling & Treatment Center) and credits her for saving her life. Roxanne tells me, she shares her story with one purpose—to bring education and awareness about a crime that hides in the darkness of a community we call ‘home.’
Danielle Koleniak: Roxanne, tell us a little bit about yourself?
Roxanne: I grew up in a very pretty city in Nicaragua. I have great memories of going to school. When I was a child I went to a Catholic School run by nuns. I also loved being around my grandparents. My family was Evangelical Christian, so there were some conflicts in understanding, but I had my own faith. Sometime, around age seven, my life started to change. Around that time, my family started to have financial issues. We struggled a lot. Things took a turn for the worse when my grandfather passed away because we did not have his financial, physical and emotional support. Life was not easy.
DK: How did you journey to the United States?
Roxanne: At 20 year old, someone contacted me with a job opportunity in America. At the time, I was working for a small business in sales. The person offered me a job in America where I would work at a Mexican store organizing products and working with customers- something I was familiar with. Because I was in an unhealthy relationship with someone at that time, I decided it was the best decision for my future. When I arrived at the airport, it was nothing like what they said it would be. I knew it from the second I arrived and saw the person waiting for me, that I was flat-out lied to. The Mexican store didn’t even exist. I was trafficked for two and a half years by that person.
DK: How did you escape such a horrible situation?
Roxanne: I’m asked this question often. To be honest, I didn’t really escape. Some of the handlers got in trouble with the law, ended up in jail, or fled the country. One handler, who was sent to prison, was also the father of one of my babies. When that happened, his mother fled with my child. I was left on the streets, alone.
DK: How did you find ACT (Abuse Counseling & Treatment Center)?
Roxanne: I came to ACT two days after my child was kidnapped hoping they could help me. At that time, the person I spoke to couldn’t help me. I lingered on the streets for about a year. One day, someone gave me a card with a 1-800 number on it. At that same time I was pregnant again and the father of my child, was in the process of being released from prison. He started making calls, threatening me. I didn’t know what to do, so I called the 1-800 number and it connected me to ACT. That’s when I came in and saw Yaro for the first time. That’s the first time I realized I was a human trafficking victim. I had no idea.
DK: Yaro, as a counselor, how do you handle this?
Yaroslaba Garcia: You get intakes, not knowing what you are about to hear from the person. In Roxanne’s case, there was so much abuse and traumatic events that had been forced upon her that it took me many weeks to actually understand and put all the pieces together about what she had been through. But, it didn’t take me long to understand that she had been sold as a sex slave in the United States for years.
DK: Roxanne, how do you overcome something like this?
Roxanne: You have five kids! Haha! I’ll start there- they are my reason. I think another pillar, was Yaro. When I first came to ACT, all I wanted was to die. I felt like I really needed to die. At that time, I also had a strong conflict with faith. I negated God. I questioned, where is God? Is there even a God? But, that’s also when I found my faith again in a supreme way and it has carried me along. Now, my faith is very strong.
DK: As a woman who has been a victim of human trafficking and experienced crisis pregnancy, what does “Respect Life Month” mean to you?
Roxanne: In the area of crisis pregnancy, I personally don’t believe in abortion. I see a fetus as a life, and that baby deserves to be respected. If we take it farther than that, my first child is the product of a rape. I was 15 years old. I adore that child. I adore the children who I also had during a domestic violence environment and the children I gave birth to while I was being trafficked.
In the subject of rights, who has the right to violate me in any way? How can anyone force a human being to have that type of interaction? It’s a feeling of disgust. This is the crime that has no respect for anything that has to do with life.
DK: What is life like for you today?
Roxanne: I am happy and I have my children. They make me so happy. There are struggles, one of which includes having a career. I’m not easily available to have one, so, right now, I just take any job I can so I can support my family. The rest of my energy goes to taking care of my five children. I’m both the mother and father-figure to them. I’ve learned not to blame myself for not being able to go to school because I’m investing my energy in them and that is so important to me.
I also spend time going to sessions and meetings telling my story to people who want to know what is happening. It’s important people understand.
Today, I’m usually smiling or laughing about something. That has helped me throughout this whole process; that my character has still maintained the ability to laugh and smile. Unfortunately, some of the smallest things — even a particular smell — will remind me of what happened to me. But, I have also acquired the understanding that you have to focus on what is in front of you and what you do have and that is something to smile about. There’s no purpose in crying every day.
DK: Yaro, as a Clinical Director and Counselor at ACT, how many cases like Roxanne’s do you see?
YG: In my past seven years here, we have had many cases just like Roxanne’s. We have a very large number of cases like this compared to other areas in the state and country. Recently one of the largest rings in Florida went down and the entire operation took place here in Southwest Florida.
DK: Why is this something that is no one talks about, but yet it is happening in our neighborhood?
YG: Sometimes people are mistaken or just completely unaware. Some lack understanding on what this crime is really about. Southwest Florida is also a large migrant community. We also have areas that are very rural. There are women and children in those areas that are vulnerable. This is not just happening to migrants who are lied to and recruited overseas to only come here and have this happen to them. This is also a domestic crime. People who were born and raised in America are also being recruited for this. Overall, communities are unaware that this is happening. People talk more about the dangers of pedophilea than the dangers of a trafficker. It’s about people who have found a way to make money off of exploiting others. More children are recruited in human trafficking than children who are kidnapped in the USA every year, but the general population is more concerned with kidnapping. Our thinking is clouded.
The biggest thing that we have to understand is that human trafficking is not a migrant issue, it’s not a women’s issue, it’s not even a children’s issue, this is a human rights issue! This involves human beings in our country and parts of the world who are vulnerable enough to fall into the hands of a criminal who can expose them to abuse so horrifying, you don’t even want to think about it. No one wants to think about a human being sold 40 to 50 times a day… but it is happening. What gives anyone any right to sell any person under any circumstance over and over and over again?! I thought slavery was over.