I am Maria. This is my story. What I am about to tell you is something I never thought would happen to me, but I survived.
I was 17, a typical teenager living in my home country of Nicaragua. I went to school, had friends and a part-time job in a small grocery store to earn money for school. While working in the store one day, a young man approached me. He was nice and flirtatious. He was persistent, visited daily and insisted on taking me out. After several days, I accepted his invitation.
Following our date, he drove me to his house in a neighboring town. Things went from good to horrible. I was too young to understand what was going on, but I realized soon enough—he told me I was not permitted to leave.
Under his aggressive control, I was forced to call my parents to assure them I was okay and was with a man I loved so they wouldn’t look for me. To make it appear legitimate, he took me to see my family after a couple of months and threatened he would kill them if I didn’t play along. He forced me to tell my parents we had plans to marry. He threatened to kill my family if I said anything about him and the situation I was in.
He said he was out of work and I would need to get a job to make a living. I offered to look for a job in a store, but he told me it wouldn’t make enough for us to live on. He forced me into prostitution and again threatened to kill my family if I didn’t comply. Over the course of five years, I worked in three different cities in Nicaragua. During this time, I worked the streets day and night and was only given two hours a day to rest. To make my quota, I had to perform sexual acts for 200 men a week. In order to stay alert and keep up my work schedule, he drugged me with cocaine, crack, glue and alcohol. If I didn’t make enough money for him, he would violently beat me. My work resulted in multiple pregnancies and several forced miscarriages. I had almost lost hope to ever become a mother, but I was able to carry one pregnancy and gave birth to a baby boy. My trafficker took my son away, gave him to his mother and forced me back out onto the streets. I felt abandoned and alone.
Soon after, he trafficked me into the United States and sent me to a location in Atlanta, Georgia. I was blindfolded and the exact location was unknown, but once there, other trafficked women explained the “working” rules to me. I was to serve men 12 hours a day and every penny I made went to the trafficker. I was terrified and scared, but I had to survive so I could see my baby. After four frightening months, I escaped the house and went back home to my family.
With my family’s help, I was able to rescue my son, but soon thereafter, my trafficker found me and forced me back into prostitution. Having witnessed my trafficker hurting other women, I was afraid he would do the same to me if I did not comply with his demands. Thanks to an anonymous tip, I was rescued by authorities later that year.
I am well now and continue to cooperate with U.S. authorities. Tapestri helped me through this process of healing by proving me with housing and assisting with medical visits and bills, permanent residency and immigration paperwork, mental health counseling and ESL training. I’m also happy to say I helped authorities locate and rescue other minors trafficked and held by my trafficker.