KINGSTON, Jamaica, March 3 (IPS) – Marcela Loaiza was only 21 years old when a man came up to her with promises of fame and money at her place of work in Pereira City, Colombia. The well-dressed, mysterious Colombian said he could give her the opportunity for a better life. Loaiza also worked in a supermarket to support herself and her three and a half year old daughter.
“He said he wanted to help me become an international dancer, that he would take me to another country to sing,” Loaiza told IPS News from her Las Vegas home.
At first she refused, but the economy deteriorated and she lost her job at the supermarket. Her daughter was also hospitalized with asthma. She was desperate and accepted the offer. The man immediately paid the medical bills, got her a passport, and bought her a plane ticket.
“I was excited about the opportunity and created my own fantasy that I will be famous and rich and raise money for my family, but I was also sad because I had to leave my family,” she said.
Loaiza made the long journey to Tokyo, Japan, and on arrival she was greeted by a pleasant Colombian woman. But her passport was taken and Loaiza noticed the woman looking her up and down and judging her from head to toe. She was taken somewhere to sleep and the next day the nightmare began.
“She just turned completely into a monster.” Loaiza was forced to dye her hair, wear contacts, and was told she would be a prostitute. If she wanted to go, she’d have to pay them $ 50,000. “I’m starting to cry, I’ve lost my mind.” Loaiza told the woman she would call the police and the woman responded by threatening her daughter’s life. Loaiza later found out that she had been watched – they knew everything about their lives – her family members, where they lived, and everyone’s routines.
During the next 18 months, Loaiza worked as a prostitute with 30 other women. She doesn’t share details of the horrors she experienced, just says it was sexual exploitation. She had paid her “debts” to the Mafia, but was still afraid to leave. Eventually, hope arose when a customer contacted them. He told her she had to flee, bought her a wig, a ticket to the Colombian embassy and gave her some money. Loaiza made her way to the embassy, where officials housed her for a week to prepare to leave Japan.
Back in Colombia, Loaiza filed a report with the police, but it was useless.
Authorities did not believe that Loaiza did not know beforehand that she was going to become a prostitute.
Six months later, she went to the police station to review her case. “I was still scared. They told me they never had this case. These people are more powerful than anyone, “she said, referring to the mafia who she believes is behind what happened to them.
Loaiza now knows she was a victim of human trafficking, but at the time she had no idea what it was.
Indeed, it’s a nebulous concept that is rapidly changing to stay ahead of the authorities and adapt to demand. The United Nations describes it as “the recruitment, promotion, transfer, placement or reception of persons through the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, kidnapping, fraud, deception, abuse of power or a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or Advantages to get the consent of a person who is in control of another person for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation includes at least the exploitation of prostitution of other or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, bondage or organ harvesting. ”
It also includes sex work, sex work, pornography, entertainment (exotic dancing, etc.), housework, farming / construction / mining, factory work, food processing, begging, and commercial fishing.
Ana Margarita Gonzalez, senior attorney at Women’s Link, a nonprofit advocating the human rights of women and girls, says there are several reasons why human trafficking has not been eradicated. “It’s a complex crime,” she explains, explaining that there are flaws at the level of public policy. “One problem is that victims of human trafficking are usually not identified as such.” The lack of training of officials and the lack of focus on human trafficking as a criminal offense are also problematic.
It is estimated by the United Nations that around 50,000 people were trafficked, but these are only people who have had contact with authorities, so the number is likely to be much higher. The International Labor Organization reports that at one point in 2016, 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery, a term used interchangeably with human trafficking. Of these, 25 million were in forced labor (4.8 million in sexually exploitative situations) and 15 million in forced marriages.
In the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region, exact numbers are not known, but it remains an ideal place for human traffickers, according to research by Dr. Mauricia John. The reasons are wide, diverse, porous and coastal borders; the proliferation of tourism and migration, which makes it difficult to monitor movements; and high rates of crime and violence combined with scarce resources. Citizens most at risk, according to a 2016 U.S. government report, include people living in poverty, unemployed, members of an indigenous group, illiteracy, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, a history of physical or sexual abuse and gang membership, and LGBTQIA- People .
In Trinidad and Tobago, Adrian Alexander heads the Caribbean umbrella organization for restorative behavior (CURB), a non-profit group that, among other things, combats human trafficking. He says a report showed that 16 victims were identified between 2016 and 2018, but in fact there are likely 100 additional victims for each identified. He says the problem is widespread for several reasons: “There are still security flaws. The demand is there and the impunity with which traffickers can operate is still there. It’s high win and low risk and people will get involved in the activity. Many of the people who do this work lack basic humanity, ”says Alexander.
The US State Department ranks countries on three levels of compliance with anti-trafficking practices. In the LAC, Cuba is the only country classified at Level 3, which means it is the least compliant. At least a dozen other countries are ranked Level 2 as of 2020, while a handful remain on a watchlist. Only Argentina, Chile, the Bahamas, and Colombia are rated Tier 1 countries for compliance. In terms of improving compliance, the situation has improved, but it is still such a worrying area that CARICOM has prioritized its involvement to be discussed at a special safety summit.
“Another problem that worries our community is the growing sense of insecurity created by the scourge of trafficking in goods and people in our region. Such threats to law enforcement and security, particularly trafficking in people, were particularly troubling The community continues its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, “said CARICOM Chairman and President of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Keith Rowley, in a local media report.
Trafficking in human beings encompasses multiple streams in the LAC, including illegal migration to the region of people en route to other areas. those looking for a better life to North America and Europe and “intra-regional migration” from poor to rich countries in the Caribbean, said Dr. John’s article.
Dr. Ninna Sorensen, professor at the Danish Institute for International Studies, researches migration. Her most recent work has focused on the Dominican Republic, where human trafficking is most commonly manifested in sex work. She says human trafficking is the result of stricter border control measures that are forcing people to look for other unofficial means of migration. “Very few people who have been trafficked in the area I met were aware of the risks they were taking if they were trafficked for sex work,” she says.
In their experience, women are often aware that they are being trafficked for sex work but are looking for opportunities. You are also not part of a huge criminal network, but rather a community or family-based network, says Dr. Sorensen.
Experts say various measures need to be taken to curb trafficking in human beings, including stricter legislation, awareness campaigns, the fight against corruption and the fight against poverty.
Trafficking survivor Loaiza says that although she has now created a safe and fulfilling life, she is not the same person as she was before her experience. “It’s like a tattoo on the soul. I’ve been married for 15 years and have three beautiful daughters, a job, my own business, but under all circumstances there is always something to remind me of. Some smell, some eat, something always comes out under any circumstances. ”
Loaiza is now a business owner, motivational speaker, has written two books, and runs a nonprofit helping survivors of human trafficking. It urges governments to strengthen policies, conduct public awareness campaigns and allocate more resources to victims. Families should also speak openly about human trafficking, she says, especially with the proliferation of social media.
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