Healing After the Trauma of Trafficking
Hannah’s* hopes and dreams were larger than life. She wanted to find a good job and travel internationally. Her biggest goal in life, however, was to help other people. To say she was excited when a friend approached her with what appeared to be the job of a lifetime would be an understatement.
The friend’s sister apparently had a sister living abroad who needed assistance after she gave birth. An intriguing offer, no doubt, yet Hannah hesitated. She sought out advice from her mother and others she trusted. No one raised a single red flag. So, Hannah enthusiastically accepted.
Travel plans were quickly arranged. As Hannah boarded her flight from Uganda to Asia, images of bright lights and magnificent city skylines filled her imagination.
When Hannah met her employer after landing in Asia, she saw no signs of pregnancy. There was no baby. There was no job. It was all a con.
This is when Hannah’s dreams ended and her nightmare began.
She was transported directly to a hotel where her passport and the $500 she brought with her were confiscated, as was her luggage. The long dresses and skirts she brought over from Uganda were replaced with bras and high heels. She was told that she had to sell herself in order to pay back the money that was paid to bring her to Asia.
Isolated in a hotel room, Hannah shuddered when the first knock came. It was a man who explained that he had paid for her. The terrible reality set in that her ordeal had only just begun.
Over the coming months, more girls joined Hannah at the hotel. They, too, were victims of an elaborate con. Once a loving and selfless person, she now hated anything and everyone.
“I grew up with a mom who knows God,” she said. “I prayed since I was young. I prayed to God, but I started to question Him. I hated myself.”
“I could not tell my mother what happened to me.”
Hannah eventually fell ill. Sent to another Asian country for treatment, she was roomed up with another trafficking victim: A young woman who had been bleeding for a week. She was shaking so badly that she needed Hannah’s help to drink a glass of water. The young girl died later that day.
Hannah wrapped the girl in a bedsheet and was forced to go with the traffickers as they threw the body on the side of the road. “They told me, ‘if you say anything we will do you like the girl.’”
Shortly later, another girl arrived. Traumatized and abused by six men, the girl was also sick. She died in Hannah’s arms.
The traffickers decided to burn the body.
“They doused her in something, and they burned her,” Hannah said. “The fire was going everywhere. It was too much.”
The traumatizing scent of burning flesh was imprinted into Hannah’s memory.
“That fire did a lot of things in my mind,” she said. “From that day, I hated fire. Whenever I am near fire, I get sick.”
After spending nearly 18 months in the custody of traffickers, Hannah was able to seek help at a hospital where she learned that she was HIV-positive. And with the first silver lining she’d experienced since being forced into her new reality, Hannah spoke with a Ugandan official who helped her find safe passage home.
But she wasn’t the same Hannah who’d left Uganda with a big heart and an imagination filled with curiosity.
“Life was not easy,” Hannah said when she finally returned to Uganda. “At that time, I felt like there was no life in me.”
Fortunately, Hannah has been able to find refuge with several other women in a home for trafficking victims run by Willow International. Like Hannah, these women have had their lives forever changed by violence and abuse.
“Before I felt that no one loved or cared about me,” she said. “Now, if I feel bad I can run and talk to any of the case managers.”
At the home, these women receive counseling and work with our professional staff members who help survivors recover from physical and emotional trauma. Willow also provides the young women with opportunities to attend a trade school or start a small business.
Hannah is grateful for the encouragement she’s found and for the ability to attend classes. “It was like a dream when I was told I’m going to go to school” she said. “I thank God for my education. When I go to school in the morning, I laugh, I talk with students. I have friends at school, and I love what I am studying.”
Hannah is now hopeful about the future. “I thank God there is some improvement,” she says with a big grin. “I feel that I have people that are caring for me. Real people that love me.”
“I think, in time, I will be OK.”
*Pseudonym to protect survivor’s identity.