July 25, 2018

A True Story from South Africa: Will She Ever Be Truly Free?

In describing herself, Gina (not her real name) says she is a recovered drug addict. What drove her to drugs and prostitution was the anger and pain she experienced after being gang raped at the age of nine. She also says that she did not choose to be a prostitute because she liked or wanted drugs. She was forced into prostitution. But she feels strongly that social conditions exist that support this exploitation. Human taffickers just use the conditions that make their “work” easier.

The community Gina grew up in knew about the gang of boys in the neighbourhood and they knew what the boys were doing, but no one spoke out. Gina was just one of the girls they abused. She came from a dysfunctional family and felt she couldn’t tell anyone about her ordeal. Joining a group of children who lived on the streets and slept under a bridge, she soon found out the sniffing glue helped to relieve the pain and hunger.

Until she was seventeen, she spent her time living on the streets, being taken to children’s shelters and running away from the shelters back to the streets. Her education was severely disrupted. Just before her eighteenth birthday, she met a friend who had lived on the streets with her. This girl had moved to a city in another province, had a chance to improve her education and had managed to find employment. The picture her friend painted was very enticing and as soon as she had gathered enough money for her train fare she travelled to meet her friend.

When she arrived at her destination, her friend welcomed her and took her straight to the place where she would be staying. Gina was surprised when she looked around the room. There was very little furniture, but her friend assured her that everything would soon be sorted out. Her friend left her in the room saying she would be back soon. As she left, she locked the door. That was the last time Gina ever saw her “friend”.

A few hours later, four men entered the room, grabbed Gina and put tape across her eyes. Then pinning her to the floor, they beat and kicked her and took turns to rape her. This treatment continued for two weeks, with different men arriving at different times in the day. Some gave her a bit of food and a drink of water; others injected her thighs with drugs before raping her. After two weeks, she heard another girl being pushed into the room. Gina was pulled out into a back street and left there. They were finished with her. This was the beginning of years of exploitation.

Gina drifted from one brothel to another, dependent on drugs to kill the pain and on prostitution to pay the pimps to get her the drugs. She lost all self-respect. She was moved to towns and cities across the country. Sometimes she carried drugs for the traffickers and sometimes they only wanted her for sexual exploitation. She also found herself being used for pornographic websites on the internet.

Whenever she managed to get away from her traffickers, she soon found herself craving the drugs. The only way she knew of making money was through selling her body and so ended up back in the clutches of the traffickers.

In her early thirties, Gina fell pregnant. She tried to keep her pregnancy secret as long as she could. When her traffickers found out that she was expecting a baby, they forced her to have an abortion. Lying on the bed, she saw the legs of her aborted baby lying in the basin beside her and immediately made up her mind to get out of the trap she had been in for so many years. Three hours after the abortion, the “madam” told her to get back to work. When the client arrived, she refused to go with him. She was taken out of the brothel, bundled into a car and driven to another city, where she was left in the street – a drug addict, penniless, uneducated, still recovering from the abortion.

Someone took pity on her and got her to a rehabilitation centre, and her new life began. It was difficult, but she was determined never to look back. She has fought her addictions, she has improved her education and she “cleaned up” her life.

She now works for an NGO that raises awareness of the reality of human trafficking and helps women who have been rescued to regain their dignity. She is determined to save other girls from undergoing the experiences that stole her life from her.

Twice I have heard Gina tell her story – once at an awareness campaign and once at a conference for NGOs. Each time she stands up to speak she does so with more confidence, less raw anger and deeper compassion.

The last time I listened to her she said, “I cannot enter a hotel in any part of the country without being afraid that I’ll come face to face with one of my ex “clients”. I can never stand before a group of people and not be afraid that someone in the audience has been watching me in my nakedness in a porn site on the internet.”

And so my question is: Will she ever be truly free?

Messages to: Colleen Wilkinson rsm - South Africa

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