Meet Anna. Anna is a 20 year old woman who was raised in a poor, remote Ukrainian village with no chance at a stable home life. Growing up she struggled to make ends meet and provide for herself and her alcoholic mother. While selling fruit in a nearby city, she met a well-educated and older foreigner who told her of his life as a businessman in sunny California. He promised to take care of her and her mother if she would marry him through the marriage agency that had arranged his visit to Ukraine. Anna’s mother pressured her to accept his proposal to improve both their lives, becoming so drunk and enraged that she broke the kitchen window. That night, as Anna tried to keep warm by the stove, she decided that life with the calm, successful American must be better than this life. She finalized her trip and fiancee visa with the agency and moved to live with him in his suburban home three months later. To her horror Anna’s new fiance raped her the first night and returned home the following night, and many other nights, with three colleagues who also raped her. Although she was isolated and only spoke broken English, Anna ran away after months of this abuse. She was found on the streets by a pimp who forced her into prostitution. She was then busted by the police and convicted of prostitution, but no effort was made to find her pimp. Even once she found an agency that helps victims of human trafficking rebuild their lives, learn English, and receive work training, Anna still struggles to find a job because of her prior conviction.
Meet Sardor. Sardor is a 32 year old man who grew up on a small farm in Uzbekistan and always dreamed of being an engineer. One day he was approached by a recruiter who heard that men in the rural areas were desperate for work. Since Sardor’s father had injured his back and the family was unable to keep the farm running, Sardor gladly signed up along with his neighbors to earn $1500 per month and receive free lodging and food. The recruiter calculated it would take them one year of work on construction sites for sports venues, hotels and transportation systems in Russia to pay off the loan for the travel and lodging expenses. Once Sardor and the others arrived and started to work, they were told by their supervisor that their debts were now 10 times more than had been agreed upon, and that they were on trial without pay for the first three months. The men worked 12 hour days outside in harsh winter weather, ate poor quality food and slept in crowded worker barracks with no gas and thin walls. Two months on the job, Sardor injured his shoulder and was beaten for his shorter workday. As Sardor’s health grew weaker, he feared being fired and expelled from the country without any earned wages. When the owners of the construction business were exposed by the media for labor violations, Sardor and his group were discovered but they had no identifying documents or proof of trafficking so their legal representatives could make a case.
Meet Thein. Thein is an 11 year old boy from Myanmar who was orphaned at 8 and never had formal schooling. When a middleman offered to sneak him into Thailand to work in a fruit processing plant, Thein jumped at the chance. He did not stop to think that he would owe the middleman more money than he had seen in his whole life. Along the perilous journey by truck, boat, and hours on foot, Thein watched as more and more Myanmar citizens joined the group until there were at least 35 people. Once Thein arrived at the drop off destination by a dock, the middleman sold him to a fisherman who made him work on fishing vessels pay off the rest of his debt. The fisherman would supply the fish caught by Thein and the other boys as feed to a shrimp farm with which he had an arrangement. For up to 20 days at a time, Thein was sent out to sea to perform the hard labor of casting the fishing net, sorting the catch, transferring fish to boxes, covering them with ice, and moving the heavy loads. Because Thein was weaker and younger than the rest, he was regularly beaten and threatened with an electric shocker for working too slowly. One day local authorities started an investigation in response to complaints from international monitoring groups about dangerous working conditions at the shrimp farm. Eventually the investigation led to the fisherman’s shrimp feed business and Thein. Thein was told he had to testify against the fisherman and is now terrified of the prospect of facing the man who beat him alone in court.