WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After escaping sexual slavery, forced labor and domestic servitude, survivors of human trafficking called on Tuesday for jobs and funding, not pity, to help them rebuild their lives.
The global spotlight has turned in recent years on human trafficking with an estimated 46 million people living in modern day slavery and profits from the illegal industry believed to be around $150 billion.
This has led to an increasing number of survivors coming forward to raise awareness about the issue, prevent trafficking and help others once they have been rescued.
Jennifer Kempton, a sex slavery victim who set up the U.S.-based non-profit Survivor’s Ink in 2014, said she escaped six years working on the streets of Ohio, where she was beaten and even raped by a knife, but survival still remains a daily feat.
“Once we escape, there is a whole new hell,” Kempton told Trust Conference/America Forum, a one-day anti-slavery and trafficking event run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“You can rescue us all you want, but what we need is opportunity. We want jobs, we want education, we want choices, we want our children back. There needs to be more start-up money for survivors who want to start up their own businesses.”
Describing her downward spiral, Kempton referred to a dysfunctional family and series of abusive relationships until she met her “Prince Charming” who got her addicted to heroin, put her on the streets and “branded” her with tattoos.
Her charity helps others who have escaped enslavement get their brandings or tattoos covered up or removed.
While exact numbers are impossible to gauge, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime has found human trafficking in 106 countries and territories, with trafficking for sexual exploitation, forced labor and begging most common.
In the United States nearly 32,000 cases of human trafficking have been reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the last decade.
Evelyn Chumbow, an anti-trafficking survivor activist, said it was critical that survivors had job opportunities to pay off debts and bring some normalcy back to their lives.
Chumbow was trafficked from Cameroon to the United States at age 9 and locked in domestic servitude until escaping at age 17.
“We are locked in a house, we have no idea of the outside world, we don’t know about taxes or how to get a job and most organizations focus on rescuing,” Chumbow, who now works at law firm Baker McKenzie, told the forum.
“People know about modern slavery but you have to focus on what comes next ... we need jobs.”
Nepalese survivor Deependra Giri said he paid a recruitment broker to go Qatar in 2008, expecting an office job as a clerk and decent salary to help his family, but when he arrived his passport was confiscated and he found himself in manual labor.
“From that day onwards I was a modern day slave,” Giri told the forum before breaking down in tears.
Giri, who set up the NGO Safety First Foundation in Nepal in 2014, said his organization was trying slowly to help people.
“We cannot stop people going to the Gulf to work but at least we can give them proper counseling,” he said, adding his organization struggled to find financial support.
Another U.S. survivor Dessai Scott told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that she felt she had nowhere to turn when her boyfriend started to sell her for sex, but hoped going public about her ordeal would help other trafficking victims.
Having transitioned from a boy to a girl when she was 12, Scott was thrown out of her home at age 16 when her mother died, and her then boyfriend started to exploit her.
Scott, now 22, said it took two years and several escape bids before she finally broke free, supported by U.S. non-profit FAIR Girls that works to prevent exploitation of girls.
“I just wish I’d known there was support and help there for me,” said Scott from Washington, D.C., who now mentors young women exiting human trafficking and is studying to be a nurse.
“I can’t count the amount of times I was sold or to how many men.”
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org