‘I was a victim of human trafficking and spent nine months being abused in the US’ – Marie Claire Magazine

‘I was a victim of human trafficking and spent nine months being abused in the US’ – Marie Claire Magazine
‘I was a victim of human trafficking and spent nine months being abused in the US’ – Marie Claire Magazine

Luana Maciel was a victim of human trafficking and is now studying law to help other victims of violence (Photo: Personal Archive)

“I was born in Brasília and raised in the surroundings of the Federal District. As a child, my sister, who is ten years older, and I experienced a lot of domestic violence and abuse. My mother was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder and my father with bipolar disorder. They attacked us too much, living together was not easy. My sister came to live with our uncles at one time and I was often forced to run to the neighbors’ house for help.

I was molested from age six to 14 by the husband of a friend of my mother’s who offered me shelter. When I told my mother she didn’t believe it, she said it was all a lie on my part. I was always at a disadvantage, she was the ‘rebel’ daughter in the eyes of others. I got to the point of spending days at a pay phone, calling several people and asking who could sign my enrollment at school because my mom didn’t give a damn if I was going to study or not.

At the age of 17, already far behind in my studies, I started to attend the high school. One night, coming home from class, I was raped. Out of shame and fear, I didn’t tell anyone what happened. But three months later, I found out I was pregnant. I vented to a friend’s mother, who took pity on my situation and took me for an abortion in a clandestine clinic. It nearly led to my death. I had many complications and ended up in the hospital for surgery. And what I feared most happened.

My mother was called to the hospital and I was assaulted by her. Even police officers were called in to stop the fight and without the slightest bit of training or discretion, they humiliated me in front of everyone. Hospital security allowed my mother to physically assault me, everyone said she was “a slut and slut for getting pregnant”.

+ I, Reader: ‘I killed the man who tried to rape my 14-year-old daughter’

After all this, a little aimlessly in life, I started to attend my mother’s church, imagining that I was only suffering like this in life because I was not part of her religion. I got it into my head that if I got married and had my own family, maybe I wouldn’t have any more problems and I’d be protected.

I got married at 17 to a man from the church who, in the eyes of everyone, seemed like the best person in the world, but was actually extremely abusive and toxic. He isolated me from my family, friends and everything he could. There were so many fights and scandals that I ended up being embarrassed to go to the places I frequented. At the time, I was in law school and every day when I came home from class I was assaulted by him and accused of treason.

+ I, Reader: ‘I left Brazil to become a luxury escort in Europe’

I found myself unable to finish the course, so many aggressions. I even lied at work once, saying that I was the victim of an assault because my husband punched me so hard in the mouth that it broke my lip. I looked for people who called themselves ‘friends’ to try to talk, but I found myself alone. ‘You’re in this relationship because you want to’ or ‘you really like to be spanked’ was what I heard from most. I just thought about dying every day.

I had two daughters with my then husband. My firstborn was born in June 2002 and the youngest in February 2010. I was married for over ten years, I don’t even know how I put up with it. Until an aunt found out what I was going through and took us to live in a trailer in her backyard.

During this period, already in the process of divorce, I got a job in a company that provides services for the US Embassy. It felt like the dream job. There I worked taking fingerprints and taking pictures of the people who were going to get the visa.

In 2013, I ended up meeting a childhood friend who also provided services for one of the companies that worked for the Embassy. We got closer and she introduced me to a manager who, after learning about my story, made me a job offer and move to the United States, where I could work and study, with a business visa. I thought that life was finally giving me an opportunity to be happy and give my girls a better life.

I arrived with my daughters in the United States in 2014, at the age of 29. We went to live in Louisville, . Arriving there, I realized that the job offer was a lie. We were taken to the basement of a house, guarded 24 hours a day. There I was forced to do domestic and sexual services. In desperation, to protect my youngest daughters, I did everything I was told. He lived in despair.

If ever, due to fatigue or depression, I didn’t meet the expectations of the traffickers, they didn’t feed us. Hungry, we often picked up leftover food thrown in garbage bags in the basement.

Several times, I waited for one of the drug dealers to go to sleep and tried to make some contact, always in vain. Once, in a single chance, I managed to call the Brazilian consulate and managed to leave half a voice message for them, which was the only option I had available, but the dealer ended up waking up and caught me. I lost what I thought was my only chance to be saved from that hell.

The dealer made things seem normal. He allowed us to call some family members, but the conversation was strictly monitored by them. And he only did it to avoid arousing suspicion. Once, the police were called by neighbors, who understood the strange movement of the house, but the police did not question why the drug dealer spoke for us and why he was the one in possession of our passports.

Threats were constant, mainly against the lives of children. A true martyrdom. It was nine long months in prison. Until one day all the guys guarding the house went to a funeral and we had the chance to run away. We were nine prisoners – seven children and two adults there.

Outside the house I was completely disoriented. I ran a lot with my daughters. I ended up losing 35% of my eyesight due to lack of proper treatment for mistreatment in captivity. The house was all closed and no sunlight came in.

When I left there I filed a complaint with the police. But the American authorities did not offer us any kind of help. I even lived on the sidewalks with my two daughters, along with the homeless, until I went to a shelter and then was helped by the people of the Catholic Charities church.

From there, I moved with the girls from Louisville to Indiana. There we also live on the street, starving and cold. After much insistence, I ended up discovering the National Human Trafficking Network in the United States, where I got support. The institution helped me with housing and regularization of my immigration status. My case was closed by the local police who claimed ‘little evidence’.

Finally, after almost eight years, the case was reopened, but the trafficker has not been arrested until today. I’ve heard that he trafficked three more Brazilian women and is still out there working with his gang. For some reason I don’t know, every time the case goes to the prosecution, it comes back for investigation. I have fought hard and disturbed different authorities to prosecute these people.

Domestic violence dominates women in many ways, causing them not to find many options to get out of an abusive relationship. Often the currents are more psychological than physical. As for human trafficking, I’ve heard a lot of comments from people who don’t understand how modern slavery works. Traffickers use people’s dreams of getting a better life or getting out of risky situations, they use vulnerability and fear to make them become their domestic and sexual slaves.

Human trafficking is not just carried out by a coyote crossing people across the border from one country to another. There is an urgent need for education in schools, education for the military and, above all, because it is a crime that occurs practically every day across international borders and, more than urgently, I hope that campaigns are carried out within the diplomatic career to break the taboo that people trafficked in mordenity are people held in chains.

I never returned to Brazil. My mom came to visit us in 2020. My dad has leukemia and I still don’t have travel permission to go visit him. I’m waiting for my documents to legalize. I’m still waiting for the travel permit and my ‘green card’ that should expire by July 2023, as I am now married to an American man and, by right, I can have American documents.

Today I am a senior student and soon I will have a bachelor’s degree in criminal law. I still live in Jeffersonville, Indiana, with my two daughters, who have just turned 20 and 12 years old. The youngest is a student and the oldest already works as a recruiter in HR for a large American company. I remarried two years ago and managed to buy a house. We went through many things together, the three of us, always together.

I am now focused on specializing with a focus on conflict resolution, I volunteer in advocacy in defense of immigrant women against domestic violence and human trafficking. I became a survivor of human trafficking and violence against women in many ways, so I thirst for justice. I believe that domestic violence and human trafficking education would go a long way toward preventing and providing justice for what many out there dare to say was ‘a choice’. I did not choose to be trafficked and raped.”

The article is in Portuguese

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