A sex slave's grisly tale

A sex slave's grisly tale

Well-oiled operation involved police, doctors, nurses, nail techs, says woman trafficked for over a year

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

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It started out as the innocent response of a desperate single mother of three boys to a newspaper ad beckoning attractive young females to work as masseuses for a respectable establishment.

Little did the then 26-year-old woman know the evil that it masked until she found herself held against her will, trapped with other young women in an established Corporate Area community as a sex slave for well over a year.

It is the kind of situation for which the Jamaican Government has be criticised by the United States in its Department of State 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report for Jamaica. According to the Americans, Jamaica “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so”.

The report also said the Government has demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Jamaica remained on Tier 2. Those efforts include investigating more suspected traffickers, identifying more victims, referring more victims to shelters, and achieving a conviction that resulted in a significant prison term.

The Jamaican Government has criminalised sex trafficking and labour trafficking through its Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Suppression, and Punishment) Act, which prescribed penalties of up to 20 years' imprisonment, a fine, or both, for offences involving an adult victim, and up to 30 years' imprisonment, a fine, or both, for those involving a child victim. According to the report, “These penalties were sufficiently stringent; however, with respect to sex trafficking, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment and prescribing a lower maximum imprisonment term, these penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape”.

It further said: “There were no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offences, but informal information from survivors indicated that police officers were complicit in sex trafficking operations disguised as massage parlours.”

This is a fact the now 38-year-old knows only too well. Unveiling her story as a guest on virtual talk show Heart to Heart recently, the survivor shared how a life of child sexual abuse by relatives and family friends spanning years which saw her being made homeless at 15 years of age by her father and stepmother, subjected to a vicious rape from which she became pregnant and struggled to feed herself and her children — made her the unwitting victim and the perfect poster child for traffickers.

Fleeing one rural community after an enraged former friend set fire to the board dwelling in which she and her three children lived, she resolved to end her hellish existence by seeking a job which required the least qualifications, as she had none, being a high school drop-out.

“I found a newspaper, saw a job advertising for a masseuse; you know, you thought this was like what you saw on TV. I called the number, the young lady said, 'Don't worry about it, you don't need to have any experience, we will teach you; it's a sure job. Come to Half-Way-Tree. When you get here call this number, somebody will come and pick you up,” she shared to a transfixed audience.

Thinking this was the break she needed she made plans for her children to be cared for and left for the location. She was picked up as promised and another young woman was also taken on-board during the journey.

“Everything was normal up to that point, but what was strange was that it was not your typical office building; it was like a house, but when I looked on the street where this place was I kind of pushed the doubt out of my mind.

“When we go inside they showed us where to sit and told us somebody would come and be with us. I was talking to the receptionist and telling her I had never done anything like this before and she was saying, 'Don't worry, you are going into training right now, they will show you what to do.'

“They asked us if we brought our IDs, TRN (tax registration number), I said yes. They said, 'You can leave your bag,' that was the trick to take away our identity,” she said.

By the time the other red flag came they were already in too deep.

“When we got into the room, there was a bed in there, the gentleman said, 'Take off your clothes.' I started to look around. I said 'OK, where is the changing room?' and he said 'No man, right ya soh yuh a dweet',” she shared.

“I said, 'Okay, so where is the clothes to put on?' He said, 'You are going to be naked.'

I'm like, 'no man, it's the job for the massage thing,' and he started to laugh.

So the other girl who was with me said, 'I am leaving', and I was like 'this is not what we came for so we are leaving', and that was when the gun came out. The other girl started to cry, my motherly instincts kicked in and I was trying to calm her, telling her just do what they say and we will get out of here.

“Nothing like that happened; we had to be there doing all sorts of stuff, there was no escape. One of the things they did was give you a name; they take everything. You could not leave this place,” she said.

It was the start of an experience that not even her life on the streets prepared her for.

“Have you ever been to a restaurant and they gave you like a menu? This is what they had with all of these different things that the men would choose, and you would have to perform all of these things whether you wanted to do it or not. They would stop at nothing. I saw girls being beaten; these men would put on some huge rings and they would beat the girls. If you tried to escape they would lock you up for days and not feed you — all of those things, and this is right here in Kingston. I knew of three locations — Kingston, Ocho Rios, and Montego Bay. You had the worst that you could think of,” she said.

It was a well-oiled operation, she said, and the clientèle raised eyebrows.

“You had men in high society who would come, men who would leave from abroad to come and these persons are organised, it's not something that was cooked up overnight. You had persons coming in to do our hair, our nails, you could buy clothes, you had doctors and nurses, and guess what, you had the police,” she told astounded guests.

The authority figures, she said, “were very well aware of what was going on”.

“The doctors would come in if there was an abortion or something to be done, nurses would come in to give us injections to stop our menstrual cycle, and if there was somebody who got beat the nurse would come in to dress those wounds. These people are very much aware,” she stated.

“I saw girls being broken in, when they would try to get the girls to conform to their rules, girls just being beaten, being locked up in the dark room for two and three days, not getting any food, not getting to shower, and this is happening right here in Jamaica,” she continued.

She recalled her shock encounter with one of those sworn to serve and protect.

“I remember my first night when I went into this room and they showed us a panic button we could press if you are uncomfortable with anything these men would do, so I pressed and here comes the police, and I am like, 'Oh yes, I am rescued.' I remember he asked what it was and I told him, and he said 'a dat yuh call mi in ya fah?'” she recalled.

“So everybody knows this thing is happening. This ad is in our daily newspaper. I lived that for a year and about seven/eight months. When I eventually got the chance to leave I remember coming home and I slept for about two weeks,” she confided.

That escape was part of the divine arrangement through which her scarred life began transforming.

“I think somebody probably leaked the location, because the owner just came and said he had to leave and those who wanted to come with him could, and those who wanted to go could. As scary as it sounds, a lot of girls went with him. We were paid, and because the money is good a lot of girls went where the money was and a few of us opted to go home,” she said.

Now married, an author, entrepreneur and mother of four, she does not know what became of her captors, but has been helping to shed light on the situation and assisting women across the island who have fallen victim to similar schemes to find peace, livelihoods and healing.

According to the US State Department report, Jamaican officials investigated 41 potential sex trafficking cases and two labour trafficking cases, compared with 36 cases of sex and labour trafficking investigated in the previous reporting period, and 30 cases the year before that. Fourteen of the sex trafficking investigations originated from tips received from a national hotline for cases of child abuse, including human trafficking, operated by the Child Protection and Family Services Agency. None of the investigations originating from hotline tips resulted in any arrests or prosecutions.

During the reporting period, the Government initiated five new prosecutions for sex trafficking and two new prosecutions for labour trafficking, and reported that 21 total prosecutions are currently in process. In the previous reporting period, authorities initiated six prosecutions, but all were for sex trafficking offences; they initiated three new prosecutions the year before that.

The Government convicted one trafficker from a 2015 child sex trafficking case and sentenced him to five years in prison for human trafficking and three years for having sex with a minor, running concurrently. The trafficker also was required to pay restitution to the victim in the form of vocational training fees. Ten investigations were eventually prosecuted as non-trafficking crimes.

According to the report, the slow pace at which cases moved through the courts hampered efforts to hold traffickers criminally accountable and deterred victims from serving as witnesses.

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