Funny, smart and determined, on the surface she bears no scars of the eight years of unimaginable horror she’s been through.
I met “Miriana” (not her real name) in Amsterdam when I was working on a story on human trafficking. The organisation we were dealing with helped victims of this ever-growing trade. I was told she’d talk to us, but she’d rather not discuss her own story- she wanted to talk about the future, and how the government should work with the people who had suffered the very crime they were fighting. “We have the knowledge, we have the experience- no one knows what goes on better than us … Involve us,” she told me.
She did talk about her story in the end. She left Eastern Europe at just 16 years old with a man she knew, and trusted. He took her to Europe, and there, his story changed.
“He just told me what I had to do … and first I refused, but then it went from just saying to me you have to do that, it became an order and then it came to violence, to convince me to do that.”
She was forced to have sex with men, through various countries in Europe. “Apart from the physical violence, sometimes you need to obey for that to stop … even though you have mental violence as well, you just think ok, this was my fate … but still hoping deep inside that one day it might be over.”
After eight long years the day-to-day horror did come to an end.
It’s now six years on, and she’s still trying to bring the man who did this to her to justice.
“I’m still waiting for that, it’s proven a bit hard but I still have a little faith.”
She doesn’t see herself as a victim she says she’s a person like any other. I asked her if she’d made peace with her past. “Never. You come to terms with it, in a way, but you don’t have peace with it, because it will haunt you forever … you meet people, you make friends and you have to explain those eight years of your life and it’s not like everybody understands.”
Trying to get on with normal life is not easy. For example with getting a job, she told me: “There’s an eight-year gap in my life … no school or university qualifications, because of what I was forced to do..How can I explain that to a potential employer?”
She knows the importance of getting her message out, of telling her story, as hard as that is for her. Hundreds of thousands of girls get trafficked to Europe every year … And that’s an estimate. It’s a worldwide problem. Human trafficking organisations tell me the numbers they have are simply the tip of the iceberg., and it’s a very big iceberg underneath.