At It’s a Penalty, we believe in the importance of listening to and learning from the stories of human trafficking survivors in order to inform our response and efforts to bring this evil industry to an end. During our live expert panel at the end of July, we were honored to have two survivors of human trafficking, Sam Wijeyakumar and Kat Rosenblatt, share their stories with us. The power of the stories of those who have been exploited and trafficked is not only in their strength and resilience, but also in the insights they can offer into how and why human trafficking takes place, and how we can end it.
Today we want to share Sam’s inspiring story with you.
Sam was trafficked and exploited for the first time after running away from home as a teenager. Growing up in an upper middle class traditional family, Sam was a sheltered girl who was bullied by her peers at school. Out on the streets by herself, she got a job in a nightclub working as a cashier. At the end of her first shift, she was asked to go into the Manager’s office, but “too late she realised it was not an office at all and her life changed forever in an instant.” After months of abuse and being forced to perform unconscionable acts, a patron of the brothel helped her to escape for the first time. “I was so broken and had so little value in myself at this point that I didn’t know what to do. I had no place to go, I didn’t feel like I could go home, I didn’t feel like I could go anywhere or that anyone would have me,” Sam recounted. After several nights spent homeless, hungry, exhausted and terrified, Sam agreed to work in a different brothel that she thought would be better, but unfortunately it wasn’t. Eventually she was rescued by her family, but a lack of training and coping mechanisms meant that her recovery was very difficult.
During her recovery, whilst working as a chef in an upmarket restaurant, Sam started to share her story with others but soon realised that this was a mistake. She recalled that “it took about 48 hours from the time I shared my story to be trafficked again.” This time, it was a much more complex trafficking ring, and Sam was taken around the country to be sold at parties, conferences, Super Bowls and other sporting events. She would be trapped for several years. When she did try to escape, she was relentlessly hunted by her traffickers and subjected to extreme physical assault. “I couldn’t have any property, a cell phone, a car, or anything in my name because it was traceable. I still to this day suffer trauma and flashbacks from this,” she explained.
We are so grateful to Sam for sharing her story with us and the world. Learning from the experience of survivors and those who have been exploited or trafficked is paramount in order to fully understand and be able to combat human trafficking; every survivor’s story is so different but can teach us so much.
There are three important learnings we can take from Sam’s incredible story:
- We must work hard to ensure that no victim of human trafficking or exploitation feels alone. While telling her story, Sam explained that she felt like she had no place to go after escaping her first trafficking, which ultimately led into another exploitative situation. It’s a Penalty actively works towards this goal through our awareness-raising campaigns which provide people with information on the help available for those who have been exploited, as well as collaborating with organizations which provide refuge and rehabilitation services for human trafficking survivors.
- It is vital that all people #KNOWTHESIGNS. Once a person can identify human trafficking or exploitation, they can act. Whether they recognise that they themselves are being exploited or someone they know is, knowledge is power and knowing the signs is the first step to helping someone escape an exploitative situation. If you learn the signs, you could help someone like Sam today – go to www.knowthesignsnow.org to find out how.
- Equally as important as knowing the signs to look out for is knowing how to #MAKEAREPORT. For a long time after escaping her trafficking situation, Sam was doggedly pursued by those who trafficked her. She and many survivors like her deserve security; reporting any suspected human trafficking or exploitation is a crucial step towards guaranteeing their safety. Visit www.itsapenalty.org/makeareport to find out how to report abuse, exploitation and trafficking in every country worldwide using our interactive map.
Not only are stories such as Sam’s incredibly impactful, but survivors themselves are amazing proponents of action. Since founding her organization Rahab’s Daughters, Sam has dedicated her life to empowering survivors through a program of rescue, refuge and rehabilitation. We encourage you to check out Rahab’s Daughters and learn more about their inspiring work – www.rahabsdaughters.org.
To find out more about how It’s a Penalty are working to prevent stories like Sam’s from taking place, please visit www.itsapenalty.org.
Written by Elizabeth Speller
Campaign and Research/Advocacy Coordinator for the It’s a Penalty Campaign