By Mitzi Perdue
Want some additional validation for why combatting human trafficking is worth it? Then read the story of Juanita Garcia. (As usual, we are not using a real name.)
Juanita’s story is about hope, catastrophic betrayal, suicide-inducing misery, and then happiness, fulfillment, and the infinite satisfaction of knowing that today, she’s making lives better for others.
When Juanita was 23, life seemed to smile on her. She met a man who told her he loved her, and he showered her with gifts that were beyond anything her family could ever afford. He had told her that they’d leave Honduras together to make a life in the United States. She was in love and full of hope for a better life.
He also told her the wonderful news that he already had a job lined up for her. There was a nice couple in Texas who wanted to hire her to look after their two children.
Soon after Juanita and her boyfriend crossed the border together, his behavior toward her changed. He became emotionally and physically abusive, threatening to abandon her penniless in a country where she didn’t know the language if she didn’t comply with his wishes. To her horror, he handed her over to a trafficking ring, telling her they needed the money. As she later learned, her “boyfriend” had deliberately set her up. In fact, he made a habit of this kind of fraud, and he was part of a network of criminals who trafficked drugs, weapons, and sex slaves.
For almost four years she was trafficked, forced to have sex with strangers up to 15 times a night. The victimizers told her if she tried to escape, they knew where her family was in Honduras, and they’d all be killed.
She became pregnant several times, and each time miscarried after horrible beatings. And then one day, more than three years into this, when her trafficker was threatening her, she told him, “I just want to die. You can kill me right now.”
He didn’t, but the next morning, Juanita ran out of the home and found her way to a local hospital. Law enforcement quickly became involved and arranged for her to move to New York.
They moved her out of Texas because they knew that she wouldn’t be safe in the area where she was trafficked. She ended up in a safe place in New York, Restore NYC.
The community at Restore NYC walked alongside Juanita during her long road to recovery and freedom. She lived in their transitional safehome for a year and a half, also receiving counseling and enrolling in their Economic Empowerment program.
Today, Juanita is working full-time as a member of Restore’s co-op staffing agency, she’s married, and has two children.
Best of all, Juanita also works part-time as an assistant facilitator in Restore’s Economic Empowerment program, helping other survivors who have been trafficked. She is a role model showing that restoration is possible with the power of community, even after such unimaginable suffering.
Why Restore Works
Restore has an extraordinary record of success, and there’s a reason. As Dr. Amanda Eckhardt, the Executive Director, explains, “We know that survivors have the same degree of trauma as victims of torture or combat. This trauma impacts the body, soul, and spirit. It takes a community for an individual’s life to be restored with dignity–and we provide that community.”
Restore’s Motto: Pilot, Measure, Iterate
Eckhardt goes on to say, “Trafficking is a dark, complex, and devastating problem, but we believe that restoration is always possible and we must act. We want to engage in innovative solutions to trafficking. We pilot new initiatives, we measure what works and what doesn’t, and then we iterate and make improvements. It’s all-important to see if we’re going in the right direction.”
In the ten years Restore has been operating, it clearly has been going in the right direction.
- Mental Health: The women who complete counseling services have the same mental health outcomes as the average woman.
- Housing: 73% of the women have their own housing and are living independently in the community.
- Economic Security: On average, a woman’s earnings increase by $20,000 in one year. In the first year of employment with one of Restore’s 27 business partners, 70% are promoted.
One of the biggest goals of Restore is that their graduates are no longer vulnerable to being trafficked. Today, 92% of those who have completed the program have no red flags that indicate risk factors for being re-trafficked.
Restore measures its impact, and the impact has been inspiring.
Mitzi Perdue is a speaker. and author of the books, HOW TO MAKE YOUR FAMILY BUSINESS LAST, and 52 TIPS FOR PREVENTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING. Contact her at Mitzi@WinThisFight.org or call her at 410 860-4444.