By Jenny Seo
For most, marriage is the quintessential vow bestowed upon love and commitment. After the initial honeymoon phase, most marriages face the realities of disagreements and flaws, some working things out and others separating. This was not the case for Ana Chimo (a nickname) and her reality.
Ana is in her early 20s. She grew up in a high-income town in the Dominican Republic. She came from a decent middle-class family. Working in hospitality while taking classes at a local college, Ana met her husband. Her husband and she were madly in love, she says. However, her husband moved to the states during the marriage, as he insisted there were better opportunities.
Soon after, he encouraged Ana to move to the States with him. He insisted that he would let her go to school and continue her studies, as the American education is better and more worthwhile. Excited to be reunited at last with her husband, Ana moved to New York. She never enrolled in school. Her own husband trafficked her, forcing her into exploitation.
“My entire world shattered when I realized what was going on. I kept asking myself if this was a dream,” says Ana. “He made a promise to me … he made a promise to protect and love me.”
After resisting to prostitute herself, she was beaten and raped repeatedly by her now ex-husband and other men running the trafficking circle, until she complied. She has not given further details beyond this.
Ana was arrested as a prostitute and found help with Restore NYC, a nonprofit organization that helps human trafficking victims in NYC.
Restore NYC has connections with various courts in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, with having the strongest tie with Queens Criminal Court. A typical case involves a woman being arrested on prostitution charges, then being brought before the judge.
The judge on average gives the woman an alternative option rather than incarceration, which is to have counseling sessions with Restore. Through these sessions, Restore has confirmed that around 98% of the women admitted to being trafficked.
“It’s really sad because the majority of these women are frequently beaten or isolated. A lot of these women are ‘broken’ until they say they are ready to sell themselves,” says Gabrielle Tang, a Policy staff member for Restore NYC. “Our vision is to provide safe housing for these women along with counseling and other forms of economic empowerment, visas, legal assistance, medical assistance, and counseling,”
When Ana was first rescued, she slept all days for days on end, was incredibly depressed, and contemplated suicide, say workers at the shelter she was staying at.
A complex issue that arises for these women is that many lack in English language skills and without having any family or friends to turn to, many turn back to prostitution as a means of getting by. “They will go back into prostitution because they don’t know anyone in the states, have no support, and the only person “taking care” of them are their traffickers,” notes Tang.
However, there are hopeful cases. After receiving counseling services from Restore, Ana has high spirits, with a focus in her life moving forward. She is awaiting her work permit and is excited to work and experience the freedom that her ex-husband never gave her in the States. Though Ana has not been in the States very long, she is picking up English very quickly and will enroll in ESL classes with the help of Restore.