Helping Victims of Human Trafficking Rebuild their Lives in Honduras

By Danielle Duran Baron, Senior Communications Specialist

GabrielaI walk into a room in the back of a house in Honduras where I see a young woman. She has long dark hair and a small frame. She sees me but makes no eye contact. She looks frightened, more than that, she is terrified. The people working with her tell me that she is 21 years old and lives there with two of her three children. The house is her temporary shelter, as she was recently rescued by the Honduran authorities, who now work with CHF International and local organizations, to protect her and help her rebuild her life.

The 18-month program is financed by the U.S. State Department, managed and implemented by CHF Honduras in partnership with several local organizations, such as the Covenant House - Honduras, Centro de Capacitación San Juan Bosco and Fundación Unidos por la Vida (United for Life Foundation). Since its inception, the program has served 149 people all over the country. In addition to direct assistance to victims of human trafficking, CHF and its partners conduct awareness and prevention campaigns through various activities and the media, helping to further disseminate information on the services provided.

Gabriela’s* story is like many others. When she needed money, a friend of hers told her she knew of an easy and quick way to get it. In a couple days, Gabriela and her friend were off to Guatemala City, where they were hired to dance at a nightclub. A little over a week later, Gabriela had the money that she needed and went back home to Honduras.

As a 20-year-old mother of two who had been looking for work without success, she had acquired more debt and soon headed back to same nightclub in Guatemala City. Only this time things would not be as simple. “I started to dance again, but this time they wanted more. They demanded that I had sex with clients to get paid. They kept all the money I made and charged me some hefty prices for food, housing and even the clothes I had to wear. They left me with pretty much nothing,” she explains, with tears in her eyes.

In Guatemala City, life was tough, she could barely venture outside. One night, she had a disagreement with the owner of the establishment and he beat her so badly that a cab was called to rush her to the nearest hospital. She was in the early stages of her pregnancy and had bruises all over her body. At the hospital, health professionals suspected something was wrong and contacted the authorities who determined that Gabriela had been a victim of human trafficking and that her life was in serious danger.

As soon as she recovered, Gabriela left the hospital and was taken to a hotel to hide from her aggressor. She worked closely with local authorities to press charges against her former boss, who was also linked to drug trafficking activities. He also employed several minors to work as prostitutes and many of them had been trafficked from other Central American countries, such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras, just like Gabriela.

It took prosecutors about three months to build a case, but in the end they had enough evidence to take her former boss to trial. Gabriela was their main witness. Although reluctant in the beginning, she agreed to testify if her identity could be protected. Her aggressor stood trial. The last she heard from the prosecutors was that he had been sentenced to 15 years in jail. But not so long ago, a friend told Gabriela that the criminal is no longer in jail and that he had said he would find her wherever she hides, so she does not know what to think.

She fears for her life and the memories of the terrible months she spent overseas are still too fresh on her mind. After hiding for three months in Guatemala, Gabriela is now back to her native Honduras and reunited with her children, two boys, four-years and three-years old and a girl, born less than a month ago. Because her relationship with her family has never been very good, she could not rely on them. “I did get into a lot of trouble when I was younger. My mother died when I was very little and I grew up in an orphanage. When I was fourteen I met this guy who was in his mid-30s and a gang leader; he fathered my first child. Things did not go well and we went our separate ways. My sister always told me I was a black sheep and wanted the rest of my younger siblings to be away from me. I have not seen them in 10 years,” she tells me, her voice weak.

Gabriela wants to prove her sister wrong, but she wants to get her life together before reaching out to her family. She does not talk much, but when she does her sentences are short and one can hear a lot of pain in her voice. “I wanted to die so many times; sometimes I just do not know what to do. But the therapy sessions here have helped me a lot. They are my favorite part of the day,” as if she were still trying to make sense of what happened to her.

When not in therapy, Gabriela has a pretty structured day. “I wake up very early to take care of my baby. I feed her, bathe her and wash some clothes. I make lunch sometimes (other times a staff member will do it), clean and spend time with my four-year-old, Thomas*,” she explains. Her other boy is in foster care. Gabriela also receives some training. “I’ve learned how to make a piñata and other crafts I could sell to make a little money,” she adds. She has also started job hunting. “I have put my résumé together and a couple times I week, I go into town to drop it off and talk to some people who might be able to help me.” When I ask her what she can or would like to do, she takes a deep breath, finally looks me and the eye, and says: “Anything, I would do anything, as long as it is during the day.”

At the end of the program, CHF will have built a network of more than 10 organizations to provide integrated assistance to at least 300 victims, generating sustainable livelihoods through job creation or micro-enterprise development to at least 150 of them. CHF and its partners will also have successfully repatriated at least 150 victims back to their communities and educated over 600,000 Hondurans, providing them with tools to prevent people trafficking.

* Names have been changed to respect their privacy.