Victorya left her home country Moldova to pursue the dream of a better life as a waitress in Greece. She wanted to support her family and escape the poor work conditions in her local bakery. Then everything went wrong.
More than 35.8 million men, women and children globally are enslaved according to the Global Slavery Index.
When Victorya arrived at the airport in Greece, she was bursting with hopes and dreams for a life with easier work conditions and better pay.
And she found it - well, she found a new life. But Victorya is still recovering from the trauma it imposed on her.
Back in Moldova, Victorya sometimes had to decide between having food on the table or heating in the house and there were no days off. But while browsing online for other job opportunities abroad, she found what sounded like a promising offer in Greece working as a waitress and earning double what she had been getting before.
Within a week Victorya had left her home country, the bakery and her family. But instead of jumping into a job waiting tables, the 21-year-old found she had been trafficked into sex slavery. The next two-and-a-half years she spent as a prostitute are a blur.
“Those most at risk of being trafficked are the vulnerable,” according to Annie Kardas, who works at A21 Shelter, one of many global initiatives that help abolish human trafficking. “The most common is a poor socioeconomic situation that then causes the girls to go looking for a job in order to survive or help provide for her family.”
Victims of such trafficking are typically tricked into coming to countries like Greece by false job offers and often end up as sex slaves, says Kardas. This is how Victorya found her way to Greece, a resident social worker at the A21 told Life Links, retelling the young woman’s story so she wouldn’t have to relive the experience.
Fake smiles and forced sex
Planning a better life in Greece, Victorya signed a contract immediately for six months. Her new employer and his wife even offered to pick her up from the airport.
They kept their promise. At the arrivals hall of the Greek airport, the couple was there. But once she had arrived in her new apartment, she realized things would be very different. Her boss brought her new clients every night. At 5pm, Victorya got ready, put on a fake smile and the outfit her traffickers chose. Clients had sex with her until the early morning hours.
She was told that if she wouldn’t cooperate, her younger sisters would have to pay the price. They had their location details through her job application so not complying wasn’t an option.
In her new life, sound sleep was a scarcity. If she managed to fall asleep, she was haunted by nightmares. But she still prefered them to reality.
At noon, a man would bring in lunch. The noises he made woke the four girls up. They ate together, forced some small talk to distract themselves from what the night would bring and chatted about the day’s television shows. While smoking one pack of cigarettes, the man who became their personal face of modern slavery, never lost sight of them.
35.8 million people live as slaves
Two-and-a-half years later - that is 36 months, 156 weeks or 26,297 hours - she found a phone. Victorya still doesn’t know how anyone could have left it there and not noticed it. She rushed to the bathroom and made the call that she has been wanting to make for every single of these 26,297 hours.
Victorya is one of 120 slaves who were saved by the A21 shelter in recent years. But it is a problem worldwide.
More than 35.8 million men, women and children that live as slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index. The 21-year-old had become one of 566,200 people in the European Union thought to be living in modern slavery - around 70 percent of which are estimated to have been trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation.
The countries with the most slaves are India (14.29 million enslaved people), China (3.24m) and Pakistan (2.06m). Together with Uzbekistan and Russia, the five countries are home to 61 percent of all slaves. Slaves are typically forced to work in agriculture, domestic work, in factories or prostitution. Citizens in Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Yemen are “most vulnerable” to slavery, according to the index.
The London-based charity Anti-Slavery International defines slaves as people who are forced to work by mental or physical threats, owned by someone through mental or physical abuse, dehumanised and physically constrained.
The A21 campaign is one of many global initiatives that helps abolish human trafficking in these countries - and in every other place. The girls they rescue often come to work as waitresses, maids, nannies or hairdressers, explains Kardas.
Brothels raided, victims set free
Kardas works closely with local police and has a 24/7 trafficking hotline to receive tips from all over the country.
They collect the material and present it to the police and request investigation. Once a brothel is raided and victims are set free, the restoration program sets in.
“The shelter is set up as a type of ‘Emergency Room’ with our main goal being to see each survivor brought to stabilization, and to work with her in order for her to make a healthy decision for her next step,” says Kardas, adding that depending on the circumstances, it means victims receive help in finishing their education, obtain vocational training or return to their home country.
There another 1,400 people are currently enslaved in Greece, according to the Global Slavery Index. Victorya is one of the few people who could be rescued. Still away from home and supported by social workers, she is determined to start the kind of new life that she was dreaming about in the first place. But instead of being a waitress, Victorya has begun training to become a hairdresser.