Reina*, 20 years old, was forced to get high and drunk every weekend in a house under construction in San Fernando, where she spent a little more than a month in sexual slavery with another young Venezuelan woman. She says, “A month, more or less” because while she was kidnapped, the days went by in a haze. She could hardly remember, as she was not allowed to be aware of herself.
She had accepted in 2018 the offer of an acquaintance to travel to Trinidad in the midst of a precarious financial situation that did not allow her to cover the expenses neither for her nor for her daughter, in Maturin, State of Monagas. The woman promised her that she would receive lodging and food until she could find a job to settle down and be able to pay. But the man who came to pick her up in a boat in La Barra, Delta Amacuro, a dangerous place known as a transport point in the human trafficking business, was a drug dealer.
He forced her to use drugs; otherwise, he threatened to send her to the police to be deported. Since she noted that he was a man with potential contacts in the police and a member of a criminal gang, she realized that there was very little within her reach to escape from that hell. She remembers having a gun pointed at her head the day she refused to drink alcohol, while at the same time, she was trying to prevent her “boss” from raping her.
One of the modus operandi of the gangs is to rotate the women from place to place, generally every three to five months. Among the names of the businesses that have been recognized as places where sexual exploitation occurs on the island are Copa Cabana, Villa Capri, 4Play Bar, and Tzar Night Club. With the restrictions because of the covid-19 pandemic, some of these places have temporarily closed their doors. However, the business has not stopped.
Survivors report that it has continued at private parties for which they are hired and in the rooms of hotels like Alicia’s Palace Hotel and Dads Dan. This last establishment was reported for cases of women trafficking at least six years ago, when the owner and his assistant were arrested for trafficking two Venezuelan women in 2015 and for having a place engaged in prostitution. An attempt was made to ask the administrators of the above bars and establishments about these facts, but they did not answer. In the case of Dads Dan hotel, they said that they cannot provide information because the case is still open in court.
Once the victims fall prey to human trafficking networks, they face a maze with no way out. Escape routes are almost nonexistent. Some are rescued in police raids, but are then imprisoned in detention centers under precarious conditions. Others take the risk of escaping. And in a few cases, the only hope left to the victims is to cling to the word of the “bosses” that they will be released once they settle their debt. That is why they keep thorough accounts of how much money they generate for each day of exploitation, in order to know when they will be free to leave.
Fernanda, after working for five months for the gang, learned that she had completed the amount they demanded as a quota. Her captors offered her to stay working as a prostitute, but she refused, acted quickly to leave and preferred to “move far away” to another city in Trinidad. However, she lives in fear.
She had to change jobs because a man showed up asking for her, saying that she owed him money. “I’m afraid. I’m very careful about taking a cab, a car, walking. At some point I could run into them and I don’t know how they might react,” says Fernanda.
As to the case of Marlene, the raid on the “Chinese houses” resulted in her leaving the human trafficking networks. She worked for a while in a casino in Trinidad until she had enough money to return to Venezuela. She never saw a penny of the US$ 9,500 she had been promised she would receive, with which she had planned to buy a house for her family.
The most far-off possibility of getting out of the sexual exploitation circuit is to escape, a decision that very few make because they know it could mean death. Maritza took the risk of running away from the second house of sexual exploitation where she was being held. One night, she managed to keep TT$ 100 from one of the “services.” At two o’clock in the morning, she took advantage of her boss being asleep and took his cell phone.
She jumped over the gate of the house and ran as fast as she could to Diego Martin’s stadium, where she saw a car pass by and flagged it down. The driver agreed to help her and took her to a fast food place in Port of Spain, where she was to meet some friends who she texted to come and pick her up. “From that moment on, I started from scratch. Those were dreadful moments. I even was on the verge of dying. I don’t wish this on any other girl.”