Sold Into Human Trafficking
By JORDAN BURNELL
Eugenia sat in the Nicaraguan consulate in Guatemala waiting. She had been praying and begging for her mother to come and rescue her, and now it was actually happening.
Eugenia was 14 when she decided to leave her family home in Chinandega. She had experienced abuse at home and felt she was not getting any support. She also had been working and not making enough money. So when her friends told her about an opportunity to work in a clothing store in Guatemala, she took it.
“I often didn’t sleep at home and normally stayed with friends,” Eugenia recalled.
She decided to get on a bus on a Sunday at 4 in the morning to go to the Guatemalan border, stopping first in El Salvador. When they got to Guatemala, there was a van waiting for them.
“I asked my friends who [the people in the van] were and they said that I was going to sell my body at a nightclub,” Eugenia said.
Eugenia is one of dozens of Nicaraguan women who are abducted and sold every year as part of the human trafficking market in Central America. The number of victims is not clear because the Nicaraguan government releases the number of cases prosecuted, but not how many victims have been involved.
In Chinandega, the Asociación de Mujeres Luisa Amanda Espinoza works closely with the police to assist victims when they return and to get them the services they need to rejoin society. The association provided access to Eugenia and confirmed the facts of her story.
Eugenia’s ordeal unfolded years ago, but she still carries the psychological scars from the experience. She agreed to tell her story on the condition that her real name not be used.
Chinandega, Eugenia’s hometown, sits on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast and is home to the Port of Corinto. The city is a center for human trafficking due to its geographical location, according to Francisco Samayoa, the prosecutor of human rights in the Chinandega area. A city of 151,000, Chinandega is 340 miles from the Guatemalan border.
Fourteen years ago, when her friends sold her to the human traffickers, Eugenia cried and begged them not to do it.
“My friends told me that the money they had received was not going to waste,” she said.
She spent three and a half months in a Guatemalan nightclub, where she was forced to dance naked. If she complained, she was drugged.
“When I was drugged I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was,” she recalled.
She prayed that her family would rescue her. It wasn’t until a friend of hers back in Chinandega pointed out to Eugenia’s mother that there was something not right about her job offer in Guatemala that her mother went to the police so they could get involved. Her mother, in turn, contacted the Guatemalan consulate to tell them that her daughter had been taken.
Eugenia’s picture was on the news as a missing person and the people who kidnapped her hid her away so no one would recognize her. One of the women in the house she was held in helped her escape and brought her to a health center, where she met with physicians and psychologists. Eventually, Eugenia was moved to the Nicaraguan consulate to wait for her mother.
Upon her return to Chinandega, she was able to confront the women who took her.
“They asked for forgiveness, but I told them I’d never forgive them,” she said.
No charges were pressed against the people who took her because they were already in custody, she explained. The nightclub is now shut down and the people who were running it in are jail.
Every year Nicaragua releases a report on human rights, which includes statistics about human trafficking. In 2015, the report listed 13 cases of sex trafficking prosecuted in the previous year, with sentences ranging anywhere from three and a half to 15 years in prison.
The U.S. embassy in Nicaragua also releases a yearly report about human rights. Regarding the statistics from 2015, the embassy report said: “The government provided limited data on the efforts of the authorities on the subject data and, contrary to previous years, did not provide further details to clarify these statistics.”
According to the U.S. embassy report, the Nicaraguan legal system provides for sentences of 10-14 years in prison for human trafficking thanks to a new law prohibiting sex trafficking in Nicaragua. But there is a push for the sentence to be longer.
“Human trafficking is an especially hurtful crime and there needs to be a more solid punishment than in other countries,” said Samayoa, the human rights prosecutor.
Eugenia, now 28, is married and has three sons. When she met the man that would become her husband, she told him everything that had happened to her. To her relief, he was very supportive.
“He said, ‘Someone tricked you. That makes all the difference,’” she said.
Eugenia reflected on what had happened in her life and how to stop girls from making the same mistake. When she speaks to young women now, she said, she uses her own story as a warning, but tells them it was a friend of hers that went through this experience. And sometimes the danger hits closer to home.
“I have a 17-year-old sister that wants to work abroad,” Eugenia said. “And I told her not to go because it was a lie.”