Sex trafficking survivor on the counseling body of OSCE

Oszd meg!

Former sex slave Tímea Nagy Payne has become one of the members of the new counseling body within OSCE dealing with human trafficking. This interview to was the first she has given in Hungarian about her experiences.
What has changed that has made you ready to speak in Hungarian about your past and your work?
The fact that now I have received a status from OSCE that Hungarians would also accept. Formerly I could only have told the story of an unfortunate girl and Hungarians would have said it had been my fault. I don’t want to expose myself to judgement if it serves no purpose. This interview serves a purpose, because it presents me as the official representative of OSCE, in an official body with twenty other survivors from all over the world. This way I can give a voice and hope to survivors. Had I given this interview ten or five years ago, they would have taken me apart and taken away the hope from all other survivors in Hungary that they may ever come out with their stories or feel it was not their fault.

What is this new body and what does it do?
21 survivors and spokespersons have been chosen from 14 countries, who have spent the past decades telling their stories to the world and trying to change legislation. This is the first organization of the world made up entirely of trafficking victims, who would be the main counsellors of OSCE with regard to human trafficking.
What have you learnt from meeting these other 20 survivors?
I have learnt a lot. The most important is: no matter where we come from, what childhood we had and what type of human trafficking we fell victims to, it took the same amount of time to rebuild our lives psychologically, physically and financially. It took me, just like a former child slave in Africa, at least 10-15 years to get to a point when I could sleep through the night, have a healthy relationship, and no longer live from hand to mouth.
Before you left Hungary for Canada in 1998, did you know anything about human trafficking? Did you fear anything bad might happen abroad?
I did not, but not because I am an idiot, but because I was young and terribly naïve. Also, I had a sexually and emotionally traumatizing childhood, I could not think critically. People who have enough money in the bank, who have no fights at home, cannot understand. All I was thinking about was a potential better future. I did have a gut feeling something was wrong, but the incentive to go away and solve my family problem was stronger.

It was a small ad that started it all, right?
From age 16 to 19 I was working at a TV channel, making video clips for pop songs. After I lost that job, I was looking for another, because my mother had been taken to hospital after a heart attack, and me and my brother had nothing to eat and nobody to turn to. That’s when I found an ad in the paper saying girls wanted for a job in Canada, you need not speak English. This was practical, because when I was at school, we had to learn Russian, English was almost a forbidden language – and then all of a sudden you could no longer get a job if you did not speak it. Besides my family background and poverty, this generational identity crisis also contributed to my decision; many young women of my age left the country.
The ad said they wanted cleaners. I was hoping to earn just enough money to pay our debts, leave in April and come back in August, and nobody would know I had been doing such lowly work as cleaning.
When did you realize you had been misled?
They did mention stripping, or rather dancing in night clubs, already back in Hungary. However, I couldn’t dance and wasn’t even pretty, so I said no thank you. However, when we arrived in Canada, they said I owed them more money than I could pay back from a cleaner’s salary, and they needed that money within five days, so I had no choice but to go and strip.
The very first night the owner of the strip club gave me the clothes and the high heels, raped me and then sent me up on the stage. There were about fifty girls from Eastern Europe, they all looked at me and knew what had happened. My first thought was that my boyfriend back in Hungary was going to kill me for cheating on him. I was so naïve as to think the owner of the club wanted to be my new boyfriend, but I didn’t want that, because he was 43 and I was 21. I didn’t think it had been rape, because that was not how I had seen rape on TV: he hadn’t pushed me on the bed, he had just slowly lain me down. I was also worried my mother would kill me; she was a policewoman and very strict. All survivors think it is their fault they got into this situation. This is not true, but unfortunately this is also the message they get from others who don’t know what survivors go through.
Then my Hungarian keepers introduced me to another Hungarian girl, she taught me how to dance and what to do in the clubs. I hadn’t slept or eaten for 12 hours, I had no idea where I was and couldn’t speak English. After working that night, they took me back to a motel. We were all on the same floor, I shared a room with another girl, the keepers slept at the end of the corridor. They warned us not to leave the motel because the Native American taxi drivers would kidnap and rape or kill us, and if the police caught us without document, we would go to prison. Of course, I believed them, and I was afraid.
We started freaking out after two weeks. We weren’t allowed to smoke or leave the motel and could only eat the food they brought us. They took all our money and made a scene if we hadn’t made enough. One of the girls had enough and asked her passport back – they gave it back to her, but first they had torn out the pages with the working visa, so she couldn’t go work elsewhere. She was shoved around. My roommate was also very dissatisfied – she disappeared after two days. The men came into my room and asked me to pack up her things and her little son’s photo, she would not need them anymore, as she was no longer breathing. They also told me that my roommate’s son and grandmother was locked into a stable back in Hungary, which accidentally burned down. We never found out if this was true.
On another occasion we were taken to another club, there were three Hungarian girls there, but I wasn’t allowed to speak to them. They said one of the girls had cheated them and she would be punished – then this girl didn’t come to work for a week. By then, I had not slept properly for three weeks, I hardly ate, my stomach was trembling all the time. At night men came into our room and used our bodies: these were the drug dealers of our keepers, who paid for the stuff with our bodies. Once I was in the changing room and I was thinking of escaping, though I had no money, no proper clothes, no passport, nowhere to go, nobody to call. And suddenly an elderly, rural Hungarian lady dressed in black came in with the security guard who could speak Hungarian and they went to the locker of the girl who had not come to work for a week. The woman was crying, she said her daughter had allegedly jumped in front of the subway train and died. Then for a while I didn’t consider escaping. After all, they knew where my mother and brother lived; they had asked for this information when I registered, claiming they wanted to know whom to contact in case of an emergency.
How did you finally make up your mind to escape?
The Hungarian girls I was not supposed to talk to, and the Canadian security guard who spoke Hungarian, slowly started to make friends with me. They told me I had been sold, these men were pimps, and I was a prostitute. At first, I was outraged – the same reaction I get when now I work with sex workers of 16 or 18 who have been selling their bodies for two years: they do not realize that a woman who sells sex is a prostitute. The girls asked me why I wasn’t allowed out of the club; I recounted to them all the nonsense I had been told about how dangerous it was, and they were surprised. They asked me where my passport was and when I had last eaten. It took me two weeks to realize they were right. Finally, I decided to escape, they might kill me, but I would rather die than stay at that place.
Who helped you escape?
The girls and the security guard. The pimps weren’t allowed in the club, they just dropped us off at 10 PM and came to pick us up at 6 AM. For a week I took something small of my stuff to the club every day. I remember taking a small Lion King plush figure I had received back in Hungary from my boyfriend, I insisted on taking that and rather leave clothes behind. The day I escaped the pimps dropped me off in front of the club, I walked in and left through the back door, the club’s driver took me with the club’s limousine to the DJ’s apartment, who offered that I could stay there for some time. When we arrived at the apartment, I was all shaking with fear, I didn’t know if I was being followed or not. I went in and slept for two days and a half.
I had my return flight on August 18th, I escaped two weeks before that. My plan was to go back and work in the club so I would have some money to take home, otherwise we would lose our home. The club was supposed to look after me, but of course the pimps found out where I was, and I had to go to another club. A girl took me in for a week and a half and I worked at the other club, which was owned by Russians who hated the Hungarian group who had trafficked me. There I could use my Russian to communicate with them.
I felt much safer here, but one night the doorbell rang, and it was the Hungarian pimps. They came up to the eighth floor, banged on the door and shouted that they would cut my throat, they would kill my mother, and they would break the door if I didn’t come out. I couldn’t call the police because I didn’t speak English and didn’t know where I was. I walked over to the neighbor’s balcony and hid under a tent canvas they were storing there. Finally, the pimps left.
When I came back to Hungary, I went to the police. At first, they didn’t believe me, but later they put out a BOLO on my traffickers and wanted me to make a confession – if I wouldn’t, they said, they would put me in jail for returning with a fake passport. I thought: my mother would kill me if I went to jail, but if I made a confession, the mafia would kill me (the traffickers were back in Hungary by that time, their visas had also expired). So, I called one of the Hungarian girls back in Canada and asked if I could go back for another few months.
So again, you have managed to put an ocean between you and the men who had kept you as a slave.
That’s right. They had come back to Hungary to get a new visa and new girls – and I ran away from the police, from the mafia, from my mother and my boyfriend, so I wouldn’t have to tell anything to anyone. Nobody knew where I was. It was only about five years ago when I started looking for acquaintances on Facebook.
Two years after I came back to Canada, I went to the police and accused the owner of the club with rape. At the time there was no law in Canada against sex trafficking, although there were three hundred girls with a story similar to mine, and the case became quite well-known. Nobody cared how I had got to Canada and what had happened to my passport, only about the sexual violence. And we lost the case.
When and how did you get involved in anti-trafficking activism?
In 2009, I saw a news headline that Russian victims of sex trafficking had been found. I thought: this sounds terrible, what is sex trafficking? I bought the paper I read the article and broke down; I cried so hard I was shaking. That was when I realized I had been a victim, that it hadn’t all been my fault, that I wasn’t a whore, and my mother might be proud of me one day.
When I understood how human trafficking works, first I was upset. I am no longer angry, I just want to inform others. This is why I had become a spokesperson.
And you also created a shelter.
I created the first shelter in Canada specifically for young women who fell victims to human trafficking. We worked with some 300 survivors, the youngest one was 11 years old. In 2015 we had to close down for financial reasons, but then I wanted to concentrate more on prevention and training. One of my projects was the now world-famous Project Protect, in which I taught banking experts how to notice money flows that point to human trafficking and how to report them to the police. I don’t know if it has had any influence in Hungary or in Europe, but now I am in this international body I hope I can find out.

Vélemény, hozzászólás?

Az e-mail címet nem tesszük közzé. A kötelező mezőket * karakterrel jelöltük