< SWITCH ME >

Ana and her european nightmare

"I was so young when I fell in love with my husband; not even 20. And I was pregnant ... Today it seems unbelievable to me, but it took me nearly 3 years to find out where he actually went when he left home to work at night." When Ana finally found out that the man she was married to spend the hours until dawn managing one of Quito's countless brothels, she felt stupid, shocked and madly jealous.

Sitting at my kitchen table, stirring slowly the cup of tea in front of her, she now smiles sadly when she remembers the young and naïve woman she was. "You know, he tricked me into it! You must understand; I wanted to know what he was doing with all these girls. And I thought the only way to control him was to be part of his nightlife. He told me it would just be a bit of dancing... Now I know that it never is just 'a bit of dancing'... Probably you can't imagine, but back then I was young and I had beautiful long, black hair."

Paris_Dreamjpg
Photo: shoebappa (CC-NC)
Paris, among many European cities, is seen as the symbol of the European dream, before many trafficked victims realise that they were sold here to be prostitutes.

Allowing her husband to prostitute her did not stop him from cheating. So, one day, after a terrible fight, she took her 3-year-old daughter, moved to her mother's and decided to change her life. "There was this woman; she had a little beauty parlour. All the girls used to go there to get a haircut because she was the cheapest. Her son lived in Spain and she always used to tell us about Europe. 'Even dog-sitting,' she said, 'you can become rich!.'" For the prettiest girls she had a special offer: if they decided to try their luck, her contacts in Europe would help them gain a foothold over there. She even offered to pay for their plane ticket: "Don't worry about it," she said, "you will have earned three times as much in the first month and then you can pay me back when you return to Ecuador."

Europe… Perhaps she would find something in Barcelona? Or Paris! Ana had seen pictures of these cities and they became engraved into her mind, representing a fresh start, a decent job, money to send home and perhaps even a bit for herself to enjoy her new life... These images were so powerful, so attractive, that Ana decided to leave her little daughter behind with her mother and told her she would be back in a few months.

"They said we would arrive in France and gave us a piece of paper with an address on it that we should hand over to the taxi driver at the airport. That made sense; I didn't speak French at all, you know. But they told me to wrap the address in plastic and hide it in my mouth during the whole trip. And over and over again they repeated that I shouldn't talk to anybody, until I got to that address where I would be safe. It seemed weird, I remember, but I thought; 'Well, after all, this is a completely different country…'"

Ana did not return to Ecuador until 3 years later.

"As soon as I got there [Paris], things turned bad. I was received by two girls and three transvestites and they told me that there was no job for me in Paris other than working as a prostitute. And because they paid for my trip, they said, I had debts with them. So, I should better start working right away, otherwise…"

"In Paris, there was a certain park where men went to look for prostitutes. Everybody knew. There were many Latinas, actually, but solidarity didn't exist among us. Every girl fought for her space. Me too… I just couldn't go back to my pimp without money; he would have killed me, you understand?" Sometimes Ana was lucky and they brought her to a nightclub: rather than serving her clients leaning against a tree, in a club she would at least be protected against the rain. But at the end of the day Ana never got to keep the money she made, everything went to her 'owner' and with the rest she paid for food, laundry, and the niche where she slept.

"But they told me to wrap the address in plastic and hide it in my mouth during the whole trip. And over and over again they repeated that I shouldn't talk to anybody; absolutely nobody."

"In the beginning, they told us that it would just be a matter of weeks, until we had repaid everything. But one year later, I still had debts."

It's not as if Ana had not tried to escape. After the first eight days she managed to run away and went straight to the airport. "I remember I had a two-way ticket when I came. I went to speak to the lady behind the counter and told her that I wanted to leave immediately and go back home. She didn't understand any Spanish, so a young man approached us and translated. In the end, I was told that I had to wait for two months. He tried to cheer me up: 'Don't worry - Paris is such a beautiful place! You’ll see, in the end you'll love it…"

She couldn't turn to the police either. "Our owners were well connected, even with the French cops. When they found out that one of my friends tried to report our story, she disappeared. After that happened, none of us dared to say a single word," Ana recalled. "The traffickers decided for us where we had to work, what we had to do and with how many men. After one year, they sent me to Italy, without any previous notice."

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