It is often hard to imagine the atrocities that victims of human trafficking experience, especially when those victims are children. This case is no different. We can’t use his real name, so we’ll just call him Juan.
Juan lived on a small farm in a cattle ranching community of Guatemala. When Juan was seven years old, his cousins began to sexually abuse him and continued to tease him. In another year, he and his mother moved to a shantytown outside of Antigua, where his mother met a new boyfriend. When Juan confided in his mother’s boyfriend about his awful experiences, this man’s response was to sexually abuse Juan just hours later.
When Juan was twelve, he encountered an opportunity to leave his horrible life. A couple from El Salvador offered to take him to work in Mexico. Juan accepted the offer and left with them that same night.
After years of brutal treatment at the hands of those who were supposed to love him most, Juan thought that this was his ticket out. What Juan didn’t realize was that the offer made to him was a doorway into a world of abuse and exploitation that would change his future.
For four years, Juan, just a young teenager at the time, was drugged and forced to swallow and smuggle bags of cocaine and heroin across international borders. As if this was not enough torment in itself, after each transport Juan was locked in a small room where he was sexually abused by multiple men a night. Each time he complained, he was injected with a drug that would make him more compliant.
While most sixteen-year-olds welcome their birthdays with a big celebration and a new driver’s license, Juan was not granted this rite of passage. On this day that is special to many teenagers, Juan was being forced to smuggle more drugs. Fortunately, Juan gained enough coherence to break away from his traffickers. Soon after, he met a woman who offered to help him. Once again, Juan was the victim of a broken promise. He was sold to a black market brothel, where he was drugged, shaved, and exploited for sexual purposes.
Months went by before Juan saw an opportunity to escape the hell he was living in. He ran away and began life on the streets of an Oriental Marketplace, surviving by digging through the trash. Though he wanted to return home, the drugs had taken their toll on his mind and he did not know how. Eventually, he was found by the police and was sent to jail, where he experienced more abuse before being sent to a group home.
It was here where the bitter chains of slavery were finally broken. The home talked to the government and the government talked to us.
Despite being threatened by government officials and encouraged to commit suicide, the long battle was won. One of our staff members stood with Juan a few weeks later at the Guatemala City International Airport. Juan was coming home.
The Institution of Trafficked, Exploited, and Missing Persons encounters situations like this all the time. Juan’s story is just one of many. In fact, each year there are millions of victims of human trafficking in the world. Many of them are children who are robbed of simple pleasures, such as a sixteenth birthday party.
Your prayers and support are what makes recovery for victims like Juan possible. Every little bit counts. Please donate and join the fight against modern-day slavery.