This is the fourth, and final, part of Anna’s story, a fictional account of what trafficked girls experience. Click the links for the previous accounts: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Details provided by The Exodus Road.
Anna wakes with a start. In her dream she was running from her captors, running for her life. She looked around at the room she was in, filled with girls like her but entirely different from the room she only recently shared with another group of girls.
The whispered words in her soul brought her comfort as she settled back into her bed.
After the raid, Anna had been taken to a nearby group home that specialized in aftercare for girls who had been sold into slavery. For weeks now, she’d been meeting with a counselor to work through all she’d been through. Anna spoke often of the nightmares and the shame. The counselor assured her both were normal to her experience and recovery. Occasionally, the girls met as a group to talk, to remind them they weren’t alone in their feelings. Anna battled anger–at herself, at the men who trafficked her, at the men who used her. She was grateful the home had a punching bag. Anna slugged out her feelings until she was too tired to lift her arms.
Now, it was a waiting game. Her case had to be cleared through the legal system before she could travel home.
Her tears soaked her pillow still as she thought of going home. Last week, she’d been able to speak with her family. She’d called the bakery in hopes that her former employer would be able to contact her mother. She was shocked to hear her mother’s voice answer the phone.
“Mama?” she spoke into the phone, hesitantly.
The woman on the other end began to weep. “Anna? Is it really you?”
“Yes, Mama. It’s me.” And then Anna, too, had begun to cry.
Their call had been short, but they had talked long enough for Anna to assure her mother that she was safe and would be coming home soon, and for Anna to learn that her mother had taken her job at the bakery when they realized Anna wasn’t coming home.
“At first I thought you’d forgotten us,” Mama said. “Then, we started to hear rumors of a crime ring targeting young girls. I feared for you, my child. I didn’t want you to end up like me.”
Anna didn’t know how to tell her mother the truth. She told her counselor this–that she was afraid her family, her community, would shun her because of what she’d done.
“What happened to you was not your fault, Anna. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” the counselor said.
“Maybe I was greedy, trying to gain a job that would pay so well …”
“Hear me again, Anna: It was not your fault.”
God had forgiven her, she knew. Forgiving herself would be harder.
A few more weeks passed and Anna was finally granted clearance to leave the country. A local non-government organization paid for her flight to Russia, and a kind-looking older woman, a volunteer from the organization, accompanied her to ensure her safety. On the flight back to St. Petersburg, Anna thought about how quickly life could change. Months ago, she’d been a girl with a dream–a dream of a better life for herself and her family. She’d imagined herself boarding a plane to a new country full of new opportunities. Now here she was, finally on a plane, and she was headed back home.
But nobody said her dream had to die.
The NGO woman explained that Anna would not be left on her own. They had contacts in St. Petersburg who would help her–and her mother–work through the trauma of having been trafficked. They would do everything they could to ensure Anna would not end up a victim again. That included a stipend, $1,000 U.S., more money than Anna could conceive of at one time.
At the safe house, Anna’s counselor had helped her work out a plan for her life. First on the list was to finish school. Eventually, Anna dreamed of opening her own bakery. She’d learned some valuable skills at her neighborhood bakery–skills she hoped to perfect and make her own in the years to come.
It would not be an easy road, but Anna had hope that life could be better.
Epilogue: Anna goes on to earn a degree in business and open her own bakery. She employs at-risk girls in her community and educates others about the dangers of human trafficking.
The Exodus Road works with NGOs in southeast Asia to fund investigations into human trafficking and rescue those who are enslaved.