“Scars in my heart”

Eleven women in Norway on trafficking, prostitution and how they escaped.

Eleven women in Norway on trafficking, prostitution and how they escaped.

Aida, Anne, Eva, Hanna, Laila, Mona, Monica, Nina, Nadia, Setare and Vera talk about their lives.
Aida, Anne, Eva, Hanna, Laila, Mona, Monica, Nina, Nadia, Setare and Vera talk about their lives.

Stories of trafficking and prostitution are stories of many women’s lives. The women who speak here come from ten different countries on four continents.

They talk about childhood and youth in their home country and describe the events that brought them to Norway. Some of the women broke down and cried when they told their stories, others spoke of the violence and abuse they had survived as if it had happened to somebody else.

They were living in crises centers at the time of the interviews, but the prostitution experience is still with them. They describe what it is like to have been treated like an object, as something else than a human being. “Sometimes I get very nervous, and I can get angry for no reason at all”, Mona says. Setare does not think she will ever feel she belongs in the world. Anne lost all confidence in other people. “How can you live if you don’t have any confidence?” she asks. Eva inspired our title with her words about how the scars in her heart are much deeper than the ones on her body.

Aida knew she was going to sell sexual services in Norway, others did not know where they were going or what they would do there when they left their home countries. Many left home with hopes of a better future; they felt fortunate to have met somebody who seemed helpful and kind and offered opportunities abroad. The men who came to Eva’s village pretended they felt compassion for the grandfather she cared so much about. If she came with them, they said to the grandfather, she would return with money to build a new house and provide the operation he needed. Vera said yes to a job offer from the nice man with contacts in Norway, she planned to work hard for a short time and then go back to her home town. Nina and Monica had met men they wanted to marry and thought they were going to have children and live a family life.

The promises and job offers did not come from good helpers, but from pimps and traffickers. Some of the women were raped en route to their destination, to break them down and prepare them for a life in prostitution. When they tried to get out, the pimps said they knew where their family or their children were and besides, they had to pay their debts before they could leave. Laila owed 55 000 Euros, they told her. “I took 50, or maybe 40 Euro from every customer, this gives you an idea of the calculations in my head”, she says. Some of them met the right person at the right time or were left alone for the few seconds they needed to escape.

In the background of their stories, we catch brief glimpses of other women. Some go mad, others die, Nadia was told by a woman who had been on the street in several cities. Eva left the village with three other girls. One of them was killed by the pimps on the way to Europe, but what happened to her other friends?

A victim is a person who is caught in a situation where the forces against her are too strong. These women are victims. Not to acknowledge this is to ignore the cruelty and torture of trafficking and of prostitution. We need to see what they have lived through. We need to respect their pain; their words describe the reality of millions of women and children. These women got out; they are strong and resourceful and never gave up hope. They found ways to survive and some of them were lucky. Monica never let her pimps know she was pregnant; she needed something to live for. Anne watched cartoons on TV whenever she could and escaped into the stories there. Eva repeated to herself “I am Eva from the village, I am a human being”.

These women suffered for the pleasure of men. There seems to be a market of men in every country, regardless of culture or ethnicity. Many of the women traveled extensively. Some did not even know where they were, guessing from the color and dress of the customers what part of the world it was. All these eleven women ended up in Norway, a country known for its equality between men and women. Since the interviews, a new law has been passed, making it illegal to buy sexual services.

The hardships were not over when they got out of prostitution. Setare and Anne both have testified against the criminals and during the court case they were harassed by well-known Norwegian lawyers. Hanna speaks of how her meeting with Norway took away her illusions that this is a country where everybody’s human rights are respected. After our interviews, some of the women have been forced to go back to their home country, even though they were scared to return to where the network of traffickers still operates.

The stories were edited and all details and facts that could reveal the women’s identities were changed. They read and approved their own story before it was published.

We thank Aida, Anne, Eva, Hanna, Laila, Mona, Monica, Nadia, Nina, Setare and Vera for their courage and generosity.

Published: 09.12.2008
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