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“Scars in my heart”

Setare

Setare
“It is impossible to remember how many times I was sold.”
Setare

Will she ever be free from the pain and the feeling of not belonging in the world?

I have been alone in the world for the last fifteen years. I’m not bitter, but every day has been a tough battle. Both my parents died when I was just a child. My mother died first, from heart disease, then the following week my father was killed in an accident. My life was fine until then. My parents worked, we had a house and a place by the sea where we spent our summers. We went for picnics and trips and had good times together.

My whole life changed when my mother and father were gone and it happened so suddenly that it was a huge shock. My father had been married before and had a son who reappeared when my father died. I didn’t know this son very well, but I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to count on any goodwill or help from him. Instead of looking after me, he asked me to leave the house, as it was going to be sold. What was I to do? There is no social welfare in my country, no place that an orphaned child can go to get help. I don’t remember what I was thinking when I left the house. In a situation like that, you have to forget how you feel; you have to put all your feelings away. When you think back later, you simply cannot remember them.

On the outskirts of our city lived a family I knew who had taken care of several children. The children had to do their share to make money, doing any kind of work they were able to get, but they also went to school and they were treated fairly, so that is where I went. They opened the door and invited me in. I stayed with them for several years and they treated me as if I belonged to the family. I will never forget how kind they were to me.

Then something happened that changed my life once more. I met a boy who was very much in love with me. I was quite taken with him too. He was very good looking and appeared to be living an exciting life. He wanted me to come with him to a big city where he was a D.J. He had a big apartment there, he told me, where we could live together. So I quit school and went with him. Young and innocent as I was, I really believed that we were going to have a loving relationship. I was sure that was the reason he looked after me so well. In reality, all he was interested in was for me to be old enough to be sent out on the street.

Several other girls lived in the apartment and I became good friends with one of them. I didn’t know what kind of work they did, I just saw how nicely they were dressed, they put on make-up and went out together every night and I was left at home watching TV. After pestering her for a long time, my friend finally let me come with her one night when she went out. In the course of a few hours my life changed completely. The man I had thought was my boyfriend was in fact a pimp. The boss of the organization he belonged to, saw me that night and wasn’t happy when he realized that my boyfriend had kept me hidden. The boss invited me and my girlfriend into his car, drove off and said we were going to a big city where he would get rid of us. My boyfriend did nothing; he didn’t dare resist this man, but sacrificed me instead. In the city we were kept in an apartment and a man came and paid money to take us to a restaurant in another part of the country. You could say that he bought us. This is the beginning of the story that ended several years later in Norway.

I can’t remember how many times I was sold during the following years. In one way or another I was able to avoid sleeping with these men. I served drinks and did everything else and sometimes my girlfriend saved me and slept with the customers for me. We stayed together for a long time. More than once we managed to run away, but the pimps always found us again, every time.

Illustration: www.colourbox.noIllustration: www.colourbox.no

Once I thought I was going to die, when I was in a group crossing the border into another country. There was a lot of snow, it was dark and cold and we didn’t have anything to eat or drink. Another time I managed to run away from a desperate situation, but had nobody to call for help except a pimp I knew. And then everything continued just as before. I was in prison once too, together with a lot of other women. Policemen came to our cell asking us if we needed anything from the shops. Those who went with them were raped by the policemen. Thankfully I was released before it was my turn.

Once I stayed for a long time with a guy who treated me quite well. He let me keep the money I made after he got back the money that he had paid for me. We became friends and sometimes went on trips together. In a restaurant one time we met a couple of men who wanted to sell a girl. I could see how scared she was and remembered how I had felt in a similar situation. I ended up buying her and she stayed with me for several months before she finally ran away. Another time I was owned by a man, who wanted to sell me to some terrible men, I could see that they were really evil. The negotiations were held in a McDonald’s restaurant, there were families with children all around us, eating hamburgers and ice cream. I managed to get out of the situation by saying that they should be aware that they were being cheated. I would never sleep with customers no matter what methods they used to force me. The guy who owned me threatened to kill me, but I didn’t care. I was so tired and worn out and had already tried to kill myself several times.

Then I met a man and fell in love. We moved in together and he encouraged me to get a higher education. We had a child together and had a good life for several years. When the relationship ended, I was left with the responsibility for our baby, but I had no money and the bills began piling up. I had borrowed from everybody but didn’t want to ask for anything from the child’s father. To cut a long story short, I ended up back in prostitution and eventually ended up in Norway. I left my child with the father. In the beginning I was under the strict control of the pimps, they always knew where I was and what I did every minute. It didn’t matter if you were sick or had your period, you had to be out there on the street all the time. Sometimes it was freezing cold and some of the customers were very frightening. I got more freedom after a while and I made a lot of money for the people who controlled me. But all I got was clothes, a mobile phone and food.

After three months in Norway I went home with 600 Euro. I knew the pimp had sent thousands of Euros to his home country every week. Next time I went home I got 1200 Euro. In between the trips to Norway I went back home with my child, was able to pay my bills and tried to arrange everything in the best possible way. Then one day I visited a childhood friend. She lived with her mother and two children. They had a mattress and a chair, otherwise the apartment was empty and they hadn’t eaten for two days. I took her to my apartment and told them “you can stay here and I will help you”. Against my will she turned up in Norway some time later. “Look at you”, she said, “you have all those fine clothes and money, I want those things too.” I cried. My life was nothing to be envious of. She thought it was money easily made, but nothing is easy on the street.

I haven’t thought about all of this for a long time. It’s as if my story is about another person. You don’t feel anything; you don’t want to look at what is happening to you, this is the way it was while I was in the middle of it all. You look at yourself from the outside. Your body is blocked in a way. I am so much better now, but something inside me is not as it should be. It still hurts. I try to forget the pain and search for new projects to take it away. It can be starting school or painting a wall and every time I think “this is what will make me calm and happy”. But the pain is still there. Why can’t I feel the way I want to? I have lost so much in my life and I try to change everything for the better. I have tried to forget all the things that hurt, but it isn’t possible, I realize that now.

Illustration: www.colourbox.noIllustration: www.colourbox.no

I have started learning Norwegian and I think I can manage if I am given the opportunity. This is where I want to stay, but it isn’t easy. I still have to fight. The system is hard to understand; I don’t really know what my rights are and whether I am getting what I am entitled to. Everything is very uncertain. I have had periods where the unpaid bills pile up and I am without money again. It was in a situation like that I started in prostitution and I have thought about it now too, but haven’t acted on it. Thank god I have good health. I never agreed to have sex without a condom, even if the customer wanted to very much. You feel safer with condoms. They protect the body - and the soul too.

I have testified in a court case against pimps. One of the lawyers asked me in detail about what I did with the customers. What he asked me about wasn’t important to the case, he just wanted to harass me and make me feel small. I won’t be broken by people who think they have the right to look down on me and. I looked right through that pathetic lawyer, but of course I was hurting inside.

It is difficult to look at yourself as a human being who belongs in the normal world. Sometimes I see old customers, reminding me of who I am and where I come from. Today is one of my bad days. It’s as if I don’t belong anywhere, wherever I go I feel different, like an outsider. It’s hard to explain – I don’t fit in, the world can never be mine.

The exhibition

“Scars in my heart” is a web exhibition presenting the life stories of eleven women from around the world, who ended up in prostitution in Norway.

Cand. polit. Rachel Eapen Paul and Unni Rustad, writer, at KILDEN Information Centre for Gender Research in Norway interviewed them after their escape from the traffickers who brought them here. Unni edited the material.

As much as possible, the women’s own words are kept as they were spoken, but details have been changed to protect the women’s identities.  The women read and approved their own story before publication.

Published: 09.12.2008
Kilden
© KILDEN. For copyright issues, contact KILDEN
Illustrations: www.colourbox.no