Trafficking Survivor Rediscovers a World of Beauty
By Isabella Simonyan**
January 10, 2011—Mariam* was just 15 years old when her parents married her to a man 20 years her senior. She worked day and night, a servant to her husband’s extended family, and was not allowed to sleep until her husband came home. He was connected to a world of crime and did not usually arrive before five or six o’clock in the morning. Mariam then would rest for an hour or two and start the same routine all over again.
After two years of marriage, Mariam gave birth to a child, but the baby died at the hospital. At about this same time, her husband was imprisoned for theft. She sought refuge with her family, but they were a traditional Armenian family and refused to take her back. At just 17, she was left to fend for herself.
Then Mariam met some people who offered her a well-paying job as a waitress in a Moscow café. She accepted. It turned out, however, that they did not send her to Moscow but to the United Arab Emirates, where they attempted to force her into prostitution. Mariam refused and was beaten many times.
Seeing that her resistance could not be broken, Mariam’s captors threw her out of a third-story window. She broke a vertebra, and her hands and legs were temporarily paralyzed. She received no medical attention and was bedridden for two months.
When the sensibility returned to her hands and legs, Mariam was sent without a passport or any other documents to Kazakhstan. There, she was met by a man for whom she was forced to work as a housemaid for the next six years. When she finally managed to escape, she was arrested and deported to Armenia.
Police in Armenia identified Mariam as a survivor of human trafficking. They referred her to a shelter run by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Although her stay at the shelter was voluntary, Mariam seemed unreachable. Her hard life had left her feeling isolated and distrustful.
The shelter’s psychologists, who used a variety of rehabilitative approaches, helped Mariam to once again find meaning in her life and faith in her future. She received medical attention, especially for her back, and recovered physically as well as emotionally.
Mariam embraced her new start in life. She took vocational courses in floral design and discovered a new world of color and beauty; the progress of her art reflected the progress of her recovery. With legal assistance, she got a new passport. Moreover, the shelter staff had approached her family and worked with them, and they came to accept their lost child.
The process of Mariam’s rehabilitation and reintegration into society was a long one, but successful. Time has passed; Mariam has remarried and, this month, is going to have a baby.
In the United States, the US Senate has declared January 11 “National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness.” According to the State Department, some 12.3 million people are currently in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution around the world. Most of those affected are adult women and children..
Your gift to Anti-Human-Trafficking, UMCOR Advance #333615, helps survivors of this abuse deal with trauma and develop skills that will allow them a new life. UMCOR leverages the donations of concerned United Methodists with other government and institutional contributions and general agency resources to advance our work in this vital program area.
*Not her real name
**Isabella Simonyan is a program officer for UMCOR Armenia’s Anti-Trafficking Project. She works with survivors of human trafficking and their families, as well as with police and other counterparts.