The Story of a Little Girl

Sometimes people wonder how trafficking and sexual exploitation happens.  From the outside, we often imagine that people “choose” prostitution or “decide” to work the streets.  It is almost never truly a choice.

At Pellegrino della Terra (FB) we try to help women exit these situations and (re)develop autonomy.  We also try to help people understand how these things happen.

Trafficking and exploitation is often managed by well-organized crime networks that carefully but diligently break their victims down to the point where they cannot even seriously consider leaving.  Today is International Women’s Day; today particularly (but not only!) it is our responsibility as humans, to say “no.”  “This cannot continue.”

If you still find yourself asking “how?”  Maybe this will help….

The Story of a Little Girl

By Tim TenClay


Once upon a time, indeed quite recently, there was a little girl from a large family who lived just outside of a huge city on a small farm.

She was the youngest of six kids and, though her parents were exceptionally hard workers, they were having trouble keeping food on the table and rarely managed to have all their bills paid at the end of the month.

Sometimes she went to bed hungry (as did they all).

Some days she barely ate anything.

Although young in age, she was a hard worker.  She knew how to clean and cook.  She knew how to do laundry and care for the family dog.  She occasionally babysat for the neighbors’ kids (although she was barely older than they were), but her parents had taught her to be strong and independent.  Truth be known, she was more self-sufficient than many adults.

One day, as she was talking to one of her friends, she heard about a girl a few farms over who had travelled into the city and gotten a job working for a wealthy family.  That girl, according to her friend, had a wonderful life doing the same things for the wealthy family that she had done at home, but was paid for her work and able to send her extra money back to help her family make ends meet.

Sure, she was young, but remember she was also strong; so that night she talked with her parents and, despite their hesitancy, it was a fairly obvious decision: she would go to the city and get a job; she would save as much money as she could so that she could get an education (thereby hopefully ensuring a poverty-free future for herself), and she would send home as much money as she could spare.

To anyone else, it might have made more sense to send one of the older children, but the older children already had responsibilities on the farm that couldn’t be ignored.  She was the only one free enough to go.

So she went.

As it turned out, the city was further away than she thought it would be.  It took her almost a week to get there, and when she did, she was hungry and lonely.  Her feet were sore and, though she’d known it was a city, it was so much bigger than she had expected.  That night, she found her way to the city’s biggest park in the hope that it might be a safe place to lay down on a bench and sleep.

For the first time in her life, she cried herself into an uncomfortable slumber.

All of the sudden, she felt a hand, and – of course – immediately sat up and opened her eyes.  To her surprise, she found herself gazing into one of the kindest-looking faces she’d ever seen.  The woman wasn’t young nor old.  She wasn’t dressed fancily nor sloppily.  It was as if, she was looking into the eyes of a long-lost aunt that she never knew existed.

“Come with me” said the woman.  “A girl like you should be out alone in the park so late at night.  Let’s get you somewhere safe.  You can take a bath; I’ll make you some dinner, and you can spend the night at my place.”

So she went.

The house wasn’t big, but it was big enough.  The bath wasn’t hot, but was it warm enough.  The food wasn’t delicious, but it was generous and she soon found herself tucked into a guest bed fast asleep.

In the morning, she explained to the woman that she had come to find work and was hoping to help support her family back home.  Having heard similar stories in the past, the woman kindly nodded, but warned her that she should be careful: not all wealthy families could be trusted.  She would help the girl find a good one.  It might take a while, but not to worry, the girl could stay with her for as long as necessary.

That afternoon, they walked around the city, and the woman showed the little girl all the beautiful parks and churches and the big fancy buildings where wealthy people worked.  She taught the girl how to read a bus map and helped her understand how the city worked.

As it turned out, she stayed with the woman for almost a week.  On the sixth day, after they had eaten breakfast and finished the dishes, the woman announced that she had found a good family for her and she’d take the girl to meet them after lunch.  The woman told her that they had two children, were very kind, and extremely wealthy.

To help her make a good impression, the woman took her shopping, bought her some nice clothes, and that afternoon they happily walked to a beautiful house not far from the park she had tried to sleep in her first night in the city.  She rang the doorbell, and when the door opened the woman told her to go in so that she could meet the family.  She’d wait outside, the woman promised, and would see her after the interview.

The girl was led through the house to a small office where she met a middle-aged man.  He told her that he was looking for someone who would help with the house and care for the kids.  It was exactly the kind of job she had been hoping for.  Even better, she would receive room and board, and while her salary would be modest (less than she had hoped for), all of her expenses would be covered so she could send everything she made back home.

Excitedly, she accepted.  Indeed, she was so excited that she completely forgot about the woman outside as the man showed her around the house and up to her new room.  It was small, but there was a bed and mirror.  There was even a modest bathroom and little window way up in the corner by the ceiling.  He told her to relax for a bit and he’d come get her later to introduce her to the children and bring her to dinner.

He pulled the door closed behind him, and she laid down on the bed to relax.

Although she hadn’t intended to, she fell asleep, and when she woke up a few hours later she could tell, from the little window in the corner by the ceiling, that the sun was beginning to set.  Thinking maybe he had come to get her while she was sleeping she decided to go downstairs and find him, but when she tried to open the door, it wouldn’t open.

Strange, she thought.  Maybe it was stuck.

So she pulled harder, and still it wouldn’t open.

Frightened, she pounded on the door, hoping someone would hear her and come to help, and before long, she heard footsteps that, she thought, must be from the man she had met earlier.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  “This door sometimes does that.”  He pushed hard on the door from the outside, and to her surprise, it opened right up.

How silly she felt, for having been scared.

The kids, he explained, were at a friend’s house, they’d be eating alone that night.  She’d meet them the next day when they got home from school, he promised.  They ate a quiet meal and she went back up to her room and fell fast asleep.

The next morning when she woke.  She got cleaned up, got dressed, and decided to see if she could help around the house.  Frustratingly, however, the door was stuck again.  However, this time when she pounded on it, no one came.  She didn’t worry though; it probably wasn’t anything.

It was lonely in her little room, but she figured someone would eventually come get her and so she went back to her little bed and rested.  Hours, it seemed, passed.  The sun got brighter through the little window in the corner by the ceiling, and then it began to get darker again.  Occasionally, she pounded on the door, but no one ever seemed to hear her.  She started to panic a couple of times, but remembered how silly she had felt the night before and told herself not to worry.

The entire day passed.

Then, the night passed.  She didn’t sleep very well that night.

In the morning, she heard footsteps, and not wanting to spend another day accidently locked in the room, she leapt out of her bed and pounded on the door.  “Do not worry,” she heard a familiar voice say, “I’ll go get someone to take care of this door.”

How silly she felt, for having worried.

She sat back down, and the morning passed.  The sun got bright through the little window in the corner by the ceiling.  Evening came, but she was determined not to feel silly again.  She was hungry, but she had been hungry back home; she could deal with that.

Eventually, she heard footsteps again, and the man pushed hard on the door until it came open.  He was in gym clothes and a sweaty, but apologized profusely.  He hadn’t known she’d been stuck in the room all this time or he would have come sooner.

How silly she felt, for having bothered him.

She followed him downstairs; he got her something to eat, and told her that, though the kids were at a friend’s house again, it would be helpful if she cleaned a little while he went to take a shower.

It was exactly what she had been hoping for.

She started in the kitchen.  She cleaned the living room.  She made the beds, and when she turned around, she saw him standing behind her wrapped in a towel.

How silly she felt.  She had known he was taking a shower and should have stayed out of his way.

Not bothered at all, he smiled and sat down on the bed she had just made.  Telling her to sit down beside him, he asked her about her family back home, and she told him everything.  She told him about the small farm and the large family.  She told him about the laundry she could do and the dog she had cared for.  She missed them, she explained, and he hugged her.

It was a bit awkward since, of course, he was only wrapped in a towel, but it seemed genuine.  So she didn’t say anything.

We’re not going to talk about what happened after that.

All you need to know is that 30 minutes later she was back up in her little room with the door that she couldn’t open.  She no longer felt silly.  Now she felt hurt and embarrassed, but there was nothing she could do.  So she laid there and, for the second time in her life, cried herself to sleep.

Later that night, the man returned to her room.

We’re not going to talk about what happened then, either.

All you need to know is that 30 minutes later the door was closed and she was alone again.

The next morning, he visited her again.

That afternoon, he brought a friend to her and left them alone.

That night, he brought in another man and left them alone.

She realized that she would never be able to get that door open, and as the days turned to weeks, she ate very little; she slept even less; she was seldom allowed out of her room until one day, she heard a familiar voice in the hall.

It wasn’t the man; it was a woman’s voice.  Trying to remember where she’d heard it before, she couldn’t place it until the door opened and she found herself face to face with the woman who had saved her in the park just weeks ago (although it seemed like months, if not years).

She threw her arms around the woman, who immediately grabbed her by the arm, led her downstairs and out the door.  The woman quietly walked her to the park where they had first met and they sat down on a bench.  She couldn’t remember, but thought that perhaps it was even the bench where the woman had first found her.  The woman asked what the man did, and because the girl was embarrassed, she didn’t answer, but the woman asked again, and the girl told her everything.

Many hugs, many tears, and many hours later the woman looked the girl in the face.  Her kind eyes seemed a bit different as she explained to the girl that she had been broken.  She should be embarrassed about what she had let happen to her.  She would never get a respectable job.  She certainly didn’t want to tell her family back home about what had happened.  She had only one chance to survive:  she had learned some things in that room with the little window in the corner by the ceiling – things she could get paid for.  Indeed, if she did them well, she could probably make enough money to send home to her family.  They would never know what happened and would never have reason to ask.

The woman explained: the girl would live with her.  She would secretly do those things she had learned at night in this very park.  She would help pay the rent and food (because, obviously, the woman couldn’t continue to pay for everything herself), and she could send the left-over money to her family.  They would never know what happened and would never have reason to ask.

So she went.

She went the woman.  She worked in the park at night, secretly doing what she had learned in the room with the little window in the corner by the ceiling.  She gave the woman the money she earned and was allowed to send just enough of it back home.  She told no one.

Her family, on the other hand, told everyone how wonderful it had all worked out.  Their little girl had gone to the city and gotten a job.  She earned so much, they told their neighbors, that they could pay their bills.  She worked for a nice, wealthy family, and was going to get an education that would ensure a poverty-free future for her and them.

And you know what?  A strong little girl two farms over heard the story and knew exactly what she wanted to do….

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