Trafficked: One Girl's Story
3 months ago
Modern day slavery affects approximately 21 million people annually
When Akouavi Kpade Afolabi, a Togolese national living in New Jersey, came to Ghana in 2002, offering an education and the opportunity to earn money in the United States, Unique and her family were excited. Unique, then 12, was focused on doing well in school, and the chance to leave her village to study in America was too good to pass up.
Unique's parents sent her with Afolabi to live in Togo with half a dozen other young women and girls, ranging in age from 5 to 20, while their visas were secured and travel arrangements made. For the most part, they were treated well, though Unique did witness other girls sometimes being physical abused.
After a few months, Unique flew to New York City, and was then driven to East Orange, New Jersey, where she was told she would be attending school. But it turns out that school was never an option; instead, Unique was forced to work 16 hours a day, six days a week, in a hair braiding salon. She was not allowed to contact her family--save for one occasion shortly after her arrival, when Afolabi telephoned them and told Unique exactly what to say as she listened in on the call.
Afolabi owned the salon and masterfully controlled Unique and a house full of 20 girls, demanding that they give her every cent they made in the salon, including tips. Unique and the others were forbidden to go anywhere except for the salon, and back to the house at night. They could not go out alone, or date. Fear was Afolabi’s primary tool of control. She, her husband or son would beat one girl in front of the others for some random transgression, such as speaking to each other, or trying to communicate with a person outside of the house. Afolabi also threatened to use voodoo curses against the girls.
“I had no family or contacts in the community,” says Unique. “They didn’t give us identification papers of any kind, so there was nowhere to go or a way to get help for me. [Afolabi] would berate me and say things like, ‘you’re ugly, not beautiful at all.’ I felt manipulated. Quickly, I learned how to be a ‘good girl,’ so I wouldn’t get in trouble with my trafficker, or her son and husband who assisted.”
January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and while many think of slavery as something from centuries past, as depicted in the recent films “Lincoln” and “Django Unchained,” there are now more slaves in the world—including the United States—than when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1865. Today, according to the United Nations International Labor Organization, approximately 21 million people are trafficked annually. Twenty-two percent of them end up in prostitution or pornography.
Speaking at last September’s Clinton Global Initiative conference, Barack Obama gave the longest speech on slavery and human trafficking by a sitting president since Abraham Lincoln.
"When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family, or girls my daughters' ages run away from home and are lured -- that's slavery," he noted. "It's barbaric, it's evil, and it has no place in a civilized world."