Drugged with a "sweet drink" by a friend, Gina awoke on a train – never to see her family again. When Gina arrived in Bombay after a three-day journey from her home in Nepal, she remembers being grabbed by the hand, rushed down a crowded street through "a sea of legs" to a dingy brothel. They put makeup on her face and then the "seasoning" process began.
She was repeatedly raped, beaten and starved until she was too afraid to leave her new "home." (Businesses have sprouted up all over Bombay whose sole purpose it is to perform seasonings for brothel owners.)
Because of Gina's young age, she was held out by her owners as a virgin -- again and again. Sexual encounters numbered as many as 40 per day. Younger girls like Gina -- especially virgins -- command a higher price in the brothels.
Recently, Shared Hope International helped pay Gina's debt and brought her into one of our newly-opened Homes of Hope. There she is getting the physical and emotional care she needs to start a new life. She is learning skills that will help her become self-sufficient.
"It was late afternoon,” she says in a monotone. “I was washing dishes at the river with six other girls. We tried to run, but they caught us. Three girls resisted. To punish them, the rebels cut off their ears. They knifed out their eyes. Then they killed them. I was so afraid, I couldn’t move. They said if we struggled, they would kill us too. They raped us. They held me down. It was the first time I had sex.”
Over the next four days, the tall, graceful girl,was gang-raped repeatedly by rebel soldiers. It was two weeks before she could walk again. “Each night we were tied by the ankles to the girl next to us. The rebels had sex with us in the presence of everyone. It was always different men. Every time, they hurt me. If I cried, they beat me. I prayed all the time I would not become pregnant.”
During the day she was used as a human shield, and watched as other girls got gunned down. She was also a porter. “They took our shoes and made us walk barefoot through the bush for as much as 40 kilometers. The loads were so heavy, I could barely lift them. If you complained, or stopped, they beat you.” Some girls abducted by the rebel forces have become combatants, and a handful have even risen to the rank of squad commander. Mostly, however, they are employed in a perverted form of their traditional roles: as porters, cooks, looters, and sex slaves. Many of them, like I., are made to be all four.
In December 1997, government forces overran the rebel base. At the time, I.’s closest friend was quite visibly pregnant. “They called her a rebel wife, and said they had to kill her before she gave birth to a rebel baby,” she says. “They slit open her stomach. I will never forget her cries. They cut out her unborn baby. In front of my eyes, they killed Mariam.” (Source: “Sierra Leone Is No Place to be Young.” NY Times (14 February 1999)
"When I was fourteen, a man came to my parents' house in Veracruz, Mexico and asked me if I was interested in making money in the United States. He said I could make many times as much money doing the same things that I was doing in Mexico. He said I would be in good hands, and would meet many other Mexican girls who had taken advantage of this great opportunity. My parents didn't want me to go, but I persuaded them. A week later, I was smuggled into the United States through Texas to Orlando, Florida. It was then the man told me that my employment would consist of having sex with men for money.
And so my nightmare began. Because I was a virgin, the men decided to initiate me by raping me again and again, to teach me how to have sex. Over the next three months, I was taken to a different trailer every 15 days. Every night I had to sleep in the same bed in which I had been forced to service customers all day. And because I was so young, I was always in demand with the customers. It was awful. Although the men were supposed to wear condoms, some didn't, so eventually I became pregnant and was forced to have an abortion. They sent me back to the brothel almost immediately.
I cannot forget what has happened. I can't put it behind me. I find it nearly impossible to trust people. I still feel shame. I was a decent girl in Mexico. I used to go to church with my family. I only wish none of this had ever happened." (Testimony of Rosa before US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 2000)
And for the girls I've met along the way, who have humbled me with their stories of stolen childhoods and inspired me by their survival and dedication to justice, thank you. When the fight seems too big, your words are fuel, your words go with me, I carry them always in my heart. And for Gina, and Rosa, and "I" from Sierra Leone, and for J. and for C.....from all of us at Conspiracy Of Hope, you are loved.