Things had gotten precarious in Paris, so the trafficker network which had caught Ana decided to move some of their more dangerous 'goods' to Italy. Once there, Ana was locked in a brothel, where she worked sometimes up to 20 hours per day, barely ever leaving the house.

"In Italy I managed to earn a bit of money on the side. Sometimes, when they let me out to take fresh air, I could sell my body without them knowing and keep the money to myself. I don't want to think about what they would have done to me if they had ever found out…" It took one year for Ana to save enough money to pay for a trip back to Paris. One night, she escaped from the brothel and from those people who had imprisoned and exploited her, beaten her up and abused her for over two years now.

"My life didn't change that much when I came back to Paris. I still didn't speak French and I still worked as a prostitute. I didn't know what else to do." But at least she worked for herself and she had a clear goal that kept her going: to buy a plane ticket. But not long after Ana had returned to Paris, she was picked up by the police and taken to the local prison.

Photo: Ira Gelb(CC-ND)
Studies have shown that trafficked victims usually suffer from severe mental distress after they have returned to their home countries, including nightmares, depression, guilt, lack of trust and aggression.

"The traffickers instruct you very well on how you have to respond to police inquiries; they give you a story and make you repeat it over and over again until you know it by heart... I was afraid; I didn't want any trouble, so I just denied everything." In the end, they let Ana go but told her that her documents were invalid and that she should leave the country immediately. Go somewhere, wherever, just don't stay here. "I remember walking out of that police station; scared, desperate… and so, so tired. What should I do? How could I ever reach home if I they wouldn't at least allow me to earn some money?"

Ana looks up from her tea cup, probably for the first time since she sat down in front of me, and says: "But God exists, you know, even if sometimes it is difficult to believe. And He sends us angels, when we need them most. At that moment, I really needed one. I was wandering around the streets of my neigbourhood, crying, and so hopeless, when a young French guy approached me, worrying about me... He spoke Spanish, so I told him my story; after all, I had nothing to lose."


  • Studies from Ukraine showed that 11% of female victims were trafficked with the active cooperation of their husbands.
  • 187 - the number of convictions for human trafficking offences in Romania, one of the biggest sources in Europe
  • 70% of victims from Ukraine were lured by promises of work, modelling opportunities or marriage services among others.
  • Roughly 40% of trafficking victims in Europe come from outside Europe, including the former USSR, Africa, South America and East Asia.


I’ve heard by now so many of these stories; stories like Ana’s. They are all different but very similar in the most important respects. All of them are narratives of crashed hopes, lies, violence and desperation. But while I'm writing this down, I can just marvel at this "young French guy," whose character is the miraculous exception in this tale. Thanks to him, Ana could almost be called a darling of fortune…


"Bastian literally picked me up from the street, brought me to his house, where he lived with his wife and their little baby. And he gave me a job. They sold apples, so I put stickers on each apple before they were sent out; that was all. I earned little but good money. And in the evenings, I taught their baby boy some letters. Our letters, you know, because they only really knew the French ones..." Ana lived, slept and ate for nearly nine months with the family. Bastian just had one condition in exchange: Ana should not go back to work on the streets. "Anyway, that would have been too dangerous! I only left the house at night, to take a walk. But most of the time I spent indoors to hide from the police and from the pimps. After all, Bastian was also running a great risk! Just imagine if one of the traffickers had recognised me… Believe me; you don’t want any trouble with those people."

"In Europe they exploit you when you are illegal and they have no respect for you at all [...] I will never, ever set foot in Europe again."

Almost three years after Ana had left Quito, the day came when she had finally saved enough money to buy a plane ticket and return home. She has never told anybody at home what happened to her; not until today. The few times she had the chance to call her family from Europe, she lied out of shame and out of fear. "When I came back, I was changed. You know, Europe is not like Ecuador. In Europe they exploit you when you are illegal and they have no respect for you at all. After a while you become as egoistic and bad as the people you meet. When I came back, I behaved aggressively and rude, even towards my own daughter!"

I can't quite imagine how, but Ana has somehow managed to stop hating and resenting and became a nurse. "I think, God has put us in this world for something. Everybody has some talents, and mine is to care for older people. I like that and I'm happy today. However, I will never, ever set foot again in Europe...” 

NEXT ISSUE 01.01.2017