By Frida Kassembe, IRC anti-trafficking program coordinator
Adilah (name changed for confidentiality) still remembers the rush of excitement she felt the day she got her job offer. The single mother of three from a small town on the African continent was being asked to travel to the U.S. capital to work as a maid for a diplomat. The monthly salary offered was almost ten times what she was making at the time in her country. “It was like a dream; I did not think twice,” Adilah says. Little did she know that her employer had a plan of her own.
The two were not strangers to each other. Adilah had worked for the family for two years as a maid. Moreover, the family had signed a work contract required to obtain a U.S. visa for Adilah. The employer promised Adilah she could use her free time for English classes, and eventually cooking classes. Adilah’s longtime goal was to become a professional chef. Her sister agreed to take care of her children. She could not wait to get to Washington D.C.
Upon their arrival, the employer started violating the contract. Adilah was required to work around the clock and was not allowed to leave her employer’s home. “I was like a prisoner,” says Adilah through tears. Taking any English classes was to be forgotten immediately. More disturbing according to Adilah, she would get paid only a fraction of what she was owed. Her employer would deposit the full amount into her account and then force her to return three-quarters of the salary to the employer. This was accompanied by constant emotional abuse and verbal threats: “You should feel grateful to be in the U.S.” the employer would always yell. “If you dare report that I am not paying you the full amount, you will be deported, and I will make sure you suffer when you get back home.” Adilah did not take the threats lightly. As a government official in their country, her employer was a powerful person.
Eventually, Adilah got fed up. She gathered courage and called the National Human Trafficking Hotline which referred her to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Silver Spring. She had obtained the hotline number from the U.S. embassy during her visa interview. Through the U.S. Trafficking Victims Assistance Program (TVAP) at the IRC, Adilah escaped and received safe new housing, was referred to pro-bono lawyers to pursue the case against her employer and was able to apply for a special visa for victims of human trafficking (T visa). Additionally, along with financial assistance to meet basic needs, Adilah has been referred to various free or low-cost services including physical and mental health care, and English classes.
Even though her dream did not pan out, Adilah remains optimistic. She longs for the day she will be able to see her daughters and start providing for them again. The dream of becoming a professional chef is even more intense now, especially since her English skills have improved tremendously.