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Victim of trafficking seeks to rebuild her life

06/20/2009 10:38 PM

Dubai: Repeatedly raped as a forced sex worker in an apartment, Fatima (not her real name), a 20-year-old Bangladeshi, considers her life over. Now under the protection of law enforcement authorities, Fatima tries to hide the perceived shame of her past as she looks to rebuild her life.

Dubai Police gave Gulf News special access to Fatima, who was interviewed at the offices of the Criminal Investigations Department recently. The department has intensified efforts to combat the sex trade and hopes that Fatima's story will serve as an example for perpetrators of such crimes.

"I am a disappointment for my family," she said with clenched fists covering her mouth. The shame that could befall her parents if her secret is exposed is her primary concern now.

Fatima's poor and rural family had been impressed upon learning that she had secured a job as a housemaid in Dubai. Promise of a job is often the trap that is used to lure women from around the world into forced prostitution.

Sitting on the tip of her chair with her arms firmly folded, she spoke in a painful tone about the dream of earning Dh500 a month, Dh100 more than she made in her previous job in Saudi Arabia.

"I worked in Saudi Arabia three years ago as a maid, and since my return to Bangladesh my family's economic situation became very difficult as both of my parents were jobless. I had to help them out and assist in my two younger sisters' education," she said in broken Arabic.

Today Fatima, the oldest of three children, lives in shame and continuous stress for not knowing how to continue assisting her parents.

Her body language indicated a sense of fear despite being rescued and being in the safe hands of Dubai Police.

Fatima found great difficulty in answering questions about her ordeal. "I have to learn to keep this pain to myself. I will be killed if my family finds out," she said.

"I will be killed because I had sex outside marriage," she paused, then continued, with piercing looks, "...because I was forced to have sex with so many men - young and old,"

But this is not the story narrated to her parents as Fatima had to tell a "complete lie" about why her income had stopped and why she was in police protection.

"I only told them I lost my passport and that the police are helping me locate it. I told them I would be joining them in Bangladesh soon," said Fatima.

Asked about prospects for marriage, she lowered her gaze and stared at the ground in silence.

It all started last year when Fatima travelled to Dubai to take a job as a domestic worker. She met her Asian employer at the airport, who took her to an apartment that housed three other young girls.

"He took my passport and told me I will get the job within a week. From this point on my life as I knew it changed forever," she said.

"In the following three to four months I was abused, raped and forced into prostitution," she said, adding that on average she was forced to have sex with six to eight clients a day.

"When I didn't obey their demands I got beaten repeatedly," she said.

Her ordeal ended the day Dubai Police conducted a raid on an apartment after receiving a tip off.

Inside, the police found four women in their twenties. All, including Fatima, were victims of human trafficking, said Captain Ahmad Obaid Bin Hudaibah, Head of Dubai Police's Department of Combating Human Trafficking at the Criminal Investigation Department

"Four Asian nationals were arrested and referred to public prosecution and the victims were taken to the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children to get all the necessary care and protection," he said.

Among the foundation's responsibility is to contact licensed non-governmental organisations and shelters in the victim's home country so as to ensure protection and assistance once the victim returns home.

Human trafficking is the second-most common crime in the world and brings in approximately $9.5 billion annually, said Captain Bin Hudaibah.

"Fortunately, the number of cases of human trafficking in the UAE has shrunk since last year," he added.

Asked if she is haunted by nightmares of her ordeal, Fatima replied, "No I don't get nightmares of my ordeal. I am living a nightmare. I am only concerned about how my future will be."

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