Monday, February 13, 2006

Tatjana from Bulgaria

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Okay, translated from Dutch into English......

also read:
False promise

Santé, Juli 2004
by Stephanie Jansen

You have to keep on fighting, how lonely the battle may seem
Tatjana (23) from Eastern Europe [actually it’s Bulgaria] was tricked by a ‘loverboy’[pimp] and fell into the hands of a criminal organisation who forced her into prostitution in the Netherlands. Thanks to the police she could escape, but she doesn’t dare to go home. ‘When I’m on street I’ll flee when I believe I see somebody from my country.’

‘I was raised in a happy family in a country in Eastern Europe. At home I had everything I could possibly wish for. Lovely parents, two sisters with whom I had a good relationship. I studied history and archaeology and made some money as a barkeeper.

One evening when I had a night out with girlfriends I met Nicolai. A nice looking guy. When we chatted, I discovered he also was very sympathetic. Many men only want sex, but Nicolai showed no sign of intention. He was very interested in who I was. We dated more often and he showered me with presents, flowers, diners. Slowly I fell deeply in love. I thought he was the sweetest boy I ever met. He had an apartment and after a couple of months I moved in with him. His friends I barely knew, but I met his brother regularly, also a very nice guy. In hindsight I think: Nicolai and his brother, they were too nice. It wasn’t right.

How Nicolai exactly earned his money wasn’t clear to me. He told me he had worked in Germany for a while and saved a lot of money there. He drove in a beautiful car indeed. Once in a while he mentioned that we actually should go to Western Europe for a while with the two of us. There you could easily find a well paid job according to him. As an au pair, as a waiter, as a cleaning person. If we could work hard one year, we could buy a beautiful apartment on our arrival back. After all, we had to think about our future together. And he stressed that for me only the best was good enough.
Although my parents were totally against it, Nicolai’s plan strongly appealed to me. That I had to abort my study was not an objection to me. In my country a diploma is not a guarantee for a job. I liked the idea of a romantic adventure with Nicolai to see something of the world and make a lot of money too. I was in love, naive and in hindsight very stupid.

‘Just trust me’Nicolai said he had a couple of good friends in Amsterdam. That’s why we chose the Netherlands as our destination. We lived forward to the date of departure. On the last moment Nicolai’s car turned out to be defect, but I didn’t want to postpone the journey. I arranged a ride via a vague acquaintance who went with a car to Germany. From thereon we could use the train to continue the journey to Amsterdam. Along the way I had a conversation with that acquaintance which I will never forget. He asked if I knew what often happens to Eastern European girls in the Netherlands. Of course I knew those stories, but I didn’t understand why he brought up that issue. After all I went with Nicolai, and weren’t our plans very clear?
At the moment Nicolai went to the toilet during a break, the boy gave me his phone number. ‘In case you need help.’ Out of politeness I stored the number in the memory of my mobile phone. I never would have suspected that two days later this number ‘suddenly’ would disappear from the memory of my phone.

After we arrived in a large German city Nicolai and I went with a train to Amsterdam. I looked forward to meeting one of his friends, who would await us on the Central Station. But this Serge greeted me only faintly. In the hallway of the station he started a conversation with Nicolai which I barely understood. I walked around and looked into some magazines in a magazine-store. Suddenly Serge stood next to me. ‘Come, we’ll leave.’ I asked whereto and looked around, but Nicolai was nowhere to be found. ‘Just trust me’, he said, ‘Nicolai will come later’.

Stomach churningHe brought me to an apartment in the city centre. There he started to talk with a businesslike tone to me. I had to listen very carefully and shouldn’t ask too many questions. This was his home. I could live here, but I had to pay for that. I also had to pay back the journey and the visa. The total sum was 1700 euros. He didn’t beat about the bush: the only way to get this money together, was by prostitution. Resistance is futile, he added with a threatening voice. Or else his ‘contacts’ in Eastern Europe would do something to my family. And I didn’t want to put my parents and sisters into danger? I almost choked in my coffee. My head was spinning, but I did realise that I was in deep trouble.

Nicolai was gone, I spoke not one word of English, let alone Dutch, and I didn’t have a buck in my pocket. Serge gave me a bottle of vodka and I fell asleep while crying. The next morning he left as I heard how he locked the door behind me. I could have screamed and shout to alarm the neighbours, I could have phoned the police, but I was terrified and could only think about what could happen to my beloved family. In my country it’s very normal if somebody kills someone for 50 euros.

Slowly I became aware of the shocking reality. My ‘beloved’ Nicolai was an impostor, he sold my body like a piece of meat at the butcher-shop. I was a victim of trafficking in women, exactly what the acquaintance had told me on the way.

The first days I spent in Serges apartment watching television and learning English words from a book. In the meantime Nicolai reappeared. On his arrival he looked at me ice-cold. ‘I think you understand’, he said. ‘We’ll say no more about it.’ I could have scratched his eyes out of his head. What he had done was so disgusting and humiliating. And the worst thing was I had no choice. I had to make sure that I could get the money together. I hoped that after this, Serge and Nicolai would let me go.

After two weeks Serge put me in his car and brought me to the tippelzone [a tolerance zone for street-prostitutes]. ‘Talk to nobody’, he sissed while he pushed me on the street. ‘If somebody asks you something, you only name a price.’ Petrified I looked around. I saw cars, girls and a coffee-stand. I rather don’t think back about that first night. It was awful and stomach churning. While I did what Serge asked, I saw him driving circles and watching me continuously. Not long after my introduction on the street I also was put to work in the escort-service and I went to clients in hotels. These men usually were less vile and brute than the clients on the street, but basically they were not less disgusting. ‘Why are you doing this?’ was the first question they asked without an exception. I always told them exactly what was going on. They felt sorry for me, but in the end they didn’t bother and simply had sex with me, except for some individuals who took me out on a dinner.

Nowhere to goAt first I believed I was allowed to go home after saving enough money, but I lost that illusion very early on. Each time I handed over my money, Serge and Nicolai found something which forced me to pay more. Food, cleaning products, using the car: they charged the strangest things so my ‘debt’ only increased, up to three-, four-, five thousand euros. I quarrelled with them, but I always ended up crying and fleeing to the bathroom or the balcony. I had nowhere to go and I felt intense loneliness.

Numb with fearThe only support I got was from the girls who I met on street. They were in the same position as I was. There were roughly three groups of girls on the tippelzone: the drug-addicts, the professional whores and we, the foreign girls who were lured to Amsterdam under false pretences and who came from countries like Rumania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia and Nigeria.
On the first day a girl from Eastern Europe wrapped an arm around me and gave me coffee and later also alcohol. Martini, beer, vodka, we drank what we could. Alcohol stuns, so we didn’t have to feel the humiliation. Regularly I saw women who had been beaten black and blue. By their pimp, I knew that. Each week new girls arrived and they always looked like me on the first day: desperate, humiliated and in shock when the first car stops and you have to step in.
The most absurd thing was that there always was police on the streets. Actually it’s unimaginable how women can be abused on such a large scale and nobody interferes. But I would never have dreamed about approaching a police officer. We would only bring ourselves in danger. We agreed that we should wait until the right moment, the right person. ‘Think about the day you’ll escape.’
After three months something suddenly changed. I noticed that Nicolai and Serge were in trouble. At that moment two other Eastern European girls lived in the apartment. We had to stop working and were accommodated in repeatedly different hotels, where we had to stay inside the whole day. A gang from Eastern Europe was chasing us it seemed, that’s what I concluded from conversations, but I didn’t know why. Money, girls, drugs?

Because much of our belongings still lied in the apartment, we went there every now and then to collect something. When on one evening I went there, together with Nicolai and housemate Dana, I saw that the lights were burning upstairs. Because I saw the car of the landlord parked in front of the door, I assumed he was upstairs. I was the first to step in. Right in front of me there was a group of men of whom one grabbed me and threw me on a couch. A barrel of a gun was pushed against my head. Behind me I heard a gunshot. I had no time to contemplate. With a raw hand I was pushed outside, downstairs, onto the streets. I had to run in the dark while I felt the gun in my back. After a while the man hailed a cab and we tore to a block of flats in an suburb. Dana seemed to have arrived there also. Four other men were with her.
We received vodka, which we drank numb with fear. ‘Lets have it, where are Serge and Nicolai’, one screamed at us. We could do nothing more than to shrug our shoulders. How should we know? The men conferred aloud what they should do with us. One said: sell them to Albanians, that will yield 2000 euros apiece. The second one wanted to kill us because we knew too much. The third one agreed, but first wanted us to perform a lesbian show on the table. I have never been so afraid in my entire life. Until I heard shootings outside and beams of light flashing through the room. ‘Stay where you are, this is the police’, it sounded through a megaphone. Armed police officers rushed in. Where the police came from and who had warned them, I have no idea. But it was our rescue. Or else Dana and I wouldn’t have been there anymore, I’m convinced of that.

We were brought to a police station and then to a Blijf-van-mijn-lijf-huis [‘stay-off-my-body-house’, a shelter for battered women]. It was a flush. Dana and I were in raptures, we couldn’t believe we had been rescued. Two of the five kidnappers turned out to be arrested. When the police asked us to testify in court, we agreed immediately. Obviously we wanted these criminal individuals to be punished! We were willing to tell our stories in every detail. How we were lured to the Netherlands. How we were put under pressure. And what were the descriptions of Nicolai, Serge and others involved. In exchange for helping the judiciary we would get all the support we needed, so we were promised. We would get a residence permit and shelter.

OutlawedWhat seemed so beautiful, turned out to be different. Only after we had made all the statements, we realised that we had outlawed ourselves. The promised residence permit was only valid during the lawsuit. We didn’t know that, but it means that soon we will be expelled and sent back to out own country. Without protection that would be perilous. We are dealing with members of a criminal organisation who don’t fear reprisals. There are known case of Albanian girls who after their return were shot on the streets. Another one got a phone call: we have your child. And another found her mother killed. Going back is not an option for me. The only alternative is disappearing into illegality. Or should I, like a lawyer suggested, marry a Dutch man to stay here?
The police in the meantime shrug their shoulders. It is a terrible thing to acknowledge, but I feel have been abused for a second time. When I was forced into prostitution I had hope of a better future. Now my future has no colour anymore. I live in constant fear. When I’m on street I’ll flee when I believe I see somebody from my country. Weekly I have contact on phone with my family, but I’m scared of their fate. At night I wake up in fear. I see no way out, but it doesn’t mean that I let it be. I want to fight, fight for girls like me. Together with two other victims we founded the association Atalantas. We want to help girls in this situation with information about their position. Aside from that we want to explain to politicians that victims of human trafficking have no rights and that we deserve better protection.

Even if I only help one woman with that, I’ll continue. One thing I have learned from my experiences: you must fight and have faith, how lonely the battle may seem. I’ll keep on doing that. Wherever the battle ends.

For more information:

also read:False promise

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