“My fiance told me I would be an au pair”
Laura is 24 years old. She is a normal young woman from a poor town in the south of Romania with a happy childhood and a caring family. She studied in high school until she was 16, but stopped because she needed to work for her family.
Earlier this year she was working on a farm until she was sold into prostitution in the Netherlands by her fiancé.
She had been going out with Cosmin, a local boy, for four years when he asked her to marry him. But the couple had little money and he asked if she wanted to work in Holland as an au-pair.
“Many young people from my village left the country to work abroad,” she says. “It was my aim too,so I already had a passport.”
A contact of Cosmin's passed her to another man, who took them and some other girls by bus to the Netherlands. The driver then took the girls straight to a house where two Romanian woman lived, Penelope, and a girl, Alicia, who was one of Cosmin's friends.
These girls went to stay Alicia's house, a classy and cosy villa. “We stayed inside and did not go out because we did not know the city,” says Laura. A few weeks later they saw Alicia dressing up and putting on make-up. Soon it became clear she was a prostitute. “Alicia thought I knew what my job was going to be there,” says Laura.
Penelope told Laura that she had been sold by her boyfriend and that she was not being kept against her will. But before she could leave, Laura had to pay back the money she ‘owed’, ranging between 4,500 and 7,000 Euro.
“You pay me back all the money and you're free to go,” Penelope told Laura.
“She never threatened me, but she told some of the other girls she would kill their family,” says Laura.
After starting her job, Laura had to pay the Penelope 300 Euro every day or face a beating. The first month she worked from eight am to one am. She was sleeping only two hours per night.
She worked at first in the red light district of Amsterdam, where girls wearing lingerie pose in shop windows for clients looking for sex. This helped her to pay the money back to the pimp. But from the money she gained she had to buy the expensive lingerie for herself, living expenses, rent, cash for the pimp and money for gels, condoms and poppers. For ten to 20 minutes of sex Laura charged 50 Euro. She had around 20 to 25 clients per day.
“I barely gained the money to survive,” she says.
Soon she was moved to another city close to the Hague. She was now sending back 150 Euro to her family by Western Union transfer, so they would not be worried.
“I called my mom for the first time after a few weeks,” says Laura. “I told her that I was okay, because I didn't want to worry her. But Mum felt that something was wrong.”
After six months she made 450 Euro for herself.
One day she confessed her situation to one of her clients, a young man who had relations with the local police. Two weeks later the police picked her up, along with three other girls and arrested the pimp. She cooperated with the Dutch police, made a statement, and soon found herself in a centre with other victims. The Dutch authorities provided social services and the International Organization for Migration [IOM] bought her plane ticket to Bucharest.
When she returned home, Cosmin found out and tried to pretend he knew nothing was just trying to help her. She tried to stay away from him. “He asked me if I still loved him,” says Laura.
But he also sent around a few members of a local gang who asked her about her time in the Netherlands.
When the Romanian police received the information from the IOM, they called Laura to their office, saying they knew the truth about her and made fun of her. “The police told me to add more to my statement, admitting that I had taken drugs with each client,” says Laura. Her former pimp, Penelope later called her and sent Laura 300 Euro through Western Union, asking her if she wanted to come back to work. She did not pick up the money. After the pimp's call Laura called the local police inspector, who had questioned her and she told him what happened. "He told me to take the money and go back again and work for her, if I wanted to,” Laura says. She has since told her mother the truth about what happened. Now she wants to help other people in the same situation.
“I still can't sleep during the night,” says Laura. “All I want to feel is to be free again.”
(All the names in the story have been changed)
Interview by Ana-Maria Smadeanu