From Victim to Advocate

Last Month, Willow partnered with Pepperdine Law School and the Human Trafficking Institute to host the first ever Prevention of Trafficking Persons conference in Uganda. The two-day event involved policy recommendations focused on protecting victims, preventing this crime, and prosecuting human traffickers. This conference rallied the political power required to make a lasting impact on human trafficking in Uganda.

At the conference, Willow was honored to give our brave survivor, Adie*, a platform to advocate for justice in front of these 150 high-ranking government officials. Large sunglasses and a scarf with the words “I love Jesus” covered Adie’s head and face as she stood before a room full of the country’s most powerful leaders. Adie’s Willow case manager sat on her right, holding her hand tightly. To Adie’s left, sat 3 other brave survivors of sex trafficking. The room was silent as she took the floor.

“I never knew my mother,” Adie began. “I don’t know what she looks like.” Through tears Adie told her audience that in her early twenties she had been a hard worker – that all she ever wanted was to get enough money to purchase the shop she had been working in. In pursuit of this goal, Adie shared that she left her son with a cousin and went to Dubai to work in a restaurant with the promise of earning $500 a month.

When Adie arrived in Dubai, she was thrown into a room with 5 other girls, all of whom were younger than her (15-17 years old). Her new boss took all of their passports and drove them to a salon. He then changed the looks of all of the girls so drastically none of them recognized themselves in the mirror. Adie asked her boss, “Why do I need to look like this to work in a restaurant?”. He ignored her question.

Adie was trafficked for sex the first time late the following night. As the oldest of the 6 captive girls, she felt helpless and unable to protect any of them. The horrors Adie shared from that night are incomprehensible—the girls were beaten so severely they didn’t know if they would survive. The exploitation went on like this for months.

When Adie and her peers were finally rescued, they spent months in jail in Dubai before boarding a plane to Uganda. She couldn’t wait to hold her son in her arms, but she soon realized her horror story was far from over. Adie’s trafficker was at the airport waiting for her with armed men. The trafficker had kidnapped her son and threatened to kill him unless Adie went to Thailand to make more money for her. “So many girls died,” Adie said of the next several years of being trafficked between Thailand and Malaysia. “I watched so many of them die in front of me.”

Standing in front of the conference group as a survivor, Adie vowed to forever be a voice for those who didn’t make it out alive. Adie urged her government to take action.

The government of Uganda is poised to effectively combat Human Trafficking and Willow International is committed to supporting survivors’ in their pursuit for justice. Please help us in our preventative and recovery missions to save other girls just like Adie.

*Name changed to protect survivor’s identity