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2017 (Narrative date)

The Netherlands is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour. It is estimated that around 175, 000 people are living in conditions of modern slavery in the country. It is reported that many women are trafficked within the country in to forced prostitution. Victims are often trafficked by so called ‘pimp boys’ or ‘lover boys’ – men who seduce young women and girls, gaining their trust and then forcing them in to commercial sexual exploitation. 

Sameena was 18 years old when she left home and became homeless. Sameena got a job in the catering agency where she met her boyfriend, Jim. One evening Jim invited Sameena to his apartment, where she arrived to a number of his male friends. That night was the first time she was raped. After that, for two years Sameena was forced to work as a prostitute. Even after physically escaping, Sameena still struggled to mentally free herself from her past exploitation. In this narrative Sameena tells of how running helped her overcome her past trauma

There is one reason behind how I made the journey from being a victim of human trafficking to discovering the biggest love of my life: running.

I started running after I escaped two years of forced prostitution with a lot of abuse and violence. 

It all started when I was 18 years old. After a difficult home life with divorce and domestic violence, I left home. For a year and a half I was homeless, moving from couch to couch. I left school and got a job in the catering industry. 

At work I met Jim (not his real name). We started dating and at first all seemed innocent and just like a normal relationship, but after a few months he always wanted to know where I was and who I was with. If he didn’t like what I was doing he became violent – apologising afterwards. 

He was the only one I trusted.

He told me he had a lot of debts that needed to be paid and that in our relationship we had to help each other.  At that time he was the only one in my life that I trusted. So I gave him all my money. But it was never enough and he became more and more violent and continued to apologise afterwards. And I still believed him. 

Then came one evening when things changed. Jim invited me to his apartment and said it would be a cozy evening with friends but when I got there I noticed that there were only boys, and no girls. My bad feeling about that turned out to be correct. That evening Jim and his friends raped me for the first time, and filmed it. I felt really, really bad. I was raised Christian and people always told me to stay a virgin till marriage. So I was. 

I felt like a hunted animal.

I had to work daily as an prostitute. In cars, hotels and apartments - everywhere you can imagine. When I cried or struggled against those people, Jim and his friends became more violent and used torture.  Every day I felt hunted like an animal. 

After two years someone found out what was going on and called the police, but I couldn’t talk to them because Jim and his friends always knew where I was. One day my social worker told me I had to go to an organisation for help because otherwise I would be killed or kill myself. But I was a little bit stubborn and didn’t listen to her. Instead I found a room in another city on the other side of the Netherlands in a student house. Later this turned out to be the best decision I could ever make. 

I moved with nothing. I had only a backpack with a few clothes and one pair of shoes.  

The only wish I had was to die and I tried to killed myself. Luckily it failed. 

I started to run to lose my anger.

I then realised that the choice was to either kill myself, or to fight for life. I choose the second one. I threw away my cellphone and closed my email account. Inspired by my roommates I began to study. And started running. I had to lose my emotion, sadness and anger. 

In the beginning I hated every step of running. My body was weak from the violence, bad food, drugs and being raped. People laughed at me because I didn’t have running shoes or running clothes. I literally started with nothing. But I ran. Every morning at the same time. This gave my life structure. It became normal, like brushing your teeth. 

This year, five years after I first started running, I won a marathon and last October I ran a 100 kilometer race to raise awareness about human trafficking. I created my own route and ran along places where I had been abused and traded and along the places where I started living again. 

We’ve raised about 1,673 Euros for CoMensha, a major Dutch organization specialized in supporting victims of human trafficking and a lot of media attention. 

My motto is: Never ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Stay disciplined and hunt your goals. I would like to say to you, open your eyes. Care for each other. Become the change you want to see in the world. 

As told to the Institute of Development Studies  

‘Running back to life – a story of modern slavery in the Netherlands’, Institute for Development Studies [accessed 29th April 2018]