After suffering abuse and being held captive in a foreign country, Awah Francisca Mbulihas dedicated her life to fighting human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
“I am on a mission to help as many girls and women as I can from succumbing to the same fate.”
When I left Cameroon to pursue my master’s degree in Norway, I never thought I would become a victim of sexual abuse and human trafficking.
Like many in Cameroon, I dreamed of traveling abroad. I arrived in Norway in 2010, in search of greener pastures. I felt like I had made it big, but I didn’t have a clear plan for survival.
After two months in the student hostel, I couldn’t find a job and I had spent all the money I had on me. I helped a couple take care of their 9-month-old baby girl day and night in exchange for food. Yes, just food.
I started looking for a church where I could meet African brothers and sisters who were also living in Norway. I thought I might find a connection to a job so that I could save up money for school and for my family back home. I found an African church, but no one could link me to any opportunities. Eventually, I could no longer pay my rent and I became homeless.
When the assistant pastor of the church, a 50-year-old man, offered me space in his apartment, I thought I was lucky. Everything went well for a week until he started approaching me for sex. I was so disappointed that this man of God, a man I trusted with my problems, would turn around and pressure me for sex just because he was housing me. It was winter and it was snowing everywhere; I had nowhere to go, no one else to provide a roof over my head. I was forced to play along with his demands.
I cried in my quiet moments. This wasn’t me, I thought. I was desperate and vulnerable, and I had no one else to turn to.
After almost a year of abuse, I stopped having sex with him. I was just tired of it and it had to stop. I even locked my door, but he would knock on it for hours. To punish me, he refused to give me food or cash for my bus cards.
One day on my way back from school I received a text from my abuser saying that I would have to leave his house. After spending two nights in the train station with no destination in mind, I contacted a girlfriend who I had befriended online. She and her dad drove a long distance from the north of Norway to pick me up. After a whole day of driving, we finally arrived in their little town.
I knew I was too far away from my school to continue my studies, but I thought a new dawn had come. I was happy to be in the comfort of a Norwegian family that was ready to accommodate me. I sang songs of praise.
I did not know that my friend would leave the house only a week later. She left me with her dad, a 58-year-old divorced man. He was so nice at first, but later he started making sexual advances, just like the man from the church.
I stayed with him for nearly a year until I started having mental problems that almost took my mind away. I was depressed and losing it. I needed to return home to regain my sanity.
Back in Cameroon, I was far from my abusers, but my ordeal was not over. I couldn’t cope with the unemployment and poverty all around me, and I began looking for a way out of the country again.
In May 2015, a middleman in Cameroon promised to connect me with an opportunity in Kuwait. He told me I was going to teach English on a good salary. I wasted no time; I compiled my documents and prepared to leave.
When I got to the airport in Kuwait, I was introduced to my employer and told I was going to work as a domestic servant. I thought I had already experienced so many shocks in my life, but this was the biggest shocker. I had no choice but to follow him, put on my domestic servant uniform, and begin work.
The working conditions were horrible, but I decided to manage as well as I could. Nearly three months into my stay, the worst happened.
One day, while my employer’s wife and two sons were away on vacation, my employer asked me to help massage him. He claimed he slipped and fell on the stairs. He said the doctor advised him that he should be massaged on his buttocks. I refused to do it, advising him to go to a spa to get a professional massage.
He told me that I should remember there is no “No” in the dictionary of his house. He would not accept my refusals and he forced me to massage him. After two days of massages, he tore my housemaid dress and raped me. He continued to rape me throughout the next week until I managed to run away from his house. I found refuge at the Central African Republic Embassy in Kuwait.
After reaching out to many humanitarian organizations fighting against human trafficking, an organization in New York City called Freedom For All paid my return airfare to Cameroon.
Now, when I look back at all that I went through, it makes me cry. But I am also looking forward to my future. I intend to use my story to change the lives of as many girls and women as possible and this gives me hope.
The five years of sexual abuse I endured from three different men may sound like an unrealistic movie, but this is what happened. After going through all of this, especially this last ordeal in Kuwait, I felt a spark of zeal in me to fight against all these wrongs.
I now run an organization called Survivors' Network in Kumba, Cameroon. Our organization is made up of female survivors of human trafficking who have come together to fight against trafficking and modern-day slavery. We use all available media to warn people about human trafficking and to discourage parents from sending their children abroad without a properly defined mission. I also have gone door to door and made radio and TV appearances at home and abroad to talk about my personal ordeal.
Surviving simultaneous human trafficking and sexual abuse is difficult. But now that I have come out of it and am working against it, I am on a mission to help as many girls and women as I can from succumbing to the same fate. The events in my life have led me to where I am now. Today, I have the opportunity to free girls and women from the shackles of slavery and trafficking—first in Cameroon and then, hopefully, all around the world.
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