Throughout the 1990s, I worked as a victim advocate with the Collier County Sheriff’s office. I myself was stationed in Immokalee, Florida. In 1999, I remember receiving a report on a domestic violence dispute that had taken place between a husband and his wife. After reading the report, I felt as though this was a pretty clear cut case. However, when I first met with the wife, who in fact was a victim of domestic violence, I had no idea what was about to unfold.
During my home visit with the wife, I noticed the presence of a young female. When I asked who this young woman was, the response I received did not make any sense at all. I was able to get close enough to the young woman to learn about the heartbreaking abuse she had endured.
The young woman had been kidnapped from her home in Guatemala and forced to come to the United States. She was then forced into working in the fields, where she was not allowed to keep any of the money that she earned. After working in the fields, she would then cook and clean and watch her kidnapper’s children. To make matters worse, this young woman was frequently sexually assaulted. One of the things that I remember the most about this was the fact that this young woman refused to leave, as she believed in witchcraft. She had been advised that a spell had been put on her and if she left without the permission of her kidnapper, her family back in Guatemala would suffer the consequences.
In my entire career as a victim advocate, I had never met a woman who had been victimized as much as this young woman. I just remember sitting there thinking, “How in the world am I going to convince her to come with me for her own safety and protection?” As I sat there and continued to listen, it hit me. I told her that I knew of a witch doctor in town who was able to break the spell. And with that, the young woman sighed with relief and agreed to leave with me.
After this case was reported to the FBI, I was advised I had rescued a victim of human trafficking. This case was groundbreaking; due to the lack of human trafficking laws, it was prosecuted using old U.S. slavery laws. It was one of the cases that lead to the introduction of modern anti-trafficking laws within the United States. Today this case, U.S. vs. Tecum, has become a major case study by agencies including USDOJ, FSU, Croft Institute for International and the New York Times.