A woman who survived being conned, raped, sodomized, savagely beaten and trafficked told an audience in Jamaica today that there is still hope for people who experience human trafficking, adding that victims and their experiences are often misunderstood.
Shamere McKenzie, a Westwood High School past student who left Jamaica to live in the United States many years ago, also announced that she will launch a scholarship on the island this year to help victims of human trafficking and child sexual abuse.
During her presentation at a Human Trafficking International Conference at Melià Braco Hotel in Trelawny, she noted that her dream, after she left Jamaica, was to become an athlete.
She eventually got a full scholarship to attend St John’s University, but lost that privilege due to underperformance and a hamstring injury.
McKenzie decided to work and complete the one-and-a-half-year that was remaining in college. After taking up loans, she needed US$3,000.
WOWED BY MAN
McKenzie eventually met a man in the streets and they exchanged numbers.
“Over a period of time, we had great conversations,” she recalled.
“We had conversations that I enjoyed talking about – politics, single parents in the community, the prison-industrial complex and other social justice issues.”
McKenzie eventually accepted the man’s invitation to live, free of cost, in his basement apartment while she earned and saved towards college.
The man later convinced her to become involved in exotic dancing, which could have raked in more money faster.
“Up until this point, I wasn’t aware that he was my trafficker; I thought this was a guy who was trying to assist me,” McKenzie further said.
Things took a turn for the worse when she tried to leave the man’s apartment after finding out that she was being forced into prostitution.
Things also became physical.
“I punched him in the face. That’s when I learnt Rule Number 1: never hit a trafficker,” Mckenzie said, adding that she was ‘severely tortured’ in response.
“I remember when I regained consciousness, I was laying in urine. The monster that had just done those things to me; he came over and was so apologetic. ‘I am so sorry; I lost control; I don’t know what happened; and I will never do this to you again’. I believed him.”
The ‘severe torture’ continued for 18 months, McKenzie told the gathering.
“It is very easy for us as a people to understand the physical abuse that victims undergo, but what is very difficult for us to understand – no matter how smart we are, is the psychological abuse,” she added.
McKenzie said victims are not only forced into comercial sex; they are also forced into criminal activities.
She became involved in criminality and was busted by police. “Victims carry out these acts simply to survive – out of fear,” she said.
NO EASY ESCAPE
McKenzie, in the meantime, said she tried to escape on numerous occasions, but could not muster the courage to have the man killed by poisoning or a Jamaican hitman who was hired.
She recalled being sodomized severely when she once tried to escape. She was also told that her family would have been killed.
McKenzie said the man also convinced her that the police were not her friends. “I had police officers who also purchased me; I had police officers who also made fun of me on the street; so I was not going to the police…
“When I was being trafficked, I thought no one cared,” McKenzie opined, adding that she was not even aware of the term ‘human trafficking’ while she was actually living it.
She continued: “Escaping is not an easy process. Victims are manipulated and tricked to think that it is one thing [being offered], and by the time they get involved, it is something totally different, and there is no turning back.”
McKenzie said, although she escaped human trafficking, the psychological scars remain with her.
“The psychological impact from being victimized is a lasting effect…” she said, adding that she tried to kill herself many times.
“After escaping my trafficker, there are several suicide attempts that I made, not understanding my victimization, not understanding the criminal justice system, not understanding why I am still alive,” she continued.
“The truth be told, I am not supposed to be here this morning, but God had a bigger plan… I am supposed to be in a box six-foot-six somewhere… I faced several near-death experiences.”
McKenzie, who said she has passed the stage of being a survivor and is now a liberator, urged victims to understand there is still hope after human trafficking.
“We hear the stories over and over, but there is hope. I stand before you this morning to let you know that there is hope; there is hope for victims,” she trumpeted.
She also appealed for members of the community to reach out to victims of human trafficking and other crimes – something she said she now has dedicated her life to doing.
By Horace Mills
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