Francesca thought she was sneaking out of the house for a fun day at the beach with her new friend. We want to warn you that Francesca's story contains both rape and violence toward a child.
She knew she would be in some trouble when she got home, but the trip seemed harmless, and at 16 she thought she was old enough. She got on the bus looking forward to the change from her daily routine.
Francesca’s family didn’t see her again for months. “My ‘friend’ sold me,” Francesca says sadly.
Francesca was forced to work in a hotel bar every night and go with men to their hotel rooms. “They raped me. They beat me with a bat when I did not want to serve their customers. They drugged me and many times they did not feed me.” Alone and penniless in a strange town, Francesca thought she had nowhere to turn.
Sex trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which someone deceives and sexually exploits another person for a profit. Sex trafficking includes exploitation in establishments (brothels), private networks (homes) and on the internet (online sexual exploitation).
But because IJM had recently opened a field office in the Dominican Republic, help was close when she needed it. When Francesca finally managed to contact a relative who called the authorities, the Public Ministry called IJM to help coordinate a rescue.
Thanks to a team effort between local authorities, IJM and the support of caring people like you, Francesca was found and rescued—along with nine other minors—in November 2015. Her case became a testing ground for justice in the Dominican Republic because the man who trafficked them was wealthy and well-connected.
The generosity of our donors enabled IJM to walk alongside Francesca through legal proceedings that took nearly a year. People like you helped us protect all the survivors and counter intense local pressure to dismiss the case or acquit the aggressor. The outcome was a guilty verdict and a prison sentence for the bar owner.
IJM supporters can be proud to be a part of Francesca’s story. Since Francesca's rescue, she has continued to heal and has been motivated to speak up for others since the birth of her daughter 4 years ago. Today, she is a leader in the fight against sex trafficking in the Dominican Republic.
“IJM helped me realize that in life there are things worth fighting for, a reason to keep moving forward, and that what happened to me will stay in the past and now I am living in the present.”
Francesca is a founding member of her local Global Survivor Network (GSN) chapter. The GSN is an international group of survivors shaping and leading a movement to protect people from violence. “I want to keep moving forward with my daughter,” she says.
Last July, Francesca bravely shared her story at an advocacy event that included the First Lady of the Dominican Republic, the Chancellor of the Republic, the President of the Constitutional Court, other key government officials and members of civil society.
Francesca’s message was so powerful that offers of help came pouring in: promises of support and intentions to improve the justice system throughout the country.
This is the kind of lasting transformation you make possible with your support—changing the lives of individuals who go on to inspire even more change. That’s how we all keep moving forward together! Thank you in advance for helping build a safer future where more children, women and men are safe and protected.