My name is Carmen and I’m 28 years old. I came to the States when I was 19. My boyfriend in Honduras told me he knew a man named Carlos who would give me a job as a maid when I came to New York. I was so excited to move to a new country so I could make enough money for me and my son to survive, but I didn’t know I would soon be living in a nightmare.
It was all a lie – there was no maid job. When I got here, Carlos told me I had to work in a massage parlor where we had to have sex with the customers for money. I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know anyone here. I didn’t know what to do. My son was 3 years old. What choice did I have?
After 6 years of being trafficked, day and night, a friend told me about Restore. She told me they could help me. I was scared. I knew it was bad, but the massage parlor was the only thing I knew. What if I couldn’t do anything else? But I started meeting with a counselor and case manager. They were so friendly and I really felt I could trust them. I hadn’t trusted anyone in a long time. After a lot of therapy, they connected me to the Economic Empowerment team. I was connected to a safe job at a restaurant. I had never worked at a restaurant before, but the owners were patient with me. I loved seeing the customers that came in regularly. The people I worked with became like a second family. I could finally start to move forward with my life.
But then COVID-19 spread in NYC and everything changed. The restaurant I worked at was small. The owners did everything they could, but they couldn’t save their business. They permanently closed in late April. When they told me, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was losing my family and everything I worked for, and it wasn’t even my fault. I had been home with my son for weeks at this point. I felt so alone.
And then Carlos called me. He asked me how my son was doing and if I needed money. He asked me to come back to the massage parlor. I knew it wasn’t good but I was scared I wouldn’t be able to find another job. Everything in NYC was closed. I don’t qualify for government benefits. I was desperate. I felt like I had no choice.
I called my counselor. I told her I was scared and considering going back to trafficking. I was so ashamed to tell her, but she told me about Restore’s relief fund. She said people were donating money to help women like me during the pandemic. I couldn’t believe it. That same day, my counselor sent me a check to cover my bills and buy food. And they’ve been helping me ever since. I haven’t spoken to Carlos. I’m trying to find work and meeting with volunteers to practice interviews in the meantime, but I’m thankful to Restore for being there on my darkest days.
Because of Restore, even when I can’t be with the people I love in person, I know I’m not alone.
*Names in this story have been changed to protect identities.