Observers estimate 40 percent of identified Lithuanian trafficking victims are women and girls subjected to sex trafficking within the country. Lithuanian women are also subjected to sex trafficking in Western Europe and Scandinavia. Having grown up in a state-run children’s home, Loreta was prostituted from age 15 to age 19 by a man who claimed to be her Godfather. After escaping her abusers, she lived at the Klaipeda Social and Psychological Services Center in Lithuania for a year, where she was provided with holistic survivor-oriented services to help her regain control of her life.
I was born near the Lithuania–Latvia border. Since my alcoholic parents were incapable of caring for me, social workers sent me to a state-run children’s home. My seven brothers and six sisters were also sent to group homes, scattered across the country.
Growing up in a children’s home was really tough. We often tried to run away. The wardens treated us badly and beat us heavily for any perceived misdeed. Unhappy and depressed, I started smoking opium when I was 13 years old. We couldn’t wait until we turned 15 and could legally leave the home. At that time, the Soviet Union assigned newly emancipated children a foster parent until they turned 18 years old.
The only person who ever visited me was a man who claimed to be my godfather. He already had two foster children and told me I could live with him when I turned 15. All my friends thought I was very lucky and special. One day, however, when I was 13, he raped me. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t think anyone would believe me. Everyone at the home said, “You are lucky you have someone who will take care of you when you leave.” They didn’t understand why I kept saying that I never, ever wanted to live with the man.
When my 15th birthday finally arrived, I was very relieved because I thought nobody would ever again have the right to hurt me, boss me around, or punish me. I left the home without any idea that this was only the beginning of a very difficult road.
I was sent against my will to live with my godfather and began to consume more opium. Shortly after my 16th birthday, a 21-year-old woman named Dana introduced herself to me as my sister. She treated me more like an acquaintance than a sibling, but I figured it was because we’d spent so much time apart. I hoped we would grow closer. Whenever I visited her apartment, there were many young women there who drank a lot and talked about going “to the bar to hook up with some studs.” I thought their language was interesting but didn’t understand what they meant. A couple of months later, my sister asked me if I had any girlfriends my age and I said I did. She didn’t mention my girlfriends again for a long time.
One day, Dana asked if she could drop by my place to see how I lived. She came with her friend and inspected how my four friends and I lived. We had no idea that they had visited us to secretly decide if we were fit for prostitution. We had never heard of “human trafficking” because everyone in the Soviet Union was fed propaganda that claimed that “life is beautiful.”
The next night Dana invited me and my two friends over to her apartment—even specifying the name of the friends I should bring—and promised to pay for our taxi. When we got there, we saw three more girls our age and seven Greek men speaking in English, drinking alcohol, talking and laughing. My sister and her friend told to us to chat with them, but I told them that we didn’t feel comfortable meeting the men whom we didn’t understand. Dana grew angry and demanded we talk to them. She said we owed her friend money for the taxi ride that she had promised to pay for. She asked me if I really didn't understand where I was and what we were expected to do. I had no idea. That’s when Dana explained she’d invited us over to sell our bodies. She told us that we would be prostitutes from now on. My friends and I were shocked and refused, but my sister’s friend threatened to call “the gang” if we continued to refuse to pay for the taxi and sell ourselves. She told us that the gang would beat us, rape us, and bury us alive in the woods. My friends and I started crying. I told Dana that I didn’t understand how she could do this to her sister. From that day on, Dana was no longer my sister but my madam.
That night after I sold my body, I felt repulsed. I wouldn’t get out of the shower until I washed everything away. I felt so humiliated. I heard my friends crying too.
I was in prostitution from age 15 to 19. My friends and I lived in one apartment with the madam. When we had clients, taxi drivers would call and she would tell us to get ready. The clients waited in bars, nightclubs or hotels. Sometimes, we brought them to our apartment. We worked from 4pm till late night or early morning with three to four clients a day. Sometimes we used condoms, but sometimes we didn’t. Most of the clients were foreigners who didn’t speak my language and didn’t care about my age. I didn’t know how to contact the police and I didn’t know if the police would even care. I wanted to run away, but was scared the gang would find me and kill me. My self-loathing grew, so I began injecting myself with drugs. I tried to numb myself from the pain so I wouldn’t feel anything at all.
When I turned 17, the madam told us that a pimp was selling us abroad. One girl was sold in Poland, two in Budapest, and the rest of us were taken to Ravenna, Italy. When we arrived, we were sold to men whose language we didn’t understand. They took us to a brothel filled with women aged 14-32, trafficked from Belorussia, Poland, and Lithuania. We had to take care of our clients in the public restrooms within 15 minutes. Pimps prevented us from escaping and used violence to force us to work in the streets.
After two weeks in Italy, I had an older client who understood Lithuanian. I took a risk and begged for his help. His friend took my friends and me to the Italian police. I was so surprised by how well the police treated us. They helped us get documentation so we could return to Lithuania and helped us change our names and appearances so the pimps couldn’t find us. We were sent to an Italian organization that worked with victims of human trafficking and were granted refugee status. We spent around four months in protective custody until our identification documents were sorted out and then were brought to Vilnius, Lithuania where social workers took care of us. We lived there for about a year. A social worker worked with me a lot and helped me realize how I had been exploited.
As I struggled to rebuild my life, I realized that I didn’t have any chance of supporting myself with only a ninth grade education, so I started making and selling drugs. Then, I met the man who would father my first child. After I got pregnant, I stopped the drugs. I tried to take care of my child and was moved from place to place. Over the years, I had three other children with different men. I really love my children and I live only for them, but I do not love their fathers. I realize that I cannot keep a long-term relationship with any man, probably because I hate how men have treated me.
When people ask me what I think about prostitution, I tell them that I sympathize with women who are trying to provide for their children and have no other option. I knew a woman whose pimp controlled her access to her children. She was scared to death and had no choice but to stay with her pimp. Many girls stay in prostitution just so they can buy drugs, but the majority of them only became drug addicts to escape their terrible lives. I think the pimps should be gunned down, so that none of them are left on this earth. Maybe that would put an end to human trafficking and prostitution. As for myself, I hope to help children who are vulnerable, children who might fall prey to pimps. I live for these children and for my own four children.
As told to Equality Now