Survivors of Human Trafficking, in Their Own Words

Three stories of women who came to America looking for a better life, but instead found astonishing cruelty

A collage of Natalicia Tracy, Judith Daluz, and Nena Ruiz
Natalicia Tracy, Judith Daluz, and Nena Ruiz (Othello Banaci / National Domestic Workers Alliance / Dong Lledo / Katie Martin / The Atlantic)

Last June, The Atlantic published “My Family’s Slave,” a harrowing reflection by the journalist Alex Tizon on his experience of being raised by Eudocia Tomas Pulido, or, as she was known to Tizon, “Lola.” Pulido wasn’t in chains, Tizon wrote, yet “no other word but slave encompassed the life she lived.” The story moved millions of readers.

Today, as part of our special report about forced work, “The Unfree,” and with assistance from the nonprofit National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), The Atlantic is presenting three essays written by women who have survived human trafficking. Here are their stories:

  1. Nena Ruiz tells of her modern-day slavery in California: “I had to brush the dogs’ teeth, clean their ears, and give them vitamins each day. But I had to sleep on a dog bed in the living room.”
  2. Natalicia Tracy recalls the self-doubt and coercion that enabled her traffickers to keep her in servitude: “I was a fixture in the house; a robot there to do things for them. I felt invisible, dispensable, and alone.”
  3. Judith Daluz recounts how she became tago nang tago, an undocumented survivor of human trafficking: “In the Philippines, I was independent and knew everyone in my neighborhood. In the U.S., I had become isolated—a shadow of myself.”

These stories offer glimpses of the cruelty faced by the desperate and powerless. But they are also tales of an astonishing sort of human resilience, which, as NDWA’s director Ai-jen Poo writes, “brings us face to face with the most painful aspects of humanity, so that we may collectively become more humane.”