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Defenders for Human Rights
Timea Nagy

Timea Nagy Human Trafficking

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GRADE LEVELS = 8 to 12  /  SUGGESTED TIME = Five 60 minute class periods

“There’s nothing you can do to change the past. But you can do everything to change the future.”

At the beginning of her personal story of human trafficking in Toronto, Timea Nagy asks her audience if they’ve ever seen a human trafficking victim before.

She gets about two or three hands. By the end of the talk, the number increases to between 10 and 15.

In one hall, a towering, gun-toting police officer sat hunched at the back. He raised his hand at the beginning and the end, but avoided her eye.

Finally, afterward, he approached her, crying. He told her something that still makes her shiver.

“I saw you,” he said. “When you were in a motel for three months, I was a drug investigator. I had to sit in front of your motel. We did surveillance there for weeks. And I saw you. … I saw you coming in and out, in and out, in and out. I saw you.”

“I had no idea.”

Timea grew up with strict values in communist Hungary. From an early age, she was a “good girl,” taught not to steal, or lie, or hurt. When she was 7, she started advocating for the environment and the vulnerable.

She was 20 when money was short and she was lured to Canada and into sexual slavery, under the guise of a summer job as a general helper or a nanny.

Instead, she was forced to work as a stripper and a prostitute for someone else’s profit.

Her captors’ threat? Work and live, or escape and die.

Finally, three months later, friends in Canada, together with her memories of Hungary, helped her get out.

“That you know you are somebody because you are coming from somewhere and you do matter to someone, that’s what helped me to get through.”

I was not safe back in Hungary and on top of it my family's doubt and shame and my guilt about everything that happened to me, drove me back to Canada.

Over a decade, she only told a few people what happened to her, but she only opened up fully about most of the events to 'her' police officer, who laid charges against her pimps.

“I thought that that was enough justice for me. One person believed me. I’m not crazy. He believed me and he believed in me.”

She didn’t know, until she told her story publicly for the first time ten years later, how therapeutic sharing could be.

“I’m able to get into people’s heart versus their mind. … When you open up their minds, they want to find a way to investigate it. But when you open up their heart … they will find every way to help to eradicate this.”

The work began. She spoke to police and the public across North America, and counselled sex trafficked victims and survivors at police stations. In 2009, she created Walk With Me, an organization based in Hamilton, Ontario that gives human trafficking victims first-response support.

No matter when her phone rings, Timea answers. Two years into her work, she heard the familiar ringtone in the late evening.

A 21-year-old woman, hiding with her children at a shelter, was on the other end. Timea has modified details of her story to protect her identity.

The woman’s uncles had sold her at 14 to her husband in Canada, where she was a slave, locked in a basement and abused every day.

“I can’t be a house slave anymore,” she cried. “I can’t live in a basement.”

“Please save my family.”

The woman’s husband had threatened if she was not back in eight hours, her family in the Middle East would be murdered.

“I can’t promise you,” Timea told her, “but I will hang up the phone right now and do everything I can.”

She and her volunteer sat for hours, calling every agency in North America, insisting they were going to save the family and not just help her say ‘goodbye.’ Finally, with the help of American government contacts, the family was sheltered, hours away from the uncles.

At 4 a.m., they called back, and heard the relief in the woman’s tiny, tired voice when Timea told her, “Your family is safe.”

“I felt that everything is possible. If you give up, you’re done.”

And Timea doesn’t – even when it hurts.

She hears familiar stories every day – stories that take her back to those three months working in Toronto, paying off a debt that didn’t exist.

Moments like these are known as “triggers,” and Timea’s learned to treasure them.

“A trigger is just there for you to show you what else you need to heal. So when I went into this work, I welcomed triggers, because I thought if there’s anything else that’s left for me to heal, this is how I’m going to do it.”

There are still times, she admits, when she needs to get away and cry until she doesn’t hurt anymore.

Giving herself that time became easier through four simple words: “It’s not your fault.” She didn’t always believe it.

She had repeated those words to others for months. Finally, a friend pointed out to her that she was still blaming herself for what had happened to her when she didn’t even understand what human trafficking was.

“That was a whole other healing journey. It’s still unfolding,” she says.

She feels, now, she is more able to help the women she works with regain their self-worth.

“I can’t hide it anymore, which is why I stepped out. It’s part of the whole self-love. Love yourself for who you are, not for what you think people want to love you for. So, I accepted myself as I am, with my past. If that’s what I’m known for, then that’s what I’m known for.”

“This lady came up to me, she was about 70-something years old. She was crying hysterically. She could barely talk. I was just holding her and holding her. She started to whisper in my ear, while she was crying and she was still trying to catch her breath. She goes, ‘I never knew that it happened to somebody else. … I thought I was going to take this to my grave.’”
“When I started, I was just really wanting to be there for the girls, one girl at a time. And I still do. But I realized that we need to find a root cause, and we need to attack the root cause as well. So, now, human trafficking to me means something a lot more than just one victim.”
“I feel strong now, because I know who I am now. I love myself for who I am. I value myself as a woman. Because of that mindset, I’m able to look back at the past and recognize all the abuse and all the things that happened for what it was.”