Sex trafficking survivor marries, works as advocate

A sex trafficking survivor who helped put away her pimps by testifying at their sentencing in Brooklyn Federal Court was married there Friday by Pamela Chen, the woman who began prosecuting the case and who is now a U.S. District Court Judge.

The 26-year-old bride, Carmen, who was kidnapped at age 14 and forcibly raped for five years before escaping her captors, received “felicidades” from Mayor Bill De Blasio, who tweeted his congratulations and seconded Chen’s pronouncement at the wedding, originally carried in the New York Daily News, that “no one deserves to find happiness and love more than Carmen.”

Carmen, who requested that no identifying details concerning her or her new husband, Luis, 31, a construction worker, be printed due to continuing safety concerns, testified at the 2014 sentencing of Benito Lopez-Perez, Anastasio Romero-Perez and Jose Gabino Barrientos-Perez. According to court papers, Lopez-Perez raped Carmen, identified in court papers as “Jane Doe 1,” forced her into prostitution and smuggled her into the United States and eventually to New York, where she was forced “to service 10 to 40 clients per day, on threat of physical abuse.” (Lopez-Perez and Romero-Perez were sentenced to 18 years each and Barriento-Perez was sentenced to 10 years and one month imprisonment.) The brothers were from Tenancingo in Tlaxcala, Mexico — an internationally notorious epicenter of human trafficking.

During Carmen’s captivity she was beaten, raped and ordered to forget everything and everyone she knew as a child in Oaxaca: “I was so angry. So mad! I can’t describe the dreams they stole from me. Every time (Lopez-Perez) said something about me forgetting where I came from, I thought, ‘One day you will remember me!’ ” The abuse and stress was so overwhelming, she tried to kill herself, and often wished for death.

Carmen met Luis — “the first man I ever trusted” — three years ago through a mutual friend. After a month of dating, she told him about her eye-popping past. He began crying and then asked, “why did you tell me this?” Carmen recounted. “Because you’re asking me if I want to be your girlfriend so I want you to know me. I want no lies in my life,” she responded. “He was in shock. He just didn’t know how to respond,” but eventually came to appreciate not just what she had endured, but the courage it took for her to break free. “His thinking,” is what she most loves about him, she said.

“There are so many wonderful things happening (for Carmen) at once,” observed Lori Cohen, director of the anti-trafficking initiative at Sanctuary for Families, which advocates for and helps victims of abuse. At Carmen’s wedding, her pro bono lawyer presented her with a green card (she previously had a visa) and the next day Carmen celebrated her 26th birthday. She also recently graduated from a Sanctuary program certifying her in office skills. While Carmen now works as a home health aide, her goal is to become a social worker specializing in human trafficking victims — a specialty for which she is uniquely qualified. “I want to keep going to school and also to keep fighting,” so that other victims can transcend their painful pasts, she explained.

“She’s not just a survivor. She’s an advocate and a role model,” noted Cohen.

Having committed to a future with a man she loves and trusts, Carmen now also wants a house and children. In a turnaround worthy of a Hollywood movie, it seems the men who sought to dash Carmen’s dreams have lost their own, while hers are not only being realized, but multiplying. What she and Luis love to do most, she said, “is talk about our future.” And what Carmen most wants all victims to take away from her experience, is that “We all have the same right to be happy. . . . It’s really possible to move ahead. Nothing is impossible. You can have a normal life. My past does not define my future.”