In a smoke-filled café in Istanbul, my friend took a long drag on his cigarette and began to exhale regret and sorrow. He confessed to those of us around the table about a decision that would eventually kill his marriage and estrange him from his children.
He left Iran by himself, agreeing that his wife, Bahar* and their young sons would later join him. The veiled promise of a better life was quickly tattered with the harsh realities of the life of a refugee. He found himself living in a seedy hotel which doubled as a brothel for the many prostitutes who themselves had been lured away from their homes by the lies of human traffickers.
Ali* struck up a friendship with the hotel manager and one night after drinking with him, went up to his room. A short time later, the manager sent a prostitute to Ali’s room. Lonely and drunk, Ali had sex with the prostitute. Filled with guilt and remorse Ali found himself in a place that wasn’t on his itinerary. He turned to his only friend, the hotel manager, who used Ali’s shame to extort menial labor from him.
When Ali’s family joined him, they crammed into his dingy room. Ali lied to his wife and told her that he was working at the hotel. After a few weeks, his wife asked Ali when he would get paid. When it became apparent that Ali wasn’t getting paid for his work, Bahar, marched downstairs with Ali in tow and demanded that the manager pay her husband. The confrontation escalated and Bahar began yelling at the manager. The manager reached out and slapped Bahar hard across the face. Shocked, Bahar looked at Ali for support—he stood by in silence, anchored in place by the weight of his shame.
Bahar turned her wrath on Ali as she screamed, “What kind of a man allows this to happen to his wife!”
As he recalled the incident, Ali turned to me with tears running down his face and said in a whisper, “I am not a man anymore.”
Our ministry partner, CommissionStories.com, has launched a major emphasis on the problem of human exploitation — forced labor, children at risk, and sex trafficking — that includes a series of stories, videos, photo galleries, and other resources. You can follow the series over the next several months at www.commissionstories.com.