LAS VEGAS, NV, November 13, 2014 – Meet Marcela Loaiza: wife, mother, author, and international advocate against human trafficking. Marcela’s story began on February 20th, 1978, the day she was born in Armenia, Colombia, an area in South America known for coffee growth and production. She says she remembers her father as a simple, hardworking man who was dedicated to his family; however, financial struggles led her father and mother to face a painful divorce. Marcela’s mother moved Marcela and her two younger brothers to the foothills of the Andes Mountains, to the city of Pereira, to be nearer to Marcela’s grandparents. Marcela says some of her favorite childhood memories included times spent with her grandparents.
At the age of 17, Marcela became a young single mother. Despite the hardship, Marcela says the birth of her daughter was one of the happiest moments of her life. Marcela completed high school and then took extra courses in English, Information Systems, and Marketing. However, due to economic difficulties in her country, Marcela says employment opportunities were lacking. She worked several jobs to make ends meet. Eventually, Marcela began working two jobs: one as a cashier in a supermarket and another as a professional dancer on the weekends. In a recent interview with Salon.com (Moloney, 2014), Marcela says, “I remember a Colombian man coming up to me in [the] nightclub…He introduced himself to me as a talent scout looking to hire dancers to work abroad. I didn’t accept his offer, but I took his card and kept it.”
A few weeks later, Marcela’s 3-year-old daughter had an asthma attack. “I stayed with her in [the] hospital night and day…as she recovered,” Marcela stated in the interview. “As a result, I lost my two jobs, and I didn’t have the money to pay for the hospital bill.” Marcela says she was desperate and called the man she’d met at the nightclub. The man loaned her money to pay the hospital bill and then offered her a job as a professional dancer in Japan.
“It seemed the best way to earn money to look after my daughter and buy a house I had always wanted for my mother,” Marcela stated. “I left my daughter with my mother, [and within] a week, I was in Tokyo. At the airport, I was met by three Japanese men and a Colombian woman. I later [learned this woman] was a recruiter for the traffickers and had been a victim of trafficking herself. My passport was taken away and [these pimps, who were] working for the Yakuza mafia, told me I had to pay them a $50,000 bond before I could be released. I still had no idea I had been sex trafficked [because] I didn’t know what human trafficking was.”
For 18 months, Marcela was forced to work as a prostitute in Japan. To read more about Marcela’s story, please see her full interview with Salon.com.
With help from the Colombian Embassy in Japan, Marcela finally escaped the clutches of the Yakuza mafia and returned to her native country. However, without any support or opportunities in Colombia, Marcela resorted to prostitution. She struggled mentally, emotionally, and physically. It was a Colombian community of Sister Adorers who took Marcela in and supported her through the process of inner and outer healing. Marcela then made it her mission to raise awareness about human trafficking within her country and to demand greater resources and opportunities for her people, but especially for victims of sex trafficking.
Marcela wrote and published two books: Atrapada por la Mafia Yakuz (Trapped by the Yakuza Mafia) and Lo que fui y lo que soy (What I was and what I am). Marcela also formed an alliance with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in order to raise awareness about human trafficking in Colombia, and she created a foundation with her namesake that serves survivors of human trafficking. Marcela has since moved from Colombia to the United States and continues, on a global level, to spread awareness about human trafficking, to advocate for greater services for victims, and to encourage partnerships between governments, organizations, and survivors.
Recently, Marcela brought together international advocates and survivors of human trafficking to an event in Cali, Colombia for World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, and she has been chosen to speak at the 2014 Trust Women conference happening this month in London, England. The movement to combat human trafficking and to protect victims is stronger because of the commitments and contributions from Marcela. Please join the fight and support Marcela’s mission. To learn more about Marcela and to donate to her foundation, please visit www.MarcelaLoaizaFoundation.com. You can become part of Marcela’s story and her continued journey.
Written by @Holly_A_Smith
Holly Austin Smith is a Survivor of Child Sex Trafficking in the United States and the Author of Walking Prey: How America’s Children are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery.