I’m Virginia Isaias, and I want you to use my name. I had twenty-three brothers and sisters. No, not from the same mother. My dad said he’d lived with eight women before my mom. They had six children together, but he wasn’t home much. He’d go away for three or four months, supposedly to work. Sometimes he really was working. He sold fruit and clothes and also opened a restaurant and hotel. He made some money but didn’t bring much home because he loved to gamble – poker, dice, horses, cockfighting. He’d bet on anything.
When my dad came home, there was a lot of violence. He hit my mom all the time, and both of them beat the children. They were trying to educate us, like animals. They hit us all over our bodies, using cables, sticks, and wires. Sometimes they’d force us to get on our knees, extend our arms, and hold something heavy in each hand. When I was six-years old he tore off my clothes and abused me. One of my uncles later molested my younger sister, and my dad almost beat him to death.
Sometimes he threatened to kill my mother. Once, when I was about eight, she went away for three days, and I told my dad I’d seen her kissing another man. I wasn’t sure I had, and wish I hadn’t said anything. He started screaming and hit her in the face so many times you wouldn’t have recognized her. After that she took her six kids and one from another family and we moved to Guadalajara. I’d rather not say exactly where we’d lived. All this could still affect many people. I’ll just say we’d moved around Mexico’s Costa Alegre between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo.
In Guadalajara my mom put my two sisters and me in a convent and told the nuns I should be spanked a lot because I was a naughty girl. My first day there a nun whipped me with a belt and I got spanked just about every day from age eight to eleven. I wet the bed most nights and got more spankings for that. A lot of girls there had the same problem. Sometimes we had to do extra cleaning and sweeping and washing blankets. During naptime I often couldn’t sleep, and the nuns sent me to the priest. He sexually molested me on two occasions. He did the same to some of the other girls.
The soap we used to wash blankets was very strong. I was allergic to it and lost most of the skin from my thighs to my feet and developed gangrene. The doctor was going to cut off my legs but Mom came and took me away from the convent and my skin grew back in about a month. I didn’t want to return but she made me. I felt helpless. At home she had a new man who also molested me.
When I was eleven my dad took one sister and me to live with him. I was already afraid of men but he gave me presents and taught me how to drive and by the time I was thirteen I thought he loved me when we began sleeping together. He touched me but there was no penetration. I was confused and didn’t know what was normal but knew I wasn’t happy. Pretty soon my dad, who was fifty-nine, brought his girlfriend to live with us. She was sixteen, a couple years older than I.
At age fifteen I started school and completed fifth and sixth grades in one year. My mom and dad put all their property in my name so someday I could make sure all my brothers and sisters got their share. The law said you either needed to be eighteen or married so Dad forced me to marry a boy of sixteen who smoked and drank and violated me like most men I’d known. I still tried to make it work after we moved to the United States in 1982. I was seventeen. My husband worked for a company that made parachutes in Santa Ana. We had a son but his violence continued so we tried going to churches and marriage counselors. The priests said if we wanted spiritual help and other services we had to get married in the church, which didn’t recognize our civil service in Mexico. We had an official ceremony, and two more boys, but my husband continued to be dangerous.
By 1993 I was so desperate I contacted my dad and he said to come live with him. My mother had gone off to live with another man, and one after that, and had five more children. I took my three sons and returned to Mexico. Dad asked for my forgiveness. I agreed and began a new life. I became a businesswoman and sold American clothes on streets and in stores. Fifteen times a year I’d return to the United States to buy clothes to take back to Mexico and sell.
A couple of years later my dad died. I don’t have any hate, rancor, or bitterness. He left me in control of his property to share with our family. But he had many debts I worked hard to pay and gave his property to his brothers. I could afford it. In addition to selling clothes I owned a restaurant and invested in a furniture factory. Every week I made several thousand dollars. But Mexico was changing in the mid-nineties as narcotics trafficking and other crimes increased. I drove a big truck like those UPS has and called it my mobile boutique. Criminals robbed me many times. In 1997 three men also assaulted me and I got pregnant. I explained the situation to my three boys, who were between nine and fifteen, and they supported the very difficult decision I made. I wanted the child. She was born in San Jose, California, and unlike my sons this child was mine alone, a gift. It was as if I was born again.
We returned to Mexico but I couldn’t bring any clothes or other things to sell. The peso was weaker and the cost of American products kept going up. I needed money, so that December twenty-second I went to Guadalajara to buy clothes. I took my daughter, who was only six-months old. And we were kidnapped. I can’t give you all the details now, though. I’m saving a lot for the book I’ve been writing. The men threw us in the trunk of a waiting car and drove us somewhere outside the city. When they pulled us out, they began hitting me and I don’t remember anything until waking up on the floor of an old house. They had several hidden huts and every day made me sit on men’s laps so they could fondle me. They did the same to other women and young girls and even killed some who wouldn’t submit. I had to let them sell my body. I’d felt pure, but now I was a slave and a prostitute. These brutal men also smuggled drugs and weapons and even harvested organs.
I was terrified they’d kill my daughter and me. I knew they would. I decided to escape. They caught us and beat and raped me and sent me back to work while I was still healing. When I got a little better, we tried to escape again but they captured us, and this time the beatings were even worse. Still, I waited for another chance to get away. I felt it was either escape or suffer until they decided to kill us. I’d been there three months when I tried again. I didn’t have sandals so I wrapped my feet in cardboard, twigs, and leaves, and ran as far as I could, carrying my baby, then nine-months old, and when I couldn’t run I walked harder, longer, faster than I ever had, knowing what they’d do if they caught us, pushing myself, so exhausted and hungry I couldn’t continue but forced myself. I had to get to the nearest town. I thought I saw a house. There it was. Then there was another house and another. We’d made it.
A lot’s happened since then. The suffering endured but I began to talk to people about my experiences and established the Human Trafficking Survivors Foundation. We’re based in Southern California. I travel to give speeches and attend conferences, trying to help women continue to recover. I want all women and children to avoid enslavement and live free and happy lives.