"I could hear the car approaching and suddenly I froze. I could not move," the eighteen-year-old Romanian said, nervously spinning her shoulder-length black hair in her fingers as she recounted the nightmare that became her life for the next four months.
"Two men with knives forced me into the car. I thought they would rape me and then kill me. I prayed that my life would be spared. Instead, I was driven to a river crossing where they sold me to a Serbian man. He took me across the Danube River in a small boat and then to an apartment in a town in the mountains. I don't know the name. But I soon learned I was in Serbia."
Sophia was horrified by what she witnessed during her brief imprisonment in the building. Her experiences continue to haunt her in her sleep, and are typical of what women encounter in the breaking grounds.
"There were so many young girls in there. They were from Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Bulgaria. Some were crying. Others looked terrified. We were told not to speak to each other. Not to tell each other our names or where we were from. All the time, very mean and ugly men came in and dragged girls into rooms. Sometimes they would rape girls in front of us. They yelled at them, ordering them to move certain ways... to pretend excitement ... to moan ... It was sickening."
Every single girl was physically and emotionally abused by the heartless goons who ran the center.
"Those who resisted were beaten. If they did not cooperate, they were locked in dark cellars with rats with no food or water for three days. One girl refused to submit to *****, and that night the owner brought in five men. They held her on the floor and every one of them had ***** on her in front of all of us. She screamed and screamed, and we all cried."
The next day, the girl tried to hang herself. "Many girls attempted suicide," Sophia said. "I was told a few were successful and their bodies were buried in the woods." Sophia's biggest fear was being broken in herself.
"I dreaded that moment. In the first day, I thought to myself, I will fight back. Then I saw what they did to one girl who refused. She was from Ukraine. Very beautiful, very strong- willed. Two of the owners tried to force her to do things and she refused. They beat her, burned her with cigarettes all over her arms. Still she refused. The owners kept forcing themselves on her and she kept fighting back. They hit her with their fists. They kicked her over and over. Then she went unconscious.
She just lay there, and they still attacked her *****. When they finished, she didn't move. She wasn't breathing. There was no worry on the faces of the owners. They simply carried her out."
A couple of days after the Ukrainian girl had been taken away, one of her compatriots dug deep for the courage to ask about her. The owner's reaction was sharp, swift and brutal.
"He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her outside. When she returned, she looked like she had stared death in the face. She told us the owner took her to a forest not far from the building, handed her a shovel and instructed her to dig. She believed she was digging her own grave. As she dug, she noticed a fresh mound of earth beside her. She was certain this was the grave of the Ukrainian girl."
After an hour, the man snatched the shovel from the girl's hands and ordered her out of the shallow pit. His message was clear: "Ask any more questions and you will end up in the grave."
On her third day of captivity, Sophia was "trained." She submitted without resistance. She moved as she was told. She feigned excitement at every thrust.
"I knew I did not have the strength to endure what would surely follow if I resisted. That night, I just wanted to die. I was so humiliated. To these men, I was just a piece of meat. From that moment on, I have felt like filth. I cannot wash that feeling from my body or my mind no matter how hard I try."
A week later, Sophia was sold to a pimp along with two other women. She was now his. She knew him only as Saba, a twenty-something Albanian. The three were taken by truck into Albania and then smuggled into Italy in the dead of night on a speedboat across the Adriatic. Saba was a particularly nasty sort, with a penchant for threatening his "property" with burning cigarettes. He put the women to work on Via Salaria, a busy roadway leading into the Eternal City. They were housed in a damp basement apartment where they slept on foam mattresses. The pimp kept all the earnings, except for a small stipend for basic necessities and food. "For certain, he made a thousand dollars a night from us," Sophia said. "We were not permitted to return to the apartment until he had that much money.”
Three months later, with the help of a sympathetic regular, Sophia ran away and was taken to a Catholic rescue mission in southern Italy."
- Victor Malarek, The Natashas, p32-35.