A former victim of sex trafficking has shared how she was locked in a cage and raped for more than a decade eventually escaped after repeatedly praying for freedom.
Rosa Castillo, now 34, was abducted by sex traffickers at just 12 years old and was for decades smuggled back and forth between Mexico and the United States. She told the Palm Beach Post that her captor was a man whom Castillo hoped would reunite her in the U.S. with her family, which had fled Nicaragua during its civil war.
"I was basically kept by the smuggler for 14 years," said Castillo, who moved to South Florida after escaping captivity a decade ago. "I was always locked in a cage. They only fed us twice a week. I was kept with other women and children."
The abuse worsened after she attempted to escape: Castillo shared how she was sexually assaulted and even used as a "personal ashtray".
"I know what it is to be punished. For several years, I didn't speak. I prayed to die. I prayed to God to please take me. I couldn't take it (any) more," she shared.
Eventually, the young woman became pregnant by her captor. However, what man meant for evil God used for good, and having her daughter strengthened her resolve to find freedom.
"I decided I'm no longer praying for dying," she said. "I'm praying for freedom."
Castillo spent years planning her escape, and one night, while her captors attended a party just outside of Corpus Christi, Texas, she hid her daughter inside a suitcase and pushed it through a fence.
As Castillo fled, she was shot at, a bullet grazing her forehead. She passed out near a highway but was rescued by a passerby who took her to a hospital.
"I run. I'm screaming," she recalled. "I fainted. When I wake up, I'm in this place with doctors, police, and I'm telling them what happened. They told me they were looking for me."
After the rescue, social-services agencies moved Castillo and her daughter to West Palm Beach in 2008, where she received counseling from the Center for Family Services. Today, she shares his story in hopes of raising awareness about human trafficking.
"When I was in captivity, they only had girls from foreign countries," Castillo said. "Now the traffickers, they prey upon our local kids. It's domestic now. That's what really touched me. Because I have a daughter myself. She's now 13. I never want to be in that position with my child. I want to always be able to protect her and if this is one way to protect her and every child in America, I will speak."
The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally; 68% of them are trapped in forced labor, 26% of them are children, and 55% are women and girls. The UN estimated that traffickers made $150 billion annually through different forms of human trafficking.
Linda Geller-Schwartz, the Advocacy Chair for the Human Trafficking Coalition of the Palm Beaches, said that age 12 is the average one for children being targeted by traffickers.
"There are number things that make kids vulnerable," Geller-Schwartz said. "From being in foster care, group homes. Inadvertently they go on the Internet and they've made a new friend. That friend works for a trafficking organization."
In January, a total of 55 human trafficking victims, including 28 children, were rescued in a series of raids led by the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force across California.
As reported, 474 people were arrested; 142 men were charged with solicitation, while 36 men were held on suspicion of pimping. The children were turned over to the care of various agencies and were being helped by two organizations, Saving Innocence and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.