The House Became a Prison: Liana's Story

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Liana’s* mother left when she was too young to remember. Her father died in an accident when she was 8, so Liana was raised by her grandparents.

When Liana was still a child, her mother would visit her. “Everything went well for a time,” Liana remembers. “She treated us well, with lots of love.”

But her mother grew angry over time, drinking heavily and using drugs. “I didn’t want to talk to her anymore,” Liana says. Her grandfather tried to keep the woman away.

The summer of her 14th birthday, Liana traveled to her mother’s town to reconnect with her. They had fun, and she moved back in with her mother.

Almost overnight, the house became a prison. In one of the most disturbing cases of sex trafficking IJM has encountered in the Dominican Republic, Liana’s own mother enslaved her and began selling her to men for sex.

Almost overnight, the house became a prison.

Liana’s stepfather also helped run their lucrative sex business. A truck driver, he hauled Liana to men around the country. One of them was his boss, Tito.* After abusing Liana multiple nights, Tito smuggled Liana home as his child bride.

Trafficking is so common in the Dominican Republic that such behaviors often do not even raise eyebrows. IJM’s teams are training Dominican police to proactively investigate trafficking and teaching churches to spot and report suspicious activity.

Fortunately, Tito’s mother met Liana and began asking questions. When she learned what Liana had been through, the woman ordered him to return the girl to her grandparents.

Liana stepped back into her grandparents’ house after nearly five months of sexual and physical abuse. She told her grandparents everything.

Liana’s grandfather reported the crime to the authorities, even as her dangerous mother began threatening to kill him. Within weeks, officials arrested the woman and referred the case to IJM. IJM’s legal team worked with local prosecutors to put her captors on trial.

Liana stepped back into her grandparents’ house after nearly five months of sexual and physical abuse. She told her grandparents everything.

IJM’s investigators helped police search for the fugitive husband, who remained at large for more than a year before he was arrested in April.

Liana was brought to a safe house run by IJM partners. IJM’s aftercare team provided Liana with counseling and trauma-focused therapy, beginning a long journey of healing that will continue for years. And after the longest two years of her life, Liana is finally graduating from the seventh grade.

“With therapy, I’ve been able to overcome what happened to me,” Liana says confidently. “I think I have a big future ahead of me. Now, I can see myself caring for children, like a pediatrician.”

In August of 2016, Liana’s mother was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison for trafficking her daughter. And in November of 2016, Liana graduated from IJM’s aftercare program, deemed “restored.”

But the case is still in trial. Liana will not be truly safe until her stepfather is also convicted for the alleged crime. IJM is relentlessly working to overcome court delays and bring him to justice.

*A pseudonym was used to protect Liana's identity.