x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A woman coerced into the horror of prostitution

The 25-year-old Moroccan was told she would work in a hotel but was beaten and forced to entertain clients for Dh1,500 each.

When NK landed at Abu Dhabi International Airport on the night of September 14, 2009, she expected to find a person holding a sign with her name on it. Instead, she was met by a Syrian man who knew exactly what she looked like. Unbeknown to her, he had a photocopy of her passport and her picture in a beige folder. He picked her out of the crowd and greeted her. He was, he said, the person who would take her to her new workplace.

The man told her he was the person who had arranged a job for her as a hotel receptionist and had paid more than Dh15,000 (US$4,000) to bring her to the country. He said he needed her passport and identity documents to make copies. She handed them over. Not until the 25-year-old Moroccan arrived at her new home in the Tourist Club area did she realise that something was very wrong. In her room, NK encountered several frightened Moroccan women. Then a second man, identified in court documents as a kingpin of the operation, took her to another room and told her the awful truth: she had been purchased from a Moroccan woman named Fatima; she owed the Dh15,000 spent on her; and she would be forced to work as a prostitute until it was paid off.

According to nearly 400 pages of court documents seen by The National, NK is one of 14 women, mostly from Morocco, who were lured by promises of jobs but instead ended up in brothels. Fatima, as she is identified in court papers, worked as the recruiter in Morocco. According to testimony by the women, she enticed them by promising large salaries for nonexistent jobs. Most of the women involved in the case are aged 19 to 33. Most came from villages.

Fatima forwarded the necessary travel and immigration documents to one of the three kingpins in the UAE, according to court records. The kingpins processed travel documents using shell companies, registered in Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi, to provide the women with visas and entry permits. NK said she tried to resist when she was informed of her real fate in Abu Dhabi. She was beaten. She screamed. She cried. But she saw no way out.

The beatings continued for 10 days, she said, followed with threats of imprisonment or death if she contacted the police or tried to escape. When she tried anyway, the beatings worsened, according to court documents. An examination later confirmed she had bruises on her thighs and back "the size of a fist". Another Syrian man watched over the flat around the clock, and when he was not there he locked the door from the outside, according to court testimony.

A date was set for NK's first visit to a client. She was given a fake name and assigned a handler, also a Syrian man. The handlers were responsible for everything, from ensuring the women did not escape to providing them with birth control pills so they did not become pregnant. One of several drivers would drop her off at a client's doorstep along with her handler. The client inspected her. "If he didn't like me, he would ask for something else," she told investigators.

During her first visit, she entered the home of a client and cried as he began to undress her. Apparently feeling pity for her, he stopped. "I told him what I went through, and he offered for me to escape. I was too afraid. I had nowhere to go. He promised he would try to help me," she told investigators. In the end, the client slept with her and returned her to the handler, who was waiting outside the home to ensure she did not escape.

The visits continued. She eventually was given a mobile phone, as were all the women. They told investigators they did not know the numbers to call the police and feared that their handlers had connections with the department, as they were repeatedly told statements the police said were meant to intimidate the women. All of the women told investigators similar stories of visits to clients. When the women worked in clubs, clients made contact via mobile phones.

The client would ask for a price. Dh1,500 cash was the rate all the women recounted. They told investigators that they would not be paid any of the money, which supposedly went towards their debt. For the traffickers, according to documents, the scheme was remarkably lucrative. One of the kingpins forced his own wife, whom he married five months earlier, to sleep with his clients for money, according to testimony.

"After five months of our marriage, he changed completely. He would beat me and forced me to do the same as the other girls for money," the wife, also a Moroccan, told investigators. She was locked in a villa in Al Bateen along with others. But a mistake by the trafficking ring gave the women a chance at freedom, according to documents. On 9.30pm on October 28, the keepers of one of the flats in the Tourist Club area had been drinking alcohol and left the key in the door. A Moroccan woman, who arrived in the UAE about the same time as NK, saw an opportunity and fled.

She ran outside and found a Moroccan woman in a a hair salon. "When I told her my story she put me in a taxi and sent me to one of her friends in RAK, who took me in," the woman who escaped told investigators. That night, she called NK and, with the assistance of the Moroccan hairdresser, helped her and another woman escape the flat. For the next few days, the three women recounted to police in Ras al Khaimah every detail of their ordeal, including the telephone numbers of their handlers. Their files were submitted to Abu Dhabi police.

At 5.30pm on November 4, officers from the Criminal Investigation Department arrested four men outside the Al Bateen villa. They asked to search the villa and found five women inside. One woman told police about an adjacent flat. The police knocked but heard no answer. They broke down the door and found three more women, "scared, crying and stressed", the police report read. After obtaining a search warrant, the police gathered evidence that led them to several flats in the Tourist Club area. In total, 14 women were rescued and sent to the Ewaa Shelter for Women and Children after the Abu Dhabi Public Prosecution found evidence of human trafficking.

Prosecutors charged 14 men and one of the Moroccan women, who is accused of facilitating the prostitution of the others. She is the wife of one of the defendants and the link, prosecutors say, between the prostitution ring and Fatima, the recruiter in Morocco. The kingpin who forced his own wife into prostitution fled to Syria when he learned of the arrests. He is being tried in his absence. myoussef@thenational.ae

- The recruiter from Morocco hires women who are young or divorced - Lures them with promise of high salary - Pays for airfare and accommodations - Puts together documents for women and sends their details to Abu Dhabi

- In Abu Dhabi, the "kingpin" sets up fake companies to issue work visas - Picks up women at Abu Dhabi International Airport - Takes women to villas in Al Bateen or flats in Tourist Club - Tells them they will have legitimate jobs - Confiscates passports - Threatens and beats women, withholds food - Forces them into sex to pay back fees

- The drivers take women and handlers to hotels or homes - Stand watch, look for police

- The handlers ensure women do not escape - Provide birth control pills - Deal directly with clients

- The clients receive referrals to the "kingpin" - Call kingpin for service - Specify location for meeting - Agree on a price
Source: court documents