Harold and Dancy D’Souza arrived from India in 2003 excited about the future in America for them and their two boys.
But their dreams were soon dashed when they realized the family friend—a man they called “uncle” who promised a great life in America—had no interest in their well-being. To him, they were something else: slaves.
By 2007, out of work, homeless and destitute, the family was turning to charity to get by. Through a local church, they were introduced to Jessica Donohue-Dioh who knew right away what was going on. “They were victims of human trafficking,” she says.
While it’s somewhat hard to believe slavery still exists in the 21st century, human trafficking for sex or labor is the second fastest-growing criminal network in the world. The U.S. is a top destination for sex trafficking; the average age of forced prostitution in the U.S. is 13.
Donohue-Dioh, a 2004 social work graduate who now teaches at Xavier, has become a nationally recognized authority on trafficking and victimization and a sought-out speaker and educator on the subject. She’s also the founder with a local YMCA of End Slavery Cincinnati, a non-profit organization that provides education to the community and services to victims.
“I was blown away with the realization of what was going on in our community,” she says. “I realized a lot of people I’d known in Cincinnati were greatly at risk. The D’Souzas were our first case. The most important thing I did for them was to identify what had happened to them as human trafficking.”
That allowed the Department of Health and Human Services to label D’Souza as a certified victim of human trafficking. Their case was classic: working long hours for no pay; their savings and official papers taken; access only to food from the restaurant where they worked; the constant threat of deportation. When they finally went to the police, the uncle kicked them out.
As official victims, however, the family became eligible for services such as rent support, food stamps and Medicaid. During their ordeal, the D’Souzas never gave up hope, and Harold eventually got permission to work and is now celebrating more than five years at Children’s Hospital. This spring, the whole family received permanent residency status.
Most important, though, they are now free.