MEXICO CITY – Not to be afraid of anything, not even the constant beatings she suffered, was what enabled a 22-year-old woman to survive 18 months working as a virtual slave at a Mexico City dry cleaner’s.
“I was afraid of nothing despite the hard blows she gave me. That’s why I am still alive,” she told Efe in an interview just a few days after her April 25 escape.
Unwilling to disclose her real name, she has chosen to call herself “Zunduri,” which is Japanese for “beautiful girl.”
Since regaining her freedom, Zunduri has given numerous interviews, hoping to prevent other people from falling into the same predicament.
Zunduri’s ordeal, the first known case of its kind in the Mexican capital, has shocked society because of the severity of the abuse and the physical and emotional toll it took on her.
Watchdog organizations say that human trafficking is a growing phenomenon in Mexico.
According to the National Human Rights Commission, the number of people exploited increases year after year, with 396 investigations opened in 2012, 660 in 2013, and 413 in just the first half of 2014.
“I had a rather difficult childhood,” Zunduri said. “I decided to leave home to go with a boy. After the relationship with him I went to Leticia (her captor) seeking a place to stay but, above all, a job.”
Leticia, who was detained along with her sister, two daughters and an unrelated man on human trafficking charges, was the owner of a dry-cleaning shop in the Lomas de Padierna neighborhood.
What Zunduri was asked to do initially was simple: iron clothes and wait for her wages. But as time went on “the workload increased, and also the exhaustion.”
“That’s when the trouble began,” she said. “I could not keep up, I burnt some clothes, or they were lost and she started harassing me, then she hit me and assaulted me,” she said, adding she was chained to one of the industrial ironing machines.
The Mexico City prosecutor’s office says Zunduri was fed only once a day, which led her to chew on the plastic wraps for the clothes to mitigate her hunger.
Medical exams show that while she has the appearance of a 14-year-old girl, her internal organs and functions are those of an octogenarian as a consequence of the harm suffered in captivity.
Zunduri shared with Efe the story of her escape.
“Three days before I escaped, I asked to go to the toilet. They released me but when I returned to my work station I notice that the chain was not fully locked. I had to feign that I hadn’t noticed it,” she said.
“That night (of the escape), I checked that everyone was sleeping,” Zunduri said. “In the bathroom there was a window open to the patio. I jumped out and ran to a friend’s house.”
At first, she said, she was reluctant to report the case because she was “terrified.”
Now, Zunduri feels anger and “an emptiness” as she talks about her experience, but she is also proud of having regained her freedom.
Zunduri, who is under the protection of a foundation that aids victims of human trafficking, says she is full of expectations and expresses surprise about all the support she is receiving.
In the coming days, Zunduri will travel to Argentina to take part in a forum on human trafficking.