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"eva"

photo of eva
I do not tolerate what these guys were doing to me or other girls.  [The girls] did want to dance, come to Canada, but not be  raped and have their money taken...

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"Eva" revisits the motel room where she was held captive and talks about what happened to her there. Note: Some graphic images.

She came to Canada from Hungary, thinking she was going to be a housekeeper, but the contract she signed was in English, a language she didn't understand at that time. Eva's traffickers brought her into the country under Canada's "stripper" visa program. She says she was kept in a locked motel room, raped and forced to work at a strip club, turning her money over to her captors. Eventually, with the help of a club manager, she escaped and went to the Canadian police. She later applied to the Canadian government to be allowed to stay, and in late 2005 her request was approved. Canada has since discontinued the "stripper" visa program. This interview was conducted in January 2005.

Tell me a bit about the story about how you ended up in Canada.

I was working in the film industry in Hungary, making music videos. I was living with my brother in a big apartment, and one day I came to realize that we were very behind in rent and that we had very short notice to pay back all the money. So my brother and I were going through a Hungarian newspaper which had a lot of ads, and there is a section where you can find work outside of the country, and usually that's the best way to make the quickest money.

So him and I both find different job ads, and the one I find … said "Young ladies, work abroad in Canada, United States, and England, babysitting, housekeeping. We pay the ticket, just call the number." When I phone up, a young lady and I set up an appointment. … She told me [the job is in] Canada, Toronto, and I'm going to be working with Hungarian families. All I have to do is quickly give her all my information, my personal information, and my passport number so that she can get my plane ticket right away and I could be on a plane in two weeks. The job was babysitting or housekeeping, and they were promising to pay the tickets. They [said when I came to enter Canada], I just have to give some papers to the Canadian immigration -- I didn't really know what it was about back then -- and they would give me another piece of paper and I'm just going to work, and three months later I'm going to go home. That was the conversation and that's what I thought was going to happen.

Why didn't you look for work in Hungary?

There is no way that in Hungary in three months you can make that amount of money. They promised you $1500 a month babysitting, but you have to pay for your room and your food so they were supposed to take off $500. So you were supposed to make $1000 a month, and I was supposed to come here for three months, so that was $3000 and that was [exactly] enough for what we were owing on rent.

This woman that you met, what did you think of her? Can you describe her a bit to me?

She was well-dressed, well-spoken. She seemed very intelligent. She told me she had a kid, and she said that she was in Canada herself too last year and that's how she's making her extra money for her house payments. Everything sounds really reasonable. I had no second thoughts about it. Especially because I was really desperate to get the money for our house so even if I had any bad thoughts about it, I would have brushed it off, because all I see is the dollar signs, basically.

How did they get you a visa to Canada?

She told me that they're going to give me a contract before I enter Canada, basically before I get on the plane in Hungary, and the contract was in English. I signed it, but back then I did not read or speak any English. When we land in the Canadian airport, we were supposed to go into the immigration, and I was told in Hungary by this woman, that all I have to do is give this contract and other papers to the immigration lady and $150, and they [were] going to give me a work permit. I landed at Terminal 3, and I did exactly what they told me to do. Go to the immigration office, give $150 and the English contact and from then, the hell just started. The immigration officer read the papers, she looked at me, she asked me questions.

I didn't understand what she was saying. They put me in a room and keep me waiting for two and a half hours. Finally they get a Hungarian translator and the translator actually translated the contract for me and that's when they informed me what the contract is really about, which wasn't the babysitting or housekeeping. It was an exotic dancer contract … between me and a Canadian agency, which I never heard of before. So basically they told me what I'm here for and what I'm saying I'm here for is a lie. So they're going to send me back to Hungary with the next flight but the next flight didn't leave till the next afternoon so they actually released me from immigration to these people who were in the contract, the Canadian agency, who I never even knew.

There was four guys, two Canadian and two Hungarian. … The immigration officers give all of my papers to these guys. Passport, contract, everything and the immigration officer told them that they have to bring me back next day at 3 p.m. to the airport because they going to send me back to Hungary. So, I was just standing there, I didn't understand, first of all. I had no idea who these people are, I [had] been just sitting in some room for two half hours being questioned and called a liar. Because I was supposed to know that I was coming to dance, and I kept telling them that I didn't. So I was really confused. … I think I started to get into shock. …

They took me to a motel not too far from the airport. I don't know how to describe it to you, but for me who is coming from a small country, I'd never seen highways like that before. I'd never seen so many cars. The whole country is a totally different scene than my country. Never mind that you are with strangers and you just don't have a clue what's going on around you. They take you to this motel; you've never seen a motel in your life, you don't even know how to open the doors. Everything is just totally different. And nobody is explaining anything to you, it's basically like you don't exist anymore, you're just like a piece of meat. So they take me to the motel, and we go in the room and we sit down, and [they said], "You screwed up in the airport, first of all, because you were supposed to say that you were a dancer." I said, "I've never been told I was going to be a dancer. I never knew! I don't understand what's going on, so why doesn't somebody just explain this to me?" So the Hungarians said, "You know we told you in Hungary, you could be a babysitter or you could do housekeeping, but really the money is in stripping and this guy is here to help you. He's helped you out so much already. He got you out of the immigration." Back then I didn't know the real story; everything they told me was all I knew. So this big guy is helping you out, and we paid for your ticket and you just so screwed up and just remember your mother, we have all of your information. You can make this up to us, and this is how you're going to do it.

They took me to the strip joint. That was the very first strip joint I have ever seen in my life. They introduced me to my Canadian agent and some of the girls. I was wearing the same clothes as I was in the airport, and it was too much clothes for a strip scene so one of the girls actually brought me a dress. Another girl brought me shoes and pretty much in half an hour I was on a stage, first time ever. It was pretty shocking.

Do you remember what was going through your head at the time?

I remember the smell and the lights and -- I can't describe it, it's really hard to explain because it's just a totally different thing than anything you've ever seen before in your life. I was brought up in a very good family. My Mom was very strict. I hadn't seen a prostitute in my life until I was 13. I never even knew that strip joints existed. I think when I entered the strip joint I thought it was just a nightmare and I'm going to wake up really soon. But eventually I realized, it's not a nightmare, it's a reality. It was really shocking, really shocking. …

As I walked into the motel I see girls walking in and out of rooms, back and forth. There was at least 35 girls were staying at the same motel. So I thought that maybe they are in the same situation as I am, but on your first day you don't ask questions. So I was taken into a room with the Hungarian boys, and I was introduced to another four Hungarian girls and they were the ones who actually trained me, or explain[ed] things to me. [They explained that] every morning we wake up at 11 a.m., and the boys come to get us and take us to the clubs … and then we worked until about six or seven at night. We had a half hour break maybe, but we were not allowed to leave the motel on our own, we're not allowed to leave the clubs. We were not allowed to go anywhere without them.

There was a lot of brainwashing involved, now that I look back. They told you seven billion different stories why you shouldn't leave the club, such as if you step out of the club the Indian cab drivers [will] take you and rape you and kill you. When you're in a new country and you have no idea what's going on, even though these people are your enemy, they speak your language and that's all you hear so you kind of believe them in a way. So you get a little break and then you go back and you work again. They were sitting in the club, the Hungarian guys, and they were counting how many dances you were doing so that they know exactly how much money you were making. Daily, you were supposed to give them $150 to $200, and weekly you have to give $140 to the Canadian agent. Plus you have to pay for food and room. Because you can't go anywhere to buy any food, you have to eat the food in the strip joint, but because you're spending basically their money, whatever you spend on food, you have to make double back. So basically we were working from 12 noon to six in the morning, and if we were really, really hungry and we were good, we were allowed to get some food sometime, usually it was a fast food place, the same one always.

The first night they put you on stage, did they tell you how to dance? You must have been freaking out.

I was freaked out. The first time I was supposed to be on stage, I wasn't dancing I was just standing there so the DJ pretty much pulled me off stage. I was a big headache for the Hungarians because for the first week or two, I can't remember exactly how long, I didn't work. I didn't do anything, I was just sitting there. So they were really mad at me. They took me to the club back and forth but I didn't make any money. I already owed them for the plane ticket, I owed them for everything, plus I wasn't working so I owed them double. So they made up this ridiculous amount of money that I owed them.

At that point it was already $1,500, and one night I was in the hotel room. I was pretty sick. I said, "I can't go anywhere, I can't do it." One of the Hungarian guys came into my room and said that I am no longer a princess and I better start to believe that this is the reality, and I got myself into this so I better start to make myself work. They said that they knew I'd never done anything like this before so they thought they might just help me by teaching me how to get comfortable with strangers. So the next thing was that someone else walked into my room and "got comfortable" with me, if you know what I mean, and then someone else walked in, and then it was kind of like a habit for while. And then I started to work, obviously, because you start to think, "OK, I can do this all night long or I can just go and dance and make money and everybody is going to be happy."

Basically they forced you to have sex. They raped you.

Basically, yeah.

Tell me about what was required of you at the strip club.

What you needed to do in the club is, go on the stage for three songs, dance, and come down from the stage and walk around in a bikini or whatever, and ask guys if they want you to dance for them. Go into the VIP room and give them a personal dance. Twenty dollars was the fee for one song, and that's how you made your money, basically. …

After you're done in the club they collect you and drive you back to the motel with them. They come into your room and they [collect] the cash, and everybody is like "How much money did you make? What do you mean you didn't have that money?" Every single night someone was crying or got yelled at or pushed around. It was just horrible.

What kind of control did the agents have over you?

The Hungarian agent was the agent who was constantly in touch with us. They were in our face all the time. It's basically 24-hour control. They told you when to eat, what to eat, when to go to the bathroom, do not leave the room without authorization, forget calling anyone in Hungary even if you did know how to use the phone, or even if you do have to make a phone call they are standing next to you so you don't say anything that you're not supposed to say. … We were never alone, ever. They had their own room two rooms away from us so you can't really trick anyone and go anywhere, because they can see where you're going and what you're doing.

…[They told us] the reason why you can be here and thankful to God for being here and making so much money is because of them, because they help you to get here and they provide you a motel, which you pay for by the way. And they drive you there, which you pay for by the way. So everything you have, basically, you owe to them, everything you make you pay for them. If you're sick for two days then you already owe them $400 so the next two days you have to make up that $400 plus the other $400. … The other rule, if you happen to escape, if you would be so silly to escape and not to be afraid of the consequences, then every single day you escape, you owe them. So I was supposed to owe them for like the past six years; they actually said afterwards, later on, that I owed them $3,000. It was really ridiculous. But, [they think] I owe them because they own me, I'm theirs, you know? You just don't exist. "You don't think," they told us, so many times. "Just don't think. Put on your little pretty makeup and your pretty dress and go up and get your money. And then we'll take care of the rest. You just don't think." That was their attitude.

What was the best way to make serious money? Can you make that kind of money at a strip club?

Well, you can if you're lucky, but also, if you do exactly what you're supposed to do in the VIP room by law -- dance right in front of the customer, a foot away from the customer -- possibly but not really. If you provide different services, which involves touching or other services, then chances are you can make the money. So it's either you be a good girl and work your ass off to make that money or provide something you don't feel really comfortable [with], but then you can make the money for sure. But don't get me wrong, let me clarify one thing. You can make more than $200 even if you don't do the "dirty dance."

They tell you that whatever you make on the side it's yours, you just have to pay $200 but the rest is all yours. But at the same time, [you pay] $15 for the driver, you pay double for your food. You have to buy clothes because you can't dress in the same clothes, and you pay for your motel room, which is $75 a day. So if you put it together you really have to make $300 daily, $200 for them and $100 for driving, food, clothes, whatever, room. It's impossible to make five, six, seven, eight hundred a day so you can actually put something on the side. Never mind that weekly you have to pay to the Canadian agent another $140. So eventually you just realize on your own that it's just impossible to make any money for you, which is really good for them because you're depending on them all the time. I guess that was the whole purpose.

What was the relationship between the Hungarian agents and the Canadian agents? Did the Canadian agent know what was going on?

No, he didn't. The Canadian agent actually had no clue how the Hungarians were treating us. As far as he was concerned, he just thought, "I don't care what goes on, just bring the girls because I need pretty girls in my club." Which is fine. The problems started when these Hungarian agents decide to become tough and say, "OK, we own you, we have all the control over you guys." I know for sure that the Canadian agent had no idea how the Hungarian agent treated us, because we did not speak the language. We couldn't say anything.

Why didn't you just run away?

I thought about escaping or taking off, but, for example, for the first two weeks I was put in a room with … this other girl. I asked her if she used to be a dancer or if she were involved with this kind of work, and she said yes, she knew exactly what she came here for, she just didn't know the rules. She thought it was going to be a whole independent story and no one's going to bother her, no one's going to watch over her shoulder or tell her what to do. After two weeks, she just disappeared from the club. One night when they came to collect us from the clubs she was nowhere to be found. … The guys started to [tell] everybody that she doesn't breathe anymore. They said that she disappeared and just believe that it's going to happen to you, too, because she was asking too many questions and she wanted to be too independent. And this could happen to you, too. Her clothes and everything were still in her room. I still don't know what happened to her to this day and it's been six years. And all I heard was, "She doesn't breath any more. Believe it."

The Hungarian guys were talking a lot about having a Russian and Ukrainian connection. They were talking a lot about these big friends they have and how they can find us and our family in case we escape. Every single day after she disappeared, every single day they came to us to preach about what's going to happen to us if we escape. So at first I thought about just walking away, but again, where am I walking to? Who am I going to go to? I don't even have my passport. I don't even speak the language. I don't even know what to use for the phone. Now, I know it's a quarter, but if I would send you to Hungary and put three coins in front of you how would you know which one to put in the phone, you know what I mean? So, yeah, I thought about escaping, but in the end when you just keep hearing that you and your family are going to get beaten up all the time, you just start to think about other options quickly.

… And by then -- I don't know how to explain it to you, but I was in shock and trauma. I had no idea who I was anymore. I lost about 15 pounds in about two weeks. I was bone and skin. I really didn't get food. We would hardly eat anything or sleep. I had no idea what's going on around me for the first month. It's just a nightmare; honestly, you just don't think straight, you just don't.

When you were in the club, do you think any of the guys who came into the club had any idea that there was a bunch of women who were forced to be here?

No, I don't. When I was in the clubs I was actually thinking about if I was able to speak English and talk to any of the customers would they have any idea what's going on with the girls in clubs. Obviously, I never asked the questions but I do not think that they would have any idea that these girls who they're asking for a dance are actually being forced to being here.

[In fact], a lot of the girls weren't forced to be in the clubs, they were forced to live the way they lived. Now that I see the whole thing six years later, I have no problem with girls coming to Canada or the States to dance if they want to dance. It's fine, there's nothing wrong with dancing, it's legal, there are ways to do it. I do have problem with people who want to make money on them and put them in cages, and force them to do things they don't want to do. That's what I have problems with. I do not tolerate what these guys were doing to me or other girls. They did want to come to Canada to dance, but they did not want to be slaves and be used and raped and have their money taken away.

Were you forced to have sex with people in the club? Were you forced to do things you didn't want to do?

There's no sex involved in the strip joints. There's no way that my keepers were going to force me to have sex with people in the strip joint. Because these customers are, after all, Canadian customers, and they just want to come in and watch a dance or two. Thank God, my keepers had no power over the customers. They did, however, have power over me when I was in the motel room. That means, "My buddy wants to see you," or "Be nice to this guy," because you know, wink wink, or "The agent really likes you." Over that I had no power.

So you're telling me that they could force you to have sex with whoever they wanted in the motel room?

In the motel they could force you to have sex with whoever they wanted. Yeah.

So how did you get out of it?

How did I get out of it? Well, it was two months basically that I went to work and made money and paid them money and tried to figure out how am I going to get out of this? How am I going to get my passport back, my ticket? Who am I going to talk to? What's going on with these girls? Most of them are getting fed up, too. I was already fed up the first day because I didn't want to dance in the first place. These girls wanted to make money by dancing but they didn't want to be kept as animals. So everybody started to slowly get fed up but nobody really had a real idea what's going to happen or what they should do.

… We started to move from motel to motel because, as the Hungarians told us, they didn't want the customers to follow us because we're so pretty. Bullcrap. Basically they were just moving around because they didn't want us to get familiar with the areas. After two months of brainwashing with "They're going to kill you and kill your family if you escape," and "They know everybody in the clubs, even the bouncers, everybody's connected to them." Eventually you just realize that it's just a lie. They're nobodies. They have no power over you in Toronto or Canada. You can totally just go to the police, but by the time you get this, it's kind of late.

So two months after, I actually requested to these Hungarian guys if they could please take me to another club, I don't want to work in this club because certain managers and people were just taking advantage of me. I told the Hungarian guys, "If you want me to make you money, you have to take me out of here." So they did. They took me to another club. The Hungarian guys told me that all dancers in the club are their friends, and that I was being watched -- everything I did everywhere I went, everyone I spoke to -- and if I did something wrong I could get beat up. But eventually I realized that it's not true, they're just telling you that to keep you scared. I realized slowly that they really don't have power over you at this other club.

I actually took a dictionary with me and one day I pulled over one of the managers and word by word I was trying to explain my situation from the dictionary. He understood that and I asked him through the dictionary, "What should I do?" So through the dictionary he showed me how to escape. It took about three or four days for him to communicate through the dictionary how should I escape and what to do. Every single day these guys dropped me off at the front door. There's a back door too, but they're not allowed to go to the back door, it's just for employees. So this manager told me through the dictionary that one day when you get dropped off at the front door just keep walking and there's going to be a cab at the back door for you, and this is the DJ's house key and tell the cab driver this is where you're going and just take off, and then we'll take it from there. …

The last day I told the manager through the dictionary that I think I'm going to do it tomorrow, and they say "OK." The next day I was dropped off by the Hungarian guy and as we planned I just kept walking and got into the cab in the back door and I was free. But at the same time I knew in the back of my head that it's not the end of the story. Because they knew where my mom lives, her phone number, where my brother works, my address in Hungary. They knew everything about me, and after all I did escape, and they told me not to escape. So on one hand I was really happy, on the other hand I knew something else is just about to start.

And did something else start?

I stayed at the DJ's house, and then I stayed at other people's houses. … I stayed here and there and here and there and at some point they actually found where I was. I was in the fifth story of an apartment building and I saw them through the camera coming through the door. They came up and they started hitting the door and screaming my name out loud, and "We know that you're there, don't worry, maybe we don't catch you now, but maybe we just going to break the door down, and if we come in …" I actually ended up climbing outside from one balcony to the other balcony and just waited there until they were gone.

You agreed to help the Canadian police. When you were asked to be a witness, what were you testifying about?

Well, the Canadian agent, or some of the [guys], because of the atmosphere they're in -- half naked girls running around and they don't speak English -- they seem to think it's OK to grab them whenever they feel like it, like a piece of meat, and play around with them, use them as a sex toy. Well, we are not a sex toy. Maybe we don't speak your language or maybe we are here dancing and making money but it does not mean you can just grab us anytime you feel like it. That's what he was basically doing and that's why I decided to testify because he could just not be that stupid, excuse my language, not to know that I didn't really want to have sexual intercourse with him, in a club or a motel room. … In the Canadian law it's called sexual assault or rape, … so they lay charges against the Canadian guy, and so it actually became a sexual assault case. …

Were you not scared to testify? What made you not scared?

When the police asked me if I would testify in court, they gave me a week to think about it. They informed me that I would have to go testify in court in person and face everything and swear on the bible and all that and so I did think about it for a week. They also told me that the court could take about a year or two. …

The reason why I decided to go and testify is because back I felt very strong about getting this message out, especially in Canada, because I didn't think that anyone in Canada would know what is going on in strip joints. … Really I fought [for] revenge in a way. He was the only person around me in the same country as I am and I find that the Canadian police and the Canadian justice system is a lot stronger then the Hungarian. He was the one doing things to me so I just wanted to make him realize what he was doing. As I was saying to my friends back then, I want to give him the same nightmare as he put me through. … I wanted him to know that it's not OK, and I wanted him to stop doing it. Unfortunately it didn't get out, it wasn't in the media. No one really knew what was going on. It was a huge message that could have gone out, but it didn't get out. And he wasn't the only one doing it. I'm pretty sure he wasn't the only one.

What happened with the case?

The court case actually dragged out for about five years. Because I was witness to a court case in Canada, the Canadian immigration gave me an open work permit, which allowed me to work in Canada as long as the court is going on. Nobody thought for a second that the court was going to drag out for five years. In my personal opinion it was [delayed over and over] from his side because I think they thought that immigration was eventually going to get fed up and say, "OK, sorry, no more. I can't give her anymore papers, she has to go back," so eventually they would have no witness to testify. But this isn't what happened, they couldn't drag the case on so the court actually [heard the case] last year after five years waiting, and we lost. He did not get committed because we didn't have enough evidence, and because the whole story was only based on me, just a girl sitting there, telling a story which was really easy to attack after five years. It was just a joke, basically.

On the other hand, I don't mind that he didn't get convicted, for the five years he had to live under certain conditions; I think he wasn't supposed to leave the house after a certain time, I don't think he was supposed to work in this industry. So in a way I did get some revenge, and I did get some sort of a payback.

Were you not scared that he could get you back?

No. I wasn't scared that he could get me back. I thought about this for a long time. I was threatened once three years before the [trial] came up. … I was found by a person who used to work for the man, and I was told that girls like me don't breathe anymore, and I think that I'm so brave and I think I'm a hero. And I was just looking at him, and he asked me the same thing, "Aren't you scared?"

And I said, "From what? What else can you take away from me? … What are you going to do with me, kill me? Take it. You took my family, you took my past, you took everything away from me. I can't even go back to my home country. Everything is gone. What else are you going to do?" So that was my reaction. It's still my reaction even now that we're doing this documentary. If you find me, fine, what are you going to do? That's my reaction.

Why did you want to be in disguise and sunglasses for the documentary? What made you feel like you don't want to be identified?

If we did this documentary three years ago, I would probably show my face. Now it's different. … I've been here for a lot longer, the directions in my life changed. I want to thank Canada now for a lot of reasons. I want to take a profession, I want to go back to school. I actually built a little life around me, and they don't really know my past. Nobody really knows. It's not something you want to tell over a coffee. So I want to remain as who they got to know in the last few years. I kind of rebuilt my personality and everything so there's a future. I think I can still have a life, so that's why I don't want to be shown.

I'm going to play devil's advocate; this is the argument that people make: There [are] lots of women from Romania or Hungary or Ukraine and they're happy to come here and dance and make money, so what's the problem? Why shouldn't we bring strippers in from other countries?

If the girls want to come to Canada and dance from Europe, from Romania, from other poor countries, that's fine because that's their decision. They want to come here to dance that's fine. But they should not be treated like a piece of meat just because they come to dance. This is not the world's nicest job. That's fine, I understand that. … But once you say you're an exotic dancer, they look at you differently, they don't treat you like a human being. So let's say a Romanian girl comes here to become a dancer. She still doesn't know that she's not supposed to be controlled over by other people. If you want to dance, come here, dance, make your money, be happy. No one's supposed to rape you. No one's supposed to tell you what to eat, where to live. No one's supposed to take advantage of you completely. … If the Canadian clubs want the European girls because the European girls are supposed to be very pretty, that's fine. Treat them with respect, because without those girls, you don't make any money. They're here to serve you and you are here to serve them. It's back and forth. …

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posted feb. 7, 2006

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