Perpetua came to the United States more than 10 years ago in hopes of one thing: earning enough money to support her ailing father. Working as a watch repair technician in Goa, India, she contributed what little money she earned to the care of her father, who was paralyzed from a stroke. But it was never enough.
She never considered leaving her family until a distant relative approached her with a job opportunity in America. Lured by the idea of earning more money, she left the only home she had ever known for the promise of helping the people she loved most.
But that promise soon faded.
She moved in with the relative when she arrived in Montgomery County and was told that her immigration paperwork was coordinated and filed. But quickly after Perpetua settled into her new life in Maryland, the relative notified her that she owed $20,000 for the cost of coming to America.
To pay down this “debt,” she was forced to work at an Indian supply store during the day and a gas station at night, in addition to doing housework. Each month, she handed every penny she made over to her host, leaving her nothing to send to her family. Her father ultimately died while she was gone.
After six months, the relative began to physically assault and terrorize her, threatening her with a knife to prevent her from speaking up. The relative confiscated her passport and said she couldn’t return to India. A prisoner in the house, Perpetua was not allowed to leave her room other than to go to work or perform household chores.
Her mental health deteriorated from the fear she faced daily, and she experienced intense anxiety, depression, migraines, bloody noses, and extreme weight loss.
After spending five years imprisoned in a new country by someone she thought she could trust, Perpetua felt helpless, scared, and alone. It wasn’t until she reached out to a priest at her local parish that she felt a sense of hope.
That initial act of bravery led her to Catholic Charities and its Immigration Legal Services team, which immediately notified police They retrieved her passport and eventually helped her secure legal status in the United States. Beyond immigration assistance, Perpetua was connected to Catholic Charities’ health services, where she got the medical and mental health care she so desperately needed.
Today, Perpetua is a wife and mother. She and her husband work hard and sacrifice to ensure their five-year-old son, Nash, can have a bright future. He attends a parochial school, where Perpetua works as a lunchroom supervisor.
“I always keep everyone from Catholic Charities in my prayers,” she says. “They made us what who we are today.”
Her commitment to family is stronger than ever, but her focus now is on the future for Nash, who was fittingly born on July 4th, Independence Day.
For information on the signs of human trafficking visit https://www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/tvap/. If you or someone you know needs help, call Catholic Charities TVAP at 202.481.1414