Bukola Oriola shared her dramatic story with an audience of 140 Minnesotans, in the heart of a state listed as the 13th most heavily trafficked state in the US.
Stories like Oriola's may seem difficult to believe, at first hearing, making it all the more important for the truth to be spread, so that the world can learn:
“We still have slavery among us.”
[Bukola Oriola] was working as a journalist in Nigeria when she came to the United States to report on the 2005 World Summit in New York. Her new husband, a U.S. citizen, convinced her to stay in the country with the promise that he would help her acquire the spousal visa she needed to live here legally.
The couple were married in a traditional ceremony in Nigeria, but not legally in the United States.
Once Oriola moved into her husband’s Minnesota home, he changed. He kept her imprisoned in the house for two years, punishing her if she “misbehaved” and threatening to report her to immigration officials if she tried to escape.
“I became so depressed that I couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore,” Oriola said. “I just saw a strange woman staring back at me.”
When she became pregnant, Oriola’s husband forced her to spend up to 14 hours a day on her feet braiding hair. He collected her earnings, but refused to support her or their child. When the baby’s health began to deteriorate, Oriola found the courage to escape.
“My son was the one that gave me strength to leave to see another day,” Oriola said at a Dec. 3 human trafficking forum organized by St. Mary of the Lake in White Bear Lake.
A client helped Oriola and her son move into a shelter. Civil Society, a St. Paul non-profit organization that provides legal services, counseling and other assistance to victims of human trafficking, helped Oriola legalize her immigration status through the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act.
“I didn’t know that help was available,” she added. “That is why I am speaking out today . . . to educate the public, to set others free.”
Oriola, 32, has written a book entitled “Imprisoned: The Travails of a Trafficked Victim” to help inform people about the little known global phenomenon of human trafficking.