Success Story

Fainess Lipenga

Survivor Activist
Training Advisor, The Human Trafficking Legal Center
Board Member, Survivor Alliance

Me sharing my story helped to make a change. I had to rescue myself and also I had to speak up so people could see me and hear me.

Fainess Lipenga

Survivor Activist
Training Advisor
The Human Trafficking Legal Center
Board Member, Survivor Alliance

My mother used to work on the farm all year long and sell things like tomatoes, different vegetables. On Christmas, she would buy me a Coca-Cola. My mother worked hard to make sure I had that because I am the baby in the family. That was very special. During mango season, we would climb the mango trees and get down when we were full, but most days we went to bed with an empty stomach.

My dad abandoned us, but we always made it through together. My mother is a strong person. She did whatever she could to protect us, but it was hard.

I was sexually molested through family members and raped by strangers in Malawi at a young age. I became a victim of domestic violence just like my mother. Before my 18th birthday I already gave birth to three children. Just being a lost child, unwanted child, I ended up being trafficked to America.

When I was trafficked, I was getting zero to forty cents an hour. I wasn’t fed. I was treated like less than an animal. I slept on a floor in the basement.

I was trafficked for three years before I escaped. Nobody rescued me, I had to rescue myself. I had to run away from my trafficker by sliding under the little space that was left under the garage door. I was very skinny and malnourished, so I ran for my life and I became homeless.

I overcame so much, but not only that, it took me years, it took me to my age to find a voice. Me sharing my story helped to make a change. I had to rescue myself and also I had to speak up so people could see me and hear me. My accent doesn’t matter. My English doesn’t matter. I may not have a degree, but my experience is my degree.

HT Legal Center’s mission is to stand for justice. That means they fight for us. They make sure survivors have a voice. They help people like me navigate the legal system. We cannot do anything without lawyers. HT Legal Center gives survivors free access to a pro bono lawyer, so survivors don’t have to stress about money.

"The butterfly actually is the symbol of my transition life. I was in a cocoon and I was alone, invisible. Now I am free. I can test my wings and fly like a butterfly."

HT Legal Center helped me make a civil case so I could sue my trafficker. I won my case against my trafficker, but I still did not get the money. I didn’t get my full justice, but I got my justice halfway, because I found my voice. I wish I had known how difficult and long this road of fighting for justice would take.  

In Maryland there were no forced labor statutes. That was like a punch in the face. So I used my voice to bring a change. I testified before the Maryland General Assembly, where I helped to pass a labor trafficking bill to become a law. I testified before Congress. The United States created a check-in program for domestic workers, so that way somebody can have information in case they end up in a situation like mine.

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