Predators prey on those they perceive as having less power or protection than others. This clicks in for me this evening.

They prey on women, on girl, on girl children. They prey on marginalized members of society—people cast aside or left out. They prey on the mentally ill and the intellectual challenged. They prey on people they think can more easily get away with doing it.

Yuri could prey on us more easily because we were trafficked. He placed us in a category society protects less for prejudicial reasons and then preyed on us more because he could. I don’t know if this was all deliberate. It might have been.

He could have trafficked local girls. He didn’t. He trafficked girl that didn’t just need to be manipulated into being trafficked, but that needed complicated false documents and an importing process. Well, maybe they were easier to keep in line than a girl who could go running home to parents who missed her. But certainly their status made them easier to exploit.

I was thinking about this, because I was having this feeling of being worthless. I was listening to some Russian music, and I had this sense of belonging and worth, and on the heels of it came this sense of being worthless. It was as though they were two sides of the same coin.

It occurred to me they were. I was with my friends, and we didn’t see each other as worthless. We saw each other as people we loved. And we looked at the world outside and we saw that it viewed us with contempt. Pity or contempt. Not as human beings just trying to get through the day under maybe especially difficult circumstances. But as creatures who were less than.

I have two thoughts about this: one that moving into the world outside my friends at Yuri’s brothel meant confronting the way the world saw me. Inside it, I didn’t really have to think about it. I wasn’t safe, but I was loved. I was valued by the people who mattered to me. The rest of the world and its opinion I could hold at a distance. When I left it, though, that was a part of the pain. I no longer had any retreat from the world’s contempt of what I had been and had to do. It was like having no affinity group to retreat to and regroup with before returning to a racist world. There was no one and nothing to validate my worth as a human being in spite of the position in society I had been forced to hold.

I was thinking about this more today because I was kind of thinking about the way we communicated on the street. I was thinking of how I communicate as a teacher, and how much of it is nonverbal, because when you need to maintain a connection with 40 or so students in a class and it’s mainly that connection that is keeping things going, it’s much more efficient than words. And I was thinking that’s how it worked for us. In the afternoon, I was sitting watching prayer and I began to remember in a vague kind of way the glances that meant something. I remembered—just as I get angry—someone getting angry at me because she had to actually tell me something in words. I was meant to understand from her eyes, and I didn’t. And that seemed to be a part of that memory: that world of us and the world outside. I mean, it is like existing in another culture. One where nonverbal communication is sometimes life or death, where loyalty and friendships are the center of one’s world. There aren’t parents or children or nuclear families really. There are romantic relationships but less than you see elsewhere, because there aren’t many boyfriends and definitely husbands. We were all female.

You hear about these things—people escaping terrible situations and then missing it. It’s not, I think, the terrible things you miss. It’s not just that it was familiar. It’s that nothing is ever all one way, and for me at least, I had a place, a certainty about who I was, and I was valued. I was a human being in that place, among my friends. And outside it, I’m not quite. It seems like I’m not anyway. Or at least the day after I would never go back again, when I had not created any kind of post-trafficking identity for myself, it seemed that way. I could choose who I was, but the choices seemed unsatisfying.

Outside that world of being trafficked, I could remain someone who had been trafficked and be this person seen as having a lower status—contemptible or pitiable—or I could shed that identity and lose everything that made my internal world make sense to me, my feelings, my responses to things, the struggles I had.