If they slept late, or scavenged food from the garbage, Varsha beat them with brooms and umbrellas, stabbed them, poured boiling water on them, even forced them to eat spoonfuls of hot chili peppers until they vomited, then forced them to eat their own vomit. On June 26, Varsha was sentenced to eleven years in prison; a day later, her husband was sentenced to three years and four months.
As Williathe Narcisse tells her story, liberation also came thanks to the intervention of a stranger. In July 1999, she says that as she performed her duties with her captors at a safe distance, a television advertisement flashed a number for John Casablancas modeling agency on the screen. Catalina Restrepo, the 22-year-old intern who fielded Narcisse's call, was polite, but quickly got off the phone with the strange 12-year-old.
But Narcisse kept calling, and after beginning to have serious concerns about the incidents of abuse that the girl, in her halting English, was describing, Restrepo got involved, and put into motion a criminal investigation. While her husband and adult son fled back to Haiti to avoid prosecution, Marie Pompee was arrested. She pled guilty to reduced charges of harboring an illegal alien, and on July 1, 2004, a judge sentenced her to six months in prison. Pompee denied interview requests through her lawyer, but denied enslaving Willathe.
As with slaves throughout history, Narcisse's struggle did not end easily. To the dozens of foster families, case workers, therapists, teachers and health workers who briefly intersected with her after Pompee's arrest, it seemed she now faced a form of emotional bondage, manifested in ritual cleaning and self-abuse.
But today, Narcisse is a survivor. Still living in South Florida, she shares an apartment and struggles to find work. She is in her second year in college, and has dreams of working in television. And she doesn't dwell on the past.
"I would have friends — well, associates — in high school to whom I sometimes would tell the story of my rescue to, and they'd say 'I remember that!'" she said. "And then they'd start to feel sorry for me, and I told them not to feel sorry for me because I don't feel sorry for myself."
For every one Williathe Narcisse, Samirah or Simone Celestin, there are tens of thousands of slaves that suffer in the shadows in the United States. Those lucky few who got out only did so because ordinary citizens — a family friend, Dunkin' Donuts employees, a modeling agency intern — decided to get involved. In so doing, they became unlikely heroes and helped to free the slaves.
To report suspected cases of trafficking in the United States, call the Polaris Project hotline at 888-373-7888.
E. Benjamin Skinner is the author of "A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery." Please click HERE to read an excerpt from his book.