By Jose Medina
GCJD Workshop Class Student
Betrayal in any form hurts, but when it’s your own parents who betray your trust it can cut you to the core.
This was the story of Shyima Hall who was sold by her parents into forced bondage when she was only 8-years-old in Egypt. Hall spoke on Tuesday at the Gaertner Performing Arts Center on Tuesday as part of The Global Center for Journalism and Democracy’s Speaker Series.
Hall, who was the seventh of 11 children, says her ordeal began when an older sister was caught stealing money from the wealthy family she worked for. It was then that Hall’s parents struck a deal. She would take her sister’s place and work for the family as a housemaid. It would be a decision that would forever change Hall.
Hall spent the next 18 months working as a child maid in the couple’s home. When the family decided to come to the United States, she was illegally trafficked into the country. Her parents assured her it would be for a few months. It was the last time she would see them. “As a kid, I didn’t know right from wrong,” Hall said. “I did what my parents told me.”
Once in California, Hall says she wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone and was forced to live in the couple’s garage and sleep on a dirty mattress. She used a bucket with water to wash her clothes. She never saw a doctor or attended school. Through it all Hall says her captors subjected her to physical and emotional abuse. “No one ever looked at me,” Hall said, her voice cracking. “This is why I do what I do to help other people.” After two years of being held captive, Hall was freed thanks to a neighbor who finally noticed her when other children should have been at school.
Hall courageously and emotionally shared her story with a crowd of more than 500. She has written a book called “Hidden Girl” and travels around the country to urge people to act if they see something suspicious. “It really hit close to home because you wouldn’t think something like this would happen here in the United States,” said junior mass communication student Jacqueline Garcia.
Dr. Wayne Barrett, Associate Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Mass Communication, praised the efforts of the Global Center.
“Something like tonight’s event really speaks to horrors that mankind is really capable of. It’s really sad she went unnoticed for so long.” He hopes that a conversation is started, so cases like Hall’s never happen again. “I really feel that leadership on a national level really needs to do something to stop this…on the world stage too,” he said.
The event was the culmination of a two-week effort by the Global Center to raise awareness on campus and in the community about modern-day slavery worldwide. GCJD organized a provocative student demonstration, an informational exhibit and a social media campaign. Students from the theatre, dance, criminal justice and mass communication joined in the effort. According to event organizers, this was the most successful event the Global Center has ever hosted.
Although Hall still feels anger toward her captors, she said she has been able to find forgiveness for her family. Despite her ordeal, she says a life of freedom could not be better. “I’m happy where I am now, having been through all of that” Hall said. “I have a wonderful daughter. She makes me happy.”