A human trafficking victim held in a Gilroy warehouse and abused sexually for nine months will receive the Healing Hearts award from Community Solutions on March 18 at the Morgan Hill Cultural Center at 17000 Monterey Rd.
Emelen Recillas will be honored with the award, which recognizes individuals overcoming significant barriers and challenges who are now leading healthy and productive lives, according to Perla Flores, director of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking programs for Community Solutions.
In 1997, Recillas was a 21-year-old immigrant when she came to the United States to work at a restaurant/bar in Morgan Hill which is now closed, Flores said.
“She was tricked into coming into the United States,” said Flores. “They told her she would be working in someone’s restaurant, but she was forced into a situation of sexual confrontation and prostitution.”
Flores said the 34-year-old Hollister resident was under the impression she would be earning her keep as a waitress, but was instead forced into prostitution with men at the establishment in order to repay her “debt.”
Flores said when Recillas wasn’t working, she stayed inside a dimly lit, padlocked warehouse with one barred window and 31 other women at 7373 Monterey St.
The building is now unoccupied.
Recillas found a way out of her situation nine months later when the restaurant was shut down, according to Flores.
One day, Flores said the truck that picked the women up for work every day didn’t show up, and Recillas later learned the bar was shut down.
Recillas never saw the restaurant owner again, according Flores.
Flores said Recillas later reported her story to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2009 after watching a TV special on human trafficking and realizing she had been a victim.
“It’s not just the typical restraints, or guards,” said Flores, explaining why Recillas didn’t just “escape” while she was at work. “There’s also the emotional component to it.”
Flores explained the man who recruited Recillas knew where she came from, knew her family and threatened to harm those she loved if Recillas ever fled.
“When they would call back home,” someone would monitor their phone calls,” said Flores. “And in their home county, law enforcement is corrupt … there are a lot of ways to control someone without having to shackle them.”
Flores said Recillas and the other captive women feared deportation if they went to the police.
“There are those tangible ways to control someone against their will, but emotional issues come into play as well,” she said.
Recillas is now eligible for the same benefits as a refugee, according to Flores, such as health and gaining vocational skills.
Flores said Recillas is proactive and determined to do whatever she can, but also explained law enforcement does not have enough evidence to charge anyone at this point.
According Sgt. Wes Stanford of the Gilroy Police Department no reports have been filed concerning these circumstances.
Calls made to the Morgan Hill Police Department pertaining to Chiquis restaurant were not returned at time of publication.
Community Solutions provides treatment, intervention in mental health, assisting victims in child abuse and domestic violence among other programs to help communities from South San Jose to San Benito County. Flores’ department works daily to raise community awareness about preventing domestic violence and human trafficking and interacts daily with victims.
Blair Tellers is a staff writer for the Gilroy Dispatch.