Imagine you are a young adolescent girl, 11, 12, 13 or 14 years old. Your father, whether out of desperate hunger of simply out of greed (does it really matter which?) sells you to a human sex trafficker to be turned into a sex slave.
Whether by eventually escaping, or by being caught by the police, or simply by using up your body and no longer commanding a profitable price and being dumped onto the street, you find yourself away from the trafficker and all alone in the middle of the big city.
And that's when the nightmare grows more intense: the authorities try you and throw you into prison for prostitution, or for other 'crimes' associated with your escape such as falsifying documents needed to escape the clutches of the traffickers.
That is the reality in present-day Iraq.
Fifteen-year-old Zeina's sad journey to prison began two years ago when she says was sold into sex slavery. "My father came and took me to go visit my grandfather in Syria," says Zeina, "and I went with him."
The family trip turned out to be a cover story, and Zeina found herself faced with the most horrific possible reality. She says she was then forcefully taken from Syria to the United Arab Emirates and sold into sexual slavery.
But Zeina refused to surrender to such a horrendous fate. And when the opportunity presented itself, she ran away. "I'm proud of myself," explains Zeina. "I turned myself into the police and decided not to stay in that situation."
Authorities in Dubai helped her return to Iraq, but more cruelty awaited her in Baghdad. The only way Zeina could make it home was to travel on a forged passport -- a very serious crime in Iraq.
After escaping her ordeal, Zeina found herself being prosecuted, rather than being comforted. As punishment, she's now serving two years in jail. A prison official confirmed her story.
Iraqi women's rights activists are outraged. "She refused to accept that her body had been sold. So this is how they reward her?" said Dalal Rubaie with the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq, "To put her in jail for two years? Where's the justice?"
I guess they figure she should have stayed put in the bordello in the U.A.E.
Things get worse if she does make it all the way home:
"In some ways, their fate is worse than death," explained Samer Muscati from Human Rights Watch. "Once they've been trafficked, there's a stigma even though they're the victims in this horrific situation. They've been exploited and they've been trafficked to another country with no real recourse."
According to Muscati, even if the girls do manage to escape the cruelty of their circumstances, it will be very difficult for them to escape the judgment of their families.
"When they do come back to Iraq, if the family does accept them it's very difficult because they've brought great shame to the family, they're subjected to honor crimes. And we've come across cases where young women have preferred to stay in prison or custody than to be released and to face tribal justice," Muscati said....
"I'm sure the girl's family won't take care of her," said Rubaie. "I'm sure that neighbors and relatives and society will judge her, they'll know that the girl had been a prisoner and the family will be ashamed of her.
"I'm sure they won't let her travel. I'm sure she won't be able to complete her education, if she had been studying. Or they will force her to marry a cousin so they can exert control over her. Any cousin. They'll end her life."
In case you don't know what 'honor killing' means, recall this post on a young Iraqi Kurdish girl who was stoned to death after spending a night with a young man of another faith.
Only what we are looking at now is rape victims who may have been sold into sexual slavery by their own family members, who if they return home will be stoned to death by those very same family members.
I guess this is the 'civilization' we have brought to Iraq.