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Real Life

REAL LIFE: I was held hostage as a sex slave for five months

He promised me a life I’d always dreamed of but I was trapped in a house of horrors.

By Brittany Smith

Lara Hall, 30, from Melbourne, Vic, shares her shocking true life story;

"Are you okay?" I asked the woman sitting behind me.
"I've just moved here from Pakistan," she sniffled. "And I have no friends."
Her brother, Arshad, had been working in Australia as a chef, and she'd followed him here to study.
She'd been used to seeing her huge family every day back home but now, all she had was Arshad and his wife.
"I'll be your friend," I offered.
Her name was Rehana and we became close.
She met my twin sister, Amy, and even introduced me to her extended family over Skype.
They were all so kind.
Over time, I grew close to them, particularly her sister-in-law's cousin, Sajjad.
Sometimes I chatted to him through text and Skype, even without Rehana.
He was sensitive and like me, a lawyer.
It was good talking to someone who understood the stresses of the job.
But Sajjad also helped with my personal demons.
Amy (left) and me.
Amy and I had survived a childhood of sexual and physical abuse from a family friend and occasionally the memories would haunt us.
"Your anxious thoughts aren't your reality," Sajjad comforted.
I soon realised he thought of me as more than a friend.
"I love you," he admitted during a video call. "We're your family now. And Amy, too."
That meant the world to me.
Over the next few months, my mental health suffered and I resigned from my job to focus on recovering.
Then, after five years of chatting, Sajjad invited me to his brother's wedding in Pakistan.
Could our long-distance friendship turn into something more? I wondered.
I desperately wanted to be part of his loving family but Pakistan seemed dangerous, especially for women.
"I'd never let anything happen to you," Sajjad said.
He sent photos of his beautiful villa, and I agreed to visit.
If the trip went well, I'd stay on and give our relationship a shot.
← Slide →
By then, Rehana and I had drifted apart but her brother and his wife assured me Sajjad would look after me.
Amy wasn't so positive, but I promised her I'd be fine.
When I landed, Sajjad greeted me with roses and we drove to his home.
It wasn't anything like the pictures. Instead, it was dirty and rundown, and there were 20 people crammed into the five bedrooms!
"They'll leave after the wedding," Sajjad explained.
Thankfully, I had a room to myself.
But after the wedding, the guests didn't leave.
"I've rented out my villa, so we all have to stay here for now," he said.
I was furious but how could I complain when his family was squished together?
Weeks later, Sajjad asked for my passport and wallet.
"I'll give them straight back," he smiled. "It's just so I can extend your tourist visa."
I hadn't yet decided whether I'd stay but, before I could argue, he cancelled my flight home.
I didn't want to break the law so I trusted him.
But when my tourist visa expired before the extension was finalised, Sajjad panicked.
"If you go outside you'll be arrested," he warned, adding that even if I called the Australian consulate they'd trace it and come after me.
I was terrified.
After that, Sajjad revealed his cruel side.
He was too strong to fight off.
Sajjad and me.
"Sex is healthy," he'd grin. "I'm just looking after you."
I felt degraded and ashamed. Hadn't I been abused enough?
One day, I'd just stepped out of the shower when Sajjad threw me against the wall.
"You didn't clean your hair properly, idiot," he roared.
There was a tiny blob of shampoo still clinging to a strand so he slammed my head into the bathroom sink.
Scared for my life, I knew I needed to escape.
The next day I took a deep breath and sprinted out to the street but there were heavy footsteps behind me.
Sajjad.
"Don't ever try that again," he growled – the look on his face sent my blood cold.
If I wanted to get out alive, I'd have to be smart.
Sajjad still let me use my phone but he only bought the lowest amount of data.
I secretly called the Australian consulate.
They couldn't comprehend the seriousness of my situation and encouraged me to 'be safe'.
It was infuriating.
Next, I called the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women but they told me to call an Uber.
With an expired visa and language barriers, I couldn't do that.
← Slide →
With options failing around me, I found a Facebook page for Dr Kaiser Rafiq, who had created a government agency, the AFOHS Complex, for armed forces officers and diplomats.
I got in touch and he contacted the police.
Sajjad was furious as he watched 30 officers arrive.
"Tell them you're safe," he hissed to me.
My heart pounded.
I'd been a prisoner for five months and now freedom was so close.
The officers demanded Sajjad gather my belongings, including my passport.
"She's crazy," he yelled as they led me to their truck.
"Why didn't you come to us sooner?" an officer asked.
Sajjad had convinced me that I'd be thrown in jail but it had all been a lie. Everything was.
He just wanted his own sex slave that he could control.
But with my visa expired, I still had to pay a $400 fine.
I had no money and didn't want to alarm Amy so I set up a Gofundme account.
A man named Wilson Chowdhry, from the British Pakistani Christian Association, paid my fine and ensured I got back to Australia safely.
When I finally saw Amy again, I collapsed in her arms.
"I wasn't sure I'd ever see you again," I sobbed.
Wilson (left), me and a friend.
Now, with Wilson's help, I'm working to make sure no one goes through the horror I did.
I've asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to implement changes to make tourists safe.
And we want to establish an international 24/7 call centre, Safe Exits International, to help victims escape their abusers, no matter where in the world they are.
I've barely spoken to Rehana since I came back. None of this was her fault but I need space.
I won't let Sajjad scare me into silence. I'm going back to Pakistan to press charges.
I was naïve to fall for Sajjad's lies but I didn't deserve his abuse.
The world isn't as kind as I thought it was but I want to make it a better place.
To sign Lara's petition, click here.
To help Lara set up the international abuse call centre, click here.
If you'd like to help financially support Lara as she seeks counselling for her trauma, click here.
Lara is donating her payment to the British Pakistani Christian Association.

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