Saving Daughters

04.07.138:10 AM ET

Women in the World 2013: Susana Trimarco’s Endless Quest to Find Her Daughter

Susana Trimarco’s daughter, Marita, disappeared 11 years ago, believed to have been kidnapped and sold into prostitution. Since then, Susana has searched desperately to find her daughter—and has freed hundreds of women from prostitution in the process.

This week marks the 11th anniversary of the most terrible day of Susana Trimarco’s life: the day her daughter, Marita de los Ángeles Verón, was abducted in their town in Argentina and forced into prostitution. Since that day Trimarco has tirelessly devoted herself to finding her daughter and bringing those who kidnapped her to justice—and helped hundreds of women and girls escape from lives of prostitution.

TUCUMAN, ARGENTINA - FEBRAURY 07: Susana Trimarco looks on during a mass for his daughter on Febraury 07, 2012 in Tucuman, Argentina. Susana Trimarco, mother of Marita Veron, a young tucuman girl who was kidnapped and forced into prostitution by the testimony of witnesses. By persisting in seeking her daughter she was awarded with several distinctions. (Photo by JulioPantoja/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Susana Trimarco holds a picture of her daughter Marita during a church service in Febraury 2012 in Tucumán, Argentina. (JulioPantoja/LatinContent, via Getty)

“I’m here to tell you this sad story,” Trimarco said through a moderator. “I do not want this to happen to anyone else in the world what has happened to me.”

Trimarco told her story to Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s Christopher Dickey at the fourth annual Women in the World Summit in a discussion called “Saving Daughters.” For her work, Newsweek and The Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown said, “There is no one else working more for the rights of women.” Trimarco was honored by the Women in the World Foundation as a woman of impact, along with maternal-health activist Molly Melching, Ugandan chess player Phiona Mutesi, and Pakistani girls’ advocates Khalida Brohi and Humaira Bachal.

After Marita’s abduction, Trimarco spoke to witnesses who told her that her daughter had been taken. Trimarco and her family soon realized she had been taken by an organized mafia—and the police had no interest in finding Marita. Trimarco instead took matters into her own hands, taking on the investigation as her own and with her husband and group of police officers she trusted. Trimarco went undercover to the brothels dressed as a prostitute to talk to the women there, some of whom reported seeing Marita. She described the “horrible places” she saw and the women who were “desperate” and held against their will.

“The girls would ask me, please, take us, we don’t want to be here, we are here against our will, we’ve been kidnapped,” Trimarco said.

In 2007 Trimarco founded the María de los Ángeles Foundation, dedicated to saving women and girls from kidnapping in Argentina. Hundreds of women have been found and helped—but not Trimarco’s beloved daughter. Last year 13 people accused of being involved in Marita’s abduction and trafficking went on trial. There were 180 witnesses called—including 24 who saw Martia's abduction—but those people were acquitted, a verdict Dickey said has been accused of being “tainted with bribery and corruption.” Despite the verdict, Trimarco said “the truth is, I will never abandon my daughter.”

After all these years, Dickey said, it’s believed that Marita may have been taken to Spain—but there are doubts that she is still alive.

“The truth is, I continue to look for her, and I will continue to look for her,” Trimarco said. “I have had a lot of heartbreaks, but I am still hoping to find her alive ... That emptiness in my heart and that deep sadness is still with me, but I continue to find strength, because I have not found my daughter yet, and I want to know where she is.”

There may be one bright spot for Trimarco: they may have found a boy born to Marita while she was enslaved, and they are currently doing genetic testing to find out if he is her son. And if it’s true, that would be more proof to what happened to Marita.

Dickey also spoke with Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the United Nations special rapporteur for human trafficking. Ezeilo said cases like Trimarco’s are “unfortunately common.” But Ezeilo dispelled the common misconception that the only type of trafficking is sex trafficking; she said she also sees many cases of when both men and women who are exploited for their labor.

“It’s hard to believe, but I want to, that while human trafficking is rare ... it is happening, and we shouldn’t be in denial,” Ezeilo said. “We should stand up, take a stand to end this modern-day slavery.”

The United Nations estimates that human trafficking is a $22 billion industry—a number Ezeilo believes is underestimated. In her job she visits victims of trafficking around the globe. “Some of them are lucky that they get rescued, but not everyone gets that lucky,” Ezeilo said.

When Dickey asked if these victims can ever recover, Ezeilo admitted that “real recovery is difficult.”

“I always say they need redress, recovery, and reintegration,” Ezeilo said. “But it is not easy. There has to be a deliberate effort. There is no one size fits all here. When doing something, we have to work with each individual according to the individual case.”