| This is the 318th story of Our Life Logs |
When I first met Sven, the man that would become my husband, I was an 18-year-old trafficked sex worker. My parents had filed a missing person report, and Sven had found it when he was investigating sex trafficking rings as an Interpol liaison with the Russian Embassy. How did I end up in sex trafficking, and how did he rescue me and become my forever? Well, let me take you back to the beginning.
I was born into a very poor family in a small town in Russia in 1985. When I was 16, I met a sweet girl who was a few years older than me and seemed very generous with her money. She took me shopping, gave extravagant gifts to my family, and eventually, convinced my parents to let me go to the US with her to visit her family in Dallas, Texas. I was excited. It was going to be the beginning of a grand adventure.
As it turned out, my friend’s kindness was a trap. As soon as I arrived in Dallas, I was sold to a man named Feodor who was in the business of human trafficking. For the next two years, God knows how many times I was raped, how many times I saw women like me get beaten to death or left to die on the street, and how many times I wandered through a sleepless night fearing that I’d never be free again.
One day when I was 18, I was told I had a new client. But when I entered the room, the man did not speak to me. He did not beckon me to come near him. He did not ask to see my body. He wanted nothing. He simply let the silence hang in our room. Finally, he parted his lips and said in my native language, “How long have you been a prostitute?” All I could do was cry.
The man asked me to get a good night’s sleep, motioning towards the bed. I did not understand his request. It was respectful and pure. It was then that I met his gaze from across the room. He was Russian, I realized, his eyes were a miraculous blue, and his hair was a shimmery blond. He beckoned a kindness that dared me to trust. That night, I did.
The next day, the man returned and requested for me for another night. As he was paying Feodor, dozens of people burst into the hotel room. There were Dallas police officers mixed with men in suits and other gray uniformed officers, each with guns drawn. At first, I thought they were there to arrest me too, but in the chaos, I figured out that the blond Russian was in on the ambush. He pushed me behind him, arrested Feodor, and saved my life. It happened so quickly that I felt like in a dream.
For the next few weeks, I had to testify against Feodor and his whole ugly sex trafficking operation. I finally saw my friend who tricked me and was able to tell the court how she had turned my life into a living hell. Through it all, the Russian man (and I learned his name was Sven) was always by my side. He never missed one day. He brought my parents over from Russia who had never stopped looking for me. In the chaos and gratitude, Sven became my best friend. He taught me that if I really wanted to live, I had to forgive and if I couldn’t forgive them for what they did to me, I must forgive myself for something I never caused.
If you are wondering—no, I didn’t see Sven in a romantic way then. I wasn’t even sure if I had anything left inside me to love.
Despite the trauma, I tried to continue life. After visiting my family in Russia briefly, I made the choice to get an education in the United States. My parents were supportive of my dreams and continued communicating with me when I moved to the US to attend the University of North Texas. Sven was there to help keep me from falling into a pit of despair. He helped me enroll in college for pre-law and stayed up studying with me for all my exams. He even sought therapy to better understand what I endured and how to best help me. He believed in me when I had bad days and let me cry, yell, and scream when something would remind me of my past.
Yet, when I felt confident enough to fall in love for the first time, I didn’t even consider Sven. When I was 21, I dated a graduate assistant at the law school for a year before I gently broke up with him. Sven was still like a guardian to me. I didn’t know it then, but he would check out my dates beforehand to make sure they were decent. He warned me to be careful and was terrified that I would get hurt. I was more afraid that I would never be able to know passion or romantic love after what I’d endured.
It was not until I saw Sven on a date with one of my classmates one day, holding her hand across the table, that I realized he was more than just a friend. He was the one I wanted beside me for every happy or sad moment, the one I wanted to be there for at every high or low point of life. As I stared at them, I realized that Sven was the only man who knew all that I had been through, who truly understood and cared for me. Looking back on the old moments, I saw the many chances that our dynamic could have changed if I had just allowed it. But it was too late for that now. He was falling for someone else.
I went back to my apartment, turned off all the lights, and sat in the corner of my living room couch and cried my eyes out. I had lost Sven before ever really having him. I cried for missed opportunities and lost moments I never had. I cried for not knowing that I had loved him all along and that I was too blind to see it.
After driving myself crazy with my thoughts, at 2:30 AM, I stumbled around the kitchen for a glass of water. Suddenly, there was a knock on my door. The only person I ever let knock on my door without calling me first was Sven. I looked through the peephole, saw his piercing blue eyes, and flung the door open as fast as I could. We started talking at the same time and between muffled words and half-finished sentences, but then…we both said, “I love you.” I fell into Sven’s arms that night and never left his arms again.
From there on, our story became your everyday love story. I graduated from law school in May of 2012, and we got married a month later. We honeymooned in the mountains of Croatia. Feeling his hand in mine, I felt safe, truly safe, for the first time in years. Sven told me he had loved me from the very beginning but expected nothing in return. He had made peace knowing that he could at least always be there to hold me up and give me strength no matter who I was with, where I was, or when I needed him, but he was thrilled to know I did in fact feel the same.
When we returned, Sven helped me set up my office in an international law office in Texas where I began working in to help prosecutors fight against human trafficking. I also fought to secure legal status for people brought to this country against their will.
Soon after, Sven went off on an international Interpol assignment and was undercover for three months. I wanted to be strong for him, but even with my therapy and the love and support from friends and my parents, I still feared losing him. I feared the unknown every day. Somehow, my Sven knew. Then again, he knows every corner of my heart and every inch I hide in my shadowed soul. After the three months were up, he decided to stop taking undercover assignments but remained active in international law enforcement. We’ve spent the last five years happy and together in Texas while we worked our respective jobs helping people.
Last year, we decided to start our family, and now our baby is due in June of this year. Sven, in true Sven fashion, has been going through morning sickness, eating saltines with me as we both try to calm our stomachs. If I feel a pain in my back or my feet hurt, Sven comforts me and feels the aches right along with me.
What I’ve learned is that if you wake up and you are free, it’s a gift. Every night you put your head on a pillow and have someone you love with you, then the gift is priceless. When others complain about being stuck in traffic or other small things in life, I remember how grateful I am to be alive. There are many women who endured Feodor and his depraved acts of violence and no longer live, some who even had their heart taken from them while they were still alive. So, I don’t take even my breathing and heartbeat for granted. I almost lost both.
Every time I lay in Sven’s arms, I feel at peace, like I no longer have to run from my pain. So, anyone out there who needs to know how light comes from darkness, know this. We can make the brightest days from the darkest nights. We need to remember to be strong and never give up hope. Because one day there will be someone who breaks through your walls. Someone you know you can believe in. Someone who may even save your life. Now that my life has light, I know our lives have just begun!
This is the story of Valentina Spektor
Valentina now lives in Dallas, Texas working to help trafficking victims. Her office is set up in both criminal law and employment regulations to bring traffickers to justice. After getting tricked into traveling from Russia to the US when she was 16, Valentina was forced into sex trafficking for two years before she was rescued by a Russian Interpol agent named Sven. After she got out, she and Sven remained close friends. It wasn’t until she saw him with someone else did she realize that she was actually in love with him. They married in 2012 with a baby due next month in June 2019. Because Sven has a tendency to endure Valentina’s pains with her, everyone in her law office is scared to death to let him know if she goes into labor at work for fear he will have labor pains with her as he drives over! Valentina travels and gives speeches about trafficking all over the world with Sven usually in the audience cheering her on.
This story first touched our hearts on April 29, 2019.
| Writer: Samantha Seconds | Editor: Kristen Petronio |
If you are interested in learning more about Valentina’s journey, please read her other story with us:
At 16 years old, Valentina met and befriended a girl whom she accompanied on a trip to the United States. Little did she know, this was when her friend would cut ties, selling Valentina into sex trafficking.