ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – A woman who was held captive inside an Arlington house for nine years shared her story with CBS 11, explaining how she survived and escaped after she was tricked and forced into captivity.
This woman, who requested to be called Cindy, didn’t ask that we disguise her voice, or hide her face.
Cindy only asked that she wear a pair of dark sunglasses.
She thought she was coming to Texas from Nigeria to work as a nanny for Emmanuel and Ngozi Nnaji.
Instead, she was enslaved in their Arlington house for nine years.
The couple forced her to take care of their three children, and do all the chores 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Cindy says she never had a break, never had a day off, and never had any time for herself. She said, “I had no choice” in the Nnaji’s house.
Cindy was never allowed to leave, not even to go to church.
The only time she ventured outside was at 4 a.m. to water the yard. She says Ngozi, “didn’t want anyone to know me.”
Before arriving in Texas in 1997, Cindy didn’t speak English. She’s a widow, and made the painful decision to leave her six young children behind so she could earn money to send them.
“How can I leave my children since I don’t have a husband? My husband is dead,” she said. “How can I leave my children here and go to America?”
Cindy came here with her children’s’ blessing, but soon realized she was trapped.
She didn’t know anyone except the Nnaji’s.
They never paid her as they promised, and they took her passport and told her to forget about going home.
Cindy said, they told her, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay in America ‘til I get old. Told me to forget about my children.”
Why not leave the house and escape?
“I didn’t leave the house because I was scared,” she said. “I didn’t know where to go.”
Her ordeal grew even worse when Emmanuel Nnaji sexually assaulted her.
“He raped me in the house,” she said. “Ngozi was not there.”
Cindy says the sexual abuse continued, but no one else knew.
“Only God is going to be my witness,” she said.
Emmanuel threatened her to keep quiet.
Cindy said he told her, “I’m going to be in big trouble. So I don’t know what he means by trouble, maybe he’s gonna kill me.”
After eight years of being held against her will, Cindy finally found the courage to tell someone back home what had happened.
When the phone rang back in 2005, Cindy said, “I went to hide in the closet, talked to my niece and told her everything Emmanuel did to me. She said don’t worry, we’ll find someone who will help.”
That someone who would help Cindy was a priest from Texas who just happened to be on vacation in his native Nigeria.
Cindy’s niece knew him, and gave her his cell phone number.
But there was a problem: Cindy didn’t know how to use a cell phone. Coincidentally, Ngozi decided Cindy might need to use the cell phone if there was a problem with the children.
So in 2006, when no one else was around, Cindy called the priest to plot her escape.
In the next few days, he drove to the Nnaji’s house. She walked out of the house with just a trash bag filled with a few of her belongings.
But even after she got into the van, Cindy still worried the Nnajis would see her. “Because if Emmanuel came back from a walk and see me, maybe he would follow the priest. Maybe, I don’t know, maybe I was going to be in trouble,” she said.
Cindy has been free ever since, and has a message for others caught in the same situation.
“You have to find a way to come out. It may be the only way you survive. If you stay longer like me, you’re not going to survive. You have to find a way because only God helped me,” she said.
The FBI and Justice Department investigated this case, and two years ago this month, a federal jury convicted the Nnajis.
Emmanuel is serving a 20-year sentence. His wife, Ngozi, is serving a nine year sentence.
After Ngozi is released, she will be deported to Nigeria, where she is also from.
The couple must pay Cindy more than $300,000 in restitution. The Justice Department says between January 2008 and June 2010, agents investigated more than 2,515 human trafficking cases.
Most involved sex trafficking, but there were about 350 forced labor cases. One of which was the Nnaji’s case.
We’ve uploaded all the case files pertaining to this story to DocumentCloud. Peruse those here.