A 23-year old woman, Zunduri tells a horrifying story of five years of domestic slavery, chains and starvation she endured at a home where she found shelter at a young age.
Her body physique and brave facade masked the horror she has lived, the unimaginable physical and mental abuse that almost took her life.
She chose the Japanese name Zunduri, a term that means “beautiful girl” after she regained her freedom from slavery in 2015.
CNN shared her story on broadcast, where Zunduri said her slavery nightmare began when she eloped with her boyfriend at age 17. The fairy tale love soon ended and she found herself alone and homeless in Mexico.
Instead of returning home, she found food and shelter with a lady who owned a family dry cleaning shop in the Mexico capital’s south side. The mother runs the cleaners with her husband, two daughters who occasionally helped and there was a sister of the owner with two children.
According to Zunduri, the cleaners’ owner treated her well at first, so much so that she started calling her ‘mom’. But gradually the amount of work she was asked to do increased – domestic chores around the house, ironing clothes from few hours a day to 16 hours shifts. And occasionally she would iron clothes for as long as 20 hours a day, she said.
Then starvation kicked in. As her workload increased, the quantity of food she was allowed to eat decreased. She told CNN interviewer about one time she lived five days without eating anything and was so hungry she would chew on the plastic bags used for laundered shirts. She also survived on the little water she could take out of the iron, plus she was sleeping on the floor.
The heavy workload was followed by physical abuse – beating.
“The first time she started kicking me. Then she said, ‘You have no right to talk back because I’m like a mother for you. If you call me ‘mother,’ you have to understand that mothers discipline their children,'” Zunduri said.
Zunduri said, in addition to being physically abused, she was also brainwashed. The message was always the same: “You’re worthless.”
“She always tried to put things in my head like, ‘Your mom doesn’t love you. If she loved you, she would be here with you. If she loved you, she would’ve taken you back. The guy you left with didn’t love you either. He couldn’t stand you because you’re worthless as a woman,'” Zunduri said.
Finally, when she felt she could no longer take more beatings or humiliation, she says things got much worse. Her captor put her in chains.
“She told me, ‘This is how animals like you should be treated’ and she grabbed me and put the chain around my neck. I could only say ‘No, this is unnecessary. Don’t treat me like this. Don’t do it,'” Zunduri said.
The chain then moved to her waist, so that she would still be able to iron clothes, Zunduri says, estimating that she spent six months in chains.
Zunduri was able to escape when the woman who enslaved her left the chains a little loose and now celebrates her one year of freedom from captivity.
Meanwhile the human rights attorney, Maria Teresa Paredes, one of the first people to see Zunduri after she escaped, described the horrific condition the victim was in when she was found.
“There was not a single part of her body without a scar or wound. She also had scratches and bruises. She had also lost a lot of hair,” Paredes said.
Another human right activist and actress, Karla de la Cuesta said Zunduri was also tortured. Her captors would frequently use the iron to burn different parts of her body.
“She tells me that her captors would peel off the scabs from her skin. When she was healing from her burns and scabs would appear, they would yank them off so that they would bleed again. They would scratch her neck with their fingernails. Her head was badly injured as well. They used the iron to burn her in the head,” de la Cuesta said.
After Zunduri escaped and her case came to the attention of the authorities, all Seven members of the family were detained including minors. The two minors were later freed, but the five remaining adults remain behind bars and will face charges of human trafficking and exploitation, punishable by at least 40 years in prison.
According to the prosecutors, all members of the family mistreated Zunduri in some form, even the children.
Investigations carried out also confirmed the victim’s testimony, as blood stains found in multiple places around the dry cleaners matched Zunduri’s DNA.
The prosecutor, Juana Camila Bautista said Zunduri was starving to death.
“She had very advanced levels of anemia and the doctors determined that her body and her internal organs were similar to those of an 80-year-old person,” she said.
Numerous medical procedures have been performed as part of her recovery, and her story of slavery has spread across to other countries like Argentina, and had her meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican last year, July.
Zunduri’s dream is to become a pastry chef and open her own bakery someday. Her body was broken but not her spirit, because now, she has a new life and she still dreams of a better future.
According to Mexico News Daily, Zunduri is now working with the Together Against Human Trafficking Commission, where she gives public speeches to students, politicians, and the general public to raise awareness about slavery trade in people.
In one of those appearances Zunduri spoke with secondary school students, warning them with her tale of slavery and torture.
“I was vulnerable, just like you are now. I didn’t have a stable home or friends. It is an awful experience, not being able to go to the washroom because your captors don’t allow it. Not knowing if it was day or night.”