“I FEARED FOR MY LIFE” – Aussie Lawyer Lara Hall’s Escape from Pakistan (Reasons To Live Podcast Ep.7)
“I’d already tried to run away many times, but he always caught up with me… I had no money and was completely at the mercy of the Pakistani government.”
CONTENT WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE & GROOMING
“I was ashamed of going all that way, to end up in this situation. I was mortified. Sajjad cancelled my flights, and once my passport lapsed, I was stuck in Pakistan…
“That’s when the violence and sexual assault and starvation began… He locked all my clothes away, and I very rarely went out. At one stage, I didn’t leave the house for 8 weeks.”
On the 22nd January this year, my phone pinged with a message request. Checking my Facebook, I found a message, from a woman in Canada, who had come across my profile, while searching for anti-trafficking organisations in Australia.
Reaching out, she asked if I would be willing to support a petition created by her friend Lara — a young Australian lawyer, who in 2018, had been held captive in Pakistan for many months, by a man named Sajjad…
…A man who had spent half a decade learning all her vulnerabilities, her childhood traumas and mental illnesses, and then using those vulnerabilities to groom her into becoming his victim.
“I’d been hospitalised for my mental health… I wasn’t doing well mentally, and I was desperately craving some sort of acceptance, love, belonging,” explains Lara.
“We started talking a lot more, and I exposed a lot of my vulnerabilities with him… My sister was also going through a tough time, and he was always there to talk or counsel her… And that was very endearing to me. I’d always wanted to be with someone who cared for me that much.
“My life in Sydney was pretty bad at the time, and I felt pretty safe about going [to visit him in Pakistan]. His family had all reinforced what a great person he was… I thought I was so lucky, so blessed. I couldn’t have predicted things would become as scary and frightening as they became.”
As Lara soon discovered, everything Sajjad had promised her, was a lie.
Within weeks, her documents were taken, her flights cancelled, and it was at this point, that Sajjad’s abuse turned from mental, to physical.
Lara’s clothing was taken from her, she was kept confined to the house, and during this time, she was beaten, starved, raped, and denied even the simplest of human rights.
At this point, Lara said life became a ‘day in and day out hell’, and in desperation, she reached out to the Australian Consular for assistance. However, as Lara shares, she felt they mistook her for ‘a prank caller.’ Insultingly, they provided her only with a website link for Lifeline and RU OK Day.
As the weeks went by, and Sajjad’s sexual and physical violence began to worsen…
Lara realised no one would be coming to rescue her; she would have to plan her own escape.
“Sajjad always told me ‘I’m more powerful than you, you’ll never be more powerful than me.’ So my struggle became daily to become more powerful than him.
“I decided I would find out who the movers and shakers were, who could help me… because my own government wouldn’t help me. I’d already tried to run away many times, but he always caught up with me. I had no money and was completely at the mercy of the Pakistani government.”
It is an absolute miracle that Lara eventually escaped, let alone, that she made it home to Australia.
But what is even more amazing, is the voice that this young woman has become for other grooming and trafficking victims, and the work she is now doing with the British Pakistani Christian Association (who protected Lara and helped her get home to Australia) to ensure no other victim is ever left to fend for themselves, the way she was.
I’m so proud to bring you this chat, and I hope you find Lara’s story as inspiring, as I do…