In 2007, a Finnish woman called Marissa Jaakola, aged 25 then, was abducted to Tunisia. She was abducted by her Finnish employer and during that time - altogether four months - a huge amount of debt had accumulated to her. Her employer had demanded her to buy cars for the company, and in addition to that, during the time of her captivation the debt accumulated due to travel, accommodation, phone bills and her rental apartment in Finland. After returning to Finland, she went to court to seek justice. The district court ruled her employer to prison for fraud and to pay her more than 10 000€ in damages. At the same time, another trial was in process for deprivation of liberty, rape and assault. The legal proceedings were delayed and before they were over, it was announced that Marissas’s employer – the accused – had died. So, the legal proceedings were never finished and the debt was left for Marissa.
The initial sum was 29 00€, but with the interest, the amount had accumulated into a total of 62 000€. In the fall of 2018, her debt was settled to 21 500€, with the aid of a successful fundraising campaign on Mesenaatti. More private donors were searched for and negotiations continued with the rest of the creditors. After significant private donations and successful settlements, she was finally debt-free in July 2019. We’d like to thank everyone, who helped getting her a new life to lead.
Marissa Jaakola was given the opportunity of her life, at the age of 25. She was offered a job at an international law consulting company. Starting at the job in the summer of 2007, she was excited for her new, challenging yet rewarding post. Soon her job took her to travel to Germany and Switzerland, where she was supposed to buy two new cars for the new European offices for the company. As a demand from her employer, she was to take care of the expenses of the cars privately and she would later be payed back by the company. After that, with her employer, they headed to Tunisia.
After their arrival in Tunisia, Marissa was drugged by her employer. He took her passport, credit card and held her captive. She was drugged to the point of being unable to resist anything, physically abused and her identity was crushed. The aim was most likely to sell a beautiful, blonde-haired Finnish woman to human trafficking. Marissa was forced to lie to her close ones, who naturally were worried as the trip for work had lasted a lot longer than it was supposed to.
Her relatives grew more worried, but the Tunisian police did nothing to the matter. Thanks to an active official, the Embassy of Finland came to help and she was freed. After a period of treatment, she was able to return to Finland and recover. During the fourth-month long captivation, a huge amount of debt had accumulated on her behalf due to fraud. In addition to the cars she was demanded to buy, the debt accumulated also because of travel and accommodation expenses that were charged on her credit card. In addition to these, the expenses for her rental apartment and phone bills were left to come due during the four-month captivation. The fight for freedom was not over yet.
Marissa went to the court. The financial losses and the abuse were meant to be dealt with in two separate trials, one for fraud and one for deprivation of freedom. For fraud, the employer was sentenced to prison for four months and to pay Marissa 10 200€ in damages.
In the trial for fraud, Marissa was not heard for what happened in Tunisia, as those incidents were to be part of different trial for deprivation of freedom. So, the court ruled that the employer was to compensate only for the expenses for the cars she was demanded to buy, in total of 10 200€. In reality, the complete sum the fraud had caused was 29 000€. The judge asked her lawyer to leave out material from her hearings, so that the incidents in Tunisia wouldn’t interfere the trial for fraud.
With her lawyer, Marissa applied for the sum of 10 200€ at the State Treasury, which is supposed to secure the losses of crime victims. The State Treasury denied the application, mostly on the basis of her not being in a state that was helpless enough during the trip. The decision was based on the material the district court had provided, which lacked the material from her hearings and the investigative material from Tunisia, which would have demonstrated her actual state of health.
At the same time, the trial for deprivation of freedom, rape and abuse was delayed, because the local investigation in Tunisia, conducted by the Tunisian police, advanced slowly. In the middle of the proceedings, it was announced that the accused, Marissa’s employer, had died. The proceedings were left unfinished and the trial was never held. According to the senior investigator, her employer was accused of several other incidents of abuse. These investigations were also left unfinished.
The sum she was meant to receive in damages for fraud was left for her to deal with. Her lawyers didn’t think it would be beneficial to try to appeal for the judgment that State Treasury ruled, due to the fact that the documents were still insufficient. She was left with 29 000€ in debt, which accumulated to 62 000€ in total with interest.
Back Towards Light is a documentary film about Marissa’s abduction, directed by award-winning Arto Halonen. Once released, the film got extensive media coverage and great critique. The film was shown also on YLE TV1 in 2019. The film was accessible via YLE Areena as well, and got a total of 540 000 viewers, 414 000 on television and 125 000 on YLE Areena.
The touching story of survival tells about the dark world of human trafficking and the attempt of a survivor to bring back her selfhood and humanity, piece by piece. The story told in the film is a rare exception in Finland, but unfortunately cases of human trafficking have been increasingly reported in Nordic countries as well.
A book of the same name was published on the 18th of October, 2018, written together by Marissa Jaakola and Ari Väntänen.
After successful negotiations, her debt was settled down to 21 500€, with the aid of fundraising campaign on Mesenaatti. Negotiations with the rest of the creditors continued. After significant private donations and successful settlements, she was finally debt-free in July, 2019. We’d like to thank everyone, who helped getting her a new life to lead.
Get to know more of the documentary film, the book and the Facebook page:
More information on the current situation of human trafficking: