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Sex trafficking is a form of modern slavery that exists throughout the United States. Traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. The situations that sex trafficking victims face vary, many victims become romantically involved with someone who then forces them into prostitution. Others are lured with false promises of a job, and some are forced to sell sex by members of their own families. Victims of sex trafficking include both foreign nationals and US citizens, with women making up the majority of those trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. In 2015, the most reported venues/industries for sex trafficking included commercial-front brothels, hotel/motel-based trafficking, online advertisements with unknown locations, residential brothels, and street-based sex trafficking.

Arien was feeling alone when she met a man who made her feel like he was there for her. After building up her trust this man began to abuse Arien and forced her into commercial sexual exploitation. Taken across the United States by her trafficker and subjected daily to physical and sexual abuse, Arien was finally able to escape one night while her trafficker was sleeping.

My name is Arien Pauls and this is my freedom story.

This guy that I met online, actually before Facebook was really popular it was a site called Myspace, erm and he got on there and he would see the things that I was posting about what I was going through with my family. See me saying things about feeling alone or feeling like no one was there for me, and he used that as a way to get close to me, by saying how much he cared about me and how he would be somebody that would take care of me.

He did use aspects of glamour as to taking me shopping, getting my nails done, showing me things. Once I started not feeling, I was starting to feel unsafe and I was starting to feel scared and I started to feel like wait a minute, why am I getting in trouble with the police? Why are these guys taking advantage of me? Why can’t I go to the hospital after I’ve been raped? All these different things started happening. When I started meeting him with some resistance, that’s when the abuse started. I was taken through what they call, its more sort of a network. There are certain cities and certain states that have been established as places where it’s lucrative for guys to take young girls. So I was taken all through Southern California, I was taken through Nevada, Oregon, through Washington, even across to Washington DC. And it came to one night where I kind of snapped, so I told him no, and I stood firm on that no. he got very upset, he actually beat me until he passed out.

I was ready to die, and so when he fell asleep I wasn’t afraid of anything, I just packed my stuff and ran.

And I didn’t know it at the time but my relationship started with Jesus on the night I escaped. I was in the middle of being beaten and all of a sudden I couldn’t feel anything and it wasn’t a feeling of I’m gonna die, it was a feeling of, I can’t feel these punches. Every time he hit me his hands felt like pillows on my back, like I literally couldn’t feel any physical pain.  Now that I do have a relationship with Jesus and with God, I look back and I know that that was the first time I felt God just reach down and put his arms around me. Erm from that moment it took me almost 2 years to er get where I am. When I went into church on the rock it was a very, it was kind of like, God’s home for broken and misfit people. I could just feel that there were a lot of broken people there. And they were very open and raw about the fact that this is where you come to heal, this is your family, when you come in here broken you shouldn’t walk out broken. Church is so much more than just a tie or an offering or a worship song and so I was able to grow and I was really, I was really surprised. But then again can’t be really that surprised when it’s God working.

As told to the Central Valley Justice Coalition