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. Young people who run away from home are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation by traffickers. The Department of Justice estimates that 293,000 youth are at risk. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that “1 in 5 of the 11,800 runways reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 2015 were likely sex trafficking victims.
Laura had run away from home at a young age and been involved in prostitution since the age of 15 years old. At 17 years old she met 'Robert' who held her hostage, forced her to prostitute for his clients and subjected her to physical abuse. It was during an altercation between 'Robert' and a client that Laura was able to escape, later testifying against 'Robert' in court.
I was 17 around when I met ‘Robert.’ It started off with me and my friend meeting him for social purposes. It just went on for about nine months and we were living in different hotels the entire time and I don’t even remember how many men there were. I was a runaway and wasn’t living anywhere stable, so since I was underage most of the time, I sort of needed him in order to get hotels and move around.
I had already been a prostitute since I was 15 and I think I just didn’t even know what was right or wrong and how I should be treated. Towards the end, he held me against my will in a hostage situation and forced me to prostitute and took all the money and just beat me severely.
The last time I saw him, he was just beating me until he was absolutely tired. I was covered in bruises, my face was completely disfigured and it’s causing me issue with my back to this day because of the way he was beating me and torturing me. That was probably the worst. There was a client in the room and he was having an issue with something I couldn’t do because I was all beat up. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t want to do anything. He wanted the money back. When Robert and him were talking I ran out of the room and somehow was able to run faster than him.
I didn’t tell anyone. I kept it to myself until I got a call from the FBI that he’d been arrested for something else and asked would I talk. Having to go face everything and realize how serious everything was. For the longest time I didn’t even think it was that serious.
At the trial, it felt empowering to look at him the entire time. I’m sure it drove him crazy. He can never touch me but he had to look at me and listen and it made me feel good.
I had to learn that if I don’t at least have some kind of love and value for myself, no one ever will. My advice to other girls would be to let people help you. It’s not your fault and that you didn’t deserve it. It’s OK to be hurt about it because a lot of people will act like it never happened, because that’s what I was going to do too.
Courtesy of US Immigration and Custom Enforcement