There are an estimated 403,000 people living in modern slavery in the United States (GSI 2018). Sex trafficking exists throughout the country. 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.
Catie was 18 years old when she moved from Colorado to San Francisco and met a man at a nightclub. She began a relationship with this man that soon became coercive and manipulative. Catie was forced in to prostitution and threatened with violence daily. Catie was eventually able to escape her situation and twenty years later as a survivor has moved on with the help of Oakland-based non-profit AnnieCannons whose mission is to teach sex trafficking survivors how to develop software and websites.
I just moved here all the way from Colorado all by myself, and I didn’t realize at the time, of course, but in his mind he was just like ‘cha-ching’.
For so long, it was ‘I will kill you if you ever leave me’…almost every single day, and he would explain very calmly who he would pay, how much it would cost, how they would follow me for months and months and get to know my schedule so that when it happened it would look very random and they wouldn’t be able to pin it back on him. And he would say these things to me calmly.
Even though I have my degree and stuff, I’m not exactly someone who should go applying to jobs on Indeed.com because all you need to do is Google me and see I have this past, and HR and big corporations don’t like that stuff.
I still felt that same feeling when I was doing sex work, where, like, I didn’t feel like I had other options.
[After escaping the life, Catie began an engineering course at AnnieCannons]
Who has access to it? Exactly because even this cohort, this is only five of us and realistically only three of us are really gonna make it through. There are so many trafficking survivors who meet the criteria of being stably housed and being driven and being logical in their thinking and there’s only five people there.
[speaking about having conversations about trafficking victims’ past]
It’s something that seems to be happening a little bit more organically as we’re getting to know each other, and it’s not something we really talk about during class time. They don’t promise to solve all that stuff, which I think is great.
I’ve never been happier…having a steady paycheck for the first time since I was like 16 and just like actually real financial security where I know I’m going to get paid every two weeks, and I can start to like just settle into my life finally.
I’m so excited for the future for the first time in 20 years.
Narrative provided by Public Radio International