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Natasha Herzig

2014 (Narrative date)

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.

Natasha was at the mall when a woman offered her a job in the modelling industry. She went to an office building to fill out an application and met the owner of the company. However rather than being given a job, she was kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Natasha was subjected to physical and sexual abuse daily. Natasha tells of the psychological effects of her trafficking and how she is now working towards preventing what happened to her happening ton anyone else.

Well I was at the mall one day and a woman and asked me if I would want to get involved with doing girls makeup and doing fashion shows and traveling. And I basically responded and went to an office building, filled out an application, met the owner of the company. Really felt like I was applying for a real job and it ended up being a scam and I ended up being kidnapped into trafficking. I got the job I thought and when I was at the restaurant, doing what I thought was just finishing up some last-minute paperwork, I just felt like something was wrong and as I walked outside to get my jacket, thinking that I just wanted to get out of there and a car pulled up and threw me in and I was taken to a home and stripped of my clothing and kept there for days.

And finally, I don't know how many days, somebody came in a got me and took me to the end of the house where there was another girl who told me what I would be doing and she said you would be having sex with somebody and lead me to believe that I would be going home after I did so. And she got me cleaned up, she explained to me how you have sex with this person and he's going to pay you. And then basically you can go home.

So, I went outside, I got cleaned up, she took me outside back to my trafficker and he took me to another location and I had sex with somebody and got in the car and thinking I am going to go home. I looked at him and said do I get to go home? And he said you're never going home. And I think at that point I realized that I was in a really bad situation and I wanted to leave, I wanted to run away. And when we got back to the house I asked one of the other girls, the full situation. The full picture of what was really happening.

I said I'm going to run away would you like to go with me? And she said no. And what she did was tell on me and so one of the girls came in with the phone and he was on there and he said do you want to go home? I really thought he was taking me home and he said you're right this life isn't for you, I'll take you home, come outside. So, as I went outside into his car I really believed I was going home. And he took me out into the middle of nowhere and I don't know if he was just proving a point or if he truly was leaving me to die and then came back to see if i was dead, or if it was just a point proven. Because when he came back for me once I came to, from being unconscious, he said do you want to leave? And I responded with no. And I think through the brainwashing and the breakdown process of the things that I went through that happened to me and just that fear of the unknown of what could happen next. the fact that he would take me to where my brother was going to school and we would stalk my own brother. And he would tell me how easy it would be that if I tried to leave, or if I tried to fight what was happening that he would kill my family and that it'd be my fault.  

And just that breakdown process in itself and then the longer I was there, him standing over me constantly when I was calling my parents telling them that everything's okay that I love my job. Trying to convince them that I’m just so busy I can't come home, I’m just traveling so much. Wanting to cry out for that help, but knowing that the consequences were worse than what was already happening and the way he just breaks you down and brainwashes you to believe that you are nothing that you are trash, that who would want me, how could I go back home now?  I’m ashamed and I knew that I could either survive or die like that, that I had accepted that fate, but I would never be able to live with myself, nor accept if anything had ever happened to my family because of me.


It's interesting to look at what psychologically can happen to you when you are in survival mode. When you are in, it's either them or me type of situation. You do things you wouldn't do in normal life, in life when you're not held in captivity. And it's just, you go into survival mode, you become detached from anything that's real. Any type of emotion, any type of internal feeling, you're completely just going through the motions and living each day and you begin to believe that because of the nature of what you're doing, with it being prostitution, that you are worth nothing; that it's not acceptable.

And not only are you selling your body for sex, what you're doing is illegal and you know it's wrong. And now nobody will want you, nobody will ever love me, nobody will ever want me, nobody will ever respect me. So, this is where I belong. This is where I live, this is where I will die. And you accept it. And in order to survive in that world you have to become one of them and it is survival of the fittest. It was never going to be me, it was going to be them. And that's how your survival mode takes place. I can't really explain it but that you know that you have to do things that you would never do in any other circumstances. But what it does is you live another day because of it.


Well there is no future. You don't think about oh, well I hope one day when I'm out of this I get to have a family or I get to go to school or live out my dream. You are completely hopeless. You're not even living to get through that day. You're living to get through that moment, that minute to survive. Okay, now I'm not dead, now I'm not dead. I'm still alive. There is no hope there is no future. So you're not looking towards the future of what will happen when I age out of this game. You just accept you're going to die doing it. When? That's the question. But there is no question of anything else but that, this is what I will die doing. This is my life now, this is who I am. I am not good enough for anything


Well to be honest I don't think any time I was ever trafficked in that year, I ever felt like I

could get out. Life happened. I ended up in circumstances where even after I was trafficked I was still…really he was still in control of me and I still wasn't free, and I had to go through those life experiences to break myself free. And whatever those things were that I did that helped me find my way, that's how I broke free. Because I couldn't allow him to have that control over me because that's what he would want.

There were times after I was rescued where I was wished I was still kidnapped because I didn't know which was worse. Living it, being numb to it, or now not living it, but trying to forget it. And it puts you in a very very dark place because you don't want to acknowledge what has happened to you. You want to just move on. The problem with that is that subconsciously you're acting out in ways that you normally wouldn't act out in if those things hadn't happened to you. And you know you're first step is acknowledging this happened to me. This is who I am and I need to bring out my strengths from who this person is. And it's a hard thing to do when you feel like you just been used. You truly don't love yourself so how can anyone else ever love you?


Well no. I will never be my old life. I am a new person now and this is who I am and I think because of the person I had become, it was very difficult for me to accept because I had become a person that the majority of people, are not. I don't think normally, I don't see life the way everyone else sees it. I’m not in this box per say, I'm not in the norm. I look at life completely different and I find things acceptable that most wouldn't. I find things unacceptable that most wouldn't. I am the oddity to what we find normal and I really had to find my way and I had to go to a very dark place to do it. And sometimes at the bottom, is where you see and find the most light because when you're at the bottom, you have nowhere else to go but up and you're either going to take your life, or you're going to revive yourself. And I struggled so much with being the person I was before I was taken. How do I become that person again?

Well it was impossible. Because of life experiences we are who we are, whether good or bad. I can never be that person I was before this experience. but I tried, and I tried desperately and so hard and all it did was just damage and destroy me even more because I would get so mad at myself. There just comes a time where you just can't take it anymore and you're either, all you have is up, or all you have is death. And I just rose through it all, I mean, literally crawling and clawing my way through such depths of despair, of such darkness and just not letting anybody stop me anymore. Embracing who I was, this new person, acknowledging I had been victimized. I am a victim. I will not let you have this control over me anymore. I will not allow it. I will find my own closure. I will find my own place in this world. I will rise. And I will show him and everybody else. nobody's going to tell me no, nobody's going to take it away from me anymore. this is who I am. This is me.


I don't know if I have so much advice because I mean, I can't prevent human trafficking, I never will be able to. All I can do, is allow people to see what's really happening next door to them. And to do something about it and to educate to see that all these girls, we all come from somewhere. We're somebody's child. We're somebody's sister, we're somebody's daughter. I'm somebody's wife and I’m somebody's mother and we are people. And no matter how hard we come across, it's just because how you survive. It's the only way we know how. And to just try to understand it a little bit better when you come across those survivors, those victims. We don't know anything else and we had been through a lot. Nobody can understand but us, nobody ever will, but I understand and I always will. And I have been there and I am doing this for them even if they don't believe it today, hopefully one day they will believe. And it's just, I do this to educate and inform always, always.


I find that when I'm training law enforcement that they see it from a different perspective. That they realize the thing with trafficking victims, is we are the evidence as well for their case. Whereas, they're so used to you know, drugs, stolen something. They just grab the evidence, they put it away in the evidence locker, in the room and then they go about their business. You can't do that with a human. We are not only your witness, we are not only the victim, we are your evidence for this case. And with that comes everything else we've had to deal with. So it's very difficult to establish a case with a trafficking victim. We are damaged, we have a lot going on. We are in fear. We don't want to be there. We believe we're not doing anything wrong, just let me go back. There's just so many different emotions and I try to help law enforcement see that and how to better establish that case and to gain that trust because we're not going to trust law enforcement. and I mean I don't know. If I have one question that's always asked more than the other, I think they just absorb everything I’m telling them because I'm able to give them a different perspective, a perspective they probably usually don't see because when you're in the case, the victim is not healed enough to say thank you. Uou made a change in my life, you brought me justice. We're just in the moment going through the motions. I mean I remember going from one police department to another police department telling my story because we had just been rescued and we're being flown all over the country because they have all these open cases now from where we were being trafficked. And now the FBI. and it's very tiring and no one explains that process and I just helped law enforcement understand we're going to explain process. Let's, you know…i try to make it better, I try to make it…


I don't ever feel like I've triumphed. I feel like I will always be on this journey. I will always be healing. I will never forget. And as much as I have it together, there are still bad days. And I don't know if I'll ever feel like victory because I feel like I'm doing what anyone else would do in my situation. I just feel much more grateful and much more blessed and appreciative of life and the things that I do have, but I'll never feel like victory. I won, like I beat him. He doesn't have it anymore because it's a constant struggle within yourself to be the person you are now because of what he did to you. But I don't feel any different than any other survivor because I feel like they would be doing the same thing.


I don't know. That's a good question. I think people want to learn, they want to know. But it's a very hard concept to grasp. People, once you acknowledge there's a problem, then you've obligated to do something about it and a lot of people just want to live in their world and not have to worry about everyone else's problem. The problem with that is that it can happen to your child and you think it can't happen to me. The truth is, is that it can, because it happened to me. And I think with me sharing my story is that I can make it real for you. I can make you understand that I lived this normal great wonderful life, childhood. my parents are together, I have a close relationship with them, I didn't have any traumatizing things happen to me as a child. I was very much involved in school. I didn't do drugs. It makes it more real that it can be anybody.


To acknowledge that it's a problem. When I first started speaking, people would say that doesn't happen here. That didn't happen to you. So what you're telling me is that my family and me, we're all making up this story? But it doesn't happen here. But it does. And it did. And acknowledge. I'm not asking you to save the world. I'm asking you to acknowledge myself, the girls who've been through what I've been through, and my story. What you take from it, is what you take from it. if you want to do something about it, then more power to you. If you don't? I just ask that you acknowledge that this happened, and it is happening. And I think just for young girls to always listen to what your gut says and be informed on what to do once you're uneasy and unsure about a situation. And to be confident young women, embrace who you are, know who you are because you're less likely to be preyed  upon.


Narrative provided by Global Perspectives for WUCFTV