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.Rebecca was trafficked in Indiana, USA when she was twenty-one-years old. After being sexually assaulted at the age of fourteen, Rebecca began acting out and struggled with depression, anxiety, and began experimenting with drugs and alcohol. When she was twenty-one, she met a man almost twice her age and moved in with him just three weeks later. The man introduced her to crystal meth, controlled her movement and sold her to men for sex. Rebecca tells of how, despite leaving her trafficking situation, she struggled to come to terms with her exploitation and it affected her life for years afterwards
I think it best to start off by admitting I was a “problem” child. I am not stating this to say that I, or anyone else like me, are responsible for all the bad things that ever happened, but I think it’s important to state because of certain vulnerabilities I had that were preyed upon later.
I grew up in a close family. I went to church, attended a youth group and went to a private school. I had two hard working parents, who provided for the needs of their children and loved us dearly. They were strict, holding us to values they felt best for us and we grew up in a relatively happy household. I started acting out shortly after I was sexually assaulted by a man while spending the night with a friend. I was 14. I struggled with depression, self-harm, anxiety and who knows what else at a very young age. This eventually led to hospitals stays for behavioral problems on and off in my late teens. I lied so many times that when it came down to the really bad things later, I knew that no one would believe me. I had a habit of going from place to place, showing back up when I felt like it and then disappearing for months at a time again. I could never hold down a job, or if I did, it was not for long. I dabbled in drugs and alcohol. I hung out with people that were bad news despite warnings not to. I broke the law and although never arrested, I was always in and out of trouble. I’m not proud to admit any of the above and it would be so much easier for me to just leave this part of things out. But, I can’t. Despite my behavior, I honestly think I was just trying my best to keep things together and it made me a perfect candidate to prey upon.
I was barely 21 when I met the man who would traffick me. He was more than twice my age but he was nice to me, which was different from previous experiences with men that I had. I moved in with him three weeks after we met. In the beginning he was good to me. He showered me with gifts and compliments. He took me on short adventurous trips. He simply spent time with me.
I didn't realize how much I had craved those things. At the same time, he introduced me to the drug, crystal meth, and isolated me from all friends and family. Both things were very easy for him to do. He eventually started introducing rules into our relationship. I was only allowed to go certain places and talk to certain people. He became irritated and violent at times and his drug use made him very paranoid. He also showed no fear in living as he wanted, even if it meant bending the law in order to do so. He made it quite clear that law enforcement and others were considered enemies, and despite breaking the law on a daily basis, he told me he would kill anyone who tried to infringe on his freedom, including me. I learned to believe him after he held a gun to my head on several different occasions. He also threatened to harm people dear to me. What I thought had started out as a fun relationship with a man I believed that cared for me turned into a nightmare in a very short amount of time. Because of my past of being anything but honest, I kept quiet. I didn't think anyone would believe me and most of my “so called” friends were long gone anyways.
By opening up to my trafficker about my past and the shame of certain things I had done or been through, I allowed him a for sure way of convincing me I was damaged. Again, something that was not hard for him to do. Once he convinced me, he was able to use it.
For almost two years, I did what this man told me to do out of fear and out of shame. He sold me to men in order to continue a growing gambling and drug habit. None of those men he forced me to have sex with had a problem taking me to pay off what he owed. I no longer doubted that this man would harm me if I didn’t do what he said and after the first time he sold me to another man, I knew he owned me. His desire to humiliate, harm and keep me afraid became a game to him and I simply took it. I never fought back when these men raped me, I simply turned inward and sought a way of disappearing. I came to believe this was a way of life I deserved.
Obviously my story does not end with me staying in this volatile relationship. After several attempts I was finally able to remove myself from him and was taken to a safe place. A place I knew he would never think to look but even then I didn't feel safe. When given the chance I moved as far away as I dared from the only people I had ever known and loved and I decided not to look back. What most think at this point is that since I was safe and far away from any further abuse that all returned to normal. But it doesn’t work that way. I no longer knew normal. I struggled trying to find answers and I certainly put the blame on myself. I truly believed that maybe all my worth was wrapped up in providing men with sex and if I didn’t do that, then I was nothing. I was worthless. I would go years thinking I was okay only for things to creep up at the most random of times. When it did, it left me spent, afraid and feeling utterly hopeless. So, I turned to old habits. I tried to drink my way into oblivion. I tried to drown my fears in self-harm and starvation, and I sunk into total despair. I lived in this state of mind on and off over the next 12 years. I became an expert at hiding what was really going on and in the meantime, I got married, I moved to Texas and I started working at stable jobs. I even returned to college. In fact it was during one of my very first college classes in Psychology that I first heard the term “Human Trafficking”.
I researched the subject of human trafficking after that day and I was just flabbergasted at what I learned. I certainly did not believe that any of what I learned applied to me, but if I was honest with myself, I knew it did. And, I was angry. I couldn’t believe that this was happening to millions of men, women and children and that very few people talked about it. This realization led me to want to do something, however, I knew that I couldn’t in the midst of my pain. I finally admitted I needed help and a little under four years ago, I entered a treatment facility for 30 days
I honestly felt that once I stopped drinking that things would progressively get better. However, it was more the opposite. Once I no longer had my vice in order to forget, most of my memories came flooding back in. Some very dark days entered my life during that time. I was withdrawn from those around me and I was seriously searching for any bits of hope that might be left. I remember sitting in the dark one day and just sobbing. I started contemplating taking my life. I really believed I just couldn’t do it anymore and I started thinking the people in my life would be better off without me. How wrong I was. So I did the one thing I could think of left to do, the one thing I hadn’t done in years… I started praying. I just completely surrendered myself knowing that I could no longer go on as I was. I am not going to lie and tell you that some overwhelming feeling of joy entered into my being at that moment, but I will say that I felt at peace for the first time in a very long time and I slept. Something I was struggling with doing in those days and when I woke, I fully remember feeling as if a heavy burden had been lifted and I had a clear moment of realizing what I was supposed to do with my life. And when that peace was still with me a few days later, I started believing that things were changing. I honestly believe that God healed me in that moment and set me on a course that would forever change my life for the better.
Within a few short months I had applied and been accepted into the Justice School in Pattaya, Thailand. For five weeks, I left my husband state side and traveled to a country I knew nothing about with the obedience of a new Christian, clinging to faith and hope that I was being led in the right direction. I threw myself back into the very world I had tried years to run from. Although the stories in Thailand were very different than mine… it all resonated very close and I almost gave up and went home. Looking back, I am so glad I stayed and finished out my time there. I was able to bring what I had learned in Thailand back to Texas and use it to start Hands of Justice
Over the last two years, Hands of Justice has opened its doors, grown, gone through periods of struggle and stood steadfast in moving toward helping others in need. We continue to learn and celebrate both victory and defeat, for all of it has made us stronger. It has not been easy, but it has been worth every minute.
What I want people to learn by reading my story is that human trafficking is not black and white. It’s complex, complicated, dark and very hard to talk about. I want people to know that facts and statistics can help one understand the magnitude of things, but it’s the personal testimonies, the stories from both men and women, that will ultimately stir people to action. My story is not about a girl that was kidnapped and locked in a room and forced to have sex with others. But, what I learned is that my story is not much different than the majority of men, women and children that are caught in the world of trafficking here in the United States every day. I share my story in hopes of encouraging those that are struggling, both in and out of human trafficking. I know darkness, but I also know hope and can find meaning in life through what I have experienced. I would never have found that without God helping me to open up and be honest with my life.
Narrative source Youth Underground, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing human trafficking through youth education, awareness-raising and advocacy.
The original narrative can be found here