Human Trafficking 102:
Test your knowledge: see if you can guess certain aspects of these Survivor Stories by as a pre-test. Then retake it after you’ve read through this section!
In order to fight the growing epidemic of human trafficking, we must develop our understanding of its brutal reality. There are no better teachers about this crime than those who have lived it and survived it.
The following are true accounts* of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Survivors who lived these stories shared them with members of The Dragonfly Home staff while working with them to get a new start.
Our purpose in sharing these stories is to enrich your knowledge about human trafficking. Each victim/survivor’s story is unique and should not be exploited. We have taken great care to change names and identifying details in order to preserve each individual’s confidentiality and protection.
The human trafficking involved in all of these accounts took place in the United States, some in Oklahoma.
Tiana grew up in harsh circumstances. Her father a pimp and her mother a prostituted woman from a young age, the state eventually took her into child protective services when she was a young girl. Bouncing around from group home to group home, Tiana continually searched for someone to show her love, attention, and affection.
Like many people her age, Tiana began seeking validation on social media. Desperate for likes and male attention, she frequently posted selfies on Instagram. She was 15 years old when she caught the attention of a charming, handsome young man. Tiana was thrilled when he called her beautiful and said he wanted to marry her. She thought she had found her Prince Charming.
One day, the young man drove to pick Tiana up from her high school. He had pinpointed her exact location through geotagging information encrypted into her Instagram photos. Tiana hesitated to get into his car – it was the first time they’d met face to face. But she had fallen in love. Tiana left with him, hoping to leave behind the life she’d known.
Little did Tiana know that this was all a part of the young man’s plan. By lavishing her with expensive gifts from shopping trips, he won her affection more and more each day. She grew isolated from her friends. He became the only person in her life.
One day, he forced her to sell her body. Tiana performed sexual acts with dozens of men, day after day, month after horrifying month. Tiana became a victim of human trafficking. Her Prince Charming had become her trafficker.
Like any child, Olivia craved the love and attention of her mother. But her mother had one priority – supporting her severe addiction to heroin. When the drugs ran out, she turned to her most precious asset – her daughter. Olivia was a toddler when her mother first sold her to local child molesters.
Olivia was born into generational commercial sexual exploitation. Her mother had been sold for sex by her own mother. Sex trafficking their children was this family’s “normal.”
All throughout her childhood, Olivia suffered through being sold for sex repeatedly. To make matters worse, she experienced constant abuse, neglect, and malnourishment. As a preteen, Olivia was taken into child protective services. However, her case managers failed to understand, address, or even acknowledge the depth and complexity of Olivia’s trauma after a childhood of sex trafficking. Acting out on her trauma, Olivia continually ran away from, or was kicked out of, group homes for bad behavior.
Once out on her own – but still not an adult – Olivia fell back into a cycle of abuse; it was all she’d ever known. She found herself drawn to men who physically, emotionally, and sexually abused her. Eventually, Olivia found herself pulled back into sex trafficking. One day, her boyfriend couldn’t pay his bills, so he forced her to have sex with other men. The situation was excruciatingly familiar.
Although she managed to escape this abusive relationship, Olivia wound up homeless, addicted to drugs to cope with her pain, and extremely vulnerable to being sexually exploited over and over again.
Carlos came from a wealthy family in Central America. Despite growing up with an abusive alcoholic father, Carlos managed to succeed in school and graduate from a local university. With his college degree in hand, he secured a great job in his field that paid well.
Tragically, organized crime ran rampant in Carlos’ county. Drug lords exerted tremendous power and Carlos ended up in a dangerous situation involving a cartel. To escape from danger, Carlos sought opportunities in the United States. One day, he got a job offer that sounded incredible, would enable him to live somewhere safer, and would pay him decent money.
When Carlos arrived, he found the job was nothing like he was promised. He toiled for little to no pay; lived in cramped, unsanitary shelter; and worked excruciating hours in a traveling carnival. He contemplated leaving, but his employers threatened him severely. They said that if he spoke to anyone or tried to escape, they would contact law enforcement. They even threatened to murder his entire family.
Carlos felt trapped. Things just got worse. His employers became physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive. Eventually, the employers began forcing him to have sex with others for their own financial gain. Carlos had become a victim of both labor trafficking and sex trafficking.
Like so many other high school students, Kinsey suffered from very low self-esteem. Bullied by kids at school, Kinsey became depressed. She bickered constantly with her parents. She felt they couldn’t understand her, sending her deeper into depression. Her thoughts turned to taking her own life. She wondered, “Would anyone even care?”
One day, Kinsey decided to skip class and venture off to spend the afternoon alone at a local park. To her surprise and delight, several cute, older guys approached her. Their compliments and interest made her happy, briefly filling her sense of emptiness. When they offered her some drugs to try, she didn’t want to disappoint them and lose their attention. She accepted and tried the drugs.
What happened next was a blur. Before she knew it, Kinsey found herself in an unfamiliar hotel room, in terrible pain, and very disoriented. The guys she had met in the park turned out to be gang members. Now they were Kinsey’s traffickers.
Sex trafficking had become far more profitable for the gang than selling drugs. They could only sell drugs once, but they could sell a girl for sex over and over again. The gang members sold Kinsey to dozens of sex purchasers every day. She had become a victim of the crime of sex trafficking.
*Names and identifying details have been changed for the victims’ confidentiality and protection.