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!
The following are true accounts* of sex trafficking and labor trafficking that survivors shared with members of The Dragonfly Home staff. All of these stories of human trafficking took place in the United States; specifically, most took place in Oklahoma.
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.
Tiana grew up in harsh circumstances; her was father a pimp who sold her mother for sex. Due to the dysfunctional, abusive environment, Child Protective Services took Tiana into custody as a young child. Bouncing around from group home to group home, Tiana continually searched for someone to show her love, attention, and affection, eventually turning to social media to find what she was seeking.
A Less Than Charming Prince
Tiana was thrilled when her Instagram selfies caught the attention of a charming, handsome young man. He told her she was beautiful and that he wanted to marry her. One day, Tiana walked out of her high school to find him waiting for her. Tiana hesitated; she had only ever talked to him online. Young and in love, Tiana left with him, hoping to leave behind the lonely life she’d known. She didn’t realize this was all a part of his plan.
The young man lavished Tiana with gifts and attention, winning her love and trust. Then one day, he changed suddenly and drastically. He showed Tiana nude photos he had taken of her. He threatened to share the photos with everyone she knew if she didn’t start selling her body to earn him money. Under his coercive control, Tiana performed sexual acts with dozens of men, day after day, month after horrifying month.
“Now I know what happened to me wasn’t my fault. I deserve to dream again.” – Tiana
When Tiana came to The Dragonfly Home Relief and Restoration Center, she felt safe and at home. Through specialized Case Management tailored specifically for human trafficking survivors, Tiana gained access to many different services that helped her regain control over her future. She began participating in trauma-focused therapy that specifically helped her work through the difficult things that had happened to her.
Like any child, Olivia craved the love and attention of her mother, but her mother had one priority – supporting her addiction to heroin. When the drugs ran out, she began selling Olivia to local child molesters. All throughout her childhood, Olivia suffered through being sold for sex repeatedly. She experienced constant abuse, neglect, and malnourishment.
As a preteen, Olivia was taken into Child Protective Services. Tragically, 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.
A Cycle of Abuse
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.
“No one can ever take my education away from me.” – Olivia
Receiving services through The Dragonfly Home helped Olivia get back on her feet. She worked hard to make sure she never had to go back to “the life” or become homeless ever again. Olivia had never finished high school. Through tutoring services and studying hard, Olivia earned her GED. Now she is working toward going to college.
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.
Dream Job Turns into a Nightmare
When Carlos arrived in the U.S, he found the job was nothing like he was promised; instead, he worked for a traveling carnival. He received little to no pay; lived in cramped, filthy shelter; and worked excruciatingly long hours. When he announced that he was going to leave, his employers threatened him severely. They said that if he spoke to anyone or tried to escape, they would send people to murder his entire family.
Carlos’ employers became physically and sexually abusive. Eventually, they 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.
“Thank you for not judging me. It feels so good to have people I can trust.” – Carlos
Thankfully, a watchful community member reported seeing suspicious treatment of the employees at the carnival and law enforcement intervened. Eventually Carlos was recognized as a human trafficking victim/survivor and was referred to The Dragonfly Home. He was provided safe shelter at a hotel until further accommodations were secured. Carlos also received assistance from an immigration attorney through The Dragonfly Home.
Like so many other high school students, Kinsey suffered bullying by her classmates both at school and at all hours on social media. She also fought constantly with her parents, whom she felt didn’t understand her at all. Her self-esteem dipped lower; she became depressed and started losing hope. Kinsey’s thoughts turned to taking her own life. She wondered if anyone would even notice or care.
One day, Kinsey decided to skip class and 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 feel happy for the first time in along time. In that moment, their attention filled her sense of emptiness. When they offered her some drugs to try, she didn’t want to disappoint them. She desperately wanted to keep their attention. She accepted and tried the drugs. Suddenly, everything became a blur.
Awaking to a Nightmare
Kinsey awoke to find herself in an unfamiliar hotel room. Her body was in terrible pain and she felt very disoriented. In her haze, she had already been sold for sex. The guys she had met in the park turned out to be gang members. Now they were Kinsey’s traffickers and they sold Kinsey to dozens of men every day. “The life” became Kinsey’s norm. She had become a victim of the crime of sex trafficking.
“It’s been so long since I’ve been able to hope.” – Kinsey
Through The Dragonfly Home, Kinsey received trauma-focused counseling, as well as substance abuse support to overcome the forced drug use perpetrated by those who trafficked her. When she was called upon to testify against a man who had purchased her for sex, Kinsey also received help from The Dragonfly Home’s Court Advocacy Team. Through their courtroom preparation, Kinsey gave her testimony with confidence, resulting in the successful prosecution of the sex purchaser for the crime of human trafficking.
*Names and identifying details have been changed for the victims’ confidentiality and protection.