“Having the opportunity to share my story with other women, and hopefully save even one from similar abuse, makes me genuinely believe that it’s better that I went through this experience than not having lived it at all.”
These are the words from a twenty-five year old American survivor of human trafficking. This brave declaration seems impossible, unutterable, and astounding to anyone who knows the horrors of human trafficking. But this confession speaks to a young woman who has found her purpose, strength, and hope after an incredibly painful ordeal.
Her story is not unlike others we’ve heard, but one of her distinctive and remarkable qualities is that she identifies herself as a survivor, not a victim.
As a 10-year-old girl, she was abused at the hands of a trusted family member.
In her words she says: “This abuse changed the way I saw myself in the mirror, and in the way I presented myself to other people. My self-esteem deteriorated, and my relationships with men were completely skewed. As I grew up I fell into a battle with drugs and an eating disorder.”
Her life was spiraling out of control, and she decided to move to a different part of the United States to start fresh and find healing from her past.
In her vulnerability and constant battle with drugs she met a young man who befriended her, and in her words was, “very giving of his time emotionally, and presented himself as really easy to talk to.”
This man pitched an idea to her that seemed like a way out of her troubles.
The business proposition was to offer massage services out of this young man’s home, along with his girlfriend who had already been offering these same services. Everything seemed legitimate so she went for it.
She quickly discovered that what seemed like a dream was really a nightmare. She had been manipulated and lied to, and worst of all, she had unknowingly come face to face with the sobering reality of human trafficking.
In the middle of one of the wealthiest and “safest” places in the United States, this young woman was held against her will and forced to sleep with multiple men a day, no matter the day, the hour, or whether she was sick or tired. With each client she was forced to service she lost not only her sense of dignity, but also a piece of herself.
The abuse and conditions became worse, and she desperately longed for a way out. Every threat imaginable was thrown at her-- threats of violence, withholding of the drugs to which she was now completely addicted, and harm to her family.
One day after being allowed to send a package to her family, she came back to find that a shipment of drugs had been delivered to her apartment. The drugs must have been very strong because her trafficker and his girlfriend had completely passed out.
She knew this was her only chance to reclaim her life. Without hesitation, she grabbed her keys and ran for her life.
After making a call to her mother and friend, she was taken to a remote detox facility and began what would be the longest and hardest road to recovery she had ever known.
It has been three years since she decided to face every possible fear and obstacle and find her life again. Today, she is a sponsor for other women with drug, alcohol, and trafficking backgrounds.
She says, “For the most part, I walk around fearless of the past. It took courage to heal--letting go of the fear of men, and rebuilding my self esteem so I could open myself up to be loved again.”
As human trafficking often seems like a distant and far off epidemic, this young woman’s story proves that it’s just as pervasive in the United States as anywhere else in the world.
In sitting down with Grace* and asking some questions, these are just a few of the many things we can learn from a story like hers.
A21: From a Survivor’s perspective what would you say is the biggest misconception about trafficking in the U.S.?
Grace: “Like many others out there, if you had told me that trafficking would be an experience in my life, I would have likely shuddered and turned my thoughts to something more pleasant.
The biggest misconception is the cliché, “I believe it happens, but it won’t ever happen to me.” I fell into it in one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. There is not one specific stereotype for a trafficker. In my personal experience, my captor ended up being someone whom I’d once regarded as a friend.”
A21: What would you say the biggest struggle was right after escaping and what is it now?
Grace: “My biggest struggle was adapting back to the mainstream flow of life. I suffered from extreme paranoia and fear for the first three months. I felt trapped by my mind and like an outsider that I couldn’t find joy in the day-to-day activities like I was witnessing with others.
Today the struggle is flashbacks and differentiating between vocalizing my struggles and falling into a victim mentality.”
A21: What are some therapeutic outlets that you have found when memories or feelings from the past come to your mind?
Grace: “Developing a relationship with a higher power has been my saving grace. It reminds me daily that I am not alone, no matter the circumstances. I also enjoy practicing yoga and cultivating rich and meaningful relationships with my friends and family.”
A21: What would you want another survivor of human trafficking to know?
Grace: “You will make it through to the other side of all this. You’ll no longer look in the mirror and only be able to see the things you’ve done—you’ll be able to carry your head high again.”
A21: Tell us what you can about life now? What are you doing and what are your dreams and goals for the future?
Grace: “Life now is a fairytale come true compared to what it was. I never thought I had any reputable skills to offer the world. But after recovery I was able to go back to school, develop my career, and form meaninful relationships. I’ve learned how to forgive myself, which was the biggest thing for me.
In the future I want to be able to share my story with no inhibitions. I find the greatest joy is sharing my struggle and hopes with other women who need support. You are never alone.”
If you want to help more people like Grace, you can donate here.
*Survivor's name and picture has been changed for her protection.
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