Aurelia and John

Aurelia’s Story

Imagine you were so desperate to help your struggling family that you left your home country for an opportunity to earn extra money. Now imagine being tricked into working 18 hours a day as a dancer, often without food and for no pay. What would you do if you were terrified that if you tried to get out of the torturous situation you would be physically beaten?

This is exactly what happened to *Aurelia, an African woman who was trafficked for labor.

Tricked into Being Trafficked

Aurelia was from a small village in Africa. She lived with a large family that her parents struggled to support. She had been searching for ways to earn extra money when she heard about a man who was recruiting women to become dancers in the U.S. When they spoke, he personally assured Aurelia that she would make enough money to help her family.

Shortly after arriving in the U.S., Aurelia realized that she had been tricked into joining a group of trafficked women. The trafficker threatened to hurt all of the women if any one of them talked about leaving. Aurelia and the women lived in constant fear that they would be beaten, or worse.

After suffering for two years, one day Aurelia and the other women escaped to New York City where they had nowhere to stay, no money, no identification and no job. She did not give up hope. Aurelia saw a woman wearing African attire on the street. She took a bold chance and asked for help. At first, Aurelia and the woman couldn’t understand each other, so the woman asked a friend to help communicate with her. Fortunately, the friend understood what Aurelia’s situation was and she knew of Safe Horizon’s Anti Trafficking Program (ATP).

Aurelia Finds Support

ATP gives victims of human trafficking the chance to speak to a compassionate expert who personally guides them in obtaining critical resources to get back on their feet. At ATP, Aurelia was paired with a case worker who helped her set goals and create a plan of action to achieve them.

Even after escaping, human trafficking victims may face backlash from their traffickers in their native country. To ensure Aurelia’s safety, her attorney helped her file for and obtain a T-Visa. A T-Visa allows victims of human trafficking to stay and work in the U.S. This can help them avoid returning home to further violence.

The case worker also connected Aurelia to free English classes and emergency housing. With ATP’s help, Aurelia was linked to a special housing program that provided her a stable environment. Here, she improved her English skills and began looking for employment.

Aurelia Achieves Success

With ATP’s critical help in securing her safety and immigration status, Aurelia’s life began to flourish. Aurelia now has a stable job. She supports herself and sends money to her family to buy clothing and food.

Aurelia told her case manager she thanks the “good Samaritans” who helped her find ATP and the staff who saved her life, guiding her to the bright future she has today.


John’s Story

ohn’s Human Trafficking Story: In Pursuit of the American Dream

*John was a successful salesman in the Philippines with a master’s degree in Business Administration. He wanted to come to the United States to pursue a better life.

A friend told John about an agency that helps people like them become workers in California. To apply, they were required to pay a large application fee. In order to pay this hefty fee, John arranged a loan that used part of his mother’s ancestral land as collateral. With the loan secured, he applied and headed for America.

Unexpected Trouble

John worked hard every day at the various jobs including: being a desk clerk, driving shuttle buses and washing dishes. John knew it would take time to establish himself in a new career in the United States. He looked into filing an extension for his visa. Initially the agency that helped him come to the United States offered help in filing a visa extension. However, they soon stopped answering his calls.

John was terrified his visa would expire and that he would be deported. So he frantically searched the internet for companies who might help. An agency based in Kansas City, Missouri promised they would extend his visa.

The agency representatives charged John outrageous fees. They warned him to follow their instructions, or else he would be deported. The agency assigned John along with a group of four others to work in a hotel in Casper, Wyoming.

The Un-American Dream

In Casper, he lived in the hotel’s maintenance room and shared it with ten other people. The room had no air conditioning or heat. The bathroom they shared was small and didn’t have hot running water. John worked long and irregular hours. During his working hours, he was routinely exposed to toxic paint fumes. He developed insomnia, severe stress and high blood pressure.

He was not fairly paid. When he did get paid there was often a delay and he wasn’t paid for all of the hours he worked. John complained to the management of the hotel and to the agency who had placed him there. The agency would threaten him with the prospect of deportation. One day, he mustered the courage to leave.

Escaping Modern-Day Slavery

After John escaped, he spent three years traveling the country and staying with various friends. To get by, he took several survival jobs to make ends meet.

During a trip to New York City, a friend told him of a law firm who handled human trafficking cases. Although John had already sought help from five different lawyers, he persevered and tried again. Luckily, this law firm understood John’s situation and directed him to a resource that could actually help him find relief; Safe Horizon’s Anti-Trafficking Program (ATP).

John was assigned an intensive case manager at ATP who helped him work through the emotional and psychological effects of being trafficked.

ATP also assigned John an attorney from ATP’s legal team who coordinated with our Immigration Law Project (ILP). ILP provides legal services to thousands of undocumented immigrant victims of crime and their families in New York City. Together, our ATP and ILP helped John file a green card application so he could become a permanent resident of the United States.

After receiving help from Safe Horizon, John felt inspired to help other victims of human trafficking. He joined ATP’s human trafficking survivor leadership group, Voices of Hope. John is now part of a supportive community and continues to empower others who were taken advantage of during their weakest moments.

He tells us that no amount of money could ever replace what Safe Horizon has done for his life and that he is now pursuing his true American dream.


* Client names and identifying information have been changed to protect their privacy. Images used are representations of Safe Horizon’s clients.


Taken from


Debbie and Miya

Fifteen-year-old “Debbie” is the middle child in a close-knit Air Force family from suburban Phoenix, and a straight-A student — the last person most of us would expect to be forced into the seamy world of sex trafficking.

But Debbie, which is not her real name, is one of thousands of young American girls who authorities say have been abducted or lured from their normal lives and made into sex slaves. While many Americans have heard of human trafficking in other parts of the world — Thailand, Cambodia, Latin America and eastern Europe, for example — few people know it happens here in the United States.


Abducted From Her Own Driveway, Teen Says

Debbie’s story is particularly chilling. One evening Debbie said she got a call from a casual friend, Bianca, who asked to stop by Debbie’s house. Wearing a pair of Sponge Bob pajamas, Debbie went outside to meet Bianca, who drove up in a Cadillac with two older men, Mark and Matthew. After a few minutes of visiting, Bianca said they were going to leave.

“So I went and I started to go give her a hug,” Debbie told “Primetime.” “And that’s when she pushed me in the car.”

As they sped away from her house, Debbie said that one of the men told Bianca to tie her up and said he threatened to shoot Bianca if she didn’t comply.

“She tied up my hands first, and then she put the tape over my mouth. And she put tape over my eyes,” Debbie said. “While she was putting tape on me, Matthew told me if I screamed or acted stupid, he’d shoot me. So I just stayed quiet.”

Unbelievably, police say Debbie was kidnapped from her own driveway with her mother, Kersti, right inside. Back home with her other kids, Kersti had no idea Debbie wasn’t there.

“I was in the house. I mean, it was a confusing night. I had all the kids coming in and out. The last I knew she had come back in,” Kersti said. “It was just so weird that night. I mean, I normally check on all my kids, and that night I didn’t. I should have.”

Debbie said her captors drove her around the streets of Phoenix for hours. Exhausted and confused, she was finally taken to an apartment 25 miles from her home. She said one of her captors put a gun to her head.

“He goes, ‘If I was to shoot you right now, where would you want to be shot — in your head, in your back or in your chest?'” Debbie said. “And then I hear him start messing with his gun. And he counted to three and then he pulled the trigger. And then I was still alive. I opened my eyes, and I just saw him laughing.”

Debbie said she was then drugged by her captors and other men were brought into the room, where she was gang raped.

“And then that’s when I heard them say there was a middle-aged guy in the living room that wanted to take advantage of a 15-year-old girl,” she said. “And then he goes, ‘Bend her over. I want to see what I’m working with.’ And that’s when he started to rape me. And I see more guys, four other guys had come into the room. And they all had a turn. It was really scary.”

Treated Like a Dog

After the horrifying gang rape, police say Debbie was trapped in one of Phoenix’s roughest neighborhoods. In a rundown, garbage-strewn apartment, her captors were trying to break her down.

“They were asking me if I was hungry,” she said. “I told them no. That’s when they put a dog biscuit in my mouth, trying to get me to eat it.”

After a sleepless night, Debbie was tossed back into the car and again driven around Phoenix. She said they talked to her about prostitution, and that one of the men forced her to have sex with him in the car and then later in a park.

The same man took her back to his apartment, and Debbie said, “I ended up in the dog kennel.”

Greg Scheffer, an officer with the Phoenix police department, said Debbie was kept in a small dog crate for several days. Lying on her back in the tiny space, her whole body went numb.

“She was subject to various abuses while in there,” Scheffer said. “This is all part of the breaking down period where [he] gains complete control of this girl.”

Unbeknownst to Debbie, police say her captors had put an ad on Craig’s List — a national Web site better-known for helping people find apartments and roommates. Shortly after the ad ran, men began arriving at the apartment at all hours of the day and night demanding sex from her.

She said she had to comply. “I had no other choice,” she said.

Debbie said she was earning hundreds of dollars a night — all of it, she said, going to the pimp.

Scheffer said Debbie was forced to have sex with at least 50 men — and that’s not counting the men who gang-raped her on a periodic basis.

Debbie had no idea who the men were. “I didn’t know them,” she said. “But most of them were married, with kids. And every single one of them, I asked them why they were coming to me if they had a wife at home. … They didn’t have an answer. So, like, I felt so nasty.”

For more than 40 days, police say Debbie remained captive, often beaten and forced daily to have sex of the most degrading kind. During that time, she said she did not try to escape because her captors had done what police say so many pimps do — threatened her and terrified her.

Debbie said that the pimps told her they would go after her family, and they even threatened to throw battery acid on her 19-month-old niece.

“After they told me that, I didn’t care what happened to me as long as my family stayed alive,” she said. “And that’s pretty much what I had in my head. Staying there to keep my family alive.”

For Debbie, who police said been held by her captors at gunpoint and kept in a dog cage for more than 40 days, the chances of getting out alive seemed slim. But then police investigating the case heard tips that she was being kept in an apartment in the Phoenix area.

Police searched the apartment but didn’t find Debbie.

But they were still suspicious. So on Nov. 8, police broke down the doors to the same apartment and realized with a shock why they’d been unable to find Debbie — she was there, but she was tied up and crushed into a drawer under a bed.

Debbie said she heard Officer James Perry calling her name but was too frightened to answer. “I didn’t know what to say; I was just lying under the bed, stiff as a board, shaking,” she said “And then he opens the middle drawer, and he was like, ‘Oh my God!'”

Trying to Regain Innocence

When Debbie was finally freed from the drawer, she was sobbing, and said she gave the officer “the biggest hug in the world.”

“I was so relieved!” she said. “And then that’s when my … I was standing there, and my knees started … they gave out.”

While it seems unbelievable that these girls didn’t try to escape earlier, experts say it’s not so uncommon.

“These are human beings who are owned by someone else, who lack the ability to walk away, who lack the ability to make a decision in their own self-interest to do something else,” said Allen. “If that’s not slavery, I don’t know what is.”

Police arrested two people at the apartment, and Debbie was taken to a safe house for children while her mother was called.

“I remember I got the call while I was driving to work,” Kersti said. “That was scary. I had to pull over. But, uh, it was just wild, it was. I drove as fast as I legally could. I walked in and I saw her and we just flew to each other.”

Within hours, Debbie was safely home. “I was so happy,” she said. “I was so happy to see my mom. I was so happy to be home. I’m able to be with my family. I don’t know — it’s crazy.”

The two officers who rescued Debbie were so touched by her strength and her story that they visited her this Christmas and gave her a cross — a token of affection and protection.

“She is a very strong, amazing girl,” said Scheffer. “We ran into a few other girls that are like that. I don’t know how they have the strength. They are very brave.”

As for the people accused of snatching Debbie, they are charged with kidnapping and sexual assault. All have pleaded not guilty, except for one who awaits extradition from Illinois.

Debbie has been joyfully reunited with her family, but they have put their house up for sale. They’ve decided to leave Arizona and move to the Midwest, where Debbie hopes she can find some of the innocence she lost one grim night in September.

A Lucrative Offer at the Mall

Debbie’s indoctrination into the world of sex exploitation was particularly brutal. More often, young girls are unwittingly lured in to unwilling prostitution with promises of jobs, money, clothing and modeling.

That’s what 19-year-old Miya said happened to her when she was working at a Phoenix mall selling sunglasses. Miya was working three jobs — 14 hours a day — to pay off her bills and save for college.

One day when she was working, she was approached by a young woman and a well-dressed man. “He asked if it would be out of place if he said I was pretty,” Miya said. “I was like, ‘No.’ I mean, it was a compliment.”

The man was charming and had a flattering offer for Miya.

“He said that he was a model agent, [that] he was looking for new models in the area,” she said. “It’s not like something I’ve been wanting to do or anything, but, I mean, it was … it seemed interesting.”

Taken by the idea of modeling and making extra money, Miya agreed to meet the couple that night at a local restaurant.

“They said they were on their way to California to go back to their office and they were going to do some more photo shoots, and they wanted me to go along with them,” Miya said. “He said that I could probably make about a thousand or more. … He said I could try it for three days. … And so I went with them.”

The next morning Miya was thrilled when the couple took her to have her hair, makeup and nails done. At that point, she said she had no idea she was not being made over for a photo shoot but for a much more insidious reason. Later, when the couple began taking pictures, Miya said she became alarmed.

“They used just a cheap camera you can buy, the throwaway,” she said. “And they said once we get to California that we would be at a photo shoot, and that they’d be using, uh, some really good equipment, they’d have makeup artists and stuff like that.”

Miya said she didn’t know what happened to those pictures until later, when she arrived in California with the couple. “He showed me a Web site that he put them up on,” she said. “And it was an escort service site.”

Making a Break for It

Miya says she endured her own brutal ordeal and was forced to work as a prostitute.

When she failed to come home from her job at the mall, Miya’s family began desperately searching for her — they frantically called her cell phone and sent her text messages, begging her to come home. They got no response.

Eventually, they filed a missing person report with the police, contacted the media and plastered fliers and yellow ribbons all over town.

Meanwhile, Miya’s boss at the mall called Dianne Martin to tell her he was afraid that her daughter may have been abducted by the suspicious couple.

Miya’s parents soon learned from police that more than approximately 30 other girls had been approached by the same couple in that mall and in surrounding areas — the same couple, apparently, who were seen with Miya and who claimed to be recruiting models. But in the end, Miya was the only girl who’d gone with them.

Within days, Miya had been moved several times, farther from home, and she said she was too scared to try to escape. “I mean, I was really far away from my house, and I didn’t know where to go,” she said.

Ernie Allen, the director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said that’s not uncommon for kids lured into the sex trade.

“There are many of these kids who are seduced, thinking … that they’re gonna have economic opportunities, that they’re gonna be a model, that they’re gonna be in show business somehow,” Allen said. “And then, later, discover themselves in a situation in which they have no control, and they’re, they’re slaves. So … this is a problem that has many faces.”

Miya was essentially on tour — she said her pimp had also taken out ads on the Internet, advertising where she would appear next. The fact that she was kept off the streets made it almost impossible for police to track her down.

“So the Internet for the pimps is a huge benefit for them, because it allows them to make their money, do what they want to do with these juveniles or with their prostitutes and have very little contact with the police,” said Scheffer.

But then after six days, Miya said her captors slipped up. She said they decided to put her out on some of the roughest streets in San Francisco to turn tricks.

For her, it was like a death sentence, and she finally worked up the nerve to escape. At 5:30 one morning, she made a break for it.

“I waited till they were completely asleep. And I put my suitcase by the door. And I was about to leave and …sure enough, the phone rings,” she said.

Miya said she handed her captor his phone and then told him she was going to go downstairs and smoke a cigarette. And then she ran for her life.

“And that was the last time I talked to him,” she said. “I grabbed my suitcase, and I ran to the elevator and I got outside and I started running until I got as far away as I possibly could.”

Reunited With Family

Miya said she was moved around so much at night, she didn’t even know where she was. After escaping, Miya finally felt safe enough to approach a truck driver, who told her she was in Union City, Calif.

Miya called home and spoke to her grateful mother. “She told me she didn’t know what to do or where to go,” Martin said.

Her stepfather contacted the police, who found Miya and took her to a police station. “I was just so glad I was out of their reach,” she said.

But before her journey was over, Miya had one more hurdle to overcome. Police asked her to help catch the man she said lured her away from the mall — which would mean facing the man she said held her against her will and forced her to perform degrading sexual acts.

Police tracked the man to a motel room. “They found out what room he was in,” Miya said. “He tried jumping out the window. And they caught him.”

The man Miya says lured her from the mall was charged with pimping and pandering in connection with the 17-year-old with whom he was travelling. He has pleaded not guilty.

Miya still has three jobs — she’s even gone back to work at a mall. But she’s determined now to do some rescuing of her own. She’s saving money to open an animal shelter.

Taken from:

Multiple Quick Stories

Stories of Modern-Day Slaves

Names have been changed to protect people’s identities.


Hema is 12-years-old and lives in a remote village in the north of Karantaka, a state on the East coast of India. She is the oldest of five children and has never been to school because she is responsible for doing all the housework and looking after her younger brothers and sisters while her parents are at work.

Hema’s mum and dad work on a farm. Their crop was destroyed by a drought and so they were very poor with little to eat. Hema’s parents were worried about how they were going to survive. But then a kind man from the city visited with the promise of a well-paid job for Hema.

Hema was taken to Bangalore with five other young girls to work as a housemaid. Her parents were paid a small sum of money and were told that Hema would be able to send back more once she was working. Hema was very excited and was pleased that she could help her family – now her brothers and sisters would have food to eat. When Hema reached Bangalore, she was taken to a big mansion which had large gates. But the job wasn’t what she had expected. Instead of being paid money for her work, she was treated as a slave. She was not paid and was not allowed to leave the grounds of the mansion. She was very badly treated by the man who had seemed so kind when he arrived at her parents’ house. Fortunately she was rescued and returned to her family, but the memories of what happened will stay with her for a long time.

Sources: Oasis India, Stop the Traffik


Deng, in her late 20’s, was recruited in her native Thailand to travel voluntarily to Australia where she was told she could make lots of money as a prostitute. Upon arrival in Australia, however, she was met by traffickers who took away her passport and locked her in a house.
She was told that she would have to pay off a debt of over $30,000 by servicing 900 men. She was given little food to eat and was forcibly escorted to a brothel seven days a week, even when she was sick. She was told that if she tried to escape, criminal allies of the trafficking ring would catch her. Deng’s exploitation ended when Australian Immigration officials raided the brothel in which she was enslaved.

Source: Polaris Project


Sokha and Makara are from Poipet in Cambodia. When they were just 14 and 15 years old, their mother was ill with a liver complaint. The family needed money to pay for drugs to treat her. They also hoped to buy some land to build a home. A man promised good jobs for the girls in nearby Thailand, and offered the family some money if they would let them go. Sokha and Makara were excited at the thought of being able to help the family with the money they earned. The reality turned out to be very different. The man was a trafficker. There were no ‘good jobs’ for the girls in Thailand. Sokha’s mother died within a year, and the family couldn’t afford to buy the land that they had dreamed of. Sokha, who is now 17, says, ‘I felt cheated. The traffickers used us for slave jobs, and while they earned lots of money, we only got enough to feed ourselves each day.’ She explains how she and Makara, 16, were given jobs selling fruit, but it did not pay enough.

So they were forced to work even harder and to do work that they didn’t enjoy. Sokha and Makara’s story has a happy ending because of the Cambodian Hope Organisation (CHO) that works with Tearfund, a relief and development agency. Sokha and Makara’s parents met with CHO and gave them photos to pass on to an organisation in Thailand that rescues trafficked girls from prostitution. The girls were found and rescued about a year after their ordeal started. Sokha says, ‘It’s good to be home. We are grateful to CHO who have brought us back to our home, provided us with counselling, taught us the skill of sewing, and brought us into the church.’  When asked what they hope for in the future, Sokha says she hopes to set up her own sewing business and employ and help girls in her situation. ‘We were scared all the time in Thailand,’ she says. ‘Now I’m happy, getting support, living with my family and free to work when I want.’

Sources: Tearfund, Stop the Traffik


Prjua, aged 9 and her brother Ajay, aged 7, lived on Thane train station in Mumbai, India. They lived with their parents who were both alcoholics and were not able to look after them very well. Prjua and Ajay loved to go to the Asha Deep Day Centre, run by Oasis India. They learned to read and write and were given the opportunity to play. Prjua and Ajay went to the centre every day for about three months and really enjoyed it. But suddenly they disappeared. The staff at the centre were worried about them and so they went looking for them. They found Prjua and Ajay’s parents and asked them what had happened. Prjua and Ajay’s father said that a man had come and offered money for them and that he had sold them for the equivalent of $30. That was the last the father and the staff of Asha Deep ever heard of them.

Sources: Oasis India, Stop the Traffik


Mary was born in Mexico. When she was about 17 years old, she was persuaded to go to the USA with the promise that she would have a better life and be provided with a job. A man promised to take her and look after her. However, when she arrived in the USA her life got a lot worse. She was given a job at a factory packing vegetables. But she was escorted there and back every day and was never allowed to go anywhere on her own. She was never paid for the work that she did. She was given drugs and was badly abused. She wasn’t allowed to go and see a doctor when she was ill or hurt. She wasn’t allowed to leave her apartment except when she went to work.

The man who took her to the USA threatened her. He said that if she tried to escape she would be deported – sent back to Mexico – or hurt by the immigration authorities – the people who decide who can stay in the country. Eventually Mary managed to escape with her young son. She is now staying in a special centre that looks after people who have been trafficked or abused. She is being given shelter, food, clothing and advice about what to do next. She is hoping that she will be able to stay in the United States and start a new life.

Source: Salvation Army


Sergey is 27 years old and is from Perm in Russia. In 2001, he saw an advert in a local newspaper for a job agency. They were looking for construction workers to work in Spain. The salary offered was US$1,200 per month. This was much more than his monthly salary of just $200 and more than he could ever hope to earn in Perm. He applied to the agency who booked his plane ticket to Madrid. They said he would need to pay back the money for the ticket when he started work.

When he arrived in Spain, Sergey was picked up by a person from the “agency” who took his passport. He was taken to Portugal and forced to work on a construction site without pay for several months. The site was surrounded by barbed wire. Without his passport he was afraid that the Portuguese authorities would arrest him. One day Sergey managed to escape and begged his way to Germany. Because he did not have a passport the German authorities arrested him. He says that the police beat him and took away what little money he had. Then they sent him back to Russia.

Now back home, Sergey is very traumatised by his experience. He suffered psychological problems and for several months was unable to work. He received no counselling or support to help him overcome his ordeal. Meanwhile his traffickers remain unpunished.

Source: Anti-Slavery International


Charles became a soldier in Uganda when he was just eight years old. He didn’t have any choice about it. He was taken from his home by men from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA are rebels who are fighting the government in the North of Uganda.

Charles did not go through a well-planned training program. Some soldiers in the LRA have machine guns, but mostly they use machetes. The LRA does not have a uniform, and sometimes their soldiers have been known to wear stolen uniforms from the Ugandan Army. Children have to stay in the army until they manage to escape or are rescued.

Conditions are not good in the rebel army. Food is scarce and the children are badly treated. While Charles was a captive he was shot in his leg and lower back and was forced to act against his will. Charles was also regularly beaten. At times they used a machete to punish him. On one later occasion he was whipped 200 times because he left a bomb behind.

The LRA rule their child soldiers by fear, forcing them to commit acts that will haunt them for years. Charles thinks he killed three people. To stop him from escaping, he was also forced to beat someone very badly. Children are told that once they have killed someone they will never be able to go back to normal life with their families.

Charles is now 15 and is no longer a soldier. He managed to escape but he has horrible memories of his time in the army.

Source: Tearfund


“I met my boyfriend at my girl-friend’s house [in Armenia]. He had been dating me for a month already when he told me he was going to marry me. My boyfriend told me we could earn some money for our wedding if we went to work in Greece at his friend’s company.

We would stay for three months there to earn enough money and come back. I was extremely happy. I could not believe all that was happening to me. He took my passport and all necessary papers and said that he would take care of visa and travel arrangements. I was so happy and careless that I did not even ask to see the tickets or documents. The day of departure came. We took the plane and instead of Greece we landed in Dubai. As I had not been abroad before I could not really understand where I was. I could only recognize the Arabic signs and people dressed in Arabic robes. When I asked why we landed in Dubai he said we would have to stay for a couple of days in Dubai, and then later we would go to Greece. He took me to a hotel and said that he was going to see his friend and would be back soon. Two hours later a man came to take me to another hotel saying that I was his property. I could not understand, I kept saying that it was a misunderstanding and that my friend would come soon. I had come to Dubai for another purpose. The man told me that my friend had sold me to him, that from now on he would have my documents and I had to do whatever he told me to. He said that the next day I had to move to another place and serve [have sex with] all the clients he would send to me. I was shocked by what was happening. The next day he came and took me to another hotel. He said that every day I had to give him $500, no matter how many clients I would serve. He was so violent. It was a continuous hell. Each day I served around 30 to 40 clients. I was not able to move or think. It went on for weeks. I was living between clients and tears. That was the rhythm of my life. I could not even realize what they wanted from me. The intensity of the process lasted for a couple of weeks. One day I got terribly sick. He left me alone and sent another Armenian woman to visit me. That day I understood that it was an organized enterprise and that there were many women from many countries who shared the same fate.

Meanwhile the pimp refused to give back my passport because of the debts he said he had incurred on account of me. I had to work and earn money if I wanted to go back home. Then he introduced me to another man telling me that he had sold me to him and that I had to take my passport from him. The next day I was beaten like for the first time. He was an extremely cruel man. He came every morning to pick up his money and beat me terribly. I had no right to speak or express my concern, everybody knew him well for his cruelty. I did not receive any money from him. He did not even buy food. It all depended on the client’s will. I was resold four times.

One of my clients was trying to kill me. If it were not for the women in the next room I would have been killed. In his frenzy the man was beating me. He squeezed my throat.

Luckily enough there was a police raid in the hotel where I was working and I was taken together with other women to a police station and detained. My pimp did not do anything to release me from prison. I spent four months there. Though it was prison and the conditions were terrible, it was incomparable with what I had gone through before that. Nobody was cruel or rude to me there and I had to wait while my temporary documents from Armenia and the ticket for deportation were arranged. I came back without any money. All I had before remained with the pimp, I could not pick up anything. The most shameful thing happened at Yerevan airport. Everybody was treating me as if I were a prostitute, saying bad words. My life has changed since that time. Now you see me here in the street. I have become a real prostitute.”

Sources: International Organization for Migration, Polaris Project


All taken from

Holly Smith and Barbara Amaya

Holly Austin Smith

My name is Holly Austin Smith, and I am a survivor of Human Trafficking.

When I was fourteen years old, I ran away from home with a man I had met at a shopping mall in Ocean County, New Jersey. After exchanging numbers, this man called at night while my unknowing parents watched television in the living room.

We talked more than once.

Convincing me to runaway with him was not an overnight accomplishment. He took his time. He got to know me. He analyzed my troubles, and he asked me my dreams. I wanted to be a s songwriter. I wanted to meet Julia Roberts. I wanted to see Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris, France.

The year was 1992.

I was on summer break from eighth grade middle school, and my freshman year of high school loomed in the distance like an angry bull.

I was severely depressed.

And as the pressures of my fourteen-year-old-world boiled to the surface, I fled. I laced up my size-five sneakers, and I ran toward opportunity, toward possibility, and toward freedom.

In reality, I ran right in the inexorable clutches of a sex trafficking ring. Within hours of running away with what turned out to be a manipulative and menacing pimp, I was coerced into working Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City, NJ until dawn the next day.

The following night an officer on the street recognized me as being underage and arrested me. Although I was soon recognized to be a victim, the specialized aftercare needed for a trafficking victim did not yet exist. The journey toward healing was a long and bumpy road, indeed.

Twenty years ago, there were no anti-trafficking laws in place. This pimp, who raped and lured a child into prostitution, served only 365 days in jail. Two additional traffickers were arrested; however, one (a woman) posted bail and fled. She is still considered a fugitive in the state of New Jersey.

Today, I advocate for stronger anti-trafficking laws and greater protection for survivors of all forms of human trafficking.

To learn more about Holly, and to read an excerpt of her memoir, please visit her blog and website at

Barbara Amaya’s Story (edited edition)

My name is Barbara Amaya and I am a survivor of trafficking.

I spent the first 12 years of my life in Northern Virginia. When I was only 10 years old, family members abused me. Before the abuse I was a pretty normal little girl: I loved to read, collect stamps, draw and I was a member of the Barbie fan club. Unfortunately, after I was abused, I became a different little girl. No one helped me or validated the abuse I had suffered, so part of me went into hiding and I became depressed. I didn’t want to be around anyone, no longer went to school, and eventually ran away when I was 12.

When I ran away, I was a walking target for traffickers and predators who look for damaged children: I had been abused, I was depressed and was in desperate need of help. It didn’t take long for traffickers to find me. Surprisingly it was a couple – a man and a woman – who found me on the streets of Washington D.C. They took me off of the streets where I was hungry and alone and brought me into their home where they fed me and seemed to care for me. That is, until they initiated me into the world of trafficking. They used me for a few months until they no longer needed me and then sold me to another trafficker. Right in our nation’s capitol, I was sold into trafficking to a man named Moses. Soon after buying me, Moses took me to New York City where he trafficked me for 8 years.

During my time on the streets of New York I was abused, shot, stabbed, raped, kidnapped, trafficked, beaten, addicted to drugs, jailed, and more all before I was 18 years old.

To ease my pain, I became addicted to drugs. This habit became very expensive and I was no longer a valuable commodity to my trafficker, so he released me into New York. It was terrible; I was addicted and alone in the city. Thankfully, at a methadone clinic where I had sought treatment, I met a woman named Anita who helped me to find my sister who had apparently been living in the nearby city of Philadelphia and that Christmas, she helped me reunite with my family.

After a very difficult time detoxing off of methadone I started to slowly get my life back. I lived in Washington State, Mississippi and eventually came back to Virginia where I got married and tried to have a baby. Soon after I starting trying to have a baby, I found out that because of all the trauma I had endured on the streets, I was infertile. Somehow, I think it was a miracle; I was able to have treatments and can happily say that I was able to have a daughter.

In all of that moving around and having my daughter, I kept my past a secret. No one knew about the years I had been trafficked or abused but me. Then one night, when my daughter was 15, she decided to run away. My past came rushing back to me and I was so afraid that the same things that happened to me would happen to my daughter. I couldn’t just sit around, so I spent the whole night making phone calls and looking for her. Thankfully, I found her the next morning and, shortly after, told her about my story. After that, she never ran away again and she is doing well today. I have a wonderful grandson and I live a content and quiet life.

I believe I am alive today because God watched over me all those nights on the streets. He kept a part of me untouched inside – despite all the men and all the trauma I endured – a part of me remained clean and whole.  I call that part of me my soul.

I choose to believe that I went through all that I did, so that today I can help others. If I can educate one person or give hope to one victim of trafficking, then I am doing my job and everything I went through was worth it. I choose to be a victor not a victim – not just to survive, but to thrive. Today I tell my story whenever I can so I can help others. I have a book in process called  Girl’s Guide to Survival: Life Lessons From the Street and a website at I am also on facebook and twitter at barbaraamaya4.


Taken from

Modern Day Strategies

Being that modern day slavery is a huge issue, there are a lot of organizations that have been actively seeking to fight human trafficking. Most organizations have developed their own “strategy” for the fight against human trafficking. I want to go through some of the most well known and effective strategies so far. These 3 strategies come from Polaris Project, Not For Sale, and IJM:

Polaris Project Model/Strategy:

Polaris is Leading the fight to eradicate modern-day slavery with a 3-part model that systemically disrupts human trafficking:

  1. Respond to victims of human trafficking effectively and immediately.
  2. Equip key stakeholders and communities to address and prevent human trafficking
  3. Disrupt the business of human trafficking through targeted campaigns.

IJM Model/Strategy:

  1. Rescue victims: IJM helps victims move through their broken justice system in 4 ways:
    1. rescue: working with local police to rescue victims from ongoing violence
    2. restore: working with social workers to restore the survivors to their community
    3. restrain: working with local police to restrain criminals
    4. represent: working with public prosecution to represent survivors in court
  2. Repair systems: Once IJM identifies problems, they partner with authorities within the justice system to fix what is broken. They address resources, training, accountability, and hope. This helps protect the poor and prevents violence from happening int he first place

Not For Sale Model/Strategy:

  1. Provide safety and stability for survivors and at-risk communities. This is done through shelters, healthcare, legal services, and meeting the needs of those experiencing extreme trauma
  2. Empower with life skills & job training. Education is the most critical aspect of empowering survivors.
  3. Create sustainable futures with dignified work. To break the cycle of poverty and exploitation, they work with leading companies and organizations to create employment opportunities for survivors and at-risk communities.


These are the most common and effective strategies for work being done by organizations today. Obviously each organization is doing something completely different, but they are all needed. Where Polaris is actively using the legal system to fight human trafficking, IJM is trying to restore the justice system. Meanwhile Not For Sale is working to help restore victims. All of the work of all of these organizations is extremely purposeful. I encourage you all as my readers to look further into each of these organizations and see what work you can partner in.


When a poor family in Cambodia fell afoul of loan sharks, the mother asked her youngest daughter to take a job. But not just any job.

The girl, Kieu, was taken to a hospital and examined by a doctor, who issued her a “certificate of virginity.” She was then delivered to a hotel, where a man raped her for two days.

Kieu was 12 years old.

“I did not know what the job was,” says Kieu, now 14 and living in a safehouse. She says she returned home from the experience “very heartbroken.” But her ordeal was not over.

After the sale of her virginity, her mother had Kieu taken to a brothel where, she says, “they held me like I was in prison.”

She was kept there for three days, raped by three to six men a day. When she returned home, her mother sent her away for stints in two other brothels, including one 400 kilometers away on the Thai border. When she learned her mother was planning to sell her again, this time for a six-month stretch, she realized she needed to flee her home.

“Selling my daughter was heartbreaking, but what can I say?” says Kieu’s mother, Neoung, in an interview with a CNN crew that travelled to Phnom Penh to hear her story.

Cambodia’s hidden child brothels

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Like other local mothers CNN spoke to, she blames poverty for her decision to sell her daughter, saying a financial crisis drove her into the clutches of the traffickers who make their livelihoods preying on Cambodian children.

“It was because of the debt, that’s why I had to sell her,” she says. “I don’t know what to do now, because we cannot move back to the past.”

It is this aspect of Cambodia’s appalling child sex trade that Don Brewster, a 59-year-old American resident of the neighborhood, finds most difficult to countenance.

“I can’t imagine what it feels like to have your mother sell you, to have your mother waiting in the car while she gets money for you to be raped,” he says. “It’s not that she was stolen from her mother — her mother gave the keys to the people to rape her.”

Brewster, a former pastor, moved from California to Cambodia with wife Bridget in 2009, after a harrowing investigative mission trip to the neighborhood where Kieu grew up — Svay Pak, the epicenter of child trafficking in the Southeast Asian nation.

“Svay Pak is known around the world as a place where pedophiles come to get little girls,” says Brewster, whose organization, Agape International Missions (AIM), has girls as young as four in its care, rescued from traffickers and undergoing rehabilitation in its safehouses.

In recent decades, he says, this impoverished fishing village – where a daughter’s virginity is too often seen as a valuable asset for the family – has become a notorious child sex hotspot.

“When we came here three years ago and began to live here, 100% of the kids between 8 and 12 were being trafficked,” says Brewster. The local sex industry sweeps up both children from the neighborhood — sold, like Kieu, by their parents – as well as children trafficked in from the countryside, or across the border from Vietnam. “We didn’t believe it until we saw vanload after vanload of kids.”

Global center for pedophiles

Weak law enforcement, corruption, grinding poverty and the fractured social institutions left by the country’s turbulent recent history have helped earn Cambodia an unwelcome reputation for child trafficking, say experts.

UNICEF estimates that children account for a third of the 40,000-100,000 people in the country’s sex industry.

Svay Pak, a dusty shantytown on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, is at the heart of this exploitative trade.

As one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in one of Asia’s poorest countries – nearly half the population lives on less than $2 per day — the poverty in the settlement is overwhelming. The residents are mostly undocumented Vietnamese migrants, many of whom live in ramshackle houseboats on the murky Tonle Sap River, eking out a living farming fish in nets tethered to their homes.

Svay Pak, an impoverished neighborhood on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, is the epicenter of Cambodia’s child sex trade. Many of its residents are undocumented Vietnamese migrants, living in a community of ramshackle houseboats connected by rickety walkways.

It’s a precarious existence. The river is fickle, the tarp-covered houseboats fragile. Most families here scrape by on less than a dollar a day, leaving no safety net for when things go wrong – such as when Kieu’s father fell seriously ill with tuberculosis, too sick to maintain the nets that contained their livelihood. The family fell behind on repayments of a debt.

In desperation, Kieu’s mother, Neoung, sold her virginity to a Cambodian man of “maybe more than 50,” who had three children of his own, Kieu says. The transaction netted the family only $500, more than the $200 they had initially borrowed but a lot less than the thousands of dollars they now owed a loan shark.

So Neoung sent her daughter to a brothel to earn more.

“They told me when the client is there, I have to wear short shorts and a skimpy top,” says Kieu. “But I didn’t want to wear them and then I got blamed.” Her clients were Thai and Cambodian men, who, she says, knew she was very young.

Don Brewster, a former pastor from California, is the founder and director of Agape International Missions, an organization dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating the victims of child trafficking in Cambodia and smashing the networks that exploit them. He moved to Cambodia with his wife in 2009 after a harrowing investigative mission trip to the neighborhood.

“When they sleep with me, they feel very happy,” she says. “But for me, I feel very bad.”

The men who abuse the children of Svay Pak fit a number of profiles. They include pedophile sex tourists, who actively seek out sex with prepubescent children, and more opportunistic “situational” offenders, who take advantage of opportunities in brothels to have sex with adolescents.

Sex tourists tend to hail from affluent countries, including the West, South Korea, Japan and China, but research suggests Cambodian men remain the main exploiters of child prostitutes in their country.

Mark Capaldi is a senior researcher for Ecpat International, an organization committed to combating the sexual exploitation of children.

“In most cases when we talk about child sexual exploitation, it’s taking place within the adult sex industry,” says Capaldi. “We tend to often hear reports in the media about pedophilia, exploitation of very young children. But the majority of sexual exploitation of children is of adolescents, and that’s taking place in commercial sex venues.”

The abusers would often be local, situational offenders, he says. Research suggests some of the Asian perpetrators are “virginity seekers,” for whom health-related beliefs around the supposedly restorative or protective qualities of virgins factor into their interest in child sex.

Whatever the profile of the perpetrator, the abuse they inflict on their victims, both girls and boys, is horrific. Trafficked children in Cambodia have been subjected to rape by multiple offenders, filmed performing sex acts and left with physical injuries — not to mention psychological trauma — from their ordeals, according to research.

In recent years, various crackdowns in Svay Pak have dented the trade, but also pushed it underground. Today, Brewster says, there are more than a dozen karaoke bars operating as brothels along the road to the neighborhood, where two years ago there was none. Even today, he estimates a majority of girls in Svay Park are being trafficked.

Virgins for sale

Kieu’s relative, Sephak, who lives nearby, is another survivor. (CNN is naming the victims in this case at the request of the girls themselves, as they want to speak out against the practice of child sex trafficking.)

Sephak was 13 when she was taken to a hospital, issued a certificate confirming her virginity, and delivered to a Chinese man in a Phnom Penh hotel room. She was returned after three nights. Sephak says her mother was paid $800.

“When I had sex with him, I felt empty inside. I hurt and I felt very weak,” she says. “It was very difficult. I thought about why I was doing this and why my mom did this to me.” After her return, her mother began pressuring her daughter to work in a brothel.

Toha listens to her mother explain how she came to sell her to sex traffickers. She no longer lives with her family, opting instead to live in a residence for trafficking survivors run by Brewster’s organization — but still provides her family some financial support from her new job.

Not far away from Sephak’s family home, connected to the shore via a haphazard walkway of planks that dip beneath the water with each footfall, is the houseboat where Toha grew up.

The second of eight children, none of whom attend school, Toha was sold for sex by her mother when she was 14. The transaction followed the same routine: medical certificate, hotel, rape.

About two weeks after she returned to Svay Pak, she says, the man who had bought her virginity began calling, requesting to see her again. Her mother urged her to go. The pressure drove her to despair.

“I went to the bathroom and cut my arms. I cut my wrists because I wanted to kill myself,” Toha says. A friend broke down the door to the bathroom and came to her aid.

Mothers as sex traffickers

CNN met with the mothers of Kieu, Sephak and Toha in Svay Pak to hear their accounts of why they chose to expose their daughters to sexual exploitation.

Kieu’s mother, Neoung, had come to Svay Pak from the south of the country in search of a better life when Kieu was just a baby. But life in Svay Pak, she would learn, wasn’t easy.

Why Cambodia?

How has this Southeast Asian nation become a hotspot for pedophiles? Poverty, corruption and a brutal reign of terror have all played a part in making Cambodian children vulnerable to adult predators. Read more »

When her husband’s tuberculosis rendered him too sick to properly maintain the nets on the family’s fish pond, the family took on a $200 loan at extortionate rates from a loan shark. It has now ballooned to more than $9,000. “The debt that my husband and I have is too big, we can’t pay it off,” she says. “What can you do in a situation like this?”

“Virginity selling” was widespread in the community, and Neoung saw it as a legitimate option to make some income. “They think it is normal,” she says. “I told her, ‘Kieu, your dad is sick and can’t work… Do you agree to do that job to contribute to your parents?'”

“I know that I did wrong so I feel regret about it, but what can I do?” she says. “We cannot move back to the past.”

But she adds she would never do it again.

Sephak’s mother, Ann, has a similar story. Ann moved to Svay Pak when her father came to work as a fish farmer. She and her husband have serious health problems.

“We are very poor, so I must work hard,” she says. “It’s still not enough to live by and we’re sick all the time.”

The family fell on hard times. When a storm roared through the region, their house was badly damaged, their fish got away, and they could no longer afford to eat. In crisis, the family took out a loan that eventually spiraled to about $6000 in debt, she says.

With money-lenders coming to her home and threatening her, Ann made the decision to take up an offer from a woman who approached her promising big money for her daughter’s virginity.

“I saw other people doing it and I didn’t think it through,” she says. “If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t do that to my daughter.”

On her houseboat, as squalls of rain lash the river, Toha’s mother Ngao sits barefoot before the television taking pride of place in the main living area, and expresses similar regrets. On the wall hangs a row of digitally enhanced portraits of her husband and eight children. They are dressed in smart suits and dresses, superimposed before an array of fantasy backdrops: an expensive motorcycle, a tropical beach, an American-style McMansion.

Life with so many children is hard, she says, so she asked her daughter to go with the men.

She would not do the same again, she says, as she now has access to better support; Agape International Missions offers interest-free loan refinancing to get families out of the debt trap, and factory jobs for rescued daughters and their mothers.

For the children: Mira’s journal

Mira Sorvino details her week spent in Cambodia with the CNN Freedom Project meeting victims, government officials and activists working to end child sex trafficking. Read more »

The news of Ngao’s betrayal of her daughter has drawn mixed responses from others in the neighborhood, she says. Some mock her for offering up her daughter, others sympathize with her plight. Some see nothing wrong with she did at all.

“Some people say ‘It’s OK — just bring your daughter (to the traffickers) so you can pay off the debt and feel better,'” says Ngao.

A new future

Not long after her suicide attempt, Toha was sent to a brothel in southern Cambodia. She endured more than 20 days there, before she managed to get access to a phone, and called a friend. She told the friend to contact Brewster’s group, who arranged for a raid on the establishment.

Although children can be found in many brothels across Cambodia — a 2009 survey of 80 Cambodian commercial sex premises found three-quarters offering children for sex – raids to free them are infrequent.

The country’s child protection infrastructure is weak, with government institutions riven with corruption. Cambodia’s anti-trafficking law does not even permit police to conduct undercover surveillance on suspected traffickers. General Pol Phie They, the head of Cambodia’s anti-trafficking taskforce set up in 2007 to address the issue, says this puts his unit at a disadvantage against traffickers.

“We are still limited in prosecuting these violations because first, we lack the expertise and second, we lack the technical equipment,” he says. “Sometimes, we see a violation but we can’t collect the evidence we need to prosecute the offender.”

He admits that police corruption in his country, ranked 160 of 175 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, is hampering efforts to tackle the trade in Svay Pak. “Police in that area probably do have connections with the brothel owners,” he concedes.

Toha’s nightmare is now over. She earns a steady income, weaving bracelets that are sold in American stores, while she studies for her future. Her dream is to become a social worker, helping other girls who have been through the same ordeal.

Brewster believes that corruption was to blame for nearly thwarting Toha’s rescue. In October 2012, after Toha’s call for help, AIM formulated plans with another organization to rescue the teen, and involved police.

“We get a warrant to shut the place down,” recalls Brewster. “Fifteen minutes later, Toha calls and says, ‘I don’t know what happened, the police just came with the owner and took us to a new place. I’m locked inside and don’t know where I am.'”

Fortunately the rescue team were able to establish Toha’s new location, and she and other victims were freed and the brothel managers arrested – although not before the owners fled to Vietnam.

Toha’s testimony against the brothel managers, however, resulted in their prosecutions.

Last month, at the Phnom Penh Municipal Courthouse, husband and wife Heng Vy and Nguyeng Thi Hong were found guilty of procuring prostitution and sentenced to three years in jail. Both were ordered to pay $1,250 to the court, $5,000 to Toha, and smaller sums to three other victims.

Brewster was in court to watch the sentencing; a small victory in the context of Cambodia’s child trafficking problem, but a victory nonetheless.

“Toha’s an amazingly brave girl,” he says on the courthouse steps, shortly after the brothel managers were led down to the cells.

“Getting a telephone when she’s trapped in a brothel to call for help, to saying she would be a witness in front of the police…. She stood up and now people are going to pay the price and girls will be protected. What it will do is bring more Tohas, more girls who are willing to speak, places shut down, bad guys put away.”

Like the other victims, Toha now lives in an AIM safehouse, attending school and supporting herself by weaving bracelets, which are sold in stores in the West as a way of providing a livelihood to formerly trafficked children.

In the eyes of the community, having a job has helped restore to the girls some of the dignity that was stripped from them by having been sold into trafficking, says Brewster.

It has also given them independence from their families — and with that, the opportunity to build for themselves a better reality than the one that was thrust on them. Now Sephak has plans to become a teacher, Kieu a hairdresser.

For her part, Toha still has contact with her mother – even providing financial support to the family through her earnings – but has become self-reliant. She wants to be a social worker, she says, helping girls who have endured the same hell she has.

“(Toha)’s earning a good living and she has a dream beyond that, you know, to become a counselor and to be able to help other girls,” says Brewster. “You see the transformation that’s happened to her.”

Taken from:

Open Your Eyes

Do you know that odds are that someone you know or someone you regularly come in contact with may be in a trafficking situation. Human trafficking may be happening in your suburb, your community, or even your church. It is important for everyone to be aware of the red flags and indicators of human trafficking in order that we may help identify victims and get them the help they need. First, before I lay out some red flags, it is important to know what you should do if you think someone is being trafficked. The biggest piece of advice I have for you is to contact the national human trafficking resource center hotline at 1-888-373-7888. PLEASE PUT THIS NUMBER IN YOUR PHONE!!! If there is an instance where you may believe someone is in a trafficking situation, you want to be as prepared as possible. You do not want to be looking for this blog trying to find the number all over again. In addition to calling the national human trafficking resource center hotline, you can text HELP to: BeFree (233733). Both of these numbers are ran by an organization called Polaris. An example of a recent text conversation can be found below. This woman was able to get the help she needed.


In addition to calling the national human trafficking resource center, you should always call 911 in the case of an emergency. You can call the national human trafficking resource center to report a tip, connection with services in your area, request training, and gain resources, but always call 911 in the case of an emergency.

Back to identifying and assisting a trafficking victim. According to the state department, here are some human trafficking indicators:

Human Trafficking Indicators

While not an exhaustive list, these are some key red flags that could alert you to a potential trafficking situation that should be reported:

  • Living with employer
  • Poor living conditions
  • Multiple people in cramped space
  • Inability to speak to individual alone
  • Answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed
  • Employer is holding identity documents
  • Signs of physical abuse
  • Submissive or fearful
  • Unpaid or paid very little
  • Under 18 and in prostitution

Questions to Ask

Assuming you have the opportunity to speak with a potential victim privately and without jeopardizing the victim’s safety because the trafficker is watching, here are some sample questions to ask to follow up on the red flags you became alert to:

  • Can you leave your job if you want to?
  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Have you been hurt or threatened if you tried to leave?
  • Has your family been threatened?
  • Do you live with your employer?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?
  • Are you in debt to your employer?
  • Do you have your passport/identification? Who has it?


It is important to not that it is unsafe to attempt to rescue a trafficking victim by yourself. You do not know how the trafficker may react and retaliate against the victim and you. Always contact the appropriate resources for help in trafficking situations.



Hi my name is Dai,* I’m a survivor of human trafficking and exploitation. I have experienced the harm that these forms of violence inflict on those of us who have been sexually exploited. Let me tell you a little history about my life. I have been an American for nearly 21 years. Abused as a child, I made a promise to myself that I would never be abused again. As I continue with my speech, I’m here to share my story specifically regarding my traumatic experience in the sex trafficking.

One question that has always perplexed me is the need to share my experiences, and what I witnessed in Las Vegas without exploiting myself. An integral part of my story is that I, and many other minority women, whether American or not, were shipped from state to state in order to provide specific services for men. It has been stated by many that the sex industry has been divided into two distinct classifications: prostitution and trafficking. I encourage you to listen to my story as I reveal to you why I believe they are one and the same.

In 1995, I fell in love with a military man, who persuaded me to move with him to an undisclosed remote area. There, I was raped and beat continually while handcuffed to a door of an abandoned house. Eventually, through circumstances, I made my escape, but not before he had confiscated my naturalization papers, driver’s license and social security card. With no proof of my identity, I could not acquire adequate shelter. I felt like an animal that has been cast into the street. My life became a scenario of sojourning from one homeless shelter to another.

One day, I was approached by a middle-aged woman who had been watching my every move. Unaware that she was a (Female Pimp), she insisted that I come and work for her in the Escort Service (she assured me that it was only a dating service). My unawareness of this proposition was so overwhelmed by my need for food, money and clothing that I desperately accepted her offer. After several weeks I found myself well provided for and economically stable. Then the unthinkable happened: a client bargained me for sex. After I refused his offer, he grabbed me by the hair, forced me on the floor and raped and beat me. In terror, I fled to the police to report the violence. To my astonishment, the police informed me that I had no rights because I had attained the status of a “street-walker”.

Eventually, the female pimp who recruited me sent me to this gentleman who worked in Nevada where my experience in Human Trafficking began. To this day, I am still haunted by flashbacks regarding certain smells, as well as cold floors which numbed my bare feet. Many times, panic ensues when I find myself in a line of women; it resurrects the nightmares of all the humiliating inspection line-ups I had to endure. We were constantly paraded before a potential client; their lustful eyes examining and perusing us before we became final choices for each predatory customer.

Being Korean, I remember the time when a prejudiced ‘john’ demanded that I dress as a Japanese prostitute/geisha. My vulnerability was made complete when I was taught to speak broken English, fulfilling the racist image of exoticism. Although, I was one of the few that spoke and understood English, my required masquerade as a foreigner brought more money to the Master through harboring of immigrants.

There is no difference between trafficking and prostitution when innocent women and children are being harbored for the sole purpose of the commercial sex trade. Exploiters and pimps are always violating the rights of these victims who are pursuing their freedom to escape from harm.

In reality, no female desires to be a part of this nightmare. Most of us were incarcerated in basements, underneath casinos and in abandoned warehouses. Our desperate cries for help were silenced by the walls, which separated us from the rest of the world. While tourists roamed the streets of Las Vegas admiring the architectural beauty and the celestial lights, which permeated the night sky, we, the victims, were in perpetual fear for our lives.

The Master, knowing full well that I was an American, forced me to work both the Escort and the Trafficking. If I refused or didn’t comply, I was taken underground and sentenced to various methods of punishment. The vividness of this maltreatment brought back such childhood nightmares of the times I was locked in a closet. Each of these two scenarios mirrored the same cries for freedom; after all, I was the submissive little foreign girl who was threatened not to tell anyone. In both cases, my guilt-ridden confessions of bad behavior resulted in my temporary release. On my knees, I had to convince my Master that I would be on my best behavior. After hours of interrogation, I was given permission to return to do what I did best; being a concubine, and deluding myself into thinking that I enjoyed it.

I was involved in trafficking for more than six months. I compare that time to being held hostage in a timeless existence where my mind engaged itself in disassociation with my soul. This mental state was the only way in which I could keep any sanity. Repeatedly, I witnessed the beatings, rapes and murders of innocent women. At times, my tears of hopelessness would drown me into a pathos of my own execution. How could my own country not be aware of these cruelties? How could this kind of discrimination and slavery be given the power to blind immigrant and American women of their rights? The frustration of these and other questions echoed within my catatonic mind.

Most of the time we were transported by trucks with drivers who were not naive to our purpose, and well informed of our identity. After months of these transports for trafficking our self-images had been reduced to cattle being loaded on a cattle car. Thousands of dollars were exchanged on these cross-country trips which kept us silent and our existence a secret. There were times that the warehouse truck would stop, the tail gate door forced opened, then two or three were summoned out.

We were given shoes and clothing so we would not appear as homeless refugees. We had to walk a block down to a near by truck stop, given fifteen minutes to bathe ourselves, then return to the truck. In degrading humiliation we had to beg for toiletries and other personal items. Sometimes, a policeman would appear on the scene and I would be so tempted to cry out for help, but fear of jeopardizing my life and the lives of the other women prevented me. The quick shower and change of clothing signaled our soon “rendezvous” with the ‘johns’ who requested for us. The women were released a few at a time so as not to raise any suspicion.

Selections of adult-aged women and minor girls (who were under the age of sixteen) usually numbered between twenty and fifty. The adult women were expected to resemble a late teen. If they would not comply they were discarded, cast-out, and some were never heard from again. We were constantly monitored, forbidden to make eye contact with anyone in public areas. When we arrived at our destination, the women were separated into motel rooms. We traversed the very rural area of Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, California, Florida, and New York. We were never paid directly, however, later on I discovered that it would turn more money if clients were deceived into thinking that all of us were immigrants.

After months of ongoing physical and mental agony I became apathetic regarding my life; I did not care if I lived or died. With convincing death threats from my Master, I remained silent. If he suspected that I was going to expose him he would verbalize threats against my family and friends. It was at this time that I soul searched an alternative way to reveal this horror to the public.

Anyone can locate escort services, brothels, bathhouses and strip clubs in the yellow pages, newspapers, and brochures which detail the variety of girls they have to offer. As for the Trafficking business, they sought out clientele by word of mouth, on the Internet, personal references and very powerful people who were involved on the inside. This creates a distraction for the sex trade businesses, which continually harbors immigrants as slaves. The sex trade pimps are incredibly organized, know how to blend into society and stage criminal activity as though it is “business as usual.” The scary scenario is not the every day casual clients, but it is the established businessmen, the upper echelon trustees and the government officials which are also clientele.

America needs to have its eyes open to this reality which is happening twenty-four hours a day. People need to understand that the master minds behind the sex trafficking are very clever, creative, deceptive and cautious regarding their services and the way in which they enslave women against their will. It is important to understand that pimps emerge from diverse social backgrounds. The majority of the ones with which I had contact, (who were responsible for the trafficking recruitment) had attained status and wealth.

Even though language barriers prevented my communication with these women, we shared the same relentless fears. Somehow, we also shared the dim ray of hope that maintained our survival. I remember, at different times, holding each of them in my arms letting their tears stain my clothing, while all along, sharing the same pain. Though English was my one advantage, I was just as lost, confused and terrified. However, within the depths of this hell I was experiencing, my will to survive was the fire which kept alive my vision of exposing trafficking to the public.

Finally, I was able to escape from my master through a wealthy client who bought me for an undisclosed amount of money. He was an older gentleman with considerable influence. Through his kindness I planned my way of another escape. He admired my oriental beauty and encouraged and coached me to be a (female pimp). He bought my companionship with jewelry, money and expensive cars: He never physically abused me. With ulterior motives he taught me how to make my own money as a Las Vegas Madam (Female Pimp). Therefore, to escape the daily abuse of the sex industry, I found myself recruiting women and leading them into the same vile profession which had terribly traumatized me. I was deceived and controlled by the power it gave me.

Down the road, I got to the point where I could not stomach what I was doing; repeating the very pattern which held me captive for so long. I may not have abused these women the way my Master did to me, but I did sell them. I used large amounts of narcotics to escape the reality of my immoral empire. When I realized I could not escape the recurring nightmares of women locked in basements, warehouse trucks and cheap dirty motels. I was hurled into a major mental breakdown. Coming to terms with my situation, I ran away from the ‘john’ who bought me. Fearing the possibility of being kidnapped and returned to Las Vegas, I began to seek refuge in churches, seeking their assistance in my quest for deliverance and freedom.

Upon leaving Nevada, I was constantly on the run from former pimps. My life resembled a fugitive fleeing from one location to another. In the fall of 2000, I made contact with an advocate through the Internet, she advised me to relocate to a different state. Since then, I slowly began to heal, trust, and reinvent myself to return to society to make positive contributions. I long to reach out to those who are still imprisoned in the revolving door of sexual exploitation. Truly, their shackles can be broken by people who are willing to tear down the walls of silence, and offer them the hope of freedom. They robbed me of five years, they thought they could break me. Yet, I am still standing and I will stand and voice my experience for the victims who are still held in captive of human trafficking.

*Names have been changed for security purposes.


Rebecca was prostituted from 14 until she was 17. This is her story:

“I was prostituted from 14 till I was 27. I got out because I chose to live. The guy I was with was very violent and I ended up in hospital. I remember the nurse yelled at me for being a prostitute. She sewed me up without anaesthesia and I left the hospital. I was paralysed for 3 days. Those 3 days made me think. I decided to catch a train and leave without knowing where I was going. I was in prostitution on and off for 3 years after that, but that was the beginning of my exit.

I was abused by my step-father from the age of six. I told my mother but she didn’t care. She was just concerned about me not getting pregnant. There was a club in our town where if you were a girl and under 16, the bouncers would let you in for free at the end of the night. My friend, who, like me, was completely fucked up and hated the world, took me there. It was strange because we were told to sit at the bar, not talk to each other and were given lots of cocktails. It all felt very sophisticated. I was 14. On that first night some men took me to a flat and gang raped me for 6 hours. There was a queue of men outside the door; one would finish and another would come in. Now, when I look back, it feels like it was a test to see if I would be a good prostitute. I don’t know how I made it out alive.

Although I didn’t go back immediately, I did return with my friend because I didn’t care about myself. She would take the money while I had sex with often violent men. I ‘worked’ there for 3 years. I could hear what was happening in other rooms and would think, at least what’s happening to me isn’t as bad. You have to survive. If I saw someone else looking scared, I’d think at least that’s not me. It’s hard for me to live with the fact that I know some women disappeared—I feel guilty.

I was often truant from school but attended till I was 18. From 17 upwards, an average day was trying not to sleep as much as possible. I’d go to pubs and have people buy me drinks. There was a regular at the pub who was known to be violent to women and to pick up prostitutes. I used to be seen with him in the pub, but no-one ever said anything to me. I’m not saying they could have stopped me, but they didn’t even try.

Loads of men who were abusive to me were white and English, but there were also men from other nationalities and countries. It was the time of the anti-apartheid movement. Outwardly they portrayed themselves as so good. Some would actually talk to me about human rights while they were doing horrible things to me! One punter (slang term for men who buy sex) actually resuscitated me and then carried on doing what he was doing to me. I was getting to the point where I wanted to kill the punters or myself. Always being surrounded by people who wanted to kill me made me think I should commit suicide as that would piss them off!

I would see injuries on me after punters had used me and not know where they’d come from. I mentally closed down. My body had been pushed to the limit but it didn’t die. At the time I thought I was choosing punters, but now I realise that men knew they could offer me money and that they could be violent towards me; it was a small town and they knew through word of mouth. Now when I look back, I see that there was a hell of a lot of organisation behind what happened to me.

For the longest time I hated going to the cinema as normally punters would take me there to have sex. When men found out I read, some would buy me books like Lolita and Marquis de Sade. I once set fire to a copy of Lolita. My step-father used to read Marquis de Sade to me at bedtime.

I also did that escort “girlfriend” thing, which is a total mind fuck because even if they treat you well, they still get all the sex they want any way they want. Many wanted to see me regularly. One guy kept me in his flat for 8 days. That messed with my head because I would start thinking like he was my boyfriend, when he wasn’t. He would lock me up in the flat before he’d go out. We’d watch American football on TV. If he saw me looking bored he’d rape me. At least men who are cold and violent don’t fuck with your brain!

As an escort most of the guys who bought me were very rich – many were training to become leaders in their own countries. Some of them are now in positions of power. People disconnect prostitution from other rights abuses. It makes me cynical about governments and those that run them.

Punters are so arrogant. If you’re going to be a bastard, it’s easier to stick to prostituted women because no one really listens to or believes prostitutes. One reason men are angry with prostitutes is because they can’t destroy them. Most men don’t want to use condoms- they don’t come to prostitutes for that. If someone had given me a condom I wouldn’t have had the self-esteem to use one. I didn’t feel like I deserved to live or not get a disease. I look back at the escorting and think those punters really hated me.

A lot of men were in denial about what they were doing so they would pay me with food or alcohol or give me a bed for the night. The guys who thought they were gentle or talked a lot, I hated the most. They wanted to know things about me as a human being, while they wanted to do all these things to me. I hate the punters and the way they make so many excuses for what they do. I hate that what they do is justified by society. I don’t know how any man can justify buying a human being either, just so they can have an orgasm!  I hate that they made me feel I should be grateful to them. I feel like they put poison in me.

I started a blog just after the 2006 Ipswich murders (I’ve always noticed they only report these things when it’s a serial killer and then it’s always about the guy not the women). In Manchester I got lots of backlash from people who talk about prostitution being a choice and people who say I couldn’t have been a prostitute because I’m middle-class or too educated. Within a month, however, I started getting a strong response and now I use it to be political and to talk about the trauma associated with prostitution. I also contribute to Sex Trafficking Survivors United online forum. I campaign for abolition and changing laws.”

Who’s next?

For the next few weeks, I am going to be trying to write two posts a week. The first will be about the need for legislation to fight human trafficking and about how the everyday person can make an impact on the world in this arena. The second post will be about a real life story of a survivor of human trafficking, taken from various sources, giving you as the reader a more in depth understanding of what is actually happening around the world. This post in particular will be about the type of person who is more likely to be trafficked.

There is no one single profile for trafficking victims as trafficking can occur in all different forms. The victims usually are diverse in their socio-economic backgrounds, their levels of education, ages, gender, and more. Even though there is no single profile for a person that is more than likely to be trafficked, there are several vulnerabilities that are often exploited by traffickers. These vulnerabilities bring people to higher risks of falling prey to the trafficking system.

The first biggest vulnerability that is often exploited is the vulnerability that comes with runaway and homelessness. A study in Chicago ( found that 56 percent of prostituted women were initially runaway youth. Similar numbers were found of the male population. There are several factors that make runaways and homeless youth more prone to falling into the human trafficking system. One of the biggest factors is that they lack a strong support system. They don’t have people who are providing them with advice and security, making them more prone to fall prey to a trafficker who falsely provides that support. The traffickers often approach homeless and runaways with promises of shelter, food, and security. The trafficker will come in as a strong support system for the runaway and tactfully exploit the runaway/homeless person.

Another big vulnerability that is exploited is foreign nationals. Many people coming from different countries are fleeing a form of persecution in their country or are promised a better life for themselves and their family. Recruiters for trafficking place themselves in various countries, looking for people that are trying to run or have a better life. Many women are promised to be paid well so they can send money back to their country to support their family. Recruiters will even take children from their parents, promising the parents a better life for their child in the states. As soon as the child gets to the US, they are quickly put into a human trafficking ring with little hope of ever escaping. In addition, traffickers leverage the ability to obtain visas for foreign nationals, promising acceptance into the States. Because the foreign nationals lack familiarity with their surroundings, laws and rights, language, cultural understandings, and more, they become prone to exploitation.

The last largest group of people who are more vulnerable to human trafficking are those that have experience violence and trauma in the past. This is mainly due to the psychological effect of trauma on the person, producing a long lasting trauma that is challenging to overcome. Victims of domestic violence, war, social discrimination, sexual assault, are often targets for traffickers. These traffickers see the vulnerabilities left by the prior abusers and exploit those vulnerabilities. These exploitation feeds on the belief of shame and unworthiness.

Now, having read all of this, it may make you want to go to the people you know who have experienced these vulnerabilities and warn them of the danger. In reality, the best way to help someone who has been in any of these situations is to help them get the real and professional help they need. Be a support for these people, but do not try and be their savior.