Understanding the dark world of human trafficking can be challenging. Listening to or reading stories of human trafficking survivors gives us a glimpse of what modern-day slavery is. In this interview, I spoke with Sarah, a survivor of child sex trafficking or as she describes it, “rape trafficking,” which we discuss later on. I ask you to read this, even if it becomes uncomfortable. Without exposing ourselves to the truth, we will never understand how horrible and evil this crime is.
Question #1: “If you could, please introduce yourself to my audience.”
Answer: “My name is Sarah. I live in the state of Colorado, but I grew up in San Diego. I have three children who are all adults. 20, 22, and 26. They all live in the same town as me. I was a stay-at-home mom for many years. I went to college with the intent of becoming a prosecutor or lawyer, but life took a different turn. I’ve always stayed in an advocacy role, so I made it a point to help others when it is possible.”
Question #2a: “Can you explain how you got forced into the world of human trafficking?
Question #2b: “How did you manage to leave?”
Answer: “At some point, when I was 9 or 10, my mother decided to switch religions and became Catholic. One of her doctors was Catholic, and that led her to become Catholic. The people selling me and trafficking me did it on the weekend. I was sold, raped, and tortured every weekend. My mother would attend Mass. I noticed that on the weekend she would be at church, while I was left to be sold and trafficked. I thought that if I could be with her, I wouldn’t have to be trafficked. I should mention that she never knew I was trafficked. I never told her. I started to beg her, nag her, and ask her to let me go to church with her. It took about a year before she did. I guess she thought I was a religious child. She began to take me, and that meant I wasn’t left with all these bad people on Sunday. The blessing I had from the Catholic church was that Mass wasn’t only on Sunday, it was on Saturday too. I figured if I went to Mass on Saturday too, I wouldn’t be with those bad people on Saturday either. I became Catholic and didn’t have to be with those evil people again.”
Question #2c: “What was the healing process like?”
Question #3: “What tactics did your trafficker use to control you?”
Answer: “I remember being in first or second grade, and my father took a knife to my throat. He told me to open my mouth, which I did. He moved it around my mouth. Picture that! I was a child with my father putting a knife in my mouth. I remember him telling me, ‘If you say anything, I will cut your tongue out,’ and I believed him. I never told anyone about my experience, and I didn’t start talking about it until five years ago. I even remember someone threatening to kill my family, and that’s something Elizabeth Smart shared that happened to her. When you threaten a child’s family, they are completely compliant. Some other tactics used to control me were what you’d hear a prisoner of war experience. I would be held underwater, to the point of drowning, and be pulled up to hear ‘Have you had enough?’ I’d be tied down and tortured with knives and icepicks. It’s a terrifying experience and a sadistic method. People need to understand that there is brainwashing involved, as well as manipulation, threats, coercion, and even torture. Human trafficking is the slow dehumanization of a person. It isn’t anything like in the movies. It’s not some stranger kidnapping another person, although that can happen. It usually involves some familiarity, and we walk among other people appearing as if nothing is wrong.”
Question #4: “How did you realize you were a victim of human trafficking?”
Answer: “That’s a great question! Human trafficking is a recent term, like in the last few years. I’m a grown woman with adult children, so I always knew I was sold, tortured, and raped, but I never knew the term or name for it. It wasn’t until the media described this crime, that’s when I realized “That is what I experienced.” I never knew the name of it. I had experienced it and heard it happen to other girls my age. I remember I walked in on that happening. A young girl I knew. Once I read about the three aspects of control involved in human trafficking (force, coercion, and manipulation), and compared them to what I went through, that’s when it clicked for me. I experienced human trafficking, which is what the media and police call it, and it’s a federal crime. I was trafficked. There’s no statute of limitations, thank goodness.”
Question #5: “As someone who experienced trafficking, what do you want people to understand about this issue?”
Answer: “For starters, I don’t like the term ‘sex trafficking.’ I don’t think the word ‘sex’ belongs there. Sex indicates consent, and there’s nothing consensual about being coerced or forced into sex. I also think that there are laws that should be made to protect victims, and that won’t happen until society wakes up. This isn’t to criticize anyone who doesn’t understand the issue. I just think the term should be more fitting, so ‘sexual assault trafficking’ or ‘rape trafficking.’ I think people’s eyes gloss over sex trafficking, and think of prostitution or sex work, assuming it’s a choice when it’s not. People don’t understand the horror of this crime. That’s why I speak out about what happened to me because that’s how we raise awareness of this issue. Nobody will understand why we all have to fight. This goes for all people, from the FBI to the local police. Victims should be treated with respect, compassion, and dignity. If you don’t, that person will never testify or help investigations. We should fight for victims’ rights.”
Question #6: “You shared a post stating that sex trafficking shouldn’t be called sex trafficking, but instead, rape trafficking. Could you explain your view on this?”
Answer: “Several years ago, when I learned about sex trafficking, my heart got so sad. Not just for the victims, but regarding the term itself. It doesn’t explain what happens. People will casually mention sex trafficking as if they were talking about a normal topic. I always thought, ‘Oh my gosh, wake up! Children and adults are being raped.’ I felt like if this was described bluntly and honestly, people would realize how awful this crime is. Nobody would be okay with allowing this. If this media delved into what happens to the victims, people would be more open to fighting this issue, but that’s not happening. Calling this ‘rape trafficking’ or ‘sexual assault trafficking’ is more descriptive and accurate. A 13-year-old cannot consent to sex. It’s rape. Sex is between two consenting adults. Anything less than that is sexual assault or rape. Until the public recognizes this crime for what it is, victims of rape or human trafficking are never going to think they have a voice. And if we don’t understand what this issue is, we won’t be able to help a victim heal and become whole again.”
Question #7: “Do you think the porn industry has desensitized consumers of human trafficking and the victims?”
Question #8: “Why do you think it’s important for survivors, like yourself, to share their stories? Why do you think it’s important for people, like my readers, to listen to your stories?”
Question #9: “What do you want people to remember from your story and our conversation?”
Answer: “I want people to remember that when you hear that someone was victimized by sex trafficking, please know what that means. Their journey isn’t over after being rescued or managing to escape. The road to healing is long. We didn’t experience this once. It’s happened numerous times. Don’t wait to get help. Get it early.”
Question #10: “What can people do to join the fight against human trafficking?”
Answer: “There’s a lot you can do for free. You can gain a higher sense of awareness. That’s why we are doing this interview. Awareness is critical in this issue. It’s a key part of fighting this issue. You can vote. Ask candidates about how they will fight human trafficking. You can screen that person. If they’re not willing to fight for the little people, they’re not worth voting for. You can get involved with nonprofits or churches that help survivors. You can donate if you don’t have the time. Know which ones to donate to though. Make sure they are solid organizations. There are a lot of things that can be done to fight this issue. We can help survivors. It’s not only the therapy they need. Sometimes they need help with getting their life back (i.e. getting their license or important paperwork). We can make an impact in this dark world.”
Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your story with me. This has truly been an honor, and I hope everyone learned something and understands why this fight is so important.