A Survivor's Tale on Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a problem that affects millions within the United States. Prostitution is considered one of the oldest professions on earth. This is heart wrenching to me. As a survivor of sexual exploitation I know all too well the horrors that victims face.

Human trafficking is a seminal human rights issue. We are in the eye of a human rights storm. I know this because seven years ago, I was at its center. I am 25 now and I look back at those dark years in my past, feeling like that I am a completely different woman for the better.

What is human trafficking, even? When I explain what human trafficking is to the high school students that I teach about trafficking I tell them simply it is the buying and selling of a person. This can be for many things whether it is food, shelter or even a sense of family.

I was able to walk away from the storm, but as a survivor now working at FAIR Girls, I can't turn my back on those still swirling inside.

So, what is inside this storm? Inside this storm is a dark and cruel underworld where women, children and men are sold like commodities. Every victim's time is not the same. But we share a common bond. Two days ago I was with a group of survivors as well as Jada Pinkett Smith filming for Katie, Katie Couric's show. After filming, Jada pulled all of us aside and we talked. Each girl recounted the cruelty and horrors that they experienced. It saddened me that we all experienced the same level of abuse.

What shocks me is that slavery was abolished in the United States. But, was it really? I ask myself that every day as I walk among those younger than me who fill the rooms at FAIR Girls. As I look for victims inside the supposed "adult section" of Backpage.com, I find girls even younger than I was -- even 11 -- who are still enslaved. Just like me, they are hiding in plain sight. The reality is that not that many people are brave enough to look inside the eye of the storm.

Why does it still exist? Question from a survivor.

When I left my life of exploitation I had so many questions. I was angry more than anything. People all over the world look at the United States as one of the greatest nations on earth. The United States is supposed to be a civilized country. Slavery has been outlawed here for over a century. But has slavery really been outlawed? That's a question that I ask myself daily. If it was, how could a high school honors student like me be allowed to be sold and raped daily to hundreds of men? It was not as if I and other victims were in hiding. We were completely visible. Why didn't anyone try to "rescue" us? As American citizens were we not important enough.

When I was exploited there were only a few anti-trafficking organizations that worked with victims from the United States. I work for an organization called Fair Girls. At Fair Girls we work with girls ages 11-21. Each day when I walk into my office I am surrounded by the young victims that we serve. I feel empowered and a sense of pride knowing that even though I experienced the horrors of human trafficking I can share my own struggles to leave trafficking.

A common theme of the first conversation I have with all of our girls is they are happy to have a survivor as a role model. In the past year, Fair Girls' caseload has tripled to over 500. I am happy to say that we are raising awareness and serving so many victims. But we are only a staff of three full time employees and two part time employees. Many people ask what can I do as an average person? There is no simple answer because there is so much that needs to be done.

First, reach out to a human trafficking organization like Fair Girls to donate time, money or whatever you can. People are surprised that one of the most important things that my organization asks for is support. Currently there are no shelters specifically designated for victims of trafficking in D.C.. While we are partnered with a group home and a shelter, they run out of beds very quickly. There have been times where I had to sit with a girl somewhere until we can find an affordable hotel. Without the public's continued support, Fair Girls would have to close our doors. What would happen to the hundreds of girls that we serve? Are they important to you?