Across the world, as many as 30 million people are currently being held captive, moved from location to location as victims in the global human trafficking trade. As many as 17,500 victims are moved into the US each year. California is home to three of the FBI’s most notorious trafficking areas - San Francisco, L.A., and San Diego - while the Dallas-Ft. Worth region in Texas is home to 15 percent of the total calls sent to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The average age of those forced into this illegal trade is 12 to 14 years old.
Global authorities have identified Russia, China, Iran, Belarus, and Venezuela as some of the top countries known for a high percentage of trafficking-related crimes. This underground black market destroys the lives of thousands of people, even as it pads the pockets of criminals with more than $32 billion each year. The following are real stories from real victims, and many use false names out of fear of reprisal.
One alleged survivor of the illegal sex trade, who calls herself “Kendall,” publicly announced that her parents only had her in order to sell her to an international trafficker. In March 2017, Kendall went on the Dr. Phil Show and shared her story. She maintains her life began with sexual abuse and that she was molested as a toddler, prior to developing verbal skills.
Kendall explained that the man, whom she refers to only as “the man who owned me,” said that she wasn’t allowed to use the word “trafficking.” Kendall, reportedly unsure of her own age, reiterated how the man told her she “was made for [sexual slavery], and trafficking is when girls who aren’t made for that get kidnapped or sold into it.”
On the show, Kendall described her “clients” as powerful, rich men and women - from politicians, doctors, celebrities, and even law enforcement officials.
Over the course of 16 years, “Mari” was in a relationship with “Darrell,” who fathered her four children. According to the Polaris Project, a non-profit organization that combats trafficking and operates a national hotline, Darrell was abusive in every way: verbally, physically, and sexually.
The survivor’s account maintains that Darrell forced Mari to have sex with other men for money. Darrell also recruited an 18-year-old named "Janice" to join his prostitution ring.
Reportedly, a police officer pulled Darrell’s car over, and the two women were also in the vehicle. The officer noticed that the man had both Mari and Janice’s IDs in his wallet and asked to speak to each of the women privately. The officer realized that they were held against their will and connected the captives to the Polaris Project, leading to their rescue.
Until the age of 20, Phalla lived a relatively normal life in Cambodia. After her father died, with no one to support her family, she was forced to move in with her grandmother. According to Equality Now, a global network that advocates for gender equality and human rights, the grandmother sold Phalla to a brothel two months later.
The grandmother reportedly drove the girl to a brothel in the nearby city, Kampong Som, but Phalla was unaware of her grandmother's intentions. At the brothel, Phalla was locked in a room and assaulted several times a day. Her reality for the next several months included being sold from one brothel to another.
Then, she met a man who helped her back to her native Cambodia. It seemed like a new lease on life, but she was soon put to work in a karaoke bar, and her employers sold her to foreign tourists for days at a time. When she tried to leave, she was beaten. It took several more months before she was able to gain her captor’s confidence, escape, and turn herself over to authorities.
As the only surviving member of her family in the wake of the Rwandan genocide, “Sabine” was more than happy to accept an offer working for a wealthy American family. Upon her arrival in the US, the family held the girl captive and made her perfor forced labor. According to the Polaris Project, Sabine had neither a room nor a bed and slept on the floor.
It took six months before Sabine was allowed one hour off each Sunday to attend church services. While there, one of her fellow parishioners caught wind of her situation and helped her escape. At first, Sabine’s ordeal had left her traumatized. She was afraid to leave her new apartment or venture in the city alone.
With the help of a devoted case manager, Sabine is reportedly now able to travel on her own and is learning English as she slowly works to rebuild her life.