Sex trafficking is a form of modern slavery that exists throughout the United States. Traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. The situations that sex trafficking victims face vary, many victims become romantically involved with someone who then forces them into prostitution. Others are lured with false promises of a job, and some are forced to sell sex by members of their own families. Victims of sex trafficking include both foreign nationals and US citizens, with women making up the majority of those trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. In 2015, the most reported venues/industries for sex trafficking included commercial-front brothels, hotel/motel-based trafficking, online advertisements with unknown locations, residential brothels, and street-based sex trafficking.
Ali, a young woman who fell into a life of drug addiction and prostitution in Philadelphia, describes the hold sex traffickers have on their victims and how she was ultimately able to escape the life with the help of a deputy sheriff on an FBI task force.
I think when I was first on the streets, I still kind of separated myself from everybody else that was down there and looked at myself as, like, unique, that like, “I’m not as bad off as these people. I’m not as dirty as these people. I haven’t done certain things yet. I haven’t been arrested yet. I’ll be fine.”
It went from trying it [heroin] probably to within a month to needing to do it every single day. So, when I moved down there, it was very bad. It wasn’t about the thrill of getting high. It was like “I need this” or “I feel like I’m going to die” because I’m getting that sick.
In the beginning, it’s easy for them to manipulate you when you have nothing, and they are literally providing you with everything, and they have that control over you. It kind of became just like giving into them because I felt obligated to do certain things with them in order for them to keep providing for me. If they would physically abusive towards you, then they would remind you that they were like your primary source of income, your primary place to have a roof over your head, to feed you. So even though that part of it was there, it’s kind of like you were willing to sacrifice, I was willing to sacrifice enduring that because without that person I thought I had nothing.
He [Detective Johnson] probably first met me when I had just gotten out there and I wasn’t as bad off or as beaten up as I was years later when he found me again.
It’s honestly like a war zone is how I would describe Kensington. I normalized it so much. But most of what goes on there is drugs, prostitution, and violence. It’s crazy when I think about it now because it’s no way for a person to live.
I had alienated myself from them [her parents] for so long. Lied to them, stole from them, had them searching for me for months, putting out missing person’s reports for me. There had been warrants out for my arrest because I had failed to appear in court for months. Like, I was running from the police and Detective Johnson was on the warrant unit at that time.
I remember I was walking down a one-way street this way and I see a truck go this way and for a split second I thought about running. He got out of the car and he handcuffed me, and he literally called my mom on the phone, to say, like, we found your daughter.
So that day that he arrested me, it’s kind of like, I had that moment of clarity, where I realized that I was going to be in trouble, because I was going to be in jail. But I also had that sense of relief that was a little scary, because I knew that it was over. I knew that the way that I was living and my days on the streets and years of living that way was ending. So, as scared as I was, it was almost relieving in a sense to know, like, even if this is forced, my life doesn’t have to be like this anymore.
Looking back, like that day, he saved my life in the sense that he had not gotten me then, like, I don’t think I would have made it off of the streets alive had I continued to stay out there.
Whether its addiction or prostitution or human trafficking, it doesn’t discriminate against any socioeconomic status or any background. Even me, in the beginning, thought I come from a good family, an educated family, a good area. Like, this could never happen to me. Like, I was one of those naïve, ignorant people that didn't think it could happen to me, as though I was above other people. But it can happen to anybody. You don’t have to come from a bad home or live in the inner city where that stuff might be misconceived as being more prevalent. It happens everywhere. It can happen to anybody.
Narrative provided by FBI.gov