There are an estimated 403,000 people living in modern slavery in the United States (GSI 2018). Sex trafficking exists throughout the country. 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.
Robin Flemming was 20 years old when she met a man who seemed like everything she was looking for. He was loving, caring and promised her the world. It wasn’t until she moved to Texas to live with him that he began using her for profit. Flemming’s trafficker, whom she now refers to as “the monster,” brought her to a club one day and told her she was going to audition to be a dancer. During her first night of dancing, she earned $3,000. Throughout their marriage, they moved across the country and lived in more than six states. Flemming said her trafficker abused her verbally and mentally, raped her numerous times and occasionally kicked out of her home, leaving her with no place to go. After secretly stashing money at work, Flemming raised about $10,000, which she used to escape from her trafficker. She went to work one day and decided that she would not come back. It wasn't until two and a half years later that her trafficker finally started leaving her alone. Flemming was able to divorce her trafficker in 2007, a year after she saw him for the last time. She then had to work to get her life back to normal. Flemming stayed in exotic dancing for six more years. After counseling, continuous nightmares and a year of being sober, her life has returned to normal. She now lives in Columbia with her husband and daughter and runs a day-care. She is currently trying to repair her relationship with her other daughter, who also lives in Columbia and is married.
I was hooked, I was like, oh my God, I can go to work for one night and make that kind of money? Where do sign up? But it didn’t realize it was going to be his money. It was ‘you’re going to work, you’re going to make that money, and you’re going to make it home, and the you’re going to go back and you’re going to do it again and keep doing it.’
I mean, of course he married me, and he made me feel like, ‘I’ll take care of you and your daughters. It’s going to be everything you ever wanted.’ As soon as I started making money and he got me in that club, it was hook, line and sinker. He had complete control over me, and I was terrified.
I had no money, I wasn’t even allowed to have my wallet. I couldn’t have my ID, my Social Security card, nothing, because then I could leave. And I started to realize I had no control over my own life, and in a marriage, it should be 50-50 for the most part.
[I realized] this is not the life I want. I don’t want to be with a drug addict or a pimp, and if I’m going to work this hard, make this kind of money, it’s going to be for me.
The last time I saw him was Oct. 14, 2006, and he came to my day job and hid in the bushes, jumped out, choked me unconscious and bit 18 holes in my face and tore up the inside of my mouth. It was kind of the point where, ‘if I can’t have you, nobody will, and you’re not going to be pretty. Nobody’s going to want to be with you.’ That was the last time I had seen him. It’s been 10 years, which has been hard just recovering and telling myself I deserve better. I didn’t deserve any of that.
You have to understand what I went through was horrific. But the way I’m treated after can be just as horrific if you keep treating me like I’m the one that did something wrong. So, I think that’s the most important thing, is just people understanding. I don’t want to be treated like I was a stripper.
Narrative provided by The Maneater, University of Missouri – Columbia student-run newspaper.