Survivor Story: Susannah

“I started being taken to other states against my will and became a high earner for my traffickers. The abuse I went through in those 4 years, was worse than the lifetime of abuse I had endured up to that point.”

I was sex trafficked for four years. I reached out to the National Human Trafficking Hotline five years ago. They were able to connect me with resources, with housing, and with case management services. I do not know where I would be had I not made that call. I do know, that if they had not said, up front, clearly, that they would not call law enforcement, I would have hung up. 

Prior to my sex trafficking, I was in a domestic violence relationship. My DV abuser had cut off access to everything I owned and all my money. I had no family or friends to turn to. I was middle class and a PTA mom. My domestic violence abuser was involved in local politics and was well known in our large community.  I made a decision when faced with life or death and I ran for my life. I had nowhere to turn. I decided to try commercial sex. I had been having sex since I was two years old and knew that my body could provide income. I was not street smart. I had been in the life less than two weeks when I met someone I thought was my knight in shining armor. I was terrified my domestic violence abuser would continue to come after me and my trafficker promised me he could keep me safe. From my domestic violence abuser, he did. He did not keep me safe though. He would refer clients to me and I would give him a cut in return. I thought it was a business relationship. I thought I had the upper hand. My goal was to get housing and figure out a way to get my child from my domestic violence abuser.

Then it got controlling. At first, I received a cut of the money. After a few months, all the money I earned had to be handed over. I started being taken to other states against my will and became a high earner for my traffickers. The abuse I went through in those 4 years, was worse than the lifetime of abuse I had endured up to that point.

It took me a while to understand the big picture. I did not know the definition of trafficking. I grew up with sexual abuse and it continued throughout my adult life. I knew what I was experiencing was different from what I had gone through before. This was the first time in my life where I was labeled with a price and sold as goods to others. I have always dealt with shame over sexual abuse but trafficking stripped me of my dignity. 

I got away the first time with the help of some acquaintances but the traffickers found me and brought me back. They took me to multiple states where they would set up clients. At some point, we stopped at a highway rest stop and I was allowed to go to the bathroom by myself. There was a sticker for the National Human Trafficking Hotline on the back of the toilet paper holder and I memorized the number. I knew that if I ever had the opportunity, this number could be my ticket to freedom.

I had no phone and no access to a phone but several months later, a situation occurred and I was able to get away and get access to a phone.

I called the Trafficking Hotline. The first question I was going to ask them was do you tell what I tell you to the police? My traffickers knew where my child was and they threatened that if I ever went to the police, they would harm my child. I knew too much about their operation and they knew my child’s safety would keep me silent.

I didn’t even have to ask. The person on the hotline told me right away that it was up to me if they told the police or not. 

If that person had said we have to report, I would have hung up the phone and figured it out on my own. If I had been able to figure it out on my own. I was in a state I had never been in. I had only gotten a mile or two away before someone let me use their phone. 

When I called the hotline, I was hiding behind a dumpster. They got me a bus ticket under a different name. They provided an opportunity for me to get out of my trafficking situation on my own terms. They did not put stipulations on what would have to take place for me to receive help. Until that point, everyone else had a say in my life except me. During my phone call with the hotline, everything was my choice. I had complete control of how things played out. If I didn’t get that help, I am unsure if I would have gotten out at that time. It is very likely they would have found me. It is also very likely they would have killed me and a third opportunity to escape would not have been possible. If the hotline had said that they would contact law enforcement, I would have sacrificed my freedom for my child’s safety. My traffickers had photos of my child waiting for the school bus that they would show me. This was not a threat without merit. 

The hotline opened a door to freedom for me. They provided resources and connected me with agencies that provided day to day support. The hotline was my first point of contact and I am thankful they do not mandate law enforcement reporting. Coming out of trafficking does not have a guidebook. There is no easy path to follow that says this is how you go ahead and move forward as a person with a history, as a businesswoman, and as an entrepreneur. No one has a play by play for life when it butts up against some of the trauma you have experienced. I have learned how resilient I am. I have also learned I have a voice that matters. I am thankful for this opportunity to share how the hotlines policies and procedures impacted my life for the good.

– Susannah

*Please note the name and image used are not of the survivor in order to protect survivor’s privacy

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Need help? Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.