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Former Trafficking Victim Says, "Game Over"

“I was afraid,” she said, “I was so skinny, so unhealthy. I felt like, ‘People think I'm just nasty, I’m just a prostitute that no one cares about.’”

Leah was a victim of sex trafficking.

She shared, “I did try to escape several times and I never could get away. And the abuse, the hits became harder and harder to a point where I blacked out a couple of times with the hits and then that's when I just knew, I said, ‘I can't protect myself. I can't – I can't fight him.’”

Leah had been an easy target. Born out of wedlock, she grew up with her drug-addicted mother. The only father figures she knew were the men in her mother’s life, who at times beat and molested Leah.

“So that's what I thought, you know, love was. That's what I thought attention from a man was. It was normal to me.”

Leah was 13 when Child Protective Services put her into a group home where she spent five troubled years. By the time she aged out at 18, she had a 1-year-old daughter. With no money and nowhere to turn, she took a job as an exotic dancer.

“The only thing that I knew,” she explained, “is that guys liked me for one thing and that was my body. I was like, ‘You know, hey, guys have touched me my whole life. What's the big deal?’"

For the next six years, she made her living as a stripper. One night, she met a man at the club she thought was her prince charming.

“He was so sweet,” she said. “He would shower me with gifts. He knew how to say all the right things. He always made me feel wanted.”

But after a few dates, he became possessive, and eventually took her phone and ID’s. When Leah resisted, he exploded.

She remembered how he “…started hitting me several times in my face where both my eyes were so swollen and black that I couldn't even see out of them. And pulled out all my hair, like skin-bald. He started to burn me with cigarettes all down my arms and my legs. He made me feel like ‘If you didn't do that, then you wouldn’t get beat. If you'd just listen, then you wouldn’t get hit.’"

After months of brainwashing and abuse, Leah gave up fighting. He branded her with a tattoo as his property, and forced her into prostitution – something he had planned all along.

“He would tell me, ‘If you leave me, I'm going to find you and I’m going to kill you. If I can't find you, I'm going to kill your mother.’”

To protect her daughter and mother, who was now clean and a Christian, Leah stayed. She sent her daughter to live with her brother. For the next three years, her captor dragged her across the Southwest, while at the same time recruiting other girls. When Leah became pregnant with his son, his grip on her tightened.

“The abuse,” she recalled, “continued after that, and he was still making me work. I felt like I was trapped. There was no way out. Two weeks after I had my son he took him to his mom's house...I wasn't allowed to see my son unless it was with supervision. Wasn't allowed to take him nowhere...and he would use that against me.”

Then, in 2011, a John pulled a gun and threatened to kill her. She convinced him to let her live, but the trauma left her more desperate for escape. Leah cried out to a God she barely knew.

She prayed, "My God, if you're real, please help me. Please help me. I don't know how to escape. I don't know how to leave. But I need your help. Save me. Save me."

Two weeks later, Leah was with her pimp as he was trying to recruit two girls. They turned out to be undercover cops and took both of them into custody. Afraid of what might happen to her son, Leah said nothing in her defense. As a result, she was charged with 21 felonies – the same as the trafficker who had been holding her hostage.
“I was just screaming and crying and I was mad at God,” Leah said.

But while awaiting trial in jail, Leah continued talking to God and began reading the Bible and attending chapel.

“I started to wake up early in the morning,” she described, “like at five in the morning, before the whole dorm woke up, and…I started to pray and sing out loud…The feeling that I had when I talked to him, when I read the Word, like it was something that no one's ever gave me. The love that I felt from God was the love that I felt from no human being to this day.”

Leah had been in jail for six months when she gave her life to Christ.

As she shared, “All the hurt, all the anger, all the pain, all the scars, all the suffering was His. I started to trust Him, that I knew that whatever happened, He knew what was best for me and He was protecting me and he was my father and He loved me, and I believed that with all my heart.”

Still concerned for her son, Leah kept silent and signed a plea deal for a seven-year sentence. Then a week later, she received a post card – it was from her trafficker’s family and on the back was written “I have your son.”

She called her mother, who went immediately to pick up Leah’s son. Once he was safe, Leah showed the postcard to her lawyer and agreed to testify. Using the postcard as evidence, her lawyer repealed her case – and the judge dropped all charges.”

She remembered, “My lawyer came up to me and he said, ‘Are you ready to go home?’ And I just started crying. Only God, after you sign a plea for seven years, you know what I mean, can make the judge turn his heart around and say, 'No, we're giving this girl a chance.' You know, that had to be him.”

After completing a court-ordered rehabilitation program, Leah was reunited with her children. Today, she’s an educator with the Sex Trafficking Institute and runs the Help Her Stand Foundation, an organization that counsels and advocates for trafficking victims.

“It means everything,” she said, “because it means what I went through was not in vain. There’s a purpose behind my story. Now I’m free. Now I can talk and I can tell my story and I’m not scared because I have someone that's going to protect me that's better than any human, which is God.”

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