BALTIMORE (SBG) — Sex trafficking raids and busts often capture the headlines. But what happens to the people who survive those crimes, and often have nowhere to go? Inside Your World Investigates discovered a shortage in specialized care and shelter for survivors.
We met a young woman who wants to be called “Gabby.” Today, she drives a truck for a living, waking up early six days for her job. It’s one she’s proud to have. But her early life was a horrific nightmare, starting with being sexually abused by her father at only eight years old.
She told us she was later trafficked for sex, manipulated into prostitution by a man she trusted. “I thought he loved me,” she explained. “Imagine that.”
It was an unimaginable way to live that she endured for seven years. She told us she wants people to realize that sex trafficking is real, and it’s everywhere, no matter whether people choose to ignore it.
“All the years I was out there, I never met a girl that said this is what she wanted to do with her life. Never,” Gabby told us. “No one is out there because they want to be.”
It’s estimated that 5 million adults and children around the world suffer from sexual exploitation. Another 20 million are victims of forced labor. Trafficking is a global business worth $150 billion each year.
We wanted to figure out what happens to survivors.
Gabby credits the intervention of a shelter with putting her life back on track. It started when a stranger gave her a rose on the streets, and told her she was special. That woman encouraged Gabby to go to a shelter, to speak about what was happening.
Eventually, she landed at The Samaritan Women, a Maryland-based shelter specifically designed to provide care for survivors. Jeanne Allert is the executive director.
Allert told us women who arrive to the shelter are often traumatized, both physically and emotionally.
“What we see in high measure are dental problems, neglect, lack of hygiene, getting hit in the face a lot, sometimes substance abuse,” said Allert. "And so we have had to put a set of triaged services in place. We're dealing with those physiological issues, we're dealing with stabilization, we're trying to bring down the fight flight freeze responses from trauma.”
But Allert’s organization can’t assist everyone. And we discovered the vast majority of trafficking victims in the US don’t have access to this kind of comprehensive care.
According to a recent survey:
Congress has been grappling with how to address the problem of human trafficking for decades. This summer, lawmakers acknowledged the need for shelters with specialized care. They introduced a bill called Trafficking Survivors Housing Act of 2021 that would commission a study to figure out the specific needs of survivors of all types of trafficking and how to provide safe housing for those recovering from trauma.
According to a recent survey, there were 79,000 children in Texas alone that were in commercial sexual exploitation.
“So if there are 79,000 in one state and 2,000 beds across the country, I don’t want to be hyperbolic and say it’s a crisis, but in my world, it’s a crisis,” Allert told us.
A crisis that Gabby says needs to be addressed. She told us women need a “network” in order to recover from being trafficked because it’s difficult to leave when everyone you know is doing the same thing. She added that most of the women who were being trafficked on the streets had a history of rape or sexual abuse.
Luckily, she spent a year and a half with The Samaritan Women, a group of people she now considers family.
“If I could get a snapshot of me 10 years ago, and me today, they’d look like two different people,” trafficking survivor Gabby told Inside Your World Investigates.
But Gabby isn’t forgetting her struggle. Instead, she’s heading back to the streets to do what she can to help.
“I’m getting myself strong, and ready to get back into the devil’s den and pull some more out,” she told us. “Because that’s what you do.”
To read more about how trauma-based care can help survivors of trafficking, and find additional resources about this topic, visit this website, created by the US Administration for Children and Families.
For more information about Allert's organization, and its work to provide tools and resources to promote the opening of more shelters, or to donate to the cause, click here.