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Local survivor shares her story on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day: 'Very dark place to be in'

Human trafficking is the trade of humans for the purpose of forced labor, sexual slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others.
Posted at 2:58 PM, Jan 11, 2023

MILWAUKEE — "People are more aware than they were before. There are a lot of organizations doing a lot of work to raise awareness which is important and that's why this day is so important."

For over 40 years, Dr. Debbie Lassiter has been in the business of helping people. In 2002, she co-founded Convergence Resource Center to help individuals who have been affected by human trafficking.

"We provide about 22 different trademark services. We've been visited by people from 22 different countries to learn what we do, so they can do it in their country," said Dr. Lassiter

debbie lassiter.jpg
Debbie Lassiter

Not only is human trafficking prevalent around the world, but it's reported in all 50 states. Described as a crime hidden in plain sight, the face of human trafficking can be rich, poor, men, women, adults, and children in both urban and rural areas.

"So in order for it to be considered sex trafficking or human trafficking; fraud, force or coercion must be present," said Dr. Lassiter.

A survivor, who prefers that her face not be shown on camera, shared that the most insidious form of coercion comes in the form of a friend.

"A lot of people think with traffickers, 'oh, he must have been way older than her to know how to do this, we were the same age'...which was what? At the time that I met him, 16," she said.

A survivor, who prefers that her face not be shown on camera, shared that the most insidious form of coercion comes in the form of a friend.

There are five disguises that a person looking to exploit someone may take on to gain trust: pretender, provider, promiser, protector, and punisher.

"It started off with just him like, 'let's spend more time together' and the next thing I know, I'm dropping out of school my senior year," said the survivor.

She explained whenever she tried leaving, she was met with threats.

"Threats and controlling turned into abuse, like random slaps to the face for no reason whenever he felt like it," she shared. "It's a very dark place to be in, very, very dark."

Although underage, she was manipulated to dance in clubs and go out on "dates" not knowing that she was being advertised on the internet. She eventually escaped, finding help at Convergence Resource Center.

"We're very client driven, that means that if there's a service needed by our clients and it doesn't exist somewhere, we'll create it," said Dr. Lassiter.

Convergence Resource Center

Convergence just opened a satellite center in Madison as 30% of their clients are in the Madison/Dane County area. The programs include trauma-informed care, and support for parents and other family members to help them better understand what a victim has experienced.

"This is not an overnight process and it's not a cookie-cutter process. Everybody's different and everybody's going to take a different amount of time, so saying to them 'that happened 10 years ago, get over it,' doesn't help. They need to understand it's going to be a process," said Dr. Lassiter.

This survivor of human trafficking agrees and as she helps others who have experienced what she's been through, she has a very special message.

"There's a way out and there's light on the other side."

According to the Office of Violence Prevention, some common indicators of someone being human trafficked include:

  • The person has bruises in multiple stages of healing
  • The person is fearful, timid, or submissive in demeanor
  • The person appears to be coached on what to say
  • The person having a sudden or dramatic change in behavior
  • The person being disconnected from family, friends, peers, or community organizations
  • The person appears disoriented or confused, or shows signs of physical or mental abuse.

For more information on Convergence Resource Center, visit their website.

If you feel that you may have identified a victim of human trafficking, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH) at 1-888-373-7888, text 'HELP' or 'INFO' TO BeFree (233733), or refer to further resources on the DHS Identify a Victim webpage.

You can also find more information on the National Human Trafficking Hotline's website.

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