BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Sex trafficking is a problem exploding nationwide and here in Maryland.
WJZ's Rick Ritter continues our three-day investigation into what some call modern-day slavery.
On Monday, Vic Carter explained why Baltimore has become a major hub for trafficking and who the major players are and why it's nearly impossible to stop.
- A Massive Criminal Enterprise Is Hiding In Plain Sight; Sex Trafficking Is A Million Dollar Business
- This Baltimore Shelter Is Helping Survivors Of Sex Trafficking Heal From The Trauma, Find A New Life
- Sex Traffickers Don't Just Target Runaways; They Could Be Talking To Your Child On Their Phone
- Recognizing The Signs Of Human Trafficking
But tonight it's about the victims -- the survivors -- of this massive criminal enterprise. The women and children who become targets of sex traffickers and the abuse they encounter.
This woman, who we're not identifying due to safety concerns, was a victim for years, bouncing from state to state, starting here in Maryland when she was only 16 years old. She said hundreds to thousands of men were forced on her by a man who she loved at the time.
After escaping only a couple of years ago, she's hoping to help others get out by sharing her story of survival and how she broke free.
Her stunning interview below:
Rick Ritter: Take me through when you were 16 years old and how you got wrapped up in all of this?
Survivor: I was 16, I met an older man and at the time and I was just starting my addiction. I met this man and he lured me in with drugs, promises of love, affection and money. He sold me a dream of this glamorous life I did not have. Soon after, that's when the abuse started. Mental abuse, physical abuse, he built me up to break my down to where you pretty much at the end of the day are worshiping him.
A year later, you find yourself losing your soul because you're out there selling it for his profit. At the end of the day you are his dollar, his money, his gain and you lose everything. You lose your self-respect, your morals, values, and soul. You're living in hell.
Rick: Were you traveling around a lot and at what point did it dawn on you that something wasn't right?
Survivor: You don't stay in one spot for too long, you bounce from state to state, town to town, I didn't know back then at 16 what was happening. I thought that he loved me. I was so mentally brainwashed, I thought it was love. They scare you into believing that if you run, not only will you die, so will your family and they'll bring them into your life of hell. So, you think that I will stay here and I will endure all of this pain and hell, so that I'm saving my family.
Rick: During that relationship, how many men do you think were forced upon you?
Survivor: Thousands, thousands -- about 15 to 20 a day for years.
Rick: What was his way to kind of justify this?
Survivor: That he's saving you. That he's saving you from having to go out there and live on the streets because you have a home in a motel room. He's saving you from going out there and finding the drugs because he's bringing them to you. I explain it as a shark smelling blood in the ocean. They can smell the blood and they're coming for you because they smell your vulnerability. They start off at the beginning with "oh you don't have a father, you didn't have love, you come from a broken home, you don't have confidence, you don't have self-esteem, they pick you apart. They entrap you and you're enslaved into their power and their force. They make you feel without them, you wouldn't have what you have.
You're getting beat, raped, abused so bad, that you feel like there is no other way of life. This is your life and you accept it.
Rick: How did you make your way out of this trap essentially?
Survivor: I sat there every day and knew I was in hell, I didn't know how to get out, though. I had accepted streets, jails and where I was at as my death sentence. I thought that's where I was going to die. One day, it was like the world went silent and everything sat still and I heard a voice in my head saying, "run run run run." It was like everything stood still, everyone disappeared and it was like white noise. I took off running and I had the clothes on my back that I was wearing for a month, no shoes on my feet, I was so malnourished I barely had the energy to run but a voice in my head -- that was God saying "run, run run." I took off down the street, made it to a phone to call my mom. Ended up getting on a bus and making my way back to her.
Rick: How hard is it to sit there and think back went you went through and share details?
Survivor: You still have to relive things. You're always going to relive it every single day, but you have tools to cope and be able to live. Because I spent many years existing and now I'm living.
It gets me every time though, knowing I'd be dead. I think about my kids not having a mom. I think about my mom losing a daughter or my sister not having a sister. Today I've been restored and everyone has me. I didn't have me. I didn't have an identity. They took that from me.
I didn't' have a name. I didn't know who I was. I didn't know what I liked or what my color was. There was no color, there was only death.
Today I'm a mother; I'm a daughter; I'm a sister. I'm an educated woman and a wife. Today, I am everything I thought would never be possible. That girl two years ago is dead. She did die. She died right there in that motel room.
Rick: I think it's evident that you realize how lucky you are to get a second chance?
Survivor: Yeah because most women don't. Most women don't get the chance to have another life, to have children, to be educated, to be a wife, to even be set free and not have to look over their shoulder and think is today the day to wake up and not have to be locked in a room and be forced to do things with 20 men a day? It's freedom. Most women don't get that.
It feels like a dream and you look back and say holy s***, that's not reality. At the end of the day, it was my worst nightmare.
Rick: When you think there's other woman out there, in the same situation you were in and can't get the help they need, or the courage to break away, what goes through your mind? What do you want to say to them?"
Survivor: I wish I would've turned on the tv and had someone say there is hope -- there's a program, you can make it out. If I can be that one voice, to put my hand back in there and pick someone up that gives me so much more strength for myself because then I know God saved me for many purposes, including this one right here.
This story is part of a three-day investigation on WJZ. On Wednesday night, Rick Ritter will talk to another victim of sex trafficking and learn more about a nonprofit trying to help women escape that life and take their life back. The investigation continues on WJZ at 11 p.m.
To request help or report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text "help" to BeFree (233733).
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