DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Rebekah Charleston survived ten years of being trapped in the world of human trafficking. She shared her life story at the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program's community workshop aimed at combating the problem.
During the seminar, she recalled the time when she escaped her trafficker. "I knew I had 20 months to start my life over before he hunted me down and killed me. When someone beats you so brutally that you have blood dripping out of your mouth from your gums being cut on your teeth, you tend to believe them when they say they'll kill you."
Charleston says the recent hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, can make women even more vulnerable -- and that traffickers kept working even during the storms.
She spotted one ad during Harvey. "The pimp is online advertising that he markets and manages and promotes every woman on his roster."
Charleston says her troubles began when she left home at 16, and her parents later placed her into a girl's home in East Texas, which she then ran away from. "For me, that was the ultimate form of betrayal. I felt completely abandoned and rejected. I felt I lived on my own, how could you do this to me, when of course, I was a little girl using drugs and not going to school."
At 17, she became involved with a trafficker.
She says she was powerless to get out. I had so much shame and guilt, once it began, I didn't know how to get out.
Charleston says what ultimately saved her was being prosecuted and spending time in prison.
Now, she is driven to help law enforcement spot trafficking suspects and victims.
Charleston is now a mother and recently graduated Summa Cum Laude from Texas Wesleyan University where she earned a dual degree in criminal justice and social work.
Aside from helping law enforcement, she says she also wants to work with the state to craft policy.
She believes programs like the one at SMU are helping to get the word out. "Yes, I know they are. These people can never say they don't know what this issue is now, and most likely, they'll go home now and tell other people and that's how we get our community to change the way we view exploitation."
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