SACRAMENTO — Sacramento is making headlines for having one of the highest numbers of sex trafficking victims in the country over the last decade, according to a recent study.
"I grew up in a mentally abusive home, so I kind of already had a mindset that was easily manipulated," said a woman named Amy.
She is putting her life back together after sex trafficking tore it apart.
"Over time, he isolated me from my family. He completely pulled me away from everybody I knew," Amy said.
She says her ex-husband is serving a life sentence for what he did to her and others emotionally and sexually in her early twenties.
"Completely brainwashing me and after he had me under his control to where I was terrified to leave," she said.
Sex trafficking involves the exploitation of people through force, fraud, coercion, threat, and/or deception for the purposes of engaging them in commercial sex work. In Sacramento County between 2015 and 2020, there were more than 13,000 victims.
Why does Sacramento have one of the highest sex trafficking rates in the country? Experts say it's because of the high volume of freeways that come and go. It's a very easy access point to come and pick up, and take away.
Johnny Lujan runs Freedom through Education, a nonprofit with safe houses for girls and boys, men and women who have been trafficked or abused.
"So we help them rehabilitate their mind, body and spirit," Lujan said.
He is also a spokesperson on a feature film called "The Lost Girls," an anti-sex trafficking movie meant to bring awareness that is being featured at the Auburn State Theatre this weekend.
"Once they are gone, it's very hard for them to return," said Lujan.
He said sex traffickers target those with low self-esteem and lure them in.
"They pretend to be people they are not going to be, they lure on social media of course. They attract them into movie production filming, tell them how pretty they are," he said.
In most cases, studies show that many sex traffickers target victims they know by establishing a romantic relationship with them and pushing them to a lifestyle they cannot escape.
"They don't know who to go to. They don't feel safe going to the police because it is an authority figure. Their attacker might see that and use it against them," she said.
For Amy, the only way out was being arrested. She said that put her in touch with resources like Lujan's nonprofit. She hopes the movie sheds light on what has been a dark part of her life.
"I want people to know there is support 100% along the way," she said.
The Lost Girls will run Sunday, July 31, at 3 p.m. Cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children 17 and under.
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