Survivors of sex trafficking in Maine- part two

MAINE (WABI) - Up to 300 cases of sex trafficking are recorded in Maine each year.

According to a recent survey, victims are typically women between 14 and 30 years old. They live in big cities as well as rural towns all over our state.

Joy Hollowell with part two of her special report on survivors of sex trafficking in Maine.

Hope Rising is Maine's first residential program and safe house for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.

It's location is kept private, somewhere in central Maine.

Joy spoke with two current residents. For their protection, we are only using their voices.
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"I was burned up and down my body if I said no or if I didn't want to do something or if I didn't bring enough money back. There were times where I was scared to close my eyes to go to sleep."

It started with someone she thought was trying to help her.

"Somebody I thought was a savoir."

But he was part of a gang, and she became his property. For the next 16 years, she was sold for sex.

"The beatings got so severe that there were times that I would just pray that I wouldn't make it through the beatings."

Like many victims of sex trafficking, she was forced to use drugs multiple times a day. Once addicted, her pimp would then withhold the narcotics as a form of control and punishment.

"The first time I tried to get away, I came to Maine. And I was followed."

She was attacked, her jaw broken. Instead of seeing a doctor, she was forced back to sex trafficking. Then, while in jail, she heard about Hope Rising. It's the only safe house in the state exclusively for survivors of sex trafficking.

Carey Nason is the director of Hope Rising.

"It can be pretty unbelievable that human trafficking exists in Maine and to think that something that egregious, something that horrific, is happening in my backyard," she says. "But it is."

Since it opened three years ago, the home is typically at full capacity.

"It's a process that people go through, moving from victim to survivor to thriver to leader," Nason explains.

Women can stay for up to two years. Nason says the youngest resident was 18. She's also had referrals for women in their 60s.

"I didn't really have a lot of hope, and I really didn't think that I would ever feel safe again," says a survivor of sex trafficking. She came to the home in March after receiving death threats from her trafficker who was about to be released from jail. A man she thought was her boyfriend.

"And about two months into things, the whole script kind of flipped on itself," she says. I had basically been kidnapped."

Now that she's at the house, simple things like choices are celebrated.

"Like when I go to bed. I'm not worried about going to bed. When I get up in the morning, I can figure out what I want to wear and how much coffee that I want to drink."

A sentiment echoed by her housemate.

"Being able to have things that I can keep and not have to worry about them being taken from me or having to stay up all night and be able to get an actual good night's sleep and feel safe," she says, pausing. "It's a big, big thing for me."

Both women wonder if they'll ever truly feel safe.

"There's always that fear that - well, if I talk to this person, is this person going to know this person."

"He still got to me, even behind those bars," adds her housemate.

Despite those fears, these women choose to share their stories of survival, hoping it will change stigmas surrounding sex trafficking...

"If you see someone standing on the corner, that does not mean that they are out there because they want to be. It's hard to speak out, especially when there's violence and threats."

And let other victims know, there's hope.

"Every time I speak or I talk to somebody, not only does it help me, but I hope it helps the next person. And I wish there was someone like that for me, when I was going through it."
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The second woman we spoke with has gone back to college. She's majoring in criminal justice, believing that having someone with a badge as well as personal experience will be able to better help victims of sex trafficking as well as build a stronger case against their pimps.

Hope Rising is a non-profit program run through Saint Andre Home through the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec.

Residents at the home make and sell hand scrubs, to raise money for outings.

For more information on Hope Rising, log onto http://www.hoperisingme.org/

You can also find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HopeRising.StAndreHome/

For more information on resources to help victims of sex trafficking in Maine, log onto http://www.mainesten.org/