MAINE (WABI) - Maine is known as a relatively safe place to live.
That makes it hard for many to believe a state known for its motto - the way life should be - is also one where there's sex trafficking.
Joy Hollowell joins us with a special report on Maine women who are publicly sharing their stories of exploitation and survival.
Cathy Geren was just 19 when she was forced into sex trafficking.
Geren, who grew up in Gorham, says it all started when her boyfriend ended up in prison.
"We were actually high school sweethearts, and we dated going into college."
Cathy Geren says her boyfriend became a heavy drug user. He ended up renting an apartment for his drug dealer, who was travelling back and forth from New York.
When Geren's boyfriend was incarcerated, she was left living with his drug dealer.
"He said- well, why don't you come to New York with me and dance at a party," remembers Geren.
He promised to help Geren with her struggling finances.
"And then when I got to New York, that really wasn't the case at all," she says. "I was trafficked by this specific pimp from the age of 19 to 24."
Geren was sold for sex in Maine through the website, Backpage. She and her pimp also travelled to Georgia, Florida, California, Michigan, even Tijuana.
"In bigger cities, where he was a gang member, a lot of the sales were within the gang," Geren says.
She usually lived with three or four other girls, all trafficked by the same man. He would control them with physical and sexual abuse.
"My trafficker was a very violent person," Geren says.
Ironically, it was jail that gave Geren her first glimpse of hope. While imprisoned, she was connected with Preble Street's Anti-Trafficking Coalition. Once out, she started counseling. But Geren had no place to stay and little money. One day, her trafficker's girlfriend pulled up in a car.
"And she's like- Oh Cathy, you look like you're having a rough time."
The woman explained she had broken up with Geren's pimp and was living in her own apartment. She invited Cathy to visit.
"Her and I had a relationship, we looked out for each other in the past, so I believed her," says Geren. "And I went with her to the Lewiston-Auburn area. And when we arrived at the house, my trafficker was there."
Geren was severely beaten, tied up, and her identification taken.
"For the next 6 or 7 months, he left me with basically a bodyguard all the time," she says.
One day, a police detective knocked on her hotel door. He told Geren he knew what was going on and offered to help.
"And I was like- well, I've already tried to get help once and look, I'm like in a worse situation now then I was before."
Eventually, Geren agreed to trust the detective. He introduced her to Hope Rising, the first residential treatment program in Maine for women who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
"I was one of the first five girls to go to their program in June of 2015," Geren proudly states.
Geren spent 10 months at the home.
"When I moved out on my own, I started dating a man in my first healthy relationship and we had a baby a year ago, my daughter," says Geren with a smile. "We're getting married this fall."
Geren also began classes at the University of Maine Augusta in Bangor. She's set to graduate next spring with a degree in mental health and human services.
"Today, I work with the residents at Hope Rising," says Geren.
She also mentors teens at the Shaw House in Bangor.
It was just this past January that Geren decided to share her story publicly at a forum in Bangor. Now, she travels around the state and the country, advocating for sexual exploitation survivors.
"I think that it is very healing for me and the more you tell your story the more you can move away from it," she says. "I know that it if it just helps one person by doing this that's good for me."
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/