He tapped into all of this. He also took his time to make me believe how special I was in his eyes. He didn’t sweep me off my feet. He was much more thorough than that. He invested praise, time, and money in me. He convinced me he loved me, and that anything he asked of me came from his love for me…
Human traffickers do not discriminate. Anyone that they believe will serve their purposes of turning the labor and/or sexuality of a human being into profit can be considered at risk of being commercially exploited. And, far more often than many people think is the case, the trafficker is actually someone who is already in the potential victim’s relational circle.
Although those who commit this crime use a variety of means to lure and exploit their victims, quite often they will utilize a “grooming” process to lower the potential victim’s defenses so that trust is built between the potential trafficker and potential victim. Words of affirmation, with acts to back them up (gifts, displays of affection, etc.) are used to let the targeted person know how special they are. This practice is especially used with people whom the trafficker recognizes does not have a strong sense of self-worth and a strong support system of relationships around them.
Let’s face it; the more someone tells us we’re special, especially if we haven’t heard that message consistently, the more likely we are to believe it. I did. The person who exploited me was a master at drawing out my weaknesses. And before you jump to conclusions about my weaknesses, I didn’t grow up in abusive home, I didn’t suffer sexual assault as a child or adolescent. I simply was like so many people… I was trying to find my way in the world, I wanted to do things that felt meaningful, and I wanted to love and feel loved.
He tapped into all of this. He also took his time to make me believe how special I was in his eyes. He didn’t sweep me off my feet. He was much more thorough than that. He invested praise, time, and money in me. He convinced me he loved me, and that anything he asked of me came from his love for me.
The first time he asked me to be part of a threesome, he told me I was so special he wanted to share me with a friend. I was terrified, but went along with it. Then he asked me to do another one, and another one, then he asked me to sleep one-on-one with his “friend.” All the while, he kept telling me how special I was. He had me completely hooked, not chemically, but psychologically.
Over time his requests turned to demands, ultimately becoming nothing but demands. It took me quite a while to realize what he was doing to me, and it was jolting to admit that this person I had given myself to actually didn’t consider me to be special. I was product, a meal ticket. No one special at all.
My story is not unique. Human trafficking goes on all around us daily. But, every story matters, and each person in those stories is a unique, important human being. A special human being. Thankfully I am no longer trapped in that relationship and cycle of exploitation. It has been (and remains) a long road of recovery for me. My work of recovery is helping me learn what is truly special about me, and that I am valuable because of my humanity, not because of the value someone else places on me.
There are thousands more like me in our nation. Some of them are walking their own road of recovery; some are waiting for their rescue. No matter their gender, age, ethnicity, they are all like me. They deserve life, hope, to be happy and fulfilled. Every one of them is someone special.
Living to love, loving to live.
Tammie Wilson would like to highlight and credit Second Life Tennessee. It is an organization that works to end human trafficking, specifically in the lower east Tennessee area. Second Life Tennessee provides multiple services, from aftercare to survivors, to support for legislative and community efforts against trafficking, and many more. It only takes a few minutes to browse their website – you can learn more about human trafficking and modern slavery in America and how to help.
If you or someone you know is in trouble, please call the national or state human trafficking hotline number.
National Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888
Tennessee Hotline: 1 (855) 558-6484