Article by Anira O’Bannon | Photography by Kristina McComas | Owl Staff
Angel was 22 years old when she came across a tempting job advertisement on Craigslist. The job presented itself as a harmless gig, a “tasteful” photo-shoot. But Angel soon found out there was more behind it. Responding to that ad turned her reality into a nightmare and she became a victim of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is the illegal transportation of persons to carry out forced labor, and it’s a crime that’s gaining momentum with each passing day. Human trafficking comes in various forms but it’s common to see victims of labor and sex trafficking.
This crime isn’t restricted to one race, gender, religion or age group, which means the window for those to fall victim is large. According to the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTTF), 600,000 to 800,000 people are estimated to be trafficked yearly.
The state of Maryland plays a large role in this and is considered a hub for trafficking. Maryland’s accessibility to large cities like New York, the conveniently placed BWI airport and the multitude of truck and bus stops have proven to be resourceful; trafficking victims often find themselves transported through and picked up in Maryland.
In Maryland, those found guilty of trafficking a minor can face up to 25 years in prison. However, if the victim is over 18, the penalty can be reduced to a misdemeanor, which would result in a maximum sentence of ten years.
With this accessibility to major cities and limited penalty for trafficking, it is not surprising that Maryland is considered one of the top states for the crime. The events Angel endured still run fresh through her mind as she shares some of the emotions she felt.
“As time moved on, I found myself in a trance state where my mind was not present while my body was being abused…my thoughts were often ‘is this all I’m worth?’” She further reflects on her feelings saying, “…there was no light left in my life.”
Angel came from a home that she considered “chaotic.” She was separated from her husband and daughters due to not being employed and the extreme postpartum depression she experienced. A huge fear for Angel, however, was leaving her pimp without being tracked. After going from being on her own to being under constant watch, she got used to always having someone to answer to.
Angel says these “pimps” make up a trafficking ring, the group of people in charge of the victims being trafficked. They decide what the victim does next. But Angel considers herself lucky because she was eventually able to escape this unspeakable situation.
Angel was on a “date” with someone who was an undercover officer and he eventually convinced her to leave with him. The officer brought her to one of the organizations in Maryland that aid trafficking victims.
Safe House of Hope, located in Baltimore, Maryland, acts as an agent for said victims’ safety and provides a home for them, just like they did for Angel. Organizations like Safe House of Hope search for victims, bring them to safety and provide aid to nurture them back to a state of wellness.
Angel, now 27, works with Denene Yates, director of the organization. The help she has received has pushed her into feeling more like herself every day.
“Meeting Denene and her help has given light to my life again and shown me that my life is not over, that people can want good things for you,” Angel says of her time with the group. “That was a hefty lifestyle to endure, but I’m making progress towards healing.” Safe House of Hope also provides a talk line that gives comfort for the victims.
“Sometimes victims call five or six times and hang up because they’re nervous and want to make sure someone is actually there,” Yates says. “But, no matter what, they continue to call.”
Undergoing forced acts, fighting to have control over yourself, and having your mental and physical limits pushed – this is the reality of human trafficking victims. Volunteering at these organizations and bringing awareness to them can help prevent this from becoming a reality for someone else.