Cyber Safety: “I didn’t leave that hotel room for 7 months,” Woman describes being held captive and sold for sex

6 News Cyber Safety

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich (WLNS) — According to the Human Trafficking Institute, the internet has become a dominant tool for traffickers to recruit their victims.

Data from the last two decades shows 30% of all victims identified in federal sex trafficking cases since the year 2000 were recruited on the internet.

That’s not exactly what happened to a woman 6 News spoke with recently who came from Australia to Michigan in March of 2019 to meet a man she met online five years earlier.

But, she knows better than most people the dangers lurking online.

WLNS’ Chivon Kloepfer and Chief Photojournalist David Parks sat down with the 41-year old survivor who wants to remain anonymous.

For the purpose of this story, and as you’ll notice in the video above, we have blurred her face and are referring to her only as ‘Stephanie.’

Stephanie came to Grand Rapids, Michigan on a three-month work Visa to meet someone in person, who she thought she knew well. But she quickly learned he was not who he said he was.

“He became abusive. Like physically abusive and he took my passport and my visa. He kept me basically captive. Like, I couldn’t leave the house. I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t communicate with anyone,” said Stephanie.

She was being held captive, had no communication, no way home, was terrified and alone, and eventually was living illegally in the country.

Stephanie grew up in the foster care system and says she knew no one was coming to look for her. So after months of abuse and being held captive, Stephanie says she tried to take her own life.

“And the ambulance came and that’s when the situation kind of changes,” said Stephanie.

But not for the better. As if it could get worse, it was about to. Stephanie ended up homeless and living on the streets of Grand Rapids. She stayed in tents and homeless shelters for a while until eventually, she met a girl.

“She said she had a hotel for a few nights and I could go there and just get away and there was two guys there. I didn’t leave the hotel room for 7 months.”

Stephanie says people used to come to the room all the time and get drugs. The men forced her to take drugs and used her and other girls sexually, wherever they wanted. They also made appointments for other men.

In October of 2020, Stephanie saw an opportunity to escape.

“I thought, this is my chance. So I literally ran barefoot. Um, just ran out and called the police.” She hid, worried she would be chased, recaptured, maybe even killed. Thankfully the police found her and her nightmare was finally over. But while her physical wounds would heal, it will take a lot longer to learn to live with her emotional trauma.

Stephanie eventually ended up in the loving arms of the House of Promise in Lansing. It’s a non-profit specifically designed for survivors of sex abuse and sex trafficking.

She has since graduated from the program and says she plans to stay in Michigan to try and help other people, specifically those who are growing up in the foster care system.

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