HOUSTON – Years after a teenage human trafficking survivor escaped a life of abuse and bondage, she is still plagued with images and nightmares that reflect her past. Even though her captor is behind bars, she is still in a state of fear. She goes by the name "Danielle." At an early age she was in and out of different foster homes, and often neglected. "I just remember wanting to escape," she said.
"I was 15 when I was taken, and put in a house," said Danielle. The next few years of her life were a blur. She was kept in a house against her will.
"I was beaten, starved sometimes. I was put in a room where he would look through I little window. I was a sex slave, and I had to do whatever he told me to do with different people. I didn't say no, there was no saying no. I didn't have a voice," she said.
Human trafficking is defined as a form of modern day slavery, and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit human beings for some type of labor or commercial sex purpose. Victims are often lured with false promises of well-paying jobs or are manipulated by people they trust and forced or coerced into prostitution or labor. Danielle says she was not coerced, she had no other choice.
Property Value: Branded for a Trade
Her wounds would eventually heal, but their was one mark on her body that remained permanent. While inside of her kidnapper's house she was forced to get a tattoo. "They put it on when they said I was his, that I belonged to him," she said. Even though she has been free for several years, the tattoo, which was put on her neck, has become a stumbling block and daily reminder of the turmoil she went through. "I'm always trying to cover it up. I don't look in the mirror often, because every time I see it, it brings back fear. I'm always scared that when I'm out somebody will see it that knows him and automatically know who I am because of the tattoo," she said.
"Branding and tattooing, is very common in this arena," said Special Agent Patrick Fransen who has worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation since 1998. Most recently Fransen has been heavily involved with investigation concerning violent crimes in the Innocence Lost Task Force. "A lot of these girls, when we get them out of the life, they make huge strides to improve their life but they always have that tattoo left on their bodies. We've seen tattoos not just in visible areas, but in private areas with dollar signs, which just emphasizes the fact that this is property and that part of her body is making money and that is all the pimp or trafficker cares about. " said Fransen.
The tattoo becomes an advertisement for the trafficker. "The tattoo is used for many reasons, for that pimp to show off amongst his friends, to show that she is his property, and to tell her that she is not a human being. He is tagging her as his property, just like a barcode. Another reason a pimp would brand his victim is for psychological control, and every time she sees his name or his logo on her body it tells her that she belongs to him," said Fransen.