Human Trafficking: A Look Inside “The Life” - Jane’s story

Jane lost hope of escaping or being rescued. Years of manipulation led her to believe her only way out was death.
Published: Nov. 29, 2022 at 10:35 PM CST
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SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (WBAY) - Now that local experts opened the curtains to a world most people are unaware of (see part 1 of our special report), it’s time to understand why it’s difficult--but possible--for victims to escape the darkness.

Jane vaguely remembers when she was forced into human trafficking, but she does recall being sexually exploited for child pornography at the age of five.

“But as I got older, and I started learning what happened and I started understanding what happened and how it’s still happening--I started to understand that because I’m not under the roof of a trafficker doesn’t mean that I’m still not in ‘The Life’,” said Jane.

One cannot simply choose to walk out of “The Life” after it takes you in, traps you and breaks you down.

Jane lost hope of escaping or being rescued. Years of manipulation led her to believe her only way out was death.

“I was thinking when someone would kill me, to be honest. Like when will it be over? When is this going to be so much that my body is going to give out, and I’m just going to die? Those are the thoughts that I had. And I know I’m not the only one like that,” she said.

Jane’s fractured safety net was her unwanted ticket to trafficking.

“My mom needed to make means for her children and ended up getting victimized and groomed by a trafficker,” said Jane. “Obviously, with my mom, she was just preoccupied with her demons that she didn’t have time to handle ours as well,” said Jane.

Her mother was a victim as well, leaving Jane to feel unloved and unprotected.

When asked what was done to keep her in The Life, Jane said, “For me, it was manipulation of longing for family and making me feel like I did have a family. They did A, B, C and D--so I had to do A, B, C and D for them.”

She added, “For my mom, it was money. For other people, it could be manipulation of reputation. Like if you don’t do this, I’m going to blast you on the internet.”

Human trafficking is calculated slavery, using human vulnerabilities such as money, drugs, mental and emotional needs to fuel a business. They’re all tactics used to create a veil of deceit.

“Part of what we’re doing as a task force, is bringing awareness to victims because unfortunately a lot of times, victims don’t see themselves as such,” said Holly Gerritson, a Corrections Field Supervisor with the Department of Corrections.

“Trafficking is really complex, and it ahs so many layers to it that it can be as subtle as a friend who is trying to ask questions, getting to know you. Unfortunately, you may be giving that person too much information and then that vulnerability that you might have is exploited,” said Britta West, a Sexual Assault Specialist with Safe Harbor in Sheboygan.

“Romeo Pimps” is what traffickers who start a romantic relationship with a victim are called. They slowly isolate them, make them dependent on money, drugs or affection before starting a power/control cycle.

“We always go back to trafficking, and just abuse in general, is typically a power and control setting. So someone has taken that power from you. Those decision making choices or they forced you into something you don’t even realize might not be safe,” said West.

“A lot of times, the victims could be involved in drugs or other things like that, where they have an addiction and that can be tough because it might be all that they’ve known,” said Luke Henschel, a Probation and Parole Agent.

If groomed at a young age, it can be a victim’s only reality.

Action 2 News asked Jane if there was ever a point where she thought her trafficking situation was normal life for everyone else.

“I have a saying that if you’re born in a burning building, or burning house, you think the whole world is on fire. That’s something that I’ve lived by for a really long time,” she said. “But yes, I did think it was pretty normal, and that’s just how it is. I think that’s partially why they got away with it for so long because I didn’t think that it was wrong. I just thought it was the way that life was.”

If you think someone may be a human trafficking victim, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888 or text a message to 233733 “BeFree”.

You can also call your local law enforcement.

Watch part 1 of our special report

A survivor and an investigator give eye-opening details about how prevalent human trafficking is, even in our communities