What Is Human Trafficking?

Human Trafficking is the use of force, fraud, coercion, deception or threat for the purpose of exploitation.

It's something we're seeing both locally and nationally. Just last month, Rapper Sean 'Diddy' Combs had his homes raided in an investigation related to trafficking.

That's a very high-profile case. Most of the time, it doesn't get as much attention and is hidden in plain sight.

"It's no longer if you encounter a trafficked person, it's when," said Rachel Socorro, a survivor of human trafficking.

Rachel was trafficked for 15 years and saw first-hand men and women trafficked for sex and labor.

"Trafficked persons go to car rental places, trafficked persons go to the doctor, I had two children in active trafficking. So we went to the school and the pediatrician and the grocery store," said Socorro. "I've spoken with law enforcement that said, 'You know, we saw you in the community and always thought something was off, but didn't connect the two.' It's so important to have eyes to see, really and ears to hear what exploited persons look like, right around you," she said.

"I've worked with 19 victims of human trafficking on our campus. some of them are homeless," said Susan Laird, adjunct faculty at YSU and human trafficking expert. "During COVID, many of them returned back to their traffickers, because there was nowhere else to go so we have victims of human trafficking on our campus," she said.

Trafficking is not to be confused with prostitution, which is consensual sex for money.

Dr. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco a leading expert on Human Trafficking explains the difference.

"When we're talking about consenting, sex work, or prostitution, we're talking about an adult, typically an adult who is consensually engaging in commercial sex activity for their own financial benefit, they are choosing to engage in exchange sex, typically for money or something of value," said Mehlman-Orozco. "With regards to sex trafficking, or human trafficking, usually, you'll have sex or labor, and you'll have somebody who is in like a modern slavery type of situation, they're having their food, housing, transportation controlled, they are having all of their money or most of their money taken from them. they're really deceived into an exploitative situation," she said.

Although trafficking is believed to be prevalent in Ohio, the numbers are anecdotal. The hidden nature of the crime makes it difficult to measure.

Stats from the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking task force show that between July 1st 2022 and February of 2024, there were 420 known cases of human trafficking. The task force was formed in 2018 and to date has more than 930 trafficking or trafficking related cases. The task force believes these numbers to be a vast under-representation of the problem.

Just this past September, task force agents participated in a statewide operation, targeting buyers of sex and identifying potential trafficking victims. Locally, 24 arrests were made over a 3 day period.

Since May 2023, the FBI had more than 1600 pending human trafficking investigations, with cases found in every field office, which is more than double from the year before.

Dr. Tony Talbott, Director of Advocacy at the University of Dayton Human Rights Center says despite the problem, there is some awareness of the issue.

"We don't know where we stand nationally as the state of Ohio. What we do know is Ohio was number five in the country for calls to the national human trafficking hotline. That's where that number five came from," said Talbott. "That's both a good news and a bad news number. So being number five in the country of all states means that we have a big problem here, but it also means we have a high level of awareness, and people know how to call to get help," he said.

What does trafficking actually look like? Undercover detectives with the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking task force say they've seen it all.

"It's an extremely large issue here. We found sex trafficking in our area in a variety of different methods," said an undercover task force agent. "One of the methods is simply drug-related. We have a situation where we have a high number of opioid-addicted individuals in our area," he said.

Officers believe opioids are, for the most part, what's fueling the trafficking industry.

"The overwhelming percentage of what the cases we've dealt with have dealt with women or girls being exploited because of their opioid addiction," the undercover agent said.

The stereotypical pimp situation where a guy would take a few women around and sell them on the streets is not what law enforcement says they're seeing these days. It's the drug dealers that have made a business plan out of trafficking men and women.

"It's a very lucrative business for them, more so than actually selling drugs, to where they can take a female, sell that female 10-20 times a day, for a couple $100 each time. all they need to do is give that female just enough heroin to stay from getting dope sick," said the undercover agent. "So they have a product that they can sell over and over and over and over again, instead of their drugs," he said.

When the victims don't perform for their traffickers, the drugs are withheld from them until they get to a point where they'd do anything to get their next fix.

"Now try to get out, you've got a habit, you've got nowhere to go, you have no family, you have no friends. maybe the only friends you have are the other women that are involved," said Laird. "The other victims, there's a trauma bond with your trafficker because he's the one that can give you all kinds of pleasure, he can take you and get your hair and nails done, he can get your dental work done, he can do all kinds of different things to make you feel pretty, all he's doing is dressing you up so that you are more appealing for sale. So now you're indebted to this guy, because he spent all this time and money and called you baby and honey and by the way, you're back out on the track. and if you don't do it, you don't get the drugs. and you do get beat up and you do get worse," she said.

"We also have familial sex trafficking. a lot of times that also has an opioid connection, where a mother or father will be addicted," sad the undercover task force agent. "The only way for them to get their money for drugs or to get the drugs directly themselves is to allow one of their children to be molested, we've had a few cases that have been exactly that," he said.

Although drugs are a main factor, it's not the only one.

"They blackmail you know, they become intimate with them. Share me some intimate photos and then okay, listen, if you don't go do this, I'm going to put these photos all over the internet," said Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Renee DiSalvo. "It happens. It's happening here, it happens here in our schools," she said.

"We deal with people from other countries to your neighbor, it's people in our community, it's our daughters and nieces and cousins and sisters, you know, it's any any part of our community could be affected by it," said the undercover agent. "There's no geographical boundaries, or a victim has to come through no socio-economic boundaries, you know, we've we've seen it affect every walk of life," he said.

It's at truck stops where, a lot of times, trafficking begins. The major highways are an easy hub for transporting victims to Youngstown, Akron, Cleveland and other states. Women are even transported from other countries into the Valley to be trafficked.

"It's not vans and Walmart parking lots late at night, you know, that snatch people up, you see all of that, like someone puts something on your windshield wiper, and you try to leave and it smears your windshield, so you get out to fix it and that's when a van comes by and snatches you, that's never happened. That's just an urban myth, an urban legend that's getting sent around social media," said Talbott. "So, well intentioned people are spreading that on Facebook and it makes people look for out for scary people in vans and dark alleys and all this stuff. Then the actual trafficking victims, and traffickers are working right there and you're not even seeing it because we're all focused on some imaginary terror, instead of the actual real horrible problem that really exists right next to it," he said.

While random kidnappings are possible, Talbott says when it comes to trafficking, it's improbable.

"In almost every case, a victim is trafficked by someone that they know, someone who has worked to build or either already has a relationship with them, like a parent, or a caregiver, a neighbor, or friend, or someone who's worked to build a relationship and to build trust with the victim," Talbott said.

Talbott also says trafficking doesn't take place on the dark web, it's right in our faces.

"These ads aren't in the dark web, if they're in the dark web, potential customers could never find them. You'd literally just put it in your search bar and say, prostitution in Dayton, or buying sex in Youngstown, and the ads will pop up," said Talbott. "You'll be able to go to ads with pictures and phone numbers and pricing and everything else, and send someone a message, make a call, maybe facetime with them to prove you're not law enforcement and then you'll they'll arrange for a commercial sex transaction to take place, like in a motel right down the street from you and it's literally right there. It's easiest thing in the world to find," he said.

Trafficking Survivor Rachel Socorro tells her story

How does one find themselves in a situation where they're being trafficked? Its not a choice and it almost always starts with a process called grooming.

That's how Rachel, a trafficking victim of 15 years, was lured into captivity. It started when she was 19 years old.

"I found myself very vulnerable, pregnant, homeless, and struggling to finish my senior year," Rachel said.

Suddenly, it seemed as if Rachel had found a saving grace.

"A family member of mine, who had been estranged from us for some time, came back around and he was working very closely in partnership with what looked like a very successful businessman," said Rachel. "Unknowingly, he was being controlled by substances. He had a significant substance use disorder, addiction, and his trafficker, he was being exploited as well, took a liking to me, and began to insist and pay him to groom and recruit me. They started doing things like paying utility bills, without me knowing I'd go to pay a bill and it would be paid, they would drop diapers and groceries off at my door. They would give me rides, and all the while building a very close connection, and establishing trust," Rachel said.

This is exactly how grooming is done. The trafficker becomes the answer to your most prominent needs and vulnerabilities.

Rachel quickly learned this was all part of a more sinister plan.

"It was a welcomed hope to me. I moved with them, and we moved to a very large, beautiful, empty house. It had a mattress on the floor in one bedroom. One morning, I went out for a coffee and a paper, and I came back to the front door, and it opened before I opened it, and I was met with the barrel of a Glock 40," Rachel recalled. "I was dragged into the house by my hair and pistol-whipped and threatened, my phone was taken, and I was told that I was never to leave that house again without permission, and in that moment, it changed very drastically from grooming and recruiting to total isolation," she said.

From that day, Rachel was forced to be her trafficker's sex slave and run his businesses for his own financial gain.

"I experienced a labor trafficking dynamic, in addition to a type of sexual exploitation. I was in domestic servitude that whole time. So, I was forced to care for him, you know, perform for him, whatever his demand was on demand, any type of day, any time of day," Rachel said.

To make matters worse, Rachel's trafficker Forced her to marry him so that he could use her name and credit to acquire homes, cars and more businesses.

"I had a watchman he took me to work, brought me home. All of my paychecks were deposited into his account, I never saw a penny of it and then we were going to start businesses. One day he walked in the house and he said, 'we're going to get married, it'll make things easier,'" Rachel said. "So, at force, I was taken to the courthouse and made to get a marriage license and he called someone out of the phonebook and they came to our house and married us in the living room. It was over in like 40 minutes. They threw a party and I went upstairs and cried myself to sleep," she said.

Rachel tells 21 News Reporter Sydney Canty that answering "no" to her trafficker, was never an option.

"'No' didn't exist in our vocabulary. The dynamic of trafficking that I lived in, was we ate when we were told to eat, we ate what we were told to eat. We slept when we were told to sleep, we you know, I had sex and we were told to have sex like we you did whatever you were told to do all the time," Rachel said.

Rachel was trafficked over and over primarily in Youngstown, Akron and throughout Portage and Summit counties.

Judge DiSalvo works with victims of human trafficking and sees first hand the effects of the extreme abuse they've suffered for years.

"The problem is, every time that they end up being sold to someone, they're being victimized over again, it's just reinforcing and reinforcing and reinforcing that they can't trust anybody, that they're not worth anything," DiSalvo said.

After living that way for some time, Rachel tried to escape her trafficker on multiple occasions and about 8 years in, she actually got out, but only briefly. She made her way to a domestic violence shelter with her two children, including one fathered by the trafficker.

"He was able to locate the shelter, had it you know, attacked, targeted. The state and the shelter paid to relocate us to Florida. We moved halfway across the country," Rachel recalled.

However, this still wasn't enough to keep the trafficker away from her.

"He again hired an attorney, they found the old patriarchal law in the state of Ohio that says if you leave the state with your children, and you're married, and do not notify your spouse, it's against the law," said Rachel. "So a children's service worker came to the shelter one day and sat me down and said miss you have 24 hours to put your children on a plane and go back to the state of Ohio or you will be arrested for kidnapping and extradited back and your children will go back through protective services," she said.

So 24 hours later, Rachel found herself back at Cleveland Hopkins airport, Returning to her trafficker in an effort to avoid one form of captivity while still living in another.

Rachel describes how discouraged she felt after being forced to return.

"I remember him looking at me in the eyes and saying, 'What made you think that you could leave?' He always told me I own you. If you leave here, I'll kill you. When someone tells you that every day for 15 years, you believe them," Rachel said. "It took a lot halfway through that time to try to work up the courage to go, to try to leave and I remember just such a sense of defeat. I remember thinking in my head, like what did make me think this would work," Rachel remembered tearfully.

Rachel remained in captivity for another seven years. Experts say the root of this bondage is not so much physical as it is psychological.

"I think most victims are controlled by the invisible bonds or invisible chains. Most trafficking victims go willingly with their trafficker and most people are trafficked by someone that they know. Someone has to be torn down, they have to lose any sense of self-autonomy and self-control, they have to be able to be manipulated and be passive and pliable, compliant so they do what the trafficker tells them, so they do what a customer in the case of sex trafficking would tell them to do," said Dr. Tony Talbott, Director of Advocacy at the University of Dayton Human Rights Center. "A lot of that involves very horrific psychological and physical abuse. If you're subjected to that much abuse, it builds trauma and when you have that much trauma, sometimes it's easier to just go along with it, or sometimes people just disassociate or turn off and so they just, just can follow the directions," he said.

Rachel was finally able to make her escape after a conversation with a stranger. That conversation opened Rachel's eyes to the fact that her trafficker was unknowingly creating a way out for her by using her name and credit.

"One night, I was working with this young lady, and she was going through a pretty difficult life situation, too. She was getting a divorce and, you know, battling her ex-husband for the kids. She started sharing some of her lived experience and it made me comfortable to begin to open up about mine," said Rachel. "She was listening and she was like, 'You own that house?' I was like, 'It's in my name.' She's like, 'And you own those cars?' I was like, 'They're my name.' She's like, 'And you own those businesses?' I was like, 'Everything is in my name.' She's like, 'Go home and take your life back!' And it was like, somebody flipped a switch," she said.

Just like that, the chains were broken.

"The captivity is in the mind. A person can hold you at gunpoint at threat, but it's the conditioning daily over and over again. 'You do what you're told, you do what I say, if you leave here, you'll die. I own you.' It's that daily repetitive conditioning that keeps you captive," Rachel said.

Later that same night, Rachel got in bed with her trafficker, and she tossed and turned all night, remembering her last escape attempt.

She thought, "I probably won't make it if I try to get out. Things had started to come to a head, we were fighting and I was starting to buck back and I came to a point where I would rather die than live like this," Rachel explained.

Rachel thought to herself that at the very least, her efforts will open a door for the others who were held captive with her and her children to go free.

"I got up around 7 or 8 o clock and stole the car keys and drove downtown to what I thought was the police department, it ended up being the courthouse, I didn't even know because I didn't drive I didn't do anything," said Rachel. "I walked in the front door and I said to the deputy 'I need help, I'm being held captive," she said tearfully.

"He paused and he thought outside the box and he was like, 'Follow me,'" Rachel recalled. "He took me upstairs and he got me in front of a magistrate and she told me, she said 'This won't stick.' She got me a protection order, because I didn't have any visible signs of abuse or assault, she said, 'But it will buy you enough time to get out.' She gave the papers to the sheriff and they went and swept our house and business and by noon that day, I was free," she said.

Rachel was trafficked from 2002 to 2017.

"It was the most surreal thing. I remember just sitting there. I sat in that house for another 30 days. That's how you know the captivity is in your mind," said Rachel. "I didn't shake out of it until my youngest son came to me, he said, 'Mommy, we're out of food,' and I froze, which is a common trauma response and my trauma response. I didn't know what to do. It took me a long time. Like, like moments to realize like I can, I can just pick up my purse and go to the store," she said.

Not long after experiencing complete freedom, Rachel was faced with a new problem.

"I remember walking out into the world in 2017, I didn't know how to use a smartphone. I remember thinking, feeling very vulnerable again, feeling like I felt when I was that 18 year old little girl with a baby next to me," said Rachel. "I remember thinking, like, who's gonna help me rebuild my life," she recalled.

Rachel didn't know who she was or how to figure it out.

"When you've been exploited and you have no identity, I never experienced adulthood. I went in at 19 and I lived every day, under the authority and rule of someone else my entire adult life up until that point," said Rachel. "I didn't have a favorite food. I didn't have a favorite color. I didn't really know how I liked to dress. I didn't know me. There was no me," she explained.

Those invisible chains took more than just her freedom, they kept her from herself.

Another victim turned survivor, Barbara Freeman, was trafficked in Columbus.

"I started being trafficked when I was, well, coerced when I was 13 and I got into trafficking at the age of 15 and coming out at the age of 35," said Freeman. "I went through every unimaginable thing. The rapes, the kidnaps, the being chained up, the basements, to poles, being kicked in my head 16 times, from man to man, from car to car from hotel to hotel," she said.

Freeman was arrested 33 times before one officer helped her down the path to freedom with a simple question.

"'Why are you out here?' And I said 'I've been out here all my life, I don't know anything different.' He looked at me and he said, 'I have been out here for years, but there is something about you and behind that mask of addiction you are beautiful and you have great purpose'", Freeman said.

From then on, Freeman said she knew there was something more God had for her and she attributes her freedom to Jesus Christ and the people around her, who helped her to rehabilitate her life. Now, she speaks freely of her experience, hoping to educate and encourage others.

21 News Reporter Sydney Canty found several local victims of human trafficking in Warren and Youngstown, but their experiences were just too much for any of them to be ready to comment on publicly.

When it comes to prosecuting delicate cases like these, it's no easy feat. In most cases, those invisible chains, make it hard to bring charges against a trafficker.

"Some clients you never break through that shell," said Attorney Lynn Maro. "They'll never trust you because you're part of the system. They've also been taught that if, if they talk about what's happened to them, they'll be stigmatized, they'll be labeled. Any comforts they have in the world, the food, the shelter, the drugs that they're addicted to, that will all go away if they disclose it to somebody, what's happening to them. So they have that fear of this may be bad, but if I disclose this, it's going to be worse," she explained.

If the victims won't speak up, they certainly won't testify. In that case, the highest level you can be charged for a sex crime, the trafficking charge, is off the table because it's victim-centered and is too hard to prove otherwise.

Another undercover officer with the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force says, the only choice at that point, is to try for a lesser charge.

"They have the trauma bonding with their abuser, you know, the Stockholm's Syndrome, you know, that's tough to break. Even if they're not doing this anymore, they're reluctant to testify against that person," the ask force agent said. "The state of Ohio has what's called a promoting prostitution law, that's the next step down from trafficking and that basically encompasses everything. You can't profit from that female, you can't transport that female, you can't have an interest in her, you know, in the business that she's running. So basically, that is the same thing is, is the trafficking statute, it's just a lesser penalty," he said.

If you're charged with promoting prostitution in the state of Ohio, it's a fourth degree felony with a mandatory six to eighteen months in prison. However, if you're charged with human trafficking, a first degree felony, you're looking at a mandatory minimum of ten years in prison.

Getting that conviction is quite the challenge.

Since the task force was started in 2018, there have been 3 to 5 convictions of human trafficking, versus at least 30 to 40 for promoting prostitution.

What are the solutions?

Historically, law enforcement and the justice system has treated the victims as prostitutes rather than getting them they help they need.

"I would imagine that I did have victims of human trafficking that came through the court that were prosecuted either for drug charges, driving under suspension, soliciting, prostitution," said Judge DiSalvo. "I am sure that we had them coming through the court, but they were never, we didn't have the tools to identify them back then we didn't have the knowledge base, the awareness of what actually was going on in the city at that time," she said.

DiSalvo feels the justice system has failed these victims, in some way.

"In a sense, yes. Are we failing them now? In a sense, yes, in that maybe we could be doing more maybe we could get more involvement from the police department or the legal system, you know, attorneys, inquiring more about what's going on with these women, and not overlooking them," DiSalvo said.

"That's how it has was for generations and generations, whenever they did a prostitution, or anti prostitution operation, it was literally going out, arresting all the prostitutes, booking them, throwing them in jail for the night, until they get bailed out and telling all the sex buyers, the John's, to go home," said Dr. Tony Talbott, Director of Advocacy at the University of Dayton Human Rights Center.
"That started changing, though, really, you know, 10,15 years ago, there started to become an increasing awareness across the whole country, but in ohio as well, that many of these, first of all, just arresting the prostitutes all the time, throwing them in jail, and having them bailed out again, was not helping the problem. It wasn't helping anyone, and it wasn't reducing prostitution, you were just increasing people's vulnerabilities, and making them more likely to be exploited and prostituted than before. So we started to realize that many of the sex workers or prostitutes or you know, that were working, were actually being coerced or compelled in some way," he said.

Judge DiSalvo says it was that disregard for victims and a visit from the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force that caused her to establish GRACE court in Youngstown. It's a program that works to rehabilitate victims of human trafficking, from mental health resources to addiction counseling.

"I was looking to start a mental health court, they came to visit me. When we began talking, they began explaining to me and showing me pictures, talking to me about actual cases in the area, I was mortified. I was mortified," said DiSalvo. "I was ashamed that I didn't know that that was happening here. So when they asked me, would I help them? Would I start a court? I said, absolutely," she explained.

GRACE court celebrated it's second graduate earlier this month, Jasmine Harrison. Harrison wasn't quite ready to tell her story, but she was trafficked in Youngstown for years, drug addicted and arrested multiple times. Then, she says GRACE Court saved her life.

"This program would change my life forever," Harrison said.

"Our Grace Court stands for growth restored, through acceptance, change and empowerment. so once they're identified as a candidate for grace court, we have somebody who will go into the jail, or when a girl is arrested for whatever charge, and we'll have somebody kind of look at the record," said DiSalvo. "See, you know, have they been in the system a lot? Are there consistent drug charges, any solicitation charges? We will inquire, we invite them to participate. It's all voluntary," she said.

If they complete the program, their criminal records are wiped clean. It took about two years, but now, Harrison is better off, working two jobs and hoping to study social work.

DiSalvo tells 21 News Reporter Sydney Canty, it's important that everyone learns to recognize the fact that these victims need help.

"I began to look at people differently and I, I regretted that the women that I represented, and I think back I there's still a few of them that I'm like, 'oh, my gosh, if I would have asked the right questions,'" said DiSalvo. "I didn't ask enough questions and I didn't know to ask them," she explained.

This is why DiSalvo worked with officers at the Youngstown Police Department to train them on what to look for and how to identify a potential trafficking victim.

"A lot of these officers hadn't even thought about it," said DiSalvo. "We had one officer that came up and said, you know, I just, I just stopped a guy and I thought it was odd that this young woman was sitting in the in the front seat with him and this young kid in the back and he was older and he was out of place in that area. He said I never thought I never thought to ask. And that's really sometimes all it takes is ask the question, be curious. If something doesn't look right, chances are it's not," she said.

Attorney Lynn Maro echoed that same sentiment of being watchful and asking the right questions.

"If you are in a home in an environment that's loving, that's nurturing that's meeting your needs, you don't want to run away from that environment, what's causing those individuals to run away, people need to start asking those types of questions," said Maro. Is there something more involved in this home, both of the human trafficking survivors that spoke in our community, talked about their own family members, trafficking them at the ages of 8,10, and 12 and so ultimately, the one girl ran away. It's easy to sit back and say, well, she's a troubled child, and she's running away and she chose that lifestyle. We need, as a community, to step back and say, is there something more involved here," she said.

Dr. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, a leading expert on Human Trafficking, believes it's important to educate our children on what grooming looks like, as a preventative measure.

"Informing kids from an early age on how trafficking happens, how sometimes it might not be, you know, a visible bad guy, somebody who you know, is a criminal who might coerce you or deceive you into a situation that is not have your best interest at heart and where you can be exploited," said Mehlman-Orozco. "So I think early childhood intervention, I think, training foster parents foster care system, social service providers, on how to have communications with people who might be at risk of trafficking to prevent it from happening to begin with," she said.

That runs hand in hand with parents monitoring their children so they aren't easily tricked into a harmful situation.

"I think parents really need to get on the ball. I think parents really need to start taking control of those social media, and the media, all the all of their, the equipment that they're giving to their kids, they better start paying attention to that," said Judge DiSalvo. "A lot of these traffickers are grooming these kids online through these gaming mechanisms through social media. They're grooming them, they're grooming them. So you've got to understand that these parents really have to understand that when these kids are online, you have no idea who's on the other side. They may say that they're five years old, they may say that they're 10 years old, they may say that they're 13 years old, when in fact they're 45, 35 just setting things up," she said.

Other experts believe a change in legislation is needed.

"What we've shifted towards, and I think Ohio is shifting in, at the state level towards is what's called a partial decriminalization model, sometimes called an equality model, or a Nordic model," said Talbott. "That's where we decriminalize the sale of sex, but increased penalties for the purchase of sex. And the idea is that people wouldn't have to be exploited and, you know, in during commercial sexual exploitation, if there wasn't a demand for commercial sex. So if we can go after the men driving the demand, we can reduce the profits that traffickers are making and reduce the overall number of victims," he said.

"I am involved in working with a group out of Cleveland and Representative Lauren McNally and trying to get some legislation passed where we would put traffic cameras at state-owned rest stops," said Mahoning County Prosecutor Gina DeGenova. "Oftentimes, the transportation industry is a huge hub for moving and and transporting individuals in the trafficking industry. With the traffic cameras, if we have those installed, we would be able to go back and look potentially see, what's the license plate number what someone you know, what does the individual look like," she said.

In addition, DeGenova says there are already tools in place in the legal system to help trafficking victims recover their lives.

"There has been an amendment to our expungement statute," said DeGenova. "It allows individuals who were charged with crimes commonly associated with human trafficking, the prostitution, the solicitation, the loitering to commit solicitation, those are the common crimes that we see associated with that, if there are convictions, and those individuals at some time in the future want to come back and they can show a nexus between human trafficking and the commission of the crime and the conviction, they can ask for expungement, which means that those convictions will no longer be subject to public record, they cease to exist," she said.

Rachel found her own way to help victims who were just like her, by teaming up with a friend to create their non profit called Total Life Wellness. They have one common goal, to help survivors rebuild their lives.

"After Rachels was freed and she actually used the home she was trafficked in, as a transition on short-term housing option for young ladies and whatever I talked to her about she shared with them," said Bronson Landrum, anti-human trafficking advocate and co-founder of Total Life Wellness. "It became this 24-hour emergency mentoring shelter, and from there, Rachel actually did all the heavy lifting, making it officially a 501(C)(3). We also work closely with hospitals, and with law enforcement, it is very often that we get calls from someone care and Rachel is able to speak the language of the victim. So she asked the right questions, and she shared a little bit of her lived experience just to create an atmosphere of trust. So then this person that has been, you know, checked into this hospital can share the information that they need to get healthy and to become whole," he said.

"It's my prayer that people would see me and know, you, you can survive what you walk through. Yes, you can. And that you can heal and you can grow and you can love again and you can thrive, that there is hope, no matter what," Rachel said.

Rachel also wrote a book titled "Living Proof," that explores the story of her life, trafficking experience and how she now helps other victims of human trafficking. Rachel tells Sydney Canty that she is a "SurThriver," who will continue to help out where she can. Her book is scheduled for release sometime in May.

If you think you or someone you know is being trafficked, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888- 373- 7888.