Beaten, Brainwashed, and Branded

Rebecca Bender lives in Oregon. She’s a mother of four, who grew up in a middle class family in a small town. “I wouldn’t have been considered an at-risk youth,” she said. But she was a victim of human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking, for six years.

Bender says the trafficker used two common tactics to victimize her: Fast-tracking their relationship, then moving her away from her family and friends. “It was hard to identify even what was going on,” she said. “I kind of lived in this fog. I was brainwashed and threatened to keep my mouth shut, or I would have an extreme amount of harm done to me or my child,” said Bender. “There were times when I felt like there was no end. There was no way out. There were times I just wanted to die.”

Boise Police say this is happening at every hotel in Boise. Stacey King, along with Jennifer Angelos, is a co-founder of The Ivy Movement, a Boise non-profit working to educate people about the trafficking problem and provide long and short term care to victims. What can be done about it? Both King and Bender say it starts with changing perceptions. Boise Police say they’re already doing that, by focusing on busting sex traffickers, instead of arresting victims and charging them with prostitution. But the whole community needs to be involved by first being aware of it. “It’s crucial,” Bender said. “No one looks for something that they don’t know exists.” Bender also says beyond the community identifying it, it’s important that victims are recognizing it themselves.

Also crucial, is victims understanding that there is a life after being trafficked. Bender is proof of that. Six years into her ordeal, after an FBI raid, she was finally, truly free. Now, she’s a successful author and nationally sought-after speaker.

“I’m really thankful to God for restoring me, and giving me a new heart and a new mind. For me, that’s where I have really found a lot of my healing, is through my local church, and a lot of counseling, and a lot of prayer,” said Bender. “If someone’s listening tonight, and she feels like she’s involved in sexual exploitation, whether that’s pornography, stripping, or prostitution… If your boyfriend is forcing you to do that. If you say, ‘No, I don’t feel like it,’ and he beats you, and says, ‘It’s not your choice.’ That is human trafficking. We want to help you reach those dreams and promises that he’s giving you, without him. You can do it on your own, and with the help of your family, friends, and community.”

If you want more information on how to identify sex trafficking in your community, Rebecca Bender’s website has numerous resources available.

Learn more at Justin Corr’s KTVB News article: Sex trafficking survivor: I was beaten, brainwashed, and branded.


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