By CNN's Jay Kernis
Marlene Carson is the founder of Rahab’s Hideaway, a reach and rescue organization in Columbus, Ohio, established for those who have fallen prey to human trafficking/prostitution. Her success story is just one example of what can be done to combat human trafficking in the United States.
Here, she answers a few questions about her harrowing time in slavery, an epiphany years later and how she helps trafficking victims today.
You spent 20 years running an escort service, as you have said, selling everything but your own soul. For those who may not understand, why is that life considered modern-day slavery?
To understand, let me tell you my story first. There was a pimp in Columbus. I was 15 years old. There was this guy who moved into his neighborhood with his wife–who we later found out was his first victim.
They courted our neighborhood for a year and one half. They knew the parents. They went to the PTA meetings. Their house was the hang-out house for the kids in the neighborhood. They gained our trust.
They asked four girls if they could take us to New York for Labor Day weekend. They took us to New York and we get there and we found out, instead of going to a Broadway show, we were being sold.
And over the next four days - well this gentlemen had set up dates. Three of us were virgins, including myself. So I had no idea about what they were talking about. They brought three of us back to Columbus. Four left, three came back. The fourth, in her attempt to escape, was taken in a car took her to Connecticut with two men. They beat and raped her, but she did not die.
Back in Columbus — I lived 800 feet from my junior high school–two weeks later, the guy pulls up and says: get in the car. I won’t. They snatched me and kept me for 8 months. They had me all over the country — in prostitution, going from state to state.
Did your parents and police search for you?
They looked for me. I went from being a straight-A student on the drill team and cheerleading–to absolutely nothing.
Why couldn’t you escape?
You’re 15 years old. There is no tangible support system around you. You have no money. You are scared to death. And honestly, I’ve turned tricks with law enforcement. My trust in the legal system was none. You don’t have anymore trust in systems or people. Who are you going to turn to?
How were you able to free yourself?
I don’t think it was a matter of freeing myself. It was having epiphany about those core values and who I was. It happened in my mid-20s– it was taking back my identity.
A church was involved?
It was definitely church, and that’s how I got out of it. A church group helped me all the way through. A pastor told me: when you’re ready, I am here. It took me three years to build a relationship with the church.
Do victims of human trafficking walk through the front door Rahab’s Hideaway? I mean do you have to, in effect, kidnap victims from traffickers?
We actually have a street outreach team. We work with our local Columbus Police Dept, especially if it’s a minor girl. There has to be a strategic plan before we snatch the girl. We will get a man to go pick her up, as if it’s a date–we will even give her 50 bucks to take back. But all the while she is giving us information—and we are planning how to get her out.
In three years I’ve saved 25 girls from the ages of 14 to 40.
Who are these victims?
These are girls who are vulnerable youth. These girls come from various kinds of homes and economic backgrounds and ethnicities. A trafficker does not care if you are rich or poor. But what a real trafficker wants is a product. They want a trophy that a man can put on his arm and pay top dollar for.
The myth is that these girls are inner city and on drugs and homeless is a lie.
I have a client who is 18 years old, was sold by her mother from the age of 6. She had four pregnancies before she was 13, and she has one living 7-year-old child now. She’s been been with us for over a year and we have her in a treatment program now. Even with her, when I seen the long-tem effects–because there was a parent who sold her—there is deep psychological damage. And she still loves her mother. It’s her mother.
How does someone put her or his life together again?
Time. Oh, my gosh, it literally takes time. You have to begin to trust yourself. When I came out of prostitution, I went in a virgin and I came out with four children. And so: no education—no real job skills, and you got to feed your kids. You have to be willing to go through process and it’s not an easy one.
And then at some level, you have to be able to trust somebody. If there’s one person who has a sincere desire to trust you, you have to trust that help.
And learn to trust men?
Oh absolutely, and you know what’s interesting? I never did drugs or alcohol. I was in an elite class, and so there was not a lot of psychological abuse by men. Just the pimp.
While it all seems confusing—it seems like I was repeatedly raped–there was still some sense of me on the inside. You were getting my body, but you weren’t getting me.
And that’s why I was able to strengthen what didn’t die in me–the core values that my parents put in me.
I think many people would be shocked to realize that modern-day slavery exists in the United States. In your view, how widespread is the problem?
I don’t think it can be measured—it’s such an underground industry. It’s in every state, in every neighborhood. I lived in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Columbus when I was in prostitution.
I think it’s important to understand that human trafficking is a $39 to 44 billion-dollar-a-year industry. But these are not guys roaming the streets looking for a good time. These are men who can pay $200, $300, $500 an hour. So these are the people you see on the TV selling cars, people you think you can go to, and some of them are buying kids.
And what can be done about it?
Education and awareness. Families building a sense of community with your children.