Former sex trafficking victim now helps others
WHS hosts student & community assemblies to bring local/national crisis out of the shadows
Tony Gray, Fremont TribuneSex trafficking survivor Katrina Owens speaks to students at Wahoo High School on Monday, Oct. 28. Owens, who lives in Atlanta, shared her story, warned students of potential dangers, and asked and answered many questions.
The man who sexually exploited Katrina Owens took time to lure her away from family and friends.
He began visiting the restaurant where the teen was a hostess. He dropped off gifts and gave her rides. The more attention he gave, the more she craved.
“I was very vulnerable,” she said. “The support system I needed at home wasn’t there.”
Her parents were going through an ugly divorce. She wasn’t being told that she was loved or beautiful or could be anything she wanted. So, she fell in love with the first man to tell her that — the sex trafficker who was grooming her for a life of pain.
Today, Owens is a sex trafficking survivor who is developing Mpower, which creates support for young girls or women victims trapped in “the life” and those struggling with the after-effects. She also speaks publicly to raise awareness of the issue.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Atlanta woman spoke to students at Wahoo High School. She shared her story, warned students of potential dangers, asked and answered many questions.
Owens asked what students would do if a friend was sketchy on details — but had a new boyfriend, began getting items she personally couldn’t afford and wasn’t available to hang out. She smiled when one student said she’d tell an authority figure.
Years ago, Owens asked friends not to tell anyone about her new boyfriend, so they didn’t.
“They felt they needed to be loyal to me and quite honestly part of me telling them was because I was asking for help,” she said.
The sex trafficker was charming. He asked her out for dates. They began to hang out and after a period of time had sex.
“He turned the gifts and the dates and the time that we spent together into something of a monetary value in which I owed,” she said. “And at that point there was no walking away, because at that point he became physically abusive. That’s how I ended up in the life of commercial sexual exploitation.”
The man moved her to New York City to get her away from everyone she knew. By now she had emotional and financial ties to the man, and shame and pain. She had incidents of fighting with the sex trafficker.
“I fought back, but he was a lot bigger,” she said.
Although she was being manipulated, Owens said she didn’t see herself as a victim. In her mind, the trafficker was her boyfriend. Then she got into trouble and had to go through a program, where she learned the facts about situations like hers.
Her eyes began to open after a bad altercation with the sex trafficker.
Owens had to make a decision.
“It got to the point where the fear of staying became greater than the fear of going,” she said. “When that changed for me, I had to give it my all and get out of there.”
Leaving wasn’t easy.
“It’s never a situation that you walk away from,” she said. “You normally have to fight your way out of that situation. You normally need police help. You normally need lots of assistance getting away from that life.”
After Owens left, she got back in school and got a job. The sex trafficker showed up at her school and workplace. He tried to run her off an expressway. It was pretty ugly for a while, she said, but eventually he went away.
When asked how she recovered, Owens noted that no programs existed years ago for victims. She found assistance through family support, Oprah and self-help books.
Now, Owens is general manager of a fine-dining steak and sushi restaurant in Atlanta.
“I manage $1.8 million a year, so I have a pretty successful career,” she said.
She has been married and divorced. She has five children, ranging in age from 6 to 14, whom she describes as straight-A students who speak two languages. Owens said she’s been open about her past with their children, and stresses the importance of giving youths the education and tools to protect themselves against the danger of sex trafficking.
Owens noted that not all those who lure victims are men. Women, even girls, will recruit other girls for their pimps. She talked about one girl who used social media in an attempt to recruit another.
She told about a man, who had one girl get a boy to send photos of himself to her. The man then used those photos to blackmail the boy into sex trafficking.
After the presentation, students gave Owens a standing ovation. Some girls lined up to give her hugs. One asked what made her smile.
“I love it when you see a girl, when you first meet her and she’s just coming out of jail and she’s so emotionally torn and to see her grow and get on her feet — that keeps me smiling,” she said.
PREVIEW ARTICLE (posted October 1, 2013)
DMST: an overlooked local crisis
WHS plans Oct. 28 student & community assemblies to bring 'modern day slavery' out of the shadows
Katrina Owens, a former employee with the Georgia Care Connection and trafficking survivor, gives her testimony during
the Joint Human Trafficking Study Committee at the Georgia State Capitol on December 21, 2012, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Read more: http://goo.gl/jIYIgc (Photo by Jason Getz/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT)
Wahoo Public Schools will provide an important educational and awareness opportunity to its high school students and the greater Wahoo community about a troubling international crisis that occurs even in Nebraska: human sex trafficking.
On Monday, October 28, 2013, nationally renowned human trafficking expert Katrina Owens (a human sex trafficking survivor from Atlanta), will visit Wahoo Public Schools in her quest to spread awareness regarding this tragedy, which is taking place across the globe and in our own local communities.
Owens will present to the Wahoo High School student body at 2:00 p.m., and an additional presentation will be open to the public at 7:00 p.m. that evening. Both presentations will be held in the WPS Performance-Learning Center.
In coordination with Educational Service Unit #2 in Fremont, the 2:00 p.m. assembly will be broadcast live to schools across Nebraska via distance learning technology.
In addition, local Nebraska experts Bob Burton and Paul Yates will be present to provide education as it relates to local trafficking issues and concerns. We are pleased to welcome these experts to our district to provide education on this oftentimes "under the radar" issue, and hope the Wahoo community will take advantage of this opportunity.
Having been exploited in the commercial sex industry as a teenager in Atlanta and New York, Katrina Owens impacts the lives of CSEC youth still trapped in ‘the life’ or those who struggle with its after-effects.
Katrina is a victim’s advocate and expert speaker on the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) and domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST). Often tapped by government entities, law enforcement, social service agencies, nonprofits, juvenile court systems, mental healthcare providers and families to inform treatment services, facilitate training and create awareness; her insight has proven invaluable. She has held a position as an Intervention Specialist with the Georgia Child Advocacy Center and maintains relationships with many CSEC victims and survivors. Most recently, she is evolving her own organization, MPower, with partnerships such as Salvation Army and Beloved House. She also sits on the board of Serenity Steps.
“I let them know, when they are ready to talk, I’m here. They need to know there’s someone there who won’t judge them,” she says.
As a survivor, mentor and advocate, she lends her ear and voice on behalf of youth, who for the most part, remain stereotyped and misunderstood.
Appearing regularly as a speaker and panelist, Katrina participates in conferences, workshops, training seminars and other awareness events. Courageously, she has shared her story with the Washington Times, CNN, MTV-U, ECPAT (End Child Prostitution Pornography and Trafficking), Public Broadcasting Atlanta, Peachtree TV and other outlets. Having worked with such organizations as Georgia Care Connection, Street GRACE, Wellspring Living, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Junior League of Atlanta and Rachel Lloyd of GEMS, Katrina’s commitment in the fight against child sex trafficking is evident.
What is DMST?
Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, obtaining and transporting of a domestic minor child by force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjecting them to commercial sexual exploitation in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, where the child (male or female) has not reached 18 years of age and is a United States citizen. DMST is child sex slavery, child sex trafficking, prostitution of children, commercial sexual exploitation, and rape of children. (Definition as defined in The National Report on Domestic Sex Trafficking and the Demand report, both put out by Shared Hope International. Shared Hope International is a nonprofit organization working to eradicate sex trafficking, rescue and restore victims of sex trafficking.)
Many people falsely assume that sex trafficking of minors only happens in third world countries. It is worldwide; it is in our country, state and community. It is a major and worldwide industry. In fact, research indicates it is the most rapidly growing illegal industry in the world – second only to drugs and illegal gun sales. In some parts of the world organized crime is at the heart of this illegal activity. It is estimated that 100,000-300,000 (this includes labor trafficked victims) people are trafficked into the United States every year to experience this horrific injustice. A huge percent are women and children lured or tricked into sex trafficking. It is estimated that 100,000 of USA children are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation yearly.
This is modern-day slavery. And, yes, it is happening here – even in our state of Nebraska. See for yourself how local girls have experienced sexual exploitation and trafficking by visiting www.IveGotAName.com.
Nebraska is unfortunately a popular route of trafficking via Interstate 80, moving victims across the country from the east and west coasts. It is easy for the traffickers to meet the demand of buyers they encounter as they are passing through.
There are many variations of minor sex trafficking. Often a local victim is caught up in the sex trafficking market to meet the local demand. Victims are used in strip clubs, massage parlors, truck stops, pornography production, and brothels.
The average age of minors being trafficked is just 13 years old, but buyers are demanding younger and younger victims. Between the years 1996-2006, in Las Vegas, the number of prostituted domestic girls identified by police during arrests more than doubled.
Victims are sold for sex, abused, exploited, tortured, and frequently killed. They are viewed by both the buyer and the trafficker as merely “products,” with their only worth being their ability to make money for the traffickers by satisfying the sexual demands of the buyers. They are viewed as having no human value and as being disposable and easily replaced. It is not surprising, then, that the number one cause of death among sex traffic victims is murder.
Who is a John or Buyer? “John” and “buyer” are terms used to describe those on the demand side of child sex trafficking. Without them there would be no market for minor sex trafficking. These are family men, business men, clergy, professionals, students, a family member, military men. Buyers often live double lives, and often interact with children on a daily basis, but they do not necessarily appear any different than any other man.
Who is the Pimp or Trafficker? Traffickers run the supply side of the equation. They range from teenage recruiters, pimps, organized crime syndicates, and parents. They can be women. Strategies used in the recruiting of young victims vary, but the most common is the “lover boy” tactic. Teenage recruiters and pimps often deceive a young girl into believing they are in a love relationship, and then later begin to exploit and prey upon the vulnerable victim’s trust and insecurities. You can view a video of a pimp being interviewed at www.sharedhope.org. Traffickers maintain control over their victims by psychological manipulation, threat of physical harm to the victim and the victim’s family, sexual violence, emotional violence, isolation from family and friends, and financial dependency. After the pimp breaks the victim’s spirit, he owns her/him. She/he is now his product to offer for sale.
Technology is the greatest facilitator of the minor sex trade. Commercial sex services and the victims are advertised extensively over the Internet. A Google search for escort services can yield 2.2 million hits. And cell phones have made it possible for the trafficker to direct his transactions over the phone, thereby protecting him by distancing him from the action of enslavement.
Warning signs of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: If any child is displaying any of these warning signs she/he might be a victim of sex trafficking. This crime has no social or economic boundaries. Anyone’s child could fall victim to this heinous crime.
• Presence of an older boyfriend
• Curfew violations, truancy, other status offenses
• Access to material things that the child can’t afford
• Tattoos that serve to mark a victim as the property of a pimp
• Substance abuse
• Signs of violence and/or psychological trauma
• Sexually transmitted diseases
• Chronic running away
• Travel with an older man who is not a guardian
Minor sex trafficking is not a pleasant subject to address. We all wish we could ignore the ugly realities of the traps being set for unprepared young people today. But there is an answer. To help protect our young and vulnerable members of society, we need awareness, education, and action.
No child spends their childhood dreaming of growing up to be a prostitute. Our children are not toys for someone’s pleasure or profit.
Websites to you may want to visit for additional information:
The following are all nonprofit organizations working to eradicate minor sex trafficking, to rescue and restore victims.
Bob Burton, Founder
(Lincoln, NE focus: local)
Paul Yates (Director of involvement)
(Lincoln, NE focus: Nepal, India and Thailand)
Linda Smith, Founder/President
(Vancouver, WA focus: International and USA)
For local information on legislation:
Amy Williams, Legislative Aide for Senator McGill
Senator Amanda McGill
Information for this article was compiled from the above websites and The National Report on Domestic Sex Trafficking and the Demand report, both put out by Shared Hope International.