TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW)- "It does something to you that is invisible to everybody else. This time I'm going to be heroic. This time I'm going to say something."
A Topeka woman, whom we will call "Jane", was trafficked for 22 years. We cannot reveal her true identity for security purposes.
Jane says she was first trafficked from 16 to 36-years-old. She was traumatized by 5 pimps in Topeka and Kansas City.
"Every time my dog barked, I would jump under the coffee table. Nobody sees it or understand why or jump or why they can't touch me or why I get triggered at music, at movies," says Jane. "He knocked me a 360 into the television and bit off my fingernails and threatened to cut off my hair. I was scared. I couldn't even go to the bathroom with the door shut."
"There are a lot of victims and a lot of potential victims"
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center says there have been 949 human trafficking calls since 2007 in Kansas with 126 calls in 2015.
Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, Topeka Rescue Mission Executive Director Barry Feaker and Topeka Police's Lt. Andrew Beightel say it is a big problem in Topeka.
"It's a terrifying situation. It is everywhere that is the reality of it. There are 10 that are working through the court system right now," he says.
"In the last 12 months, we have intervened in 45 cases," Feaker says.
"It is growing. There are a lot of victims and a lot of potential victims as well," says Topeka Police's Lt. Andrew Beightel. "It is a felony, a very high felony," he adds.
Others from the community are speaking out as well.
"We got to do something to stop this," says Topeka City Council member Sandra Clear who is also a mother and a local teacher, says her own students have experienced human trafficking and parents need to be aware of warning signs.
"I think it's so important to educate our kids. You got to love your kids. You got to make them know they are loved. I've seen children get sucked into the need of human trafficking because they need to feel loved by that one special person. There's a lot of parents that don’t want our kids to know about it or that they don’t want to admit it's really happening or it's too scary to even think about," says Clear.
To help give Jane a new life, the Topeka Rescue Mission sent out an anonymous woman whom we will call "Sarah" since she needs to remain anonymous. She is part of the Mission's new Restore Hope program to help human trafficking victims escape.
"So, it doesn't become their identity that they are a victim of human trafficking, but that they can become a victor. To understand what it's like to be with somebody and walk with them through possibly a hopeless time," says Sarah.
"It's so dangerous for our personnel to do this," says Feaker. He says the anonymous person first has to establish a bond with the victim, which could take months. "In order for them to break free of that, they really need to trust you to do that," he says.
Sarah built enough trust with Jane to give her a safe haven.
"I am blessed because I have people helping me, but there are not enough people helping because there is a lot more of us out there and we have to talk about it," says Jane.
By talking about it, officials say that it also promotes awareness.
"Traffickers will surround a victim and let them know they are not worth anymore," says Feaker.
"You want to have worth. God, you just gotta care!" says Jane.
Jane is still taking steps towards recovery. For now, she wants to be the voice for others who may be in danger.
"It destroys you. I'm going to help someone else. I'm going to be that person and I want to make a difference," says Jane.
What to watch out for
There are important signs to human trafficking. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt's Office has as list of questions you may need to answer if you see signs of human trafficking:
- Are people living with their employer?
- Are there bruises or signs of physical abuse?
- Do minors have a girlfriend or boyfriend who is noticeably older?
If you or someone you know is being forced to engage in any activity and cannot leave, call the toll-free National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-3737-888 or text INFO or HELP to BeFree (233733) to access help and services.
You can also call Crime Stoppers at 234-0007.