Human trafficking survivors “Amy,” Chong Kim and Natasha Herzig recently shared their stories of coercion, forced servitude, escape and recovery. The UCF event entitled “Human Trafficking Awareness Forum: Survivor Perspectives” was organized by the UCF Global Perspectives Office and was designed to highlight the growing problem of human trafficking in the United States with citizens as the targets.

Tomas Lares, who chairs the Human Trafficking Taskforce of Greater Orlando, provided the audience of 150 people an overview of the many facets of modern-day slavery in Central Florida. He also stressed the importance of harnessing the power of the community to combat this injustice. 

Next, the audience heard from a survivor who, for legal reasons, was identified as “Amy.” She underscored her middle-income upbringing and extenuating circumstances that drove her to dance at a “no-nudity club” in Tampa. The second day, she was lured under fraudulent pretenses away from the club, where she was nearly killed by what her trafficker put her through to “break her in.” She then spent a year being forced to dance at clubs and “work” private parties all over Florida. “Amy” discussed the power of coercion, noting that while she would drive herself to certain engagements, she feared for her young daughter’s life, and that “freedom of movement did not mean freedom of choice” in her distressing situation.

Building off of “Amy’s” story, Kim explained how a man posing as a member of the U.S. military pretended to date her, and eventually trapped her and sold her into trafficking. Kim described an attempt to escape to a suburban shopping center after being tied up in an abandoned house. She noted that she was soiled from days of being held captive, and the scene concluded with a group of people clapping as her uniformed trafficker caught her and dragged her away. When asked about her current opinion of uniformed officers, Kim indicated she is working to create a national law that ensures all official uniforms be returned to their respective agencies once people are no longer serving. Kim’s story is depicted in the film, “Eden,” which was released in 2012, and Kim’s book, “In My Own Words,” is planned for release later this year.

The third speaker, Herzig, shared her story of going from a great environment – consisting of a supportive home and active school involvement – to feeling as if she were “trash” and the “girl that nobody wants anymore.” She narrated her experience of being lured into a job that promised travel, money and excitement. It was anything but that. She was kidnapped in broad daylight, sold around the country by her trafficker, and eventually became a recruiter of other young girls. Herzig warned the audience that she could easily “recruit [their] daughters and the young girls here right now.” When asked how she could do to other people what was done to her, she responded that you do what’s necessary to survive, and that was what her life became.

All three women underscored the role of coercion in their experience. “Amy” said she felt her captor let her live the night he almost killed her. Herzig shared an anecdote about beating another woman without prompting from her own pimp, all the while knowing that she, herself, would be beaten by the woman’s pimp. She did it simply because she knew it would make her trafficker happy, she said. Coercion and ongoing violence were invisible handcuffs that kept these women under control.

All three also eventually escaped. “Amy” broke the bonds of coercion out of concern for her baby; Kim crawled through an air duct to elude her captor; Herzig finally reached out to her family, who involved the police and ultimately brought her home. All three women described the painful process of trying to become a “normal person” again. One audience member asked how society could be more supportive of survivors, and Herzig responded that there is a stigma among survivors that is real and needs to be overcome. She shared how her own young child was denied entry to a private school over concerns about Herzig.

One final theme from the forum was the importance of informing oneself and others about human trafficking. Information can teach those targeted how to avoid dangerous situations, enlighten those unknowingly involved about the prevalence of trafficking and educate society about what to look for, as well as where to go for help. “Amy,” Kim and Herzig now all work, in one form or another, to train law enforcement and promote legislation that appropriately addresses different facets of human trafficking in America.

If you or someone you suspect is affected by this issue, the national human trafficking hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 888-373-7888.  

In addition to the Global Perspectives Office, sponsors of the forum included UCF Human Trafficking Awareness Program, UCF Victim Services, UCF Global Peace and Security Studies Program, UCF Diplomacy Program, Orlando Area Committee on Foreign Relations, Chastang Charitable Foundation, CliftonLarsonAllen, UCF SGA, UCF Women’s Studies Program, UCF Political Science Department, UCF LIFE and the Global Connections Foundation.