*Story used with permission
One late afternoon there was a quiet knock on the Fierce Freedom office door. That day I was the only one in the office and it was our practice to keep doors locked when staff was there alone. I sat quietly to listen, and I heard it again. I made my way to the front door and there on the other side was a tiny, frail woman who could hardly stand upright.
I opened the door and helped the woman to a chair. This was the first time that I met Maureen. I asked her how I could help, and she looked up at me and said, “Just please listen to my story, and believe what I have to tell you – it’s true.”
I leaned in so that I could hear her quiet voice. Maureen told me that she was 54 years old and that she was dying of stage 4 breast cancer. What she wanted from me was for me to listen to what she had to say without judgement or disbelief. She had told several people her story, but she had never been believed because it seemed at the time, too farfetched and unthinkable for a quaint Wisconsin town.
Maureen took a deep breath, wiped a single large tear that was streaming down her face and told me the details of her life in the mid 1970’s.
This small town was not far from our office, and I could envision every detail. Maureen was sex trafficked from a community park in the middle of the town. A place where families gathered to play with their children. In fact, my husband and I took our children there when they were young. Maureen continued to tell me what happened to her. She, along with others, were forced into an enclosed trailer and taken to larger cities in the state of Wisconsin.
Maureen started to shake as she told me the first time she didn’t easily comply. She was threatened that her family and her dog would be tortured and killed. This wasn’t a stretch because she knew her traffickers and they knew her, and her family and they knew that their family dog named Aspen would easily come to them when they called. One day the large older trafficker called for Aspen and started to torture him. Maureen knew that they would kill the dog if she didn’t do what they said. And she has seen it happen to one of the other girls who didn’t comply. Not only killed but terribly tortured and killed.
For three years, Maureen and other girls were taken from this park to be sold for sex. Maureen stated that some days they had to “put out” ten or more times a day. She said that she was never able to have children because of the abuse that her body took. She continued to tell me that when she was in her mid-20’s she told her story to several people who she felt safe with, but nobody believed her, not even community leaders. I believe this contributed to the hard life that Maureen lived for the next several decades.
Maureen had been called crazy whenever she tried to tell her story. Thankfully now, in a day and age where people are leaning into and believing stories of human sex trafficking, she was hopeful that someone would listen and believe her before she died. I am so thankful that I was the one that was privileged to sit with her and hear her story.
We both sat and cried together as she remembered and talked of the childhood that was stolen from her. It was heartbreaking to listen to the details that clearly haunted her for decades. I leaned in and told her that I believed her, and that she didn’t have to continue – but it was as if the words inside had to come out and they had been waiting for that moment in time.
When she was finished, I walked Maureen out to her car; the sun had set, and the snow was starting to fall on this cold winter day. We hugged each other and I closed the door as this tiny, incredibly brave woman clicked her seat belt and drove away.
The next day I called law-enforcement in the town that she told me about. Two days later, a female officer dressed in plain clothes met both Maureen and I in my office. This officer said that so many years had gone by that nothing could be done. Maureen nodded and said that she understood. At that moment the officer said that she wanted to hear Maureen’s story if she was willing. We sat for an hour or more as Maureen told in detail the trauma that was inflicted on her and the other girls. At one point I looked up and saw that all three of us had tears streaming. When Maureen had told the officer all that she wanted to say, I could see peace wash over her. It was a beautiful and holy moment.
Before the two women left my office, the officer told Maureen that she believed her story and that she was sorry that she wasn’t believed when she told her story of being sex trafficked. She called it what it was, and, in that moment, I could see that was all Maureen needed.
I never heard from Maureen again. I suspect that soon after our last visit that she passed away.
There are days that I think about Maureen and wonder how many women and men who were sex trafficked years ago but were never able to tell their story. It is here in this place that I would like to honor them, to say that in some way, they are seen and known and that I am so sorry that they had to go through the horrors of being sex trafficked and then not believed.
If this is your story my friend; I honor you, I see you, I value you, and I want to say that you have worth and value. If you need someone to listen to your story, I will do that and if possible, I will help get you any help that would serve you well. You are worth being heard and understood.
(*Some details have been changed to protect victims of sex trafficking)
Co-Founder & Executive Director
Jenny first learned about the horrors of human trafficking in 2008, which lead to the birth of Fierce Freedom. As Executive Director, Jenny works to build the organization so that awareness and education about the issue can continue to spread. Her main goal is to educate and move people to action, to work toward the abolishment of human trafficking and exploitation. Jenny enjoys writing, reading, and public speaking. In her time away from the office, you will find Jenny gardening, traveling and spending time with her husband and children.
"I believe that all jails desperately need your training as the victims of human trafficking frequently pass through the system. If staff is not trained on the warning signs of human trafficking and what the victims my look like, these are missed opportunities to provide help."
Captain Curt Dutton, Chippewa County Sheriff's Office
“Your agency is my greatest resource to share with anyone I talk to.”
Amy O’Donahue, Deputy, Specialized Enforcement, Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Officer Ashland and Bayfield County Sheriff’s Offices
"Human trafficking is a worldwide crisis. Everyone can do something. Stand against this egregious violation and maltreatment of our fellow brothers and sisters on this planet. Join Fierce Freedom and fight human trafficking at home and around the world!"
"Fierce Freedom is at the forefront of anti human trafficking! They are constantly working with the community to train, rescue, and bring awareness! If you're going to support an organization in your area, this is the one to partner with!"