Human trafficking survivors shared their experiences in the last event of the Students Against Slavery Day


Azusa Pacific held the last event for Students Against Slavery Day on Wednesday evening. After hearing from experts, watching a documentary and attending a Q&A session, students and faculty were invited to attend a human trafficking panel.

The panel was preceded by a presentation from Deputy District Attorney Brad Shane Lamen and included first-hand accounts from two sex trafficking survivors. The panel was moderated by Vince Beresford, executive director of the Slave 2 Nothing Foundation.

Unlike the other events held that day, which spoke of international human trafficking, the panel discussed what sex trafficking looks like in Los Angeles County.

Lamen began the event by warning the audience that there was no “PG” way to talk about sex trafficking and trying to would not help anyone understand the severity of the problem. Lamen also said he wanted the audience to gain a better understanding of what domestic trafficking looks like.

“When people think of trafficking, they think of ‘Taken’ … or the international stuff, which shapes how we view trafficking and it shapes how we view the victims and how we can help the victims,” Lamen said. 

Lamen said while this type of human trafficking does exist, a better way to recognize it locally is to look at prostitution.

“In law enforcement, we fail because we look for trafficking. Don’t look for trafficking, look for prostitution. If you find prostitution, you’ll find trafficking,” Lamen said. 

Lamen discussed his experience as a district attorney dealing with prostitutes, pimps and abuse victims. According to Lamen, there has been a stigma within the police force for years where prostitutes are considered criminals, since they are perpetrating a crime by selling their bodies. Despite this stigma, Lamen said they are not criminals but victims.

“For years, law enforcement would say, ‘Prostitutes! Criminals! We must arrest them.’ In fact, even in the Bible, who’s the lowest of the low? Jesus even loved the prostitutes,” Lamen said. 

According to Lamen, law enforcement officers need to ask themselves how prostitutes got to the position they are at and how they can be saved.

The audience viewed a series of videos of pimps abusing prostitutes, sometimes physically, but often psychologically. According to Lamen, the victims did not need to be hit in order to know they had no choice in the situation, as the fear was already instilled in them.

“The vast majority of trafficking is done through manipulation. It’s not just the kidnapping stuff, it’s a slow process, or sometimes fast process, of manipulation,” Lamen said. “I will tell you, it’s almost brilliant. I mean, if it wasn’t so heinous, you’d almost sit back and admire it.”

According to Lamen, pimps are able to manipulate people into doing their bidding by specifically targeting individuals with low self-esteem, a lack of support and a history of trauma. Young individuals in foster care and children in abusive households are most likely to be targeted due to their lack of support and resources, Lamen said.

The panelists agreed with this sentiment when they took the stage next. 

Oree Freeman discussed her experience with her pimp when she was younger. Freeman described her abuser as “a Romeo pimp,” who used psychological manipulation to lower her self-esteem and convince her that he was the best thing in her life. 

According to Freeman, this wasn’t a difficult task for the pimp since she had already had a history of family abuse. Freeman said she was molested at five-years-old and when she decided to run away from home, there was nowhere else to go but the streets.

“A lot of us didn’t run away to something, we were running away from something … The majority of us knows what it feels like to be taken advantage of. Abuse is normal. Rape is normal. At five, seven, eight, nine, 10, for many of us, rape was normal for us. Anything that was out of the ordinary for your world is completely normal in ours,” Freeman said.

Freeman described an instance where she had gotten into an argument with her second abuser, who was prone to violence. The pimp did not hit her, run her over or threaten her life. But in a moment of anger, he shouted at Freeman to get out of his car. In fear of her life, Freeman ran.

“I ran really fast, but then I started … jogging, then I started walking … I stopped in my tracks, and said, ‘Where was I going to go at 14 years old?’” Freeman said. “Who was going to accept me? Who was going to nurture me? And what was there this life could offer me? And I got right back in the car.”

Freeman said that in moments like these, the outside world would say she had a choice. But with no support and a lack of resources, the only thing she knew to do was to go back to her norm — abuse.

The second panelist agreed with Freeman citing similar issues in her own life. To protect her identity, this panelist used the alias, Lucy God’s Child. 

Lucy’s abuse began when she was a child by her father. By the time she entered middle school, Lucy had already begun selling her body against her will. She was a prostitute from ages 12 to 20.

“I was very active in school. I played all the sports, I was in ASB, I was a great student. I was learning … But nobody knew what I was doing when it hit seven o’clock,” Lucy said. “Seven o’clock, everyone’s studying, you’re showering, you’re eating — while I was getting ready. I was getting ready to hit the streets. I was getting ready to get raped 10 to 15 times a night.”

Both Freeman and Lucy were raised and worked in Orange County but were able to leave the life of prostitution behind once they were given better support systems and consistent care. Freeman now works as an advocate for those in the midst of these problems, hoping to help others as she was helped.

According to Lucy, being able to accept help is difficult for some people. For her, learning how to trust people, and especially men, was a struggle that took a long time for her to overcome. But consistent help and compassion from law enforcement helped her to overcome these struggles.