Local sex trafficking survivors, organizations aim to help young women

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Sex trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. In Chicago alone, it affects up to 25,000 young people each year.

Executive Director of the Dreamcatcher Foundation Brenda Myers Powell has helps women and girls who have fallen victim to sex trafficking.

Powell is a sex trafficking survivor. She spent 25 years in that life.

"The pimps tell you that you'll never be able to go back. You're not that kind of girl anymore and you feel like that so you stay," Powell said.

Powell said at the age of 15, she got caught up in the sex trade, and experienced the violence and humiliation that go with it.

"I've been shot five times, stabbed more than 13 times." Powell said. "I did all kinds of things, worked strips clubs, massage parlors, and escort services."

It was after she was severely beaten by her John that Powell decided from her hospital bed to get out. Eventually, she founded the Dreamcatcher Foundation, which provides outreach services to current victims of sex trafficking.

"I didn't want to leave another sister behind to go through what I went through," Powell said.

Women and girls continue to find themselves falling victim. According to the Jewish Community Against Sex Trafficking, human trafficking is the world's second largest criminal enterprise, after illegal drugs and sex trafficking produces an estimated $7 billion annually. In the Chicago area, 16,000 to 25,000 local women and girls are sex trafficked every year.

"We need the citizens around us to say something or we'll never be able to solve this not matter how hard we try," said FBI Special Agent Siobhan Johnson.

Johnson said sex trafficking is a persistent problem in every state.

"If you see someone out there who doesn't have the ability to speak for themselves you talk to them and someone is always answering for them, that might be a victim of human trafficking," Johnson said.

"When you see that child out on the street, I don't care how many times she's arrested and runs back to her pimp, there's a lot of emotional abuse and psychological trauma," said Pamela Samuels Young, a Los Angeles based author.

Young hopes her novel "Anybody's Daughter" will bring it to an even wider audience.

The book is about a 13-year-old girl who is targeted by online predators and ends up in the world of sex trafficking.

"People are using it to open people's eyes about trafficking," Young said.

Young is the featured speaker at a forum on sex trafficking that is taking place Saturday at Evanston Township High school.

The forum starts at 10 a.m. and is open to the public.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline is also a 24-7 resource. The number is 1-888-373-7888.
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