NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – She was sold so her mother could by drugs. Today, Debra is a survivor of human sex trafficking.
She said she may not be alive today if not for the guidance of a treatment program in Davidson County.
Her story starts when she was just 13, barely a teenager, yet forced into sex slavery.
“My mother was a heroin addict and she sold me to her dealer for dope,” Debra told News 2.
Debra would soon be prostituted across the country.
“He was a pimp from Memphis,” she said, adding he was 35 years older than her.
For the next 20 years, the two were together but not by choice.
“It’s together because you can’t leave,” she explained. “You get beat, you get raped; they cut your hair off.”
In a twist of fate, Debra’s path to freedom started with a trip to prison for aggravated robbery. She said her pimp found her when she got out, but she was taken in again for prostitution.
“I had to go to a class and that class changed my life,” she said.
The class was part of the Cherished Hearts treatment court in Davidson County. In its setting, women who are victims of human trafficking receive counseling and reassurance, not orders.
“The program gives you your choices,” Debra said, adding, “They help you along the way, but it helps raise your self-esteem.”
Not only that, the court offers to help find jobs and pay fines. Debra told News 2 she may be dead if not for the outreach.
“It made me who I am. They believed in me when nobody else did,” she said.
From here, Debra wants others to believe in the people who are on the same journey. She asks that everyone be more aware and understand human trafficking is all around us.
“It’s next door, it’s up the street, the girl you see with her head down with an older man, it just may not be her daddy,” Debra said. “There are men that walk up and down these streets, that’s what they do.”
But because of Cherished Hearts there’s hope for women who see no way out, hope for healing and new beginnings.
Now, Debra has a good paying job, two children at home and a supportive boyfriend. She also said she is preparing to move into a bigger house.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.