CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina is one of the top ten states for human trafficking. Charlotte, as its biggest city, is a hotbed.
On WBTV News Wednesday at 11 p.m., we introduced you to “Katie.” We have to keep her identity hidden because her story is chilling, and abusive. What she says shatters stereotypes of a “buyer.”
Katie says she wants you to realize, it’s anyone – the guy next door and a person you might trust – out there secretly using children for sex.
Katie spoke exclusively with WBTV Anchor Molly Grantham, as did Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino, who is also now a UN Ambassador and human rights advocate.
Together they explained to Molly how as a child, Katie was sold for sex hundreds of times.
Katie says her father was to blame; that he first raped her when she was six years old and first sold her to other men when she was eleven.
"A lot of people have a stereotype of what they think they a trafficker or a buyer looks like,” Katie said. “I want to blow that stereotype out of the water. I was sold to rich guys, poor guys, old guys, young guys, sold to some women. You know, you have the legislators, lawyers, cops, coaches, the guy that just lives down the street. You know, there were so many people involved and there was no set stereotype. And this was just around North Carolina."
Katie says it started when her father.
She has not yet pressed charges. She says at five years into escaping and finding recovery with local human trafficking organizations, she wants to keep considering legal action in the future, but has to be ready for that fight. Doing things like this - talking about her own personal story - helps.
“My dad was so manipulative that he groomed me to believe it was completely normal,” Katie said. “I’ve reached out to teachers in my past and now they say they all knew something was going on, but they didn't know what. They didn't know how bad. And they couldn't get me to talk. And back then they had to have some kind of answer from you to be able to go to DHS to report it. At one point I did admit to the physical abuse when I was in high school. DHS came in and investigated and said I didn't have enough proof.”
But Katie says because they came to her house, it angered her father that she had tried to report what was going on.
“I ended up in the hospital,” she says. “I was suicidal. I didn't want to live. I just didn't want to go back to that house, you know? When I did go back home like two weeks later, I was unspeakably punished for it, beaten. And then I still had to go to school.”
Grantham asked what teachers and others could look out for, based on her experience of being someone who was silently crying for help.
“Laws are now better for reporting these kinds of cases,” Katie said. “You can anonymously report and teachers don’t need as much. Now they just need that gut feeling, and be like, okay, I think I can report this. Which makes things great. But my advice is to ask kids. Especially young kids. When you’re talking with children, be age-appropriate, but be willing to ask the questions. I believe the smaller the kid is, the better chance of them being honest. You know? Because when I was really little, if someone had come up to me and say, “Hey, does someone do this to you?' I would’ve been an open book. But then I start getting threats. Then I started understanding consequences. And when your dad is threatening he’ll hurt your little sister if you tell anyone, you’re going to shut down. I learned I wasn’t going to say anything.”
Sorvino was visibly moved by Katie sharing her personal testimony.
“When she has the courage to stand up and tell her story in the state where it happened, I feel like that’s enormously frightening for her,” Sorvino said. “She didn’t have to do that. But it was so people could understand, it’s happening right here. Men in Charlotte bought her.”
If you think you have any concern about a child you think might be in danger – or if you are a child in danger – please call the National Human Trafficking Resource Call center: 1-888-373-7888. It’s open 24-hours a day, 7-days a week.