Survivor story

 

Human trafficking survivor shares her story

Barbara Freeman is a victim of human trafficking, she told a Bluffton University audience Jan. 23. And, after decades of drug abuse and prostitution, she dedicated her life to rescuing others from sexual exploitation.

Freeman, 42, is drug and alcohol free today. She serves as a motivational speaker, hoping to inspire those affected by sex trafficking to seek help.

“It’s only one hit away, one drink away, to end up at the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said during a Bluffton chapel service.

When Freeman was just 16, she was introduced to cocaine. She used the drug to cope with her dysfunctional family, which was abusive and left her feeling unloved. Soon enough, she was also introduced to prostitution as a way to pay for her drug addiction.

It wasn’t until decades later that a series of events, which she believed to be divinely inspired, rescued her from a world of exploitation and drug dependency.

When leaving her residence one day, she was blinded by a flash of light that left her disoriented, she said. She then proceeded to walk the streets, seeking a customer. An undercover police officer picked her up and arrested her for soliciting prostitution.

Hoping to find a way out of her lifestyle, Freeman joined Changing Actions to Change Habits (CATCH), a two-year program created by the Franklin County (Ohio) Municipal Court to assist area women involved in the sex trade.

“We’re not looked at as prostitutes; we’re looked at as victims,” she said about the program.

In addition to her motivational speaking, Freeman now supports members of CATCH and devotes time to other efforts to help exploited women in Columbus, Ohio, including the Doma organization and the Well, a center operated by the local Salvation Army.

“Today I value myself. I am worthy,” said Freeman, who was named a 2013 YWCA Woman of Achievement for her involvement in the Columbus area.

Also speaking at the Bluffton chapel service, Connie Anderson explained that exploitation also occurs outside the sex trade.

Anderson, director of Justice Ministries, Great Lakes East Region, informed the audience of slaveryfootprint.org, an online quiz site that asks the question, “How many slaves work for you?”

According to Slavery Footprint, most people unknowingly support slave labor through everyday purchases, from coffee to clothing. The site estimates that 200,000 child slaves in the West African nation of Ivory Coast harvest 40 percent of the world’s cocoa bean supply, for instance.

The interactive survey aims to show individuals their connection to modern-day slavery and encourages them to take action through letter writing to corporations and sharing survey results on social media.

It is up to us, not God, to end sex trafficking and slave labor, Anderson said. “What if God is asking, ‘how can my people allow this kind of suffering?’” she said. “We’re his hands and feet.”

Chay Reigle, public relations office

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