Human trafficking survivor spreads awareness
Shares harrowing experience as teen, what to look for
Scores of community members attended the “Human Trafficking in High Definition” event on Mon- day evening at a New Life Church building in La Plata.
The event, aimed to raise aware- ness on the one of the largest crim- inal enterprises, was sponsored by the Charles County Department of Social Services, and was led by inspirational speaker Dr. Marlene Carson, a human trafficking survivor dedicated to helping victims and spreading awareness.
Carson, who was abducted from her family in Columbus, Ohio, at age 15, captivated the crowd with her harrowing story, and encouraged audience participation through open dialogue. Men, women and children of all ages were in attendance, and many were called upon by Carson whether they had their hand up or not. As she put it, Carson was there to have a conversation with them, and all the
teenagers in the audience were instructed to move up to the front row to encourage their participation before sharing more about her struggle.
Carson explained that she grew up in a devout Christian household and went to Mass several times a week before she was tak- en. The prayers and scripture she had learned as a child would later give her hope when her situation seemed hopeless.
The traffickers moved into her neighborhood when she was 13-years-old, she said, and built a rapport with the local children and families over the next two years. The seemingly normal man and wife would take their neighbor’s kids on trips to the zoo and amusement parks, and often had them over to their house. This was the “grooming” process, Carson told the crowd. She later found out that the wife was actu- ally one of the man’s first victims.
After she had been on several trips, Carson, now 15, was one of four girls to travel to New York City with the traffickers. Her parents had finally caved in and agreed to let her go after much pleading.
What was supposed to be a fun-filled trip soon proved to be a living nightmare. The traffickers told the girls they would never see their families again if they didn’t do what they were told, and threatened to kill them and their parents.
A few days later, the traffick- ers took the girls home. Carson, traumatized by what happened to her, did not tell anyone about the abuse.
They would soon come back for her, though, and that time, she was taken for good.
When asked how she was able to eventually escape her situation years later, she simply gave credit to God.
In 2008, Carson opened a resi- dential treatment facility for vic- tims of human trafficking and prostitution, and later founded The SWITCH, a national anti-traf- ficking network. She is a regular FBI consultant on the subject, and has helped many victims change their lives.
After telling her story, Carson advised parents to frequently monitor their children’s social media accounts, and said violent video games and pop culture is “desensitizing us. It’s making us numb to what’s really going on.”
She also told parents that they need to be more engaged in their children’s lives, and pointed out that if someone had “asked the right questions” after she returned from her traumatizing experience in New York City, she would not have been taken a second time. If a child appears to be bothered by something, just asking what’s wrong is not enough. “You just can’t leave it there,” Carson said.
Carson also emphasized that prostitutes are not the ones police should be arresting: they’re the ones who need help.
There is limited human trafficking activity in Charles County, Carson said, but given the transient nature of the community and close proximately to Washington, D.C., traffickers are known to travel through the area. To report tips or suspicious activity, Carson advised the audience to call the national human trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
Community members packed into a New Life Church facility in La Plata on Monday evening to learn more about human trafficking.
Dr. Marlene Carson, a human trafficking survivor, is now dedicated to helping victims change their lives, and speaks at events to increase awareness and prevent future incidents.