Special Report: Eyewitness News investigates human trafficking, Part 1

After struggling with addiction, this woman fell victim to the multi-million dollar human trafficking business. She was trafficked from city to city for a year and a half. (WCHS/WVAH)

At Freedom Hall Recovery Center in Pike County, Ohio, there are strong men and women who are working to overcome addiction of all types. It is a faith-based treatment center that works to build up confidence and strength in residents from the Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky area. Inside the walls of the center the personal stories are jarring.

Recovery administrator Angie Pelphrey works with addicts every day. She said over the past five years, she has seen an increase in women who have come to her for help after they were victims of the human trafficking industry.

"Things really started changing," Pelphrey said. "When females started coming in, I would notice bruises or broken arms. I could see they have been abused. Before, I started noticing that they were just coming here for help with an addiction."

Eyewitness News sat down with two victims who are currently recovering from the abuse and neglect they endured from human trafficking. After drinking and experimenting with drugs, one woman met a man who charmed her into a business she said she didn't know existed.

"He was being nice to me," she said. "I really thought I needed this guy. I had no one else. I thought he was going to help me."

She spent a short time in the Franklin County Jail on alcohol-related charges. When she was released from jail, she said she believed she had no one else to call but the man she met.

"I felt like I didn't have any one else. I had cut off ties to my friends and family. I really needed help, and I didn't have a place to go," she said.

The man picked her up and took her to a nearby motel. After arriving to the motel, she said she continued to remind him she needed to get to her car that was impounded. After arriving, she said her memory of what happened to her starts to blur. After being given drugs and alcohol, she said one of the only things she remembers is being handcuffed to men.

"The scariest part is not knowing. Just doing sexual activities with numerous men, and possibly being sold. It's terrifying to think I almost never saw my family again," she said.

She said she remembers being handcuffed to a captor and put into a car. At that point, she dialed a pastor's number she had saved in her phone multiple times for help. Franklin County law enforcement was contacted, and officers were able to track her phone. She was found in a car and later learned her captors were taking her to Cincinnati to sell her for a half million dollars.

"I had no idea I was being sold to someone at that time," she said.

Pelphrey explained this is a changing time for her recovery facility. She is now dealing with more cases like this. The staff is trained to treat addiction, but Pelphrey said the scary part is women who are trafficked have no idea about what their specific addictions.

"They use different drugs for different times they use the girls. They might need them to be sedated for whatever reason. They might want them to be energetic for another reason. So they are addicted to many different drugs. Once the girls are addicted the captors have a hold on them. When you are addicted, you don't want to go. A lot of people say, 'Well, why don't they just leave?' Their mindset is they have to stay," Pelphrey said.

Pelphrey said when she thinks a woman who comes to her facility for help has been trafficked, she sends her for a lab test to see what drugs are in her system. This helps start the recovery process for her possible addiction.

"I mostly have noticed the girls have heroine, cocaine, Xanax and alcohol in their system. Some girls will come to me and say they are so happy they got out. Some girls will talk to me and say they are not sure what happened," she said.

Pelphrey said human traffickers specifically prey on women who are vulnerable. When they notice someone is an addict, it is easier for them to lure in that person.

Another woman from the facility came forward to tell her story. She said she was trafficked in different cities for a year and a half.

"There are people out there that are preying on vulnerable girls," she said. "I fell right into the trap. I wanted to die. I did not want to live like that anymore, but I didn't know how to get out. I felt worthless. I felt like if I did have the chance to run away where was I going to go? I cut off all ties with my family. I had no more friends," the woman said.

She was so manipulated and abused during her time being held captive she thought her abuser loved her.

"I was controlled to the point of when and where I could shower. I wasn't allowed to eat. I wasn't allowed to get any sleep. I would stay up for days to work. I couldn't stop if I wanted to. Nothing was my choice anymore. He slowly started cutting off my contact with the outside world. He took away my phone for punishment, and he would beat me. I still have scars from when I was beat," she said.

The feeling of needing the abuser is something Pelphrey is working to fight. She said she spends time helping these women understand what happened to them is abuse, and the men who took them do not love them.

"These men start to have such a power and pull over them. They think this is the guy that loves them. This is the guy that cares for them. Human trafficking is something you would never expect can happen. It's something you would never dream of happening. It does happen, and it could be your child. Your child could make a mistake. They could end up being put in a jail cell with someone who is working for them," Pelphrey said.

Eyewitness News has disguised the victims' identities for their protection. Their cases are still under investigation. Part two of this investigation will air Tuesday night at 10 and 11 p.m. on Eyewitness News.

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