Mississippi human trafficking victim says Tenn. lawyer helped her escape

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) -- “Mindy” isn’t her real name. There are reasons she can’t be identified in public by her name following her return to the world after being human trafficked by a motorcycle gang.

She doesn’t identify on the record which gang, either. She’s not afraid, but there’s no reason to speak of the Devil and have him appear.

Mindy grew up in a small town in southwest Mississippi. A foster child who was adopted, she went to a private school where she was a majorette and had plenty of friends. It was when she hit the real world that she found herself in a situation she didn’t know how to escape.

“A female friend introduced me to this person, and it was a slow progression. He would show up everywhere I was," she said. "Just, ‘Hey how you doing,’ taking an interest. But looking back, a part of me was going, ‘How does he know I’m here, how does he know what I’m doing? How does he know these things about me?’”

The man who would become Mindy’s keeper was high ranking in the gang. He showered her with gifts, telling her she deserved them. In one case he gave her a new apartment that cost more than the one she was living in. She didn’t really want it, she said, but it was a nice gesture, so she moved in.

Slowly, he brainwashed her to feel as though she couldn’t escape.

About a year into living in that apartment was when they started what Mindy calls “the survival deals.”

“It would be, ‘Oh so you don’t have your electricity bill, and you don’t have the money because your apartment costs more now,'” she said. “And he’s like, 'Here’s the deal. I’ve got this friend, if you just do this for my friend, we’ll pay for the electric.’ And like, what choice do I have because I’m also working and the money’s not there.”

She knew she didn’t like that compromise, but at first it was only once. Meanwhile, her keeper was isolating her from her friends and family and gas-lighting her into thinking he was what she needed to survive. But he also did nice things, like take her to meet other members of his gang and getting her in good with their girlfriends and wives.

It got worse from there.

“You feel good because you’re getting attention and the person you’re with is higher up in the gang and all that,” she said. “Then it got to where we were trafficking stuff. We were moving guns, we were moving drugs, then you’d be put up in a hotel and told, ‘This is what you’re going to do.’”

All the money from those interactions -- or transactions -- went to the gang. They traveled to Missouri, Oklahoma, Nevada and southern California, then back to Mississippi, she said.

The clients the gang brought to Mindy were everyday people with jobs, she said. When asked about categories, the first thing she said was, “Judges. And I know there were some judges from here in Mississippi."

Eventually, on the surface, you accept your job, she said. The longer you’re in it, the more you learn about survival. You just “put blinders on and do it,” Mindy said.

“I want to live and I want to survive,” she said. “You do what you’re told. That’s all I knew.”

One night in Nevada, there was a shootout between two of the gangs. Mindy said she and some others weren’t sure what was going on, and they paid dearly for their confusion.

“There were a couple of us that were like, ‘What’s going on?’ I guess we were too slow to move, and we got the crap beat out of us," she said. "It’s all blurry. I just remember getting pistol whipped, then I’m in the hospital. I’m like, ‘I’m not telling you anything.’ You don’t talk.

“I don’t know if it was three or five days I was in the hospital, and then they pick you up, ‘Let’s roll,’ and we’re back on our way to Mississippi,” Mindy said.

Mindy was pistol-whipped until doctors had to open her skull to relieve the pressure of her brain swelling. Though she and the others were totally isolated from most people, sneaking glimpses of the outside world ended up being Mindy’s way out.

She had a Twitter account, and somehow she slipped it by the gang.

“They didn’t follow me on Twitter. They didn’t mess with Twitter,” she said.

One of the first people Mindy met was a foster law attorney in Tennessee. She said she would make small talk with him because she had been a foster child. Then she started to make other friends on her Twitter account.

“I thought, ‘Oh my god, I forgot what this was like,’” she said.

Next, she saw a film called “In Plain Sight” about human trafficking. All of a sudden all the bells went off. She recognized herself in the film and she realized there was a way out. She messaged the attorney on Twitter.

“I didn’t know it had a name,” she said. “I told him about it and told him I wanted out.”

Within five minutes he answered and told her he knew someone who could help her. Then she was put in touch with an FBI agent out of Jackson. Mindy met the agent in a Target parking lot and started handing over all kinds of contraband of her own, and some she wasn’t supposed to have taken.

“I was just like, ‘I’m gonna die, they’re in the parking lot,’" Mindy said. “It’s just that much paranoia.”

She was taken to a safe house in Tennessee where she lived with other human trafficking survivors for a year. One of them had been shot eight times. Another had lost a leg.

“Once you start listening to their stories, they’re different but they’re the same,” she said. “And these women aren’t dumb.”

If she could give a message to other victims of sex trafficking, Mindy said it would be that what’s happening to them isn’t right, and it isn’t normal.

“The biggest thing is a lot of them don’t even know they’re victims. They think, ‘This is my life, this is all I know.’ Just like when I saw that film, it hit me in the head, ‘This isn’t right,’” she said. “It has a name, and they need to know. If they believe that this is the only way to survive, their loyalty will be to the street, and to the person they rely on for survival.”

Today at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Jackson, federal, state and local officials in Mississippi announced a new human trafficking council.

“These sick individuals and their actions are pure evil,” said Southern District U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst. “And when we in this office uncover these types of crimes, we’re going to do everything in our power to prosecute them to the fullest extent under the law.”

Mindy said she applauds the officials involved in setting up the task force, but she believes the world needs to hear from the victims to understand fully what law enforcement is up against.

“The voices are there,” she said. “A victim is going to help a victim more than anyone else is.”

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