Sex trafficking is reaching epidemic proportions. Accordinf to the International Labor Organization, millions of people, maiinly women and children are victims.
Last year, there were nearly five million reported cases.
Airica kraehmer was trafficked while pursuing a career in modeling and never thought she would end up a victim.
Kraehmer was young and beautiful but also trusting.
She said she trusted the wrong people and instead of a world of glitz and glamour, she ended up going through a horrific ordeal that would leave her changed forever.
It all started when a 20-year-old Kraehmer moved from the quiet beauty of Tennessee to the busy streets of New York City chasing her dream of becoming a model.
SOMETHING’S NOT RIGHT
The modeling agency she thought would be her big break was anything but.
Kraehmer said when she arrived in New York, the agency told her they were only a management agency, and she would have to find her own modeling work.
However, the management agency would provide her a place to live.
They required she live in their “modeling house” crammed with other aspiring young models.
“There were 21 of us. Sometimes there were 30 of us. And, there were only two bedrooms,” said Kraehmer.
They were closely monitored.
“We had to report everywhere we were going," said Kraehmer. “Not allowed to have any other type of friends outside of the girls that you are modeling with. If you had friends in the area you weren't supposed to go see them.”
Despite starting to have bad feelings about the agency, Kraehmer said she didn’t feel like she could leave.
Adding to her reluctance to walk away, was the demeaning way she was treated by the agency’s management.
“They would say ‘You’re on your own, you only have us’" explained Kraehmer. “I was on my own.
I was in New York all by myself, and I only had them.”
Kraehmer said modeling started slowing down, and she and the management agency weren’t making much money.
To earn her rent at the modeling house, they required her to work at night clubs.
“You’re supposed to stand there look pretty, you’re not supposed to talk,” said Kraehmer.
“Things of that nature and in return, ‘we will compensate your rent.’"
RAPED AND TRAFFICKED
It was in the back of one of those night clubs, Kraehmer said, her modeling dream became a nightmare.
A manager from the agency raped her.
“I had been drugged, raped and that happened in the back of the club area near the restrooms,” said Kraehmer.
Kraehmer said she tried to run away that night, but someone followed her.
“They kidnapped me off the streets," said Kraehmer.
She said she was drugged again and the next thing she knew, she woke up tied to a bed.
Sex traffickers took her and sold her to men who brutally raped and beat her repeatedly.
“They would choke me. They would beat me, as far as, just using their blunt brunt force,” said Kraehmer. “They would knock me out to be able to do whatever they wanted to do, as far as, taking advantage of me, raping me. They would bite me a lot."
Kraehmer said she was trafficked for three days and thought she would die in that bed.
She believes a manager from the agency arranged for it to happen because she heard him days later when she was tied to the bed.
“The first one, the first one that raped me, I remember hearing his voice,” explained Kraehmer.
THE FIGHT TO ESCAPE
Kraehmer finally found a chance to escape when her traffickers moved her to a different location.
“If you don’t fight back now, you won’t have that next chance," Kraehmer said she told herself.
While the car was stopped at a stop sign, she said she started making a commotion in the back seat.
When one of her traffickers opened the door to get her to stop, Kraehmer fought for her freedom.
“I kicked her as hard as I possibly can," she said.
Kraehmer said she ran to a nearby hotel and called for help.
While waiting, the aspiring supermodel looked at herself in a mirror.
She hardly recognized her own reflection.
"Monster to say the least, nothing like the supermodel, nothing like the all-American girl,”
Kraehmer described. “I looked like I had been put through the wringer because I had. I was bruised down the right side of my face."
CHASING YOUR DREAM
Special Agent Rebecca Gonzalez-Ramos with Homeland Security Investigations said sex trafficking is common in both the modeling and music industries.
"You have that girl that’s been her dream her whole life," said Gonzalez-Ramos explaining the tactics traffickers use to coerce victims, “Come with me I’ll get you a demo. I’ll introduce you to main key holders who will get you that career’ and when she comes, she ends up being prostituted."
Kraehmer said police never caught the people who trafficked her.
She is angry the people were never caught.
“Angry. Yeah, angry is a perfect word for it,” said Kraehmer. “Because, I wish I could be at that type of position where I am like ‘Yes, let’s prosecute’. Let’s do something about what these people did.”
LIFE AFTER BEING SEX TRAFFICKED
Kraehmer said she struggled with depression for the first couple of years after being trafficked.
“In the beginning, it’s only about getting through the day,” said Kraehmer. “I didn’t have a smile on my face for a couple of years. If I could just wake up the next day, choose to not end my life, choose to make something of my life. It just takes healing and it just takes the choice to not give up.”
She lives in Florida now works with other survivors of sex trafficking.
She hopes sharing her story will help save someone’s life.
Kraehmer wrote a book about her ordeal called, Models Stop Traffic.
WARNING SIGNS OF SEX TRAFFICKING
Special Agent Gonzalez-Ramos said, as a community, we need to be alert to help stop sex trafficking.
Here are some of the questions to ask:
Is the person too scared to say no?
Does the person feel as they have a choice?
Does that person have a social life?
Can the person freely go anywhere they want?
Do they have friends?
Does that person feel if they leave she or he will be put in harm's way or their family will be put in harm’s way?
“There are many different situations that will raise a red flag,” said Special Agent Gonzalez-Ramos. “For example, if you see multiple individuals living in a residence and it doesn’t look like it’s a family.”
Kraehmer said she wishes she noticed the red flags earlier and hopes others won’t make the same mistake.
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