DETROIT, Mich. — Trafficking affects thousands of people every year.
"My trafficking started at a young age and so for a long time I was in denial that I was a victim of trafficking," said Yolanda, who did not want to use her full name for the story.
For years, she was trafficked around the Midwest. She knew she wanted to get out, but didn’t know how. The people trafficking her made her believe she was dependent on them.
"I felt very trapped," Yolanda said.
She wants others to know that people are out there to help victims of trafficking.
"It just makes you feel so powerful to finally be able to step away and say, 'I'm never going back, I'm never going back because I don't have to,'" she said.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 16,658 victims called last year, some from every state in the country. However, experts say that due to how the industry preys on the silence of victims, this only represents a fraction of the problem.
"We also know that there's consistent evidence, that it is way underreported," said Amy Good, CEO of Detroit's Alternatives for Girls, a nonprofit that helps trafficking survivors start a new life with resources.
It’s estimated that 15,000 to 50,000 people are forced into trafficking in the U.S. every year.
Yolanda is one of the women helped by Alternatives for Girls. She says organizations like them are a critical lifeline.
"I started getting my legal issues taken care of, they helped me with food. We started working on shelter. We had counseling and life skills," said Yolanda.
From providing emergency shelter, clothes, job training, and daycare for children, the help someone needs to start a new life away from being trapped must be holistic and catered to the individual, the team at Alternative for Girls says. However, they say the work shouldn’t stop with organizations like theirs.
"We need community awareness because the more people are aware, the more people can be allies to help people protect themselves and to help recognize when you can sound the alarm," said Good.
Breaking out of trafficking is difficult and complicated, but as Yolanda testifies, there are people out there who can help and it’s worth the work.
"It wasn't everybody's choice to be out in the street. Somebody, some of us was just running from something or someone, you know, it's tough. The streets are tough, but what's your life worth to you," said Yolanda.