Angie Conn 01
Angie Conn

Angie Conn 02

Angie Conn
A trafficking survivor tells her story

August 15, 2017

She grew up in a loving family. Her mom was active in the P-TA , and volunteered at elementary school every day. Dad was a good provider.

But when she hit high school, she wanted to fit in, and she started to hang out with the wrong people.

"At age 16 I ran away from home and out to California with a girlfriend," Angie Conn told Putnam Rotarians today. "At Long Beach I was picked up and trafficked for two and a half years."

When she returned home, she had no resources for dealing with her experience. "It was my fault," she told herself. "It was my choice to run away from home. It was my fault for not listening to the people who were trying to get me help. For several years I really struggled."

Then she met other survivors of human trafficking through the Rebecca Bender Initiative. And the bonds of friendship which formed enabled her to overcome the feelings of guilt and worthlessness.

"Human trafficking has always existed," Conn said, "but it has only come to the forefront in recent years as the greatest social justice enigma of our time.

"It's hard to wrap our minds around slavery in this day and time -- where somebody is bound up, thrown into a basement on a dirty mattress.

"But that's four percent. What about the others?

"This is one of the greatest injustices, because the victims don't identify as victims. They think, 'That's not me. I'm not chained in a basement. I'm not bound in a cage. I'm free to come and go.'

"But what people don't see with domestic trafficking are the emotional and trauma bonds that are formed through the trafficker."

Human trafficking is an umbrella term for recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing or paying a person for compelled labor or sex acts through force, fraud or coercion.

"A recruiter doesn't look like a scarey person," she continued. "They gain your trust. They build a relationship. They find the vulnerabilities. They may spend as little time as two weeks or six months to a year building a rapport with a [victim] before they turn on them.

"They approach you on the street. They might say, 'You need a place to stay? You might need some food. I can help you with that.'

"But you find there are strings attached: It includes internet pornography, massage parlors, strip clubs

It can be enforced by violence or threats. 'If you leave, I can get to your family.'

"The number one illegal activity in the United States is drugs. And human trafficking is second behind that," she said.

One out of three teens on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. A pimp can make up to $200,000 a year managing four to six girls.

"Human trafficking generates $9.5 billion in the United States, according to Shared Hope, and I think it is much higher than that now," she said.

"If you catch somebody with drugs, you have evidence. But if you have a victim of human trafficking, you have someone who has been psychologically abused.

"It's almost like a domestic violence situation where the [victim] isn't going to turn on you. They're going to say, 'This is my choice.' And so there's no evidence to prosecute.

"There's a lot of drug use in West Virginia," Conn acknowledged, and along with it "there is a lot of 'familial' trafficking: Someone in a family has a drug issue, and they use a child within the family to obtain drugs.

"That's horrible and horrific. But if we turn away from that, it's going to keep happening.

"We need education. We need training. If we just push it aside, we're just as guilty as those who participate."

But Angie Conn is a survivor, and she wants to show others the way to escape the web of human trafficking.

With her personal witness, she wants to expose the growing problem, warn potential victims, and show the way for others to survive.

Available Resources

  • The National Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-399-7273
  • The Rebecca Bender Initiative
  • Text "HELP" to 233733 (BE FREE)
  • The WV Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
  • Sharedhope International

  • More Putnam Rotary News? Click HERE.