BELLBROOK — He lured her away from her Columbus home when she was 15.
He was older.
He told her he loved her.
He showed her alcohol, drugs.
He hit her.
He asked her to “watch his back” when he shoplifted.
Then he left her with a pimp.
That’s where her life on the street began. She stayed for 30 years.
Once a victim of human trafficking, Joyce Brown now works in Springfield helping other survivors like her.
She also tells her story across Ohio, and relived it to a room full of people at Bellbrook’s Emmanuel Baptist Church on Aug. 27.
The “Hidden in Plain Sight” educational forum, hosted by Ohio Faith Net, partner to the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission, aimed to educate church leaders and community members on human trafficking and give them ways to reach out to victims.
“I was trafficked and I didn’t know it myself,” Brown said to the group. “Trafficking — you never heard about that. So I didn’t even know what that was. All I could think about was … that he loved me.”
She recalled the time when he left her with a pimp for the first time.
“I didn’t know what to do … because at that time I was hooked on alcohol, I was estranged from my family, and I was lost,” Brown said.
While suffering from homelessness and addiction, jail became a familiar, safe place, Brown explained to the people in front of her.
“Once I started doing drugs … I started going to jail. Jail was a place to stay … It was a safe haven because I wasn’t laying down somewhere where I had to keep one eye open … ” she said.
Brown’s experience and the help she received led her to her current work supporting women facing similar challenges.
Her survival started with a little hope, she explained.
“In the course of being on the streets … God would always find a way to bring somebody around to pray for me. Someone would pray for me, stop and say something to me or give me a word of encouragement. They were speaking life into me,” Brown said. “We are equipped to speak life into women that are out there suffering … I didn’t know I had help. People kept telling me ‘you’ll never change’. But God said — look at that diamond in the rough.”
Five years ago she turned her life around, quitting alcohol and drugs, and reuniting with children she had given up.
“God is so good. He’s so good,” Brown told the crowd more than once.
Her story isn’t so different from other Ohioans’ stories. In 2017, 1,133 Ohio calls were received on the national human trafficking hotline and 365 human trafficking cases were reported in Ohio, Beth Bullock, advocacy director at R.E.A.C.H. for Tomorrow, said.
If you are a victim of human trafficking or suspect an incident, call the hotline at 1-888-373-7888, text HELP or INFO to 233733 or visit humantraffickinghotline.org.
The educational forum will continue 6-8:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 10 at Bellbrook United Methodist Church, 47 East Franklin Street. The event featuring two breakout sessions is free, open to the public, non-denomination and non-partisan. Call event host Susan Lopez, Family Resource Center, at 937-848-3810 for more information.
To learn more about human trafficking and how you can help victims, see second part of this story later this week.