Eric Douglas Published

Human Trafficking Survivor Discusses Moving Forward

Woman on abstract floral background. National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. annne/Adobe Stock

Editor’s Note: A warning, there is no explicit language in this reporting, but some of the topics may be difficult for some listeners. The first story in this three-part series gave an overview of human trafficking in West Virginia. The second story covered law enforcement and prosecution. Now, in our final story, we hear from Jane Doe, a human trafficking survivor. We have agreed to change her name to protect her identity.

When federal prosecutors released arrest information on the people involved in trafficking Jane Doe, it made national headlines, because one of the perpetrators was the police chief in the small town where they lived

Doe was just 17 years old when this all started. 

“They’ve taken three years of my life telling a story that wasn’t even true,” she said. “There was missing parts of it, and I just want to be able to fill the missing pieces with what actually happened.”

In Doe’s case, her stepmother sold her to a man for sex. That man should have been someone she reported the crime to, not the other way around. 

Both people have been convicted of their crimes. The stepmother has been sentenced, but the man has not received his punishment yet. 

Doe’s birth father struggled with addiction and was out of the picture. Then she lost her mother to cancer and her stepfather eventually remarried. Her stepmother used that as leverage.

“I was told that if I did not do it, that she had my stepdad wrapped around her finger and my mom was gone,” Doe said. “I would never have anybody to love or care about me ever again. If I didn’t do it, I’d be out on the streets.”

Doe’s stepfather wasn’t arrested in connection with this human trafficking case, but Doe said she felt like she was on her own. 

No one would believe me. I was just a girl who lost her mom,” she said. “I was always accused of making up stories, that it was always my fault, that I asked for it, that I wanted it. And I never did. It made me hate myself that people looked at me that way.”

At one point, Doe even attempted suicide. But, despite everything she went through, she has come through the situation stronger. 

It made me who I am today,” Doe said. “And without that, I don’t know if I could face what life throws at me. So I just cope with it day by day. I don’t want to think about it. But the only way to move on from it is to think about it, and put the pieces back together of what was broken.”

Doe has a message for others who may be in a similar situation. 

Don’t give up just because something bad happens to you,” she said. “There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t even see it until the support system that I had backed me up and showed me that I could get through anything.”

As it turned out, once she came forward, Doe developed a new support system. One of those people was Tracy Chapman, the victim advocate for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of West Virginia. 

“My role is to work with the folks in the system such as investigative agents, assistant U.S. attorneys, probation officers, the courts,” she said. “Making sure that those rights are afforded to victims and making sure that victims know what those rights are and what those services are, that they deserve to help them to heal and overcome the trauma and abuse that they’ve endured.”

One way victim’s advocates help is by making sure victims are prepared to exercise the very important right of letting their voice be heard at sentencing. 

“Jane is certainly a survivor,” Chapman said. “She is not a victim. And she exercised that right in a very, very powerful statement at sentencing. Exercising her right, making sure that the court was aware of the impact of the crime on her throughout her life.”

The following is Jane Doe’s victim statement she wrote for her stepmother and originally read it in court:

You were supposed to be a mother figure in my life when my mom passed away. You have four beautiful babies of your own, yet you still hurt me, a kid. I know that you would never want this to happen to one of your kids. So what made you think it was okay to do it to somebody else’s? I was supposed to look up to you in life as a parent, a role model, a mother figure. I was supposed to trust you and put my faith in you that you would never do something so wrong, that it caused me so much pain. 

My life fell apart when everything happened. And you didn’t seem to notice nor care how it affected me. You knew what you were doing is wrong, but you did it anyway. I don’t sleep at night. I don’t trust anyone. I don’t even know who to look up to for guidance anymore, because I no longer have any parents. When my mom passed, all I wanted was a mother figure, someone to talk to about boys and female things that girls don’t want to talk to their dads about. Instead, I couldn’t trust you or come to you with anything. Because in your eyes, I was nothing more than a pawn, a piece of material that can be sold for money. 

I was 17, a kid, a human being with feelings, and none of that mattered to you. I really wanted a family, somewhere that I felt like I belonged and living there I never felt more like an outcast, a burden, a waste of space. I felt like no matter what I did, I would never be more than just a materialistic pawn for you to use and abuse how you pleased with no consequences or rules set in place for your behavior. You ruined who I was, and you took everything from me. Everything except my voice to speak up. 

Had I not spoke up, who knows how many more people would have gotten hurt because of you. But because of me, you can’t hurt anyone or use anyone as a pawn for money ever again. You broke me, but I’m rebuilding what you broke. And I will become the best version of myself, despite what you put me through. I’m no longer a victim. I’m a survivor.” 

Jane Doe

Human Trafficking Survivor

“And after reading that I told her I forgave her,” Doe said. 

Looking ahead, Doe said she didn’t want to see anyone else go through what she did. Her advice is to speak up. 

“It can be hard because I didn’t reach out until a couple months after it had happened to me because I didn’t have anybody to reach out to,” she said. “But the pain that it causes you, I know that you wouldn’t want to see anyone else go through it. And I’ve told people that I would go through this 1001 times more, just to make sure another kid never went through it. Because I survived. And I don’t want anyone else to lose your life because of it.”

Doe said even she didn’t fully understand or believe everything that happened to her until she testified in court. 

And that is the day that I completely broke down and realized that this is real,” Doe said. “It happened to me and I cannot change the fact that it happened to me but I can change how I move forward in life and what I make of myself.”

This is the final story in a three-part series on human trafficking in West Virginia. 

Human Trafficking Resources:

If you or a loved one is the victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, text 233733 or dial 911.