Rebecca Bender Fights Back
In the near decade since Rebecca Bender, founder and CEO of the Rebecca Bender Initiative freed herself from a six-year nightmare involving sex trafficking, she’s devoted her life to educating Americans about the dangers of a sordid industry that can enslave young people.
How did you become a victim of trafficking?
I was 18, almost 19, and a single mom when I met a guy on the University of Oregon campus. I wasn’t a student, but I had friends there and hung out. We exchanged phone numbers; it got serious and I thought it was normal dating.
Six months later, I moved with him to Las Vegas where I was forced into sex trafficking the day I arrived.
You hadn’t realized what was happening before then?
I wasn’t aware of the signs of coercion and fraud that played out in everyday life. No one taught me what to look for to see if a trafficker was “grooming” me. I had a small daughter he used against me, and eventually I got addicted to drugs. Over nearly six years, I was traded between three different traffickers.
What about your family?
They knew something was wrong but didn’t realize what was happening.
What kept you going?
I had a personal encounter with Jesus while at a faith-based women’s home in Portland. What kept me going was my daughter and my faith in God.
How did you finally get free?
I attempted four escapes in the near six years, but it’s like being in a gang—you can’t just walk away. In 2007, the feds raided one of the homes, and the trafficker took a plea deal on a tax evasion charge. When he was out of town, I packed everything in one suitcase, grabbed my daughter and ran.
Is trafficking as sensational as it seems on TV and in the movies?
The media creates images of blue-eyed 5-year-olds kidnapped and tied up with duct tape on their mouths. But most kids are lured by someone they know and trust, be it a family member or someone they met online. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has great stats on kids being lured off the internet and being groomed by someone they know versus abductions, which are actually much more rare here in America. —Marc Boisclair