Sex Trafficking survivor calls on the community to know the signs

BALTIMORE - She is a shadow on the wall but no longer a figure in the dark. A survivor of sex trafficking agreed to share her story as long as we protect her identity.  

This is PART II of her story. Check out PART I here.

It started with an offer to go on a concert tour in 2010 with the men behind 424 Records.

"Everything that glitters is not gold," she said.

It ended in a tragic lesson for one Baltimore woman, who was forced into sexual slavery across the country.

A video titled "P.I.M.P."  was eventually submitted in court as evidence. Music was the common chord, and Myspace was the vehicle to communicate for two months before meeting up.

Alarcon Wiggins was described in a federal indictment as the "main pimp," who recruited at least 17 women to have sex for money. In his videos, he bragged about the money he made from his music and from being a pimp. He forced the women who he recruited to start stripping. 

The survivor danced from noon to 2 a.m. every day with all of the money going toward 424 Records. He kept the women in a constant state of fear by whipping them, according to court documents. Then the concert tour he promised turned out to be a nightmare.

"It was one time we were going through Atlanta, Georgia, and of course I've always wanted to go to Atlanta, Georgia. So I'm looking out the window at the scenery, and I get yelled at like ‘stop looking out the window! Put your head down,’" said the survivor.

They rolled in a van hitting several states, starting in Maryland, which is considered a hot bed for traffickers .

"We see that gangs are into trafficking more and more than they are drug dealing. After drug dealing, trafficking is the second largest way they make their money," said Aaliyah Muhammad, who prosecutes sex trafficking cases for the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office.

Muhammad has trained more than 2,000 people in law enforcement in the past year on how to recognize human trafficking.

"So what we're doing is saying, you know tie those used or bulk condoms to that eight-ball [of cocaine].  Tie those girls who have no business being in this area, in this state. You can't account for why they're here with this false relationship with this older man, tie that to the domestic [charge]," said Muhammad.

The survivor said she wants people to start opening their eyes to the horrors women like her suffer.

"You know, you see these women walking with their head down. You hear how the guys are talking. It's like at any point in time, you had to notice that something wasn't right," she said.

Human trafficking or modern day sexual slavery is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the woman, according to a report compiled by Polaris Project, an advocacy group.

Maryland Del. Steve Schuh is sponsoring legislation to develop standardized training statewide

“[It’s] often very difficult for police officers to distinguish between a victim and a perpetrator," Schuh said.

READ | Maryland lawmakers seek to toughen human-trafficking laws

Speaking up didn't seem like an option for a Baltimore survivor. She recalled a shocking story of one of the ways the men kept her and the other women they employed constantly afraid for their lives.

"I was even more afraid because I seen a girl that wanted to leave. She said she wanted to leave, and at first he was like go ahead, leave. And I was like, 'oh okay, I can just do that right?' That's what I'm thinking in my mind. And she went to go for the door and he grabbed her and he pretty much beat her down, like you're not going nowhere," she said.

Melissa Snow was one of the first victim's services providers to join the case after the survivor and another woman made the break from an El Paso hotel room.

"There were so many missed opportunities by professionals in the community, child welfare and law enforcement, but also just members of the public who could have stepped in, who could have asked is something going on, is something going wrong," Snow said.

But a wrong was righted in the federal system, where penalties for this kind of crime are much tougher.

"Had it been charged under the Maryland State Human Trafficking Law, it would have been a misdemeanor.  Because here in the State of Maryland, when you traffic an adult 18 years of age and over, it is only a misdemeanor," said Snow.

There is legislation proposed in Annapolis that would make trafficking up to age 21 a felony. That's how old the survivor was when she was manipulated and forced to strip and have sex with strangers for money. The men who ran the prostitution ring called it “working overtime” for the dancers.

Her faith in humanity has slipped but her musical talent has not. The pimp may look like gold in a video, but the record is scratched in real life.

"A real pimp doesn't improve, they destroy," she said. "They pretty much take who you are, they shed every ounce of who you think you are or what you have been and they try to form you into something completely different."

She has spent more than three years trying to move past that experience, and sharing her story is part of the process.

Wiggins was sentenced to 17 and 1/2 years in federal prison. Nine other co-defendants from Baltimore have been convicted and sentenced, as well.

If you are a victim of sex trafficking and need assistance, you are encouraged to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center:  1-888-373-7888 .

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