February 3, 2023

It’s All In Your Head: Surviving Human Trafficking

Sandy Storm is living with trauma from human trafficking. She was a trafficking victim for over 20 years, and it began during her childhood.

Initially, she did not realize she was a survivor or how the trauma of human trafficking affected her until she started volunteering in the justice movement. She saw what it’s like for victims to experience post traumatic stress disorder from human trafficking.

Sandy has since written three books about her painful childhood, how she was trafficked, as well as her healing journey. She has also become an abolitionist and works with the organization, DeliverFund, to help set other trafficking victims free – both physically and emotionally.

Jackie Colbeth: Hi. Welcome to MedCircle’s, It’s All In Your Head podcast. I’m your host Jackie Colbeth, and it’s great to be with you. Today we’re going to be talking about a subject that seems almost too big to solve and probably, hopefully, quite distant to most of us, and that is human trafficking. Sadly, it’s an industry that’s growing exponentially each year and the traffickers who are committing so many different crimes are getting more and more sophisticated in evading our justice system. Today I’m very excited to introduce our guest, Sandy Storm, who is a child sex trafficking survivor that spent almost 20 years being trafficked and lived to tell her story.

Sandy is now a published author, speaker, and abolitionist who currently serves as the director of Strategic Impact with Deliver Fund, which is a nonprofit private intel firm who provide training and tech solutions to law enforcement in their fight to end human trafficking. Very cool stuff. Sandy’s written a trilogy about her experiences with child abuse, addiction, abortion, human trafficking in the industry of commercial sexual exploitation. She has gone from victim to victor and is now living what can only be described as a brand-new life. She is an inspiration to so many and we are so excited she took time out of her very busy schedule to chat with us. Sandy, welcome to It’s All in Your Head. Sandy, I want to thank you so much for being with us today. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you on here.

Sandy Storm: Thank you. It’s an honor to be with you, Jackie, and it’s an honor to address your audience. So, thank you for this opportunity.

Jackie Colbeth: Sandy, you are so welcome. I know our audience is just going to be really moved by what we’re going to be talking about today and really touched, and they’re going to get a lot of great info from you. So, thank you again. I think it’s always helpful for our audience to just get really an idea. I think context is very important and we all know you’re not just sort of walking down the street as a child and then boom thrown into something like human trafficking. And I’m wondering if you could just briefly sort of paint the picture of maybe the different positions that you were in that made you more susceptible or vulnerable.

Sandy Storm: Yes, I think that’s a great idea, a great starting point. So, when people hear about child trafficking, especially child sex trafficking, it seems like such an impossible reality and it seems like such a hard thing to wrap the head around. A lot of people have the misconception that it’s about a kidnapping or something that’s happening all at once. But the truth is most children, and we’re talking about prepubescent children that are trafficked are actually trafficked by somebody that they trust. So, somebody within their own family, a caregiver, a guardian, or a parent. So, in my situation, what happened to me, my father actually died at, I think I was about five years old, and he took his own life. So, there was underlying mental illness, there was underlying addictions for both him and my mother. They had a very dysfunctional marriage and very unstable. So, my life was very unstable from conception, let alone from birth.

And then when he was taken out of the picture, that produced a lot of additional vulnerabilities along with a history of abuse and poverty and all of these other things. So, when that vulnerability was exploited by a trafficker who came in from the outside and he manipulated his way into my mother’s life and into my life as a five and six year old child, that influence of that person who is motivated to find and target vulnerabilities and then exploit them for his own gain, that’s what trafficking looks like. And that ongoing trafficking situation, it wasn’t just me. There were other children involved. My mother was on one side of the coin, a victim herself.

But then when she wasn’t being the protective parent and she was kind of turning a blind eye to the exploitation and abuse so that she could gain whatever she was gaining from the relationship, safety, the financial benefits, we were no longer in poverty. We were actually living in a beautiful home in a beautiful neighborhood. I was going to a really good school. We frequented country clubs and yacht clubs. The kind of circles that we were introduced to, the more the exploitation happened, the more affluent her life became. So, then she kind of crossed over from being a victim herself into being part of that trafficking. So, that’s what trafficking generally looks like within the United States when there’s a child involved.

Jackie Colbeth: And it sounds like to me, really the archetype and we can get deeper into this of a trafficker is the insidious where I have to believe a lot of women or men who are trafficked, I have to believe that they almost don’t know they’re being trafficked. Maybe they think I’m just being loved and this is how my romantic partner or my husband, this is just how our relationship is. And I’m wondering if a lot of women that kind of dawns on them a bit slower than someone jumping in and going, I’m trafficking you right now. It seems much more insidious as if women in certain relationships might be able to gain some sort of knowledge or clarity that maybe I’m being trafficked.

Sandy Storm: Yeah. I think it’s important for the audience to understand that trafficking victims rarely self-identify. And I was a victim of trafficking from age six to 26. But however it was in on March 18th, 2004, I got free and I’ve been walking in freedom ever since then. In 2009, I learned about human trafficking. I was at a ladies’ Bible study. I heard a presentation about human trafficking, and I was very drawn to the cause. I wanted to participate in volunteering and organizing film screenings, gathering business people and politicians and church leaders for my community so that we could rally together and do something to make this reality stop for the people who were suffering at the hands of these exploiters. And so I volunteered and I did this kind of work for several years. I read every book I could find about human trafficking. I watched a lot of documentaries.

I watched a lot of really horrible Hollywood movies about it as well. But I learned everything I could about the issue. And it was years into this work that I had a light bulb moment, that I was actually a victim of trafficking, that the things that I had experienced were not, and I don’t want to minimize somebody who’s been abused or somebody who’s been raped or anybody who’s been through a horrible experience of evil like that. But when I zoom out and I look at those 20 years of my life and the ongoing exploitation that I was experiencing at the hands of a master manipulator who was driven to exploit my vulnerabilities for their own gain, that was trafficking. There were a lot of different people involved. There were a lot of different scenarios where I was being exploited, but I was a volunteer in what I refer to as the justice movement for several years before I had my own revelation that I was a survivor of trafficking.

So, that was about 2012, and I wrote a book around that time, my first book, and it sat in a folder on my computer and I just parked it until it felt like the right time to come out. Because once you come out with a story like this, you’re no longer an advocate, you’re no longer a volunteer in the movement. Now I’m sharing my story as a tool to train law enforcement, to educate medical professionals and to inform the public of what traffickers really look like, how they actually operate so that we can protect our children so that law enforcement can target the traffickers and make sure they receive the justice that is due. And so that we can support survivors. But most victims of trafficking don’t self identify, if you would’ve asked me back then, I would’ve said, well, I was a victim of domestic violence. Yes, I’ve been a victim of domestic violence or yes, I was a victim of child abuse. Yes, I’ve been raped. But it didn’t all come together and I didn’t really have that clear understanding of my own exploitation until years into my healing.

Jackie Colbeth: Wow. Yeah, that really drives home the insidious nature of almost a victim, not even knowing they’re victim for so many years. But it’s great that you were able to achieve that clarity and know exactly what had happened to you and that you were victimized. For people who might suspect they’re in a relationship, maybe it’s a little bit unhealthy. And I’ve been in these before, we’re like, no, I don’t necessarily like the route this is going. Are there any red flags that maybe a woman or a man who’s struggling right now might be able in a relationship might be with a victimizer or potential victimizer? Are there any red flags that they can maybe point to or absorb?

Sandy Storm: I think that’s a great question. And being able to identify red flags, especially within romantic relationships is a key to uncovering the methods of the traffickers. So, some of the things I would say to look for, number one, all pimps are traffickers. Not all traffickers are pimps. It’s kind of important to differentiate between the two. But if there is somebody who’s trying to form a relationship with one of your audience members, perhaps, and they are a pimp, that is a trafficking situation and that is somewhere something that should definitely be addressed. And that vulnerable person definitely needs to have the opportunity to exit that relationship. If the party and trying to involve themselves in relationship with someone wants to introduce that person into the industry of commercial sexual exploitation, that would be a big red flag. I’m sorry. Traffickers target their victims.

They spend a lot of time and a lot of money and a lot of effort to target and groom the victims that they want to exploit. So, they might go through a very long process of building trust. They might go through a very long process of gathering a lot of intelligence about an individual so that they can later exploit that vulnerability and that information for their own financial gain. So, if things seem too good to be true, that might be a red flag. If this person seems to be sweeping you off your feet and the answer to all of your prayers, if they seem to have fallen from the sky and now everything that you’ve been trying to solve is being solved by this individual, that might be a clue that you might want to zoom out a little bit, talk to a trusted friend, rely on somebody that has that third party status to help you kind of look through the circumstances to see is this really a safe situation?

The exploitative behaviors that traffickers engage in almost always starts from a place of trust. Most trafficking, especially within the US, doesn’t happen from being kidnapped in the parking lot at a whole foods or being targeted in a grocery store or at the mall. Unfortunately, the traffickers will spend a lot of time and money and a lot of resources to groom that person into believing that they are someone that can be trusted and that they’re going to solve the problems, those vulnerabilities, those issues that seem impossible to overcome. And that’s why the traffickers are so skilled and so successful in exploiting those vulnerabilities.

Jackie Colbeth: Definitely. And I have to imagine for every trafficker, there are a whole group of different people that are there to support, offer, love, sincerity, genuinity. I don’t want to use the word counteract because that seems like such an understatement, but I’m wondering, being immersed and living with that archetype of an actual trafficker, I’m wondering where did you find the resiliency and hope? Were there different people you turned to, whether it’s friends, whether it’s support groups? I’m curious where you got the strength to look at this and turn into the advocate that you are today. So, we can call these people if we’re in a similar situation because we know they help.

Sandy Storm: I would have to say the first one is my husband. He’s amazing. I’ve been married for almost 20 years to my very best friend, and we were friends for years before we were married. He’s my Hosea. That’s a book I recommend. It’s a very short story, H-O-S-E-A, and that’s like the story of my life. But he’s amazing. My faith plays a huge role in my healing. I’m a Christian, and so I find a lot of guidance in the Bible and in my relationships through church and through other people that have a common faith. But I also, I work with this incredible group of professionals today at Deliver Fund. And so I’m mentored by former Navy SEALs and para rescue men from the Air Force, people who have intelligence backgrounds from the CIA and the NSA, people who have achieved the highest level of success in their professional careers.

And they know a little bit about PTSD. And so it’s a very healthy environment and were able to support one another along our healing journey. But I also would be remiss if I didn’t mention the professionals who I’ve worked with. My licensed counselor is a huge part of the healing journey that I’ve been on. And she has, I mean, her resume is very impressive. She has a lot of experience dealing with helping people dealing with trauma, but she actually has a specialization specifically to help people who have been through abuse, child abuse, and human trafficking. So, she works with a lot of survivors and she’s helped me to understand the science of healing, the science of trauma. And she’s helped me to address the issues, the residual issues that trauma has left in my life so that I can live a healthy life today.

I also work with my family doctor, and she has an impressive background as well. I’m so blessed to have found these individuals and to be able to work with them on such a regular basis. And with her, I get vitamin therapy. She’s addressed a lot of the brain health issues, and she’s also a nutritionist, so she helped me to form a diet plan and just these people keep me accountable. I have an incredible mentor and she helps to remind me about the good things in life. And we also have some fun together. And so that’s important.

And I have a therapy dog. I have a really good German Shepherd, and he reminds me about my physical health. And so if he gets his, he needs to get his wiggles out, we might have to take a long walk or go to the park or throw the ball. And those might seem really common things to engage in for somebody who has had a different history and a different background than what I’ve experienced or somebody else who’s been through trafficking. But those things all work together and they become braided together to give me a network of support and a network of resiliency, and remind me about the hope within that’s pressing me forward and encouraging me to live that healthy life.

Jackie Colbeth: That’s great to hear, Sandy, because I have to imagine that a lot of people who’ve been victims of trafficking might even have a bit of a suspicion or maybe an apprehension about authority figures, maybe the medical community, maybe they had been ignored by them before. So, I’m wondering if that’s something that may be who’s recently or on their road to recovery from trafficking, if that’s something they might struggle with?

Sandy Storm: That’s a really great question, Jackie. I think that there is a lot of stigma around mental health, period. But when you’re talking about somebody who’s had complex trauma, who’s had ongoing trauma, and the trauma was caused by an authority figure, a trusted adult when they were a child or a significant other, somebody who they thought like I did, I thought these were my boyfriends. I thought these were people I was being loved by and they were exploiting me. And then there were actually people involved in law enforcement, there were people involved in the medical community. There were a lot of people involved in my exploitation. So, it was almost like I was living in another world. There was a secret handshake, there were deals done in back rooms, and I know that that is possible. I know that there is a network that’s existing just beyond just behind the scenes.

And that network helped to continue my exploitation. So, it’s been a big challenge to build trust. Trust is not something that’s easily come by for any of us, let alone somebody who’s had their trust exploited. But it’s very important for someone who’s had that complex trauma to be working in healthy relationships. And when I was given back the power of choice, and now in these relationships with my medical providers, everything’s my choice. I am not required to take my vitamins and to take my hormones every day. I’m not required to stick to my diet plan. I’m not required to stick to my exercise plan, but I know that if I want to stay within the circle of healthy living, that those things happen within the center of that circle and anything outside of it, while it might be permissible, it’s not necessarily beneficial to my life.

So, this year, for example, I quit drinking. I don’t think that drinking is bad. I know a lot of people who drink. I enjoy wine, but it’s just not helping me to reach the goals that I have right now. And so that’s something that I’ve decided to put on the back shelf, and my sleep has improved, my mental clarity has improved. And so for now, I’m going to commit to continuing that healthy practice. Now, that’s not to say that if I choose to have a glass of wine with my meal or toast champagne to celebrate something that now I’m a failure and now I have to start all over again.

I have the choice. And that power of choice is really key to having a healthy life. So, that’s what I want to concentrate on, the healthy decisions that I can make every day, the healthy relationships that I can engage with and the trust that I can build. And I have a, I’m blessed. I have a really great network. So, I know that not everybody has that same opportunity, but I want to encourage the listeners, I want to encourage your audience that there is a healthy life out there. And it’s not going to be easy. There are sacrifices to be made, but it’s worth it. It might not be easy, but it’s worth it.

Jackie Colbeth: And I applaud you for laying off drinking because, well, it’s difficult. I’ve gone 19 years personally without having to drink and I don’t-.

Sandy Storm: Congratulations.

Jackie Colbeth: Thank you. And I don’t say that to get any sort of pat in the back. I say that because I know when people ask me, well, why’d you do that? Why would you do that? And I said, and my answer always is similar to your Sandy, it’s that what fact it was not enhancing my life, honey. I think that’s really great that you have your health top of mind. I think we all know the bad things to do when it comes to numbing out or not wanting to deal with things. I find it interesting as a society that we all know what those are. I’m going to get screwed up this weekend. I’m going to get blacked out. All these different things are very common.

We see these all the time. And part of the reason I love hearing your story, and I’m so happy to introduce you to our audience, is you are living proof. I know we can’t touch you virtually, but you are living proof that people who go through trauma horrific events can thrive and live these wonderful lives. If I didn’t see someone living a wonderful life when I quit drinking, I would’ve walked right out of the room. But I think that it is so important, and I’m just so impressed on a personal level, how you were able to parlay that into creating a healthier life and healthier relationships. I don’t think that’s easy because a lot of us just weren’t born or learned the tools.

Sandy Storm: Well, thank you. And I’m pulling from your energy right now and your resilience right now. So, you’re encouraging me to do better and you’re encouraging me to pursue what I know the next right thing is. So, we all have choices every day unless we’re actively being trafficked. That’s the difference. A trafficking victim doesn’t have the agency of choice. They don’t have the ability to decide where they’re going to sleep, what they’re going to eat, what they’re going to wear, who they’re going to have sex with. And now I have that power of choice and sometimes it’s trial and error, but I’ve made a decision at this point in my life, at this point in my healing, I want to be healthy in every area. And that means even when I don’t feel like getting in my car and driving to see my mental healthcare provider for that weekly appointment, I know that it’s worth it.

I know that the outcome is going to be worth the stress of the traffic and sitting in that room for an hour and doing some of the hard work. And that happens, and it’s not always hard. Sometimes it feels like just a conversation with a friend, but sometimes we’re going through cognitive behavior therapy or sometimes we’re doing talk therapy and working through some of this trauma. Sometimes we’re addressing things like flashbacks and muscle and the science of trauma and how it’s affecting the brain. It’s not always fun or easy to go sit down with my physician and address my diet and address my exercise and address my blood work. But it’s worth it. And it’s certainly not easy to stay married for 19 years.

Jackie Colbeth: I don’t think it is.

Sandy Storm: But it’s worth it. And I mean, if you were interviewing my husband, he might tell a different story because he has to be married to somebody who’s had complex trauma and he doesn’t have the medical degree and the training to deal with that. And he has to rely on his own support network, and he has to rely on his own healthy practices to be part of a healthy marriage. But my goal more than to say, look at me. I’m healthy. If I did it, you can do it. My goal is to say there is a pathway for your life. There is a path to healing. There is a path to the goal that you have to be free from the unforgiveness, from the toxic sludge, from the childhood abuse, from the domestic violence. There is a path. And if I can just help to shine a light on that path and encourage someone to say, keep going, keep going. Don’t give up because it’s worth it. It’s worth it. It’s not going to be easy, but it will be worth it.

Jackie Colbeth: No, I can tell that is an absolute promise. So, I know that’s great for a lot of people to hear. Now, a lot of people, myself included, if I really wanted to follow a passion of mine, I think it would be a dream job to get even a volunteer gig at an animal rescue. But however, what I love is that you’ve been able to parlay your experience not into scooping dog poop, like you’re from your host here because it’s therapeutic. But you’ve been able to parlay all of your experience and literally channel that into what I would call paying it forward essentially, and your involvement.

And I’m hoping you can talk to us a little bit about Deliver Fund where you currently do a lot of work on their behalf. It’s not an organization I think would have name recognition, but it’s an organization that is doing, in my opinion, some of the hardest, most powerful work, if not the most, to fight and bring traffickers to justice. So, I’m hoping you can share a little bit about how you’ve been able to parlay your personal experience into an organization where you are literally changing lives and helping different law enforcement arrest traffickers and get them off the streets.

Sandy Storm: My career at Deliver Fund over the last three years has been absolutely life changing. I’m called Hire Every Day. I work with a group of elite professionals who have achieved the highest levels of success, whether in the service to the military within intelligence, community law enforcement, and what Deliver Fund is, we are a private nonprofit intelligence organization and we are solving the problem of human trafficking using technology and innovation. So, I am not the person in charge of our technology, thank God, we wouldn’t still be here. But what I do, my part of the team, because it is a team, it’s not just one person. Our founder is absolutely brilliant former para rescue men. He was one of the youngest leaders in the CIA, and they actually made a video about him on Vice TV called the Real Jack Ryan.

Jackie Colbeth: I saw that.

Sandy Storm: And he has this incredible background of Harvard education and all of this unique training with special operations. So, his concept of Deliver Fund was to take what he learned in the field when he was combating terrorism and then making a similar model that we can implement in small jurisdictions all across the United States and around the world to give law enforcement in local communities just like where you live and where I live, the tools that they don’t have access to so that they can combat human trafficking at scale. So, we go directly to law enforcement. We have a train equipped advise model. We bring them training, we provide them training. My portion of the training is this is what trafficking actually is. I know the secret handshakes, I know the backroom deals. I know what traffickers look like, where they hang out, how they present themselves and their methodology.

So, I can help to bring that understanding. And then we have this incredibly brilliant team that offers the technology solutions and the training on how to use those technology solutions so that when law enforcement is out in the field building a case against a trafficker, we train them to hunt, arrest and prosecute the traffickers. And right now as we set, we have a 100% prosecution rate. When law enforcement uses the Deliver Fund model and the Deliver Fund technology, the traffickers that they arrest go to prison. You cannot lie about data. We take the very tools that traffickers are using to exploit individuals and we teach law enforcement how to use those tools against the traffickers to hold them accountable for their crimes and put them behind bars where they belong. So, if I could say very rewarding work, very rewarding.

Jackie Colbeth: I’m sure that’s an understatement. And what I really want to drive home with this, because when it was put to me in this way, I found it well unbelievably terrifying, but also very hopeful that Deliver Fund exists is you Deliver Fund is basically using, and correct me if I’m wrong, the same technology or quite similar to trace these traffickers is you might have a CIA analyst and Baghdad tracing terrorists, which personally I think a trafficker is just a different form of terrorist than maybe [inaudible]-

Sandy Storm: That’s right.

Jackie Colbeth: In the Middle East. So, it makes sense that that technology would be deployed. But I think that also says a lot in really enlightens people that this is sophisticated. This isn’t some jamoke off the street saying, I want some harem of women and I’m going to woo them. These networks of traffickers know each other and their hierarchy is not so much set up like the mafia and the respect where they’re much harder, I would imagine to trace just by the nature, much like terrorists, there’s so many different groups or pods of these people. So, do you think that a lot of that technology employed at Deliver Fund would really can be credited with really hunting down these people no matter what platforms they’re advertising electronically on?

Sandy Storm: Yeah. And Jackie, I think it’s important for people to realize that in order to grow any business right now where the world is today, you have to be online. So, to kind of pull back the curtain on what trafficking actually is, it’s a business model. Traffickers don’t get involved in this crime because they have ideological reasons that they’re involved in this for money. They want to make money and they’re willing to exploit another person and turn them into a walking ATM machine, basically is what they’re doing. So, they’re going to use whatever tools a legitimate business owner would use to scale their business. That means advertising online. That means using technology to take payments. That means using technology to coordinate with their clientele. That means using technology to recruit new employees. And I use that term employees of course, with quotes around it because that’s not what somebody who’s working for a trafficker is.

They are a victim of a crime. But that’s where the brilliant minds at Deliver Fund are bringing the solution to the problem. We are using technology in the same way that technology is used before the crime happens involving terrorism because who cares what kind of intelligence and agency is gathering about terrorists if they already have blown up the building? You have to be proactive and you have to be working, as they say before the bang. So, what our team does at Deliver Fund is we don’t just offer that training, but we help law enforcement to use technology that they don’t have access to. They’re traditionally underfunded, understaffed, overworked, and they just don’t have the ability to utilize tools like the really well equipped departments of our government who do have those resources. Trafficking is happening in every community in the United States and big cities and small towns, and without the comprehensive tools like what we’re creating, it’s like the easy button for law enforcement.

When Deliver Fund works with our law enforcement partners, we’re offering them a suite of tools of solutions that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. And the brains behind it come from Sandia Labs. They come from the CIA, the NSA, former Navy SEALs, and they use all of their experience from the real world fighting crime, fighting criminals, fighting terrorism, and now instead, the target set that they’re focused on are the traffickers. We are working even with Interpol internationally, we have over 500 law enforcement jurisdictions that we have robust relationships with that we’re helping to develop those networks. We’re helping to develop that counter trafficking network so that the traffickers who are very savvy in their business dealings. And you mentioned even the mafia. Well, it is very similar to that kind of interaction amongst criminal networks and traffickers do work together. They do talk to each other.

They do follow each other on social media. They do share one another’s best practices just like anybody else in any other legitimate business would do. They even have conferences in conventions, they have journals and training materials that they develop to help each other to be successful in their pursuits. So, when you think about growing a business like you and I would want to do, because we want to change the world, we want to do something good. We want to leave the planet better than it is when we found it. And traffickers have a different motivation. Traffickers want to make as much money as they possibly can, high reward for as low of a risk as possible. That’s where Deliver Fund comes in. And we even out that playing field and we give law enforcement the skills and the training and the tools so that they can target those traffickers, build a successful case, raise the risk in the marketplace.

When you take a trafficker off of the streets, not only are their victims being recovered and given the opportunity to live a free life, but all of the victims that they were targeting and grooming, now they have an opportunity to live a free life as well. And when you raise the risk in the marketplace, their trafficker homies, their trafficker friends that are watching their business are going to say, this community is no longer safe for me to run my illicit marketplace. I’m going to go back to selling drugs or I’m going to go back to stealing cars. And law enforcement has a network. They’re trained, they have the tools to solve those types of crimes. And I don’t know about you, but I would much rather there was somebody in my community targeting a car to steal than my daughter. So, when Deliver Fund is successful, we will triple, quadruple 10 x a 100 x our relationships with law enforcement so that traffickers are no longer safe to do business in our communities are any longer.

Jackie Colbeth: Yeah, and I imagine that I actually, I cannot imagine what it must feel like as a victim to have the police bust in, take the perpetrator out of my sight away from me. That must be such a relief. But do you see any of the victims, I’m wondering if they almost have a Stockholm syndrome being brainwashed and manipulated for so long. I can’t imagine every single one of them goes. Okay, this is my big break. Thanks for showing up. What struggles do you think some people who are victims but might not be at the place where they have the courage to maybe completely walk away as of just yet?

Sandy Storm: That is a great question, Jackie. And I think that that’s important for your audience to know the truth about the complex trauma that’s involved being a victim of trafficking. The solution to freedom isn’t just being removed from the situation. There is ongoing mental health care that’s going to need to be addressed. There are underlying vulnerabilities that have been exploited, and those things need to be solved. So, just removing somebody from the situation doesn’t automatically give them freedom. Traffickers are master manipulators and traffickers use a lot of specialized skills to create trauma bonds and kind of the science behind a trauma bond, that what you said, Stockholm syndrome, that’s a really good comparison to what a trauma bond is. So, if you can imagine what happens to the body when there’s a trauma, if you’ve ever been in a car wreck or even a close call that your body kind of freezes up, you have a reaction that you can’t control, your heart starts to race, your hormones dump cortisol and adrenaline and epinephrine, and it starts racing through your bloodstream, and you can’t stop it from happening.

So, traffickers will use violence to create that reaction in the body. And then as soon as that reaction starts to happen, they partner that with, oh, I love you and I’m the only one who loves you, and I’m the only one who’s ever going to love you. And using all of that information that they’ve gathered to manipulate, to present themselves as somebody to be trusted. And so when that happens, if you’ve ever been in love, what that feels like too, there’s a rush of emotion. There’s all these happy chemicals flowing through your blood. There’s things like the happy hormones that start being produced. And so in your physical body, you have the cortisol, the trauma response, those chemicals that are being released in hormones that are being released during trauma. And then you have that partnered with the love hormones and the happy feeling chemicals being produced.

And when that happens together, it can create a physical reaction. And it’s called a trauma bond. And it’s almost like an addiction. And trafficking victims see that feeling, see that experience as love. They see that as safety. They see that as somebody they can trust. And after so many times of the brain going through this situation, there’s actually atrophy that can happen in parts of the brain because that cortisol release system is overloaded, it’s overworked. And so there are parts of the brain that are literally not able to differentiate between is this a safe person who really has my best interest in mind, or is this a dangerous criminal who is victimizing me and forcing me to do things that I would not do if I was in my right mind? So, somebody who’s being trafficked isn’t going to have the ability to remove themselves from that situation.

And if law enforcement removes them from that situation and they’re not given a support system, if they’re not provided with an outlet that can help them to get onto that pathway of healing and freedom, the recidivism rates are very high for trafficking victims. It’s kind of easier to go back to the devil that than to go into a world that’s really unfamiliar that you don’t have the skills and the tools to navigate. And so it’s important that’s part of our program at Deliver Fund is working with survivors to offer them that opportunity at building a new life, to offer them that some of the tools and some of the opportunities to make those new choices and to build something out of our lives where it’s not about our trafficking defining us any longer, but we help survivors to learn leadership development skills to pursue higher education.

We work with survivors who implement holistic wellbeing and healthy practices and provide those networks of healthy mentors and things like that so that survivors can have an opportunity at a new life. If you do think you’re being trafficked or that you’re in a situation that is exploitative, or if you think you’re observing a situation where somebody’s being trafficked or exploited for someone else’s financial gain, the number one way to address it, then the first thing that should be done is to call local law enforcement. Whatever community that you’re in, if it’s an emergency situation, immediately dial 911. Share as much information as possible about descriptions of the parties involved, any vehicles, license plate numbers, the color of the clothing that they’re wearing, height, weight, hair, color, all of those things are very important information in building a case. And once law enforcement has that, it could be the missing puzzle piece to solving a crime, to identifying a suspect and recovering a victim.

And if you think you are a victim of trafficking, you can call 911 as well, or you can call the non-emergency line if there’s just maybe a feeling, and we all have a knower, we all have a conscience, we all have that little thing inside that tickle or butterflies in our belly that tells us, hey, there’s this something that’s not right about this situation. That same method to call and report to the non-emergency number as much information as possible, that’s going to go into a case file. And it could be the missing link. It could be that additional piece of information that brings a trafficker to justice. So, local law enforcement, now, it’s important for people to also understand traffickers are often very violent. They’re often, unhinged is a good word to use to describe them. They have a reason to want to protect their moneymaker.

That is an investment that they’ve made. And they see this person that’s being exploited as, like I said earlier, a walking ATM machine, they’re a means to an end for that trafficker. And so it’s never a good idea to insert ourselves into a situation where we think somebody might be a trafficker or somebody might even be a trafficking victim because we don’t know where that trafficker is. We don’t know if they have people watching that victim, if they have people following that victim. And so it’s best to stay behind that safety of law enforcement and let law enforcement do their job and build that case. If we interfere with a case that’s being built, then things could go a different way. So, instead we provide the intelligence, we provide that information to law enforcement. Because only law enforcement can arrest a trafficker.

Only law enforcement can put a trafficker in jail where they belong. Only a trafficker can truly rescue a victim. Only a trafficker can provide that victim with the safety from that violent trafficker. So, it’s important that we work with our local law enforcement and that we give them the information that they need so that they can build that case and bring the trafficker to justice. And I think it’s important, like you said, to know that all trafficking doesn’t happen in the CD parts of town. There used to be this understanding that trafficking happened only overseas, only in Cambodia or in Thailand or in these really CD sections of the community where we know a lot of crime is happening. You can buy anything including a person. So, at Deliver Fund, we say we’re crushing evil, and that’s our tagline or our motto. So, what you’re going to see on the screen, this is actually, these are individuals who are actively being trafficked.

So, this is not happening in the back alleys. This is not just happening in the CD motel rooms. This is right out in public. Some of this footage was taken on a very well-known street in Houston, Texas, and it’s surrounded by restaurants and businesses that are doing reputable business that any normal person might go in or out of any of these businesses in the course of a day. But at night, the streets are very different. And this becomes basically a meat market for human beings to be bought and sold. So, traffickers know that if they bring their victims to a community like this to a place within the city where there’s a demand driven, then they can advertise their products. And I hate to use that terminology to reduce a human being into a product, but that’s how traffickers and the buyers see that person is as a product, as something to be used for their own pleasure or for their own financial gain.

And so it’s really difficult probably to reconcile that this is in an actual city within the United States, that there are people that are literally being advertised for sale. And really what might even be more disturbing is the fact that there’s just such a demand that there’s a long line of traffic of men who are willing to pay somebody who’s willing to do anything that they’re going to pay them for. And what those men that are driving that demand probably don’t understand is that’s most likely the victim of a manipulative trafficker who has exploited that individual who’s used threats or coercion or false promises. They’ve done something to convince that victim that what they’re engaging in is their own choice. So, these people are being marketed and sold right out in the open, and they’re being bought and negotiated over just like people would buy any other product.

So, somebody who’s in the outside who’s looking into that situation, some things to think about are what is the real relationship between these two individuals? Ask questions. If you have the opportunity to, how did you meet? What’s your background? Tell me a little bit about yourself. If you would have that kind of an opportunity to gather some of that information and to really learn how these people became connected. There might be some clues that things aren’t quite right. But I would say anytime there’s a young person, somebody who’s 12 to 17 years old, 18 years old, and they are with someone much older, someone who’s in their late twenties, thirties, forties, that’s a definite red flag. That’s something that should definitely be paid more attention to anybody who’s involved in the industry of commercial sexual exploitation. Those are vulnerabilities. There’s no safe place within that industry for somebody who’s got a vulnerability.

And unfortunately, all of us have some kind of a vulnerability. Either we’ve had a history of abuse, we’ve been neglected, we’ve dealt with poverty, we’ve dealt with our own personal insecurities, and that industry just knows how to lock into those insecurities and exploit them. And there’s a lot of people involved in making money off of a person who’s trying their best to navigate that world. And unfortunately, within our society, the people who are often targeted might be referred to as barely legal or amateurs or things like that. And since that’s the market, since that’s what’s being demanded, the traffickers are going to try to find individuals that fit that demand and then groom them into situations where it seems like they’re voluntarily participating in these commercial industries where they’re be actually being exploited.

Jackie Colbeth: Yeah, it’s terrifying, but we’re stigma busters on this show, and I just really thought it would be important to highlight this isn’t one fraction of society, and sometimes different classes and different arenas might have a shinier veneer, but just as depraved things go on or can go on with all people. I’m wondering how much time do these creeps get when they’re arrested and convicted? I mean, I would just love to know, are the penalties decades or are they unfortunately paroled? I have to imagine it’s probably a federal crime. But I’m wondering, once you get these guys, how long do we get to see them behind bars?

Sandy Storm: If I could just encourage your audience to make sure that they’re voting for the political leaders within their community who want to prioritize human trafficking penalties and they want to fund the work to fight human trafficking within the community. It’s not just a political action item that they’re using to get elected, but they’re actually adding it to the budget. When we give law enforcement the tools that they need so that they can actually fight the crime and they can build a case, then I’ve seen traffickers receive upwards of 40 years in prison and even life in prison for violating a child. But what we see is in direct correlation to the crimes that they’ve committed and whatever, law enforcement can build the case against them. So, a trafficker, it might be more difficult for law enforcement because they don’t have the training and tools like what we’re providing to build that trafficking case, but maybe they’re also committing fraud or money laundering or another illicit crime.

And so that might be what they’re actually prosecuted for. I see that as a win because anytime we take a trafficker off the street, we’d shut down that storefront. Their victims have the opportunity to live a life of freedom. And I find it very cathartic because none of my traffickers were held accountable for what they did to me. So, every time Deliver Fund gets to celebrate a victory of a prosecution, of a trafficker, I celebrate too. But I’ve seen everything from five years to, like I said, upwards of 40 years. I still don’t think it’s long enough. I think that somebody who would enslave another human being for their own financial benefit should spend the rest of their human life behind bars. And if there’s a pathway of forgiveness and they have an opportunity for repentance that can happen from behind the jail cell.

So, we have a lot of work to do within what I refer to as the justice movement. We have a lot of education to offer to the community so that we can holistically address this issue. We can take a 360 degree look at how to solve the problem of human trafficking. Deliver Fund is doing as much as we can to educate the community to equip law enforcement and train law enforcement to build these cases and take them to court and prosecute these cases. But it’s the responsibility of the entire community to make sure that our cities, that our towns, that the villages and the neighborhoods that we live in are not friendly for traffickers. That they are not a place where a trafficker can make money selling a human being. So, when we do that, we’re going to raise the risk in the marketplace, and we’re going to make our communities unfriendly to traffickers when we let them know that that does not happen here.

We’re not going to allow it here. We’re going to educate our children. We’re going to teach them about resiliency. We’re going to teach them to have self-esteem. We’re going to let our children know that they have a safety net. They have a team of people who are cheering them on who they can talk to about anything. And that way, if a trafficker does try to sneak into their DMs or try to use technology to target one of our children, our children are going to know I have a safe person that I can talk to about this very uncomfortable conversation that somebody’s trying to engage me in.

I have somebody that I can talk to about this creep who’s on my DMs, asking me to send inappropriate photos to them. And when we have these difficult conversations with our kids, and I would encourage your audience to go to Deliver Funds website and on our blog at deliverfund.org, we have some really great tools for parents so that they can have these safe conversations, age appropriate conversations with their children to offer them a safety net, to offer them a way out of those dangerous situations. So, we shut down the traffickers and they don’t have access to the most vulnerable people in our world. But at the end of the day, if I can offer hope, yes, if I can let people know that even if they’ve experienced, even if that evil of trafficking has touched their lives or any kind of evil of rape or abuse or neglect, any of those things has affected them. There is hope for a new life. There is hope to live a healthy life.

Jackie Colbeth: And Sandy, you literally stole my famous last question on this. It was kind of perfect though. What we love to end every episode with, because we’re all about the lived experience here. If there is anybody watching this who either suspects they might be in an untenable situation or they might be struggling and they know that they’re being commoditized in trafficked or even to the loved ones who might know someone or suspect someone, what advice would you give our audience for those of them that are struggling right now with this subject?

Sandy Storm: If I was able to just speak to one person who thinks that they are in a situation that might be exploitative or who has a loved one, that they’re in fear that that person is at risk, or that they’re actually right now being exploited, I would just want to let them know that they can hold onto hope. There are tools out there. There are resources out there to find that pathway out of the situation. There are people who want to help. There are safe people in the world, and it might be trial and error, it might not be easy, but once they focus on hope and once they decide that they are going to no matter what, live a life of freedom and a healthy life, there’s no limits. I’ve written three books now.

I have an incredible career with this amazing organization. I have the most awesome husband on the face of the planet, my family, my friends, the people that I get to network with every day. This is like a dream come true to me. And if it can happen for me, it can happen for you. If it could happen for somebody who’s been through this unspeakable evil, like what I’ve experienced, anybody can build a life of freedom. Anybody can build a new life. And it starts right now. It starts today. One choice can lead to another, can lead to another, can lead to another, and hold on to hope, because sometimes in the deepest darkness, that’s all you have.

Jackie Colbeth: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Well, Sandy, I can’t thank you enough. This is a subject admittedly hard, very hard to digest, exceedingly hard to read about and painful at times to just hear what some humans have to endure. And what I love most about you as a person is you embody resiliency. You embody hope. You have a smile on your face, you pay it forward. And I was so excited to have you on because I do really showcase you, if you will, is someone where anybody whose mid-struggle can look at and say, wow, there’s this awesome, productive, beautiful life to be had on the other side. And there is no more perfect person to have shared with us today about that. I thank you sincerely.

Sandy Storm: Thank you. And God has a plan for each and every one of us. And while he might not plan for us to go through the evil, that’s not part of his plan, his plan is on the other side of that. And I know that if it could happen for me, I’m not a perfect person, but he’s helped me to pick up all those broken pieces and build a beautiful life today.

Jackie Colbeth: I don’t think we meet too many people who have lived two totally different lives, but in just one lifetime. There’s a special quality to these people because if anything, I can understand. If the demons get the best of most sex trafficking victims, it is that heinous of a crime, but not Sandy. Her ability to parlay her painful experience as a victim into helping so many other victims become survivors and bring traffickers to justice is truly amazing. My largest takeaway is just how insidious the nature of these traffickers are, who have their victims believing that they’re not victims at all. They don’t self-identify. These traffickers run their operations like any other large business. They are selling a product for top dollar and the currency are the victims. This also does not take place in some far off land that we’ve never heard of. It’s in every community and it’s advertised on the internet all day, every day during the B-roll footage, you can see how these victims were walking up and down a busy street in middle America that we can probably all recognize.

So, this is most definitely not a foreign problem. It’s difficult to bring these traffickers to justice for so many different reasons. So, it’s good to know that organizations like Deliver Fund can lend their EX-CIA analyst skills, so local law enforcement can help put traffickers in prison. One trafficker at a time. I really hope you enjoyed the conversation. If you visit medcircle.com, you can access tons of other conversations, including weekly workshops with our credentialed doctors and an award-winning video library featuring almost 1000 educational videos. Become a Member and join our community today. To learn more, visit medcircle.com. Thank you for listening to It’s All In Your Head, and we’ll chat next week.

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Disclaimer: This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your healthcare provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or lifestyle choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

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