This weekend, Tulsans will join hundreds of people worldwide in taking a stand against human trafficking by participating in a Walk For Freedom sponsored by A21. It will be held at 8 a.m. on Saturday at Guthrie Green.
Local advocates say they choose to walk because the Tulsa Police Department says it worked 139 human trafficking cases in the city of Tulsa in 2019. Sarah-Jane Vegas is a human trafficking survivor who says when people stand together, change can happen.
Human trafficking presents itself in many forms. It does not always look like a man shoving a girl into a white van and driving away. Human trafficking can show itself in the forms of domestic abuse, trauma and manipulation by people close to you.
Leslie Clingenpeel with The Spring shelter told News On 6 that the most common form of trafficking in Oklahoma involves family members.
"I think a common myth we hear is someone has to be physically transported or moved to be trafficked and that is not the case,” Clingenpeel said.
Vegas said her human trafficking timeline began because she was vulnerable and easy to exploit. She said she suffered severe trauma at an early age including almost being killed when she was five years old. Vegas said when she was 14 she got involved in a relationship with a man who abused her. Over the next five years, she would be misled by several people in her life who said they were going to care for her. Instead, at various points, she would be drugged, sexually abused, starved, locked inside a house, and forced to strip four days a week in a strip club while living in France.
"I was locked in a room, drugged up, sexually abused, and betrayed by people I thought were there to protect me but in reality, they were just getting ready to sell me,” Vegas said.
Vegas says she barely escaped when she was nineteen years old.
"I ran for my life,” Vegas said. “I was able to open the door, run naked with only the underwear they put on me, ran for my life. I stopped in front of a bakery and fell on the floor traumatized and scared to death.”
Vegas said she woke up in the hospital and due to the mental nature of her trauma, she said she was afraid she would be sent back to the house she escaped. She said she was also worried her abusers would find her family and hurt them because she was always told if she ever spoke to anyone, there would be consequences.
“I heard about a girl who was thrown out of a fifth-story window because she tried to use a phone. They made it look like a suicide, but she was being punished,” Vegas said.
Vegas said she tried to commit suicide while she was in the hospital, but said thankfully the doctors saved her just in time. She told News On 6 that she moved in with her mom who was able to provide the help and love she needed. She said she found healing through her family and her faith. This was 13 years ago. A few years later, Sarah-Jane Vegas said moved to the United States to help others.
“Nine years ago I moved to Las Vegas with two suitcases, not speaking a word of English, and no money, just a dream and vision to say I was lucky to escape. I survived something horrific and I’m lucky because most of the girls don’t survive it.”
Over the past decade, she has lead the "Stand 4 Justice Movement" to help victims around the world and here in Oklahoma. She said she wasn’t sure what the trafficking situation looked like in Oklahoma but said it’s one of the worst states she has seen.
Clingenpeel told News On 6 that there is a human trafficking epidemic in Oklahoma.
"Promise something like a better life, love, marriage, good job and once they go with that person that has groomed them, they are forced into the sex trade, that is what we see in Oklahoma for human trafficking,”
Vegas said she want events like the 'Walk For Freedom' to give victims hope.
"So, that is what we stand for, justice for them, we stand for them to know that we are here, they deserve to be loved, they deserve freedom no matter what they have done or has been done to them. There is always hope for the future and I am an example of it.”
If you need help or resources to escape a harmful situation, you can call the national help hotline at 373-888-7888.
You can also call The Spring hotline at 918-245-4075 to be connected with someone who will help.
Click Here to visit the Stand 4 Justice Movement’s website to learn how you can help or find them on social media at Stand4JusticeMovement.
Both organizations are always looking for donations and volunteers if you are able to help.