Human trafficking victims work to start a new life through nonprofit organization

Human trafficking victims work to start a new life through nonprofit organization

Human trafficking victims work to start a new life through nonprofit organization

Four human trafficking victims are trying to start a new life after they were recovered during an undercover police operation in St. Paul.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension arrested 11 suspects last week, who are now facing felony charges.

RELATED: 4 trafficking victims recovered, 11 people arrested following undercover operation

Jennifer Gaines, a human trafficking survivor, explained she was stuck in a similar situation over a decade ago.

For 28 years, Gaines was trapped in the shadows of human trafficking starting at 14 years old.

“It still hurts. It hurts bad,” Gaines said. “Traffickers love to go after children because children can be programmed. They’re curious. They want to know about things and they’re vulnerable.”

Gaines explained that vulnerability led to a life of exploitation.

“My trafficker was making me feel all grown up and like I didn’t have to listen to my parents anymore,” she said. “I felt completely hopeless. I felt like there was no way out. I wanted to get out but didn’t know how and didn’t think it was possible for me.”

It’s happening daily right here in Minnesota.

Last week, an undercover operation in St. Paul put 11 alleged traffickers in jail.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension recovered four victims.

“That makes me happy, but also I know that it’s a long road ahead of them,” Gaines said.

Breaking Free, a victim advocate organization, was there to help.

“This is just a horrible, horrible tragedy for everyone involved,” Lori Quist, Breaking Free executive director, said.

The nonprofit helps trafficking survivors with resources to start a new life.

Quist said oftentimes, victims are battling mental health disorders and drug addiction when they’re recovered.

“It’s very traumatic work,” she said. “But then when somebody is moved into a better place and we’re allowed to walk alongside them, the feeling is wonderful.”

Gaines went through the Breaking Free program back in 2012.

“They have to see somebody that’s gotten out of the life to know that ‘Well, I can do it too’ because that’s what it took for me,” Gaines said.

Now, she has her own nonprofit organization, Affective Sober Living, to help survivors see there’s hope on the other side.

“It’s hard work, but it’s worth it,” she said.

Gaines has been out of that life for 12 years now.

Advocates stressed that human trafficking can happen to anyone anywhere and it’s important to educate your children to keep them safe.

To report a suspected trafficking situation in Minnesota, call the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension at 1-877-996-6222 or email, or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, send the text HELP to 233733.