Human trafficking survivor speaks out about her experience, aims to bring hope to the hopeless

Posted at 7:28 PM, Jan 12, 2017

It's often called the biggest industry you've never heard of - and it may be happening in your city, your own neighborhood, maybe even on your own block.

Human trafficking claims 20 million victims worldwide, including thousands right here in Palm Beach County.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, a time where activists nationwide are trying to bring attention to an industry that generates $150 billion dollars.

Brenda Smith says she was just a teenager when she fell victim to a trafficking operation.

She's never really told her story - until now.

“It was like drudgery,” she says. “Every day was just like another nightmare.”

Smith was only 18 years old when a simple lunch date cost her her freedom.

“He took me several counties away...and let me know what was going to happen.”

Brenda,  now away from her home and her family, was a victim of human trafficking.

An endless cycle she was trapped in for nearly two years.

Brenda says the trafficker exploited her past - and her personal weaknesses - to make her feel helpless.

“I just wanted to always numb that pain. Because I really didn't feel alive,” Smith says.

Brenda was able to finally escape after her multiple tries.

From victim to survivor, she now works for Hepzibah House in Boynton Beach.

The organization works to help those with stories just like Brenda's.

Founder Becky Dymond says Brenda's case, though decades ago, is not uncommon today.

“You live in Palm Beach County, you probably live within 10 miles of a modern day slave,” Dymond says.

Some are stopping at nothing to get new victims.

“In Palm Beach County, traffickers are paying finders fees to kids, middle school kids, to turn their friends on to them,” she says.

Becky says most human trafficking cases are cracked by everyday, curious bystanders.

“Regular mortals like you and me going ‘That looks weird’.”

It's a quick decision that could restore hope.

Hope is what Brenda holds on to now.

Now with a family and a life of her own, she passes that message on to the survivors she works with.

“There is hope,” she says. “Where there seems to be no way, there is a way. Freedom is worth fighting for.”

If you want to report a tip or request services, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888, or visit here.

For more information on Hepzibah House, visit here.