AUSTIN, Texas — According to reports released by the UN, experts worry that human trafficking and commercial sex exploitation are on the rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They say the pandemic is exacerbating the social and economic conditions that are the root causes of trafficking, and could make victims or potential victims more vulnerable to predators and traffickers.
One survivor of human trafficking and commercial sex exploitation says how important it is to provide victims with meaningful support and resources, especially during these times.
“I never thought that I would be here ever," says Allison Franklin.
She works as the CARES program director for the SAFE Alliance in Austin, a nonprofit that provides comprehensive services for survivors of abuse. It’s a cause that’s personal for her.
“I experienced severe childhood sexual abuse as a young kid, beginning at age three," says Franklin. "It launched me on a journey of self destruction that would span over 34 years.”
She ran away from home when she was 11 or 12, and on the streets of Houston she says she was quickly targeted by predators.
“I thought I was destined to die out there," says Franklin. "Gang members would be ordered to kidnap me, rape me, force me to prostitute, beat me. I would run, they would find me, and it was a process just over and over.”
She spent over 10 years behind bars and has eight felonies, nearly all of which she says happened under the oppression of her trafficker.
“The unbelievable part for me is that I was never identified, I was never recovered, I was never rescued or extracted from those situations," says Franklin. "This is what happens when we don't have a public health approach.”
Her own journey is why she’s dedicated her life to making sure survivors like her get the help they need.
“I fought tooth and nail to be the woman that I am today," says Franklin. "Realizing that that story had a power right to be transformative, not just for other individuals such as myself but people that do this work right there, there needs to be a face of hope.”
Now she worries the pandemic is worsening the problem she’s trying to fight.
“Anything that adds to increased vulnerabilities, traffickers and exploiters and predators are going to maximize on that, right, that's what they do, they prey on the weak," says Franklin.
“We’ve seen a 20% increase in calls to our safe line between April and August of this year, and three quarters of those calls have been around domestic violence," says Sandra Molinari, SAFE Alliance Communications Director.
In light of the pandemic, Franklin says she's more driven than ever to advocate for survivors like herself.
“Even in all those services and all those experiences... I never saw someone like me," says Franklin. "Hopefully they see that they're worthy of change.”