Lee Ann Campbell was just 6 years old when she became a victim of sexual abuse.
“My trafficker didn’t come as a stranger,” the 39-year-old Toledo resident said.
She told her story during the “A Night for Freedom” forum at the Maumee Indoor Theater on Tuesday night, attended by 140 people.
Ms. Campbell said her stepfather sexually abused her while her mother took pictures. They would reward her with a few dollars or buy her toys.
“Everything I had and everything I wanted was ripped away,” she said.
Her stepfather died when she was 15. She soon began promoting herself and, by 17, she had her first pimp and was a full-time prostitute.
Ms. Campbell said she didn’t know how to be any other way, or that there were other options.
“I didn’t have a choice,” she said. “That was just who I was going to become.”
The forum sought to bring awareness to the issue of human trafficking. The Rev. Steve Feazel, a retired minister of the Church of the Nazarene, is working to produce a film called Shadow on the Heartland, a documentary of sex trafficking in Ohio. A short clip played during the event confirmed the FBI considers northern Ohio, including the Toledo area, one of the top sex-trafficking recruiting areas.
The U.S. House on Tuesday easily passed a package of bills aimed at stemming human trafficking. The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act would encourage states to offer victims social and protective services, rather than prosecution, and provide job opportunities through the U.S. Job Corps program.
The measure seeks to shut down online sexual service advertisements by amending U.S. laws in a way that does not run afoul of First Amendment protections for speech.
Tuesday’s keynote speaker, Celia Williamson, a professor of social work at the University of Toledo, said more than 1,000 children are victims of sex trafficking each year in Ohio.
“This is the social justice and human rights issue of our lifetime right now,” Ms. Williamson said. “This is it.”
Quoting a trafficker, she said young girls are especially vulnerable. “ ‘With the young girls, you promise them heaven, they’ll follow you to hell,’ ” she said.
Ms. Campbell said no one noticed her plight or spoke up for her when she was a child. By 31 years old, she had five children and was addicted to crack cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. She spent 16 years as a prostitute before getting help to get out.
“I did a lot of things in my 26 years of hell,” Ms. Campbell said. “It’s given me the power and the ability to stand next to these women today.”
Ms. Campbell founded Rahab’s Heart, a nonprofit organization in North Toledo dedicated to help women trapped in the sex trade.
Mr. Feazel is raising money to produce the documentary. He plans to distribute the film in all Ohio schools, and those wishing to buy it will be able to purchase it for the cost of making a copy.
He said six PBS stations throughout Ohio have expressed interest in viewing the completed film with an eye toward airing it on their stations.
To see a clip from the film and for information about donating toward its production, visit shadowontheheartland.com.