NEW HAVEN, Ind (WLFI) – Nearly 40 years ago Rhonda Patterson was trafficked, but didn’t even know what trafficking was until decades later. Now, she is dedicating her life to helping other survivors of the crime in Northeast Indiana, around the country and all over the world.
“We’ve worked with families here in the Fort Wayne area whose children are being trafficked as we speak,” Patterson said.
Patterson uses a traveling shop, filled with hand crafted accessories, as a platform for change. Her organization is called Unslaved. The items are either free trade items or made by survivors of human trafficking.
Survivors like herself.
As a young girl, Patterson’s babysitters would have men pay to come over and sexually molest Patterson and some of her siblings.
“Babysitters, like in my case, have full access to you,” Patterson said. “They’re trustworthy, and they were gaining financially by exploiting us.”
Patterson’s experience happened while she was growing up in Decatur. It wasn’t until later in life she realized what had happened to her was more than she thought.
“So basically the difference between rape, molestation and human trafficking is the financial gain,” Patterson said. “Money exchanging hands.”
Besides her store, Patterson also tours the country speaking to the public about human trafficking.
“It’s amazing going to schools and seeing how many young kids come down after I’m done speaking, tell me their story that they are either being trafficked now or they have been,” Patterson said.
Her work is what turned Patterson into the survivor she is now.
“I will never let anyone have control over my life again like those babysitters did,” Patterson said. “I won’t give them that power, so I took my power back.”
Patterson will be at this weekend’s Canal Days in New Haven. She has a store front at the Glenbrook Square Mall. It’s closed right now, but will reopen in September. For more on Unslaved click here.