FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Why did you keep letting it happen? Why didn’t you just leave? Why didn’t you call the police? All questions survivors of human trafficking are asked all too often. But for someone who got caught in modern-day slavery, the answers are not so simple.
“No one has ever said they would beat you or your family if you say it’s easy to just run away,” an undercover Fort Wayne FBI agent who specialized in sex trafficking cases said. “These girls have been erased. The part of their brain that says, ‘this isn’t right’, doesn’t control the part that says, ‘I need help.'”
It’s a paralyzing place K.D. Roche knows all too well.
“There was a relationship that was developed before this stuff every started happening. There’s a fear. There’s, ‘I know this isn’t right. I know something is wrong, but I don’t know what to do or what to say.’ So I was just silent. I think that’s a pretty standard response, to just be frozen,” she said.
“It was just horrific. I didn’t have a choice over what was happening. I experienced the same thing every day and got desensitized to what was going on.” K.D. Roche, Survivor
Standing in front of a giant white board, marker in hand, K.D. Roche goes over the marketing strategy for a small coffee shop. Her budding business, Dewitt Consulting, provides lead generations for other small businesses. K.D. got the idea while working in insurance sales.
“I could make 300 calls in a day and I thought, ‘Who wants to cold call the rest of their life? Not me,'” she said.
She started hiring contractors to narrow her leads.
“Instead of me getting 1,000 random leads, I’d get 20 that were really good,” she said. “It took me way less time and I got more money and I thought, ‘I love small business people and all my small business people have the same problem.'”
Working on building her business is almost surreal.
“It feels really good. My dream as a kid or anybody was to be successful, but I’ve never seen it in the sense of money. It’s always been in a sense of freedom and doing what I love,” K.D. said with a smile.
There was a time, thought, that seeing herself as a successful businesswoman was an impossibility.
“There were some really dark times in my life. One when I was experiencing hell on Earth,” she said.
K.D.’s parents split up when she was young and her mom moved her from Oregon to Colorado. In the summers and winter break, she’d go back to Oregon to visit her dad’s side of the family. On the first summer visit, her world changed forever. She was only seven years old.
“During that time I started being molested and sexually abused by a family member,” she said.
“His hands invade my body, but his actions trespass my soul.” – K.D. Roche, Survivor
The next summer, now eight years old, more family members got involved. K.D.’s uncle had recruited her cousin to help him. Her cousin, who was her same age, became her trafficker.
“It started with exploitation online. This was 12 years ago and chat rooms were the thing, so basically he would present me in chat rooms, having me type or he’d type pretending to me. People would ask for specific things,” she said. “They realized they could get more out of this and so that just evolved into selling sex.”
Her uncle and cousin brought her along as they traveled the state going to rodeos, trafficking her out of a trailer.
“At the time, I didn’t know what it was and it didn’t’ matter. It was just horrific. I didn’t have a choice over what was happening. I experienced the same thing every day and got desensitized to what was going on,” K.D. said.
The abuse continued for eight years. She turned to drugs and alcohol to cope and practically stopped eating.
“There was a part of me that just wanted to die. Maybe I didn’t want to kill myself, but I thought it would be better to waste away,” she said.
One day, from lack of nutrition, K.D. passed out at school. Her teachers called CPS and K.D. was placed in a treatment facility. While she had a long road of recovery ahead of her, she was out of her nightmare.
It can seem like it would have been easy for K.D. to just not got back to her uncle’s house. But, it’s not that simple.
“I had experienced rape before and tried to tell somebody and that was downplayed and as a child that made me afraid to ever speak up again,” she said. “Fear encompasses so much of it. Things that were said to me, ‘if you don’t do what we say we’re going to go after someone you care about. Go after your younger sister.’ That fear is I don’t want that to happen so I’ll keep doing what they’re asking of me. The longer it went on the more intense the fear was and the stronger the psychological chains were.”
Now K.D. shares her story, speaking at conferences across the state, to help educate the public about the problem of sex trafficking and to show girls trapped in the sex trade that there is hope. Most recently she was at a human trafficking seminar put on by the Northeast Indiana Anti-Trafficking Network at the Victory Noll center in Huntington. The network will have its next community education night February 22 in Fort Wayne.
“I don’t see myself as a victim anymore. In fact, I don’t like to look at myself as a victim. I was victimized. I’m not a victim. To this day, I’m not going to let what happened to me drag me down the rest of my life. I want to be happy. And I want to be successful and I want to show people there’s life after trauma. Because you’re stuck in your situation for a period of time doesn’t mean you have to be stuck in it forever,” she said.
Her message to someone being trafficked now is to try to find the courage to reach out.
“You’re worth it. There are people who are fighting for you. There are people who are out there and try to reach out. That can be risky and can be really difficult but there’s always a way. look for that way and take the risk,” she said.
K.D. also has a four-year-old daughter and being Mom is her favorite job. She hopes to eventually get her business going well enough she can open a school for women in poverty or who have experienced trauma.
“Not just for degrees, but vocational too. If you could do anything, what would it be and then I want to help her get there,” K.D. said with a sparkle in her eye.
Traffickers: Master Manipulators
Sex trafficking is extremely psychologically damaging.
“It’s a game changer. It reworks our brain system, not just physiologically but psychologically as well,” Dr. Robyn Eubank, the Director of Psychological Services at the Youth Opportunity Center in Delaware County, said. “It changes their world, their belief system, their value system. They’re supposed to trust adults to keep them safe. It changes their thinking and they learn you can’t trust other people and the ones who love you the most are the ones who hurt you the most.”
Traffickers are master manipulators and gain an incredible mental hold over their victims.
“Some have even referred to them as the best psychologists because they use theoretical principles we use in psychology to entice these individuals and gain their trust and build a relationship,” Eubank said.
Complex trauma bonding is when victims develop an unhealthy relationship with their abuser.
“The abuser will sometimes be nice and it feels so good to them and they’re excited. But, then sometimes it will be not so nice and that’s what we call intermittent reinforcement, like a slot machine, if you will, and we know that’s the most addictive type of reinforcement,” Dr. Eubank explained.
Pimp arrested in Fort Wayne
A sex trafficking sting in Fort Wayne on February 3, 2017 shows the fears and threats of the sex trade firsthand. Fort Wayne police arrested Shon Earls for promoting prostitution and carrying a handgun without a license and Amber Brooking for counterfeiting and possession of methamphetamine.
According to court documents, detectives found an ad for potential prostitution activity on the website Backpage. The ad, listed as “Kelly killing it 60” had another Backpage ad linked to it called “Ivory is looking for you.” Through texting, the officer arranged a meeting with Kelly at a Fort Wayne motel at 12:30 p.m. for $160 for an hour of her time.
When the officer arrived at the motel, he noticed two men and a female who looked like “Ivory” from the Internet ad leaving and get into a car. The detective knows from investigating previous cases that it is common for prostitutes to use the same hotel room and leave when one had a client, the court records show.
The probable cause continues to say that once the detective secured the “proposition of sexual favors for money” from “Kelly,” backup detectives came into the room. The vehicle the other three people were in was also pulled over.
Amber Brooking was driving the vehicle and Shon Earls and Michael Earls were also in it.
“Kelly” told officers that she had just met Shon Earls a week earlier on Facebook and that he asked her to work for him through Backpage. She said they came to Fort Wayne to prostitute, according to court documents.
“Kelly” also told the detectives that she had to give Earls half of whatever she earned and that he had “slapped her in the mouth” once after a client didn’t have any money. She said that she told Earls that she wanted to go home to Indianapolis but he got mad and told her she couldn’t leave and that if she did or if she told anyone about what was going on, he’d kill her, the probable cause said.
When officers searched Brooking’s purse, they found $22,550 in counterfeit money and a plastic bag with 3.1 grams of methamphetamine, documents show. Brooking admitted to police that both the fake money and drugs were hers.
Earls also has a warrant from October 2016 in Pennsylvania for promoting prostitution.