WESTERN MONTANA — MTN News has been covering the rising issue of human trafficking.
We have heard from law enforcement on how exactly this happens — with force, fraud and corrosion at the center of it all. We have also covered the LifeGuard Group’s efforts to provide a safe place for women who get out. We hear next from a survivor.
Britney is a survivor of human trafficking. Her journey started here in Missoula and after 8½ years it ended with her trafficker behind bars. But her story is real, raw and emotional.
In 2010, at 19 years old, Britney met a 28-year-old man who would later become her trafficker. But as all human trafficking cases do, it started as a relationship — and later became an emotional connection with manipulation at the center of it all.
“At that point, I was super low, depressed, I didn't feel I was supported by anyone in my life. I didn't want to be here anymore," Britney told MTN News.
Vulnerability — "I didn't want to let anybody close, even my family,” said Britney.
Isolation. As Missoula Police Detective Guy Baker recently explained, these factors, including manipulation, are at the center of human trafficking. That was especially true for survivor Britney, whose trafficker found her at her lowest.
“He learned quickly that I was not the physical type," said Britney. "That's not what would get me. It was the emotional connection.”
That emotional connection soon became attachment and that attachment was still strong when Britney's trafficker went to prison for promoting prostitution.
“He told me that he didn't do it, ‘they’re lying,'" Britney told MTN News. "And just told me that to believe him and so being 19 and getting the attention. I was naive and I fell for it.”
But her story doesn't end there; it was just beginning. Her trafficker introduced the idea of 'escorting' or going on 'dates' with other men to Britney while she was visiting him behind bars.
“He always said ‘if you love me, you'll do this'," said Britney. "When I tried to leave he'd say that he'd kill my dad, my brother, and my niece so I stayed because in my head I had to protect them.”
Britney's trafficker couldn't control her with a physical relationship but found another way. He had connections — friends and family — scaring her into engaging with his criminal enterprise.
“I didn't know what car he was driving," Britney told MTN News. "But like I said before, he knew the physical wouldn't do anything. He tried physical when we first met, but it didn't work. It was always a mental thing for me. That's how he tore me down.”
Britney’s trafficker got the attention of the FBI after a series of arrests and releases. This would be a game-changer in Britney’s story, as she credits their involvement to saving her life.
“I can tell you right now, I'm very glad they did," said Britney. "There's two very important detectives that saved my life because if they wouldn't have I don't think I'd be here today. I felt that if someone didn't get involved, that I would just rather die than be here. That was the only way I could get out.”
For Britney, her story ends with her trafficker behind bars. But her life is just beginning again, as she picks up the pieces. Part of this means sharing her story so that no other woman goes through what she did.