Virginia Woman Shares Story of Recovery from Child Sex Trafficking

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 The Virginia Free Citizen is publishing a human trafficking series featuring the stories of trafficking survivors who advocate for the victims of modern-day slavery. Elisabeth Corey tells her story of recovery from family-controlled child sex trafficking.  Please click here to learn more about human trafficking in Virginia and how you can join the fight to end slavery.

Elisabeth Corey survived child sex trafficking and abuse at the hands of multiple family members. She shares her story of trauma and recovery on her blog “Trafficked: A Survivor’s Story About Beating Childhood Trauma.”

Trafficking survivor Elisabeth Corey raises her voice in the fight against modern-day slavery by sharing her story of recovery online.

Trafficking survivor Elisabeth Corey raises her voice in the fight against modern-day slavery by sharing her story of recovery online.

Corey said she experienced memory repression and, for much of her adult life, had no recollection of being abused or trafficked.

“I was 38 before I remembered any of my abuse, any of it,” she said. “And it was still another year or two after that before I remembered being sold.”

Corey said she experienced debilitating anxiety after her children were born seven years ago. She began seeing a therapist when her children were three months old and after two to three years of intensive therapy, she began to recover memories of the trauma she experienced as a child. Corey has met with the same therapist for the last seven years and said they now meet on a biweekly basis.

Corey said having children triggered an emotional response based on the trauma during her childhood.

“If I had not had children, I may have lived my entire life without remembering and addressing the trauma that I experienced,” she said.

Corey said she started to experience extreme anxiety and strange body manifestations, including chronic pain, in her late teenage years. She added that she was in and out of therapists’ offices throughout her 20s, but did not have the clarity yet to understand the source of her emotional and physical pain.

“I think I spent most of my (adult) life with a sense that something was wrong,” she said. “I was living in this trauma, but I wasn’t actually allowing myself to remember it.”

According to Corey, some of the details of her childhood trauma are unclear because of the memory repression she has experienced. She does not know when she was first trafficked or when the trafficking stopped but said she believes she experienced trafficking around the ages of seven to nine.

Corey said she was sold by both her father and grandfather and added that her father used gang contacts to traffic her. She pointed out that gang trafficking is not a new trend.

Her father, who once sold her to a bachelor party, used a female pimp who owned a brothel to traffic her, she said.

It is important to examine the link between human trafficking and the military, Corey said. The brothel she was sold at was about 100 ft. from a military base.

“Most of my customers were men in uniform,” she said. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that the military culture is perpetuating this problem.”

Corey pointed out that trafficking does not always involve an exchange of money.

Corey said her mother attempted to trade her by offering her to individuals (such as babysitters) in exchange for their services. Corey added that her mother even attempted (and failed) to trade Corey to a swim coach for sex in exchange for Corey’s swim team registration.

Corey said her mother thought men in general desire sex with children, a belief Corey once had herself.

“Until I went through recovery, I really thought all men wanted sex, especially with young girls,” she said.

Substance abuse is often linked to family-controlled sex trafficking, Corey said. She added that there was “tons of alcohol” in her home growing up and her father, in particular, drank heavily.

Corey said it is very important to consider sexual abuse and domestic violence when seeking to identify victims of family-controlled sex trafficking.

“Child sex abuse and domestic violence and family-controlled sex trafficking are all intertwined and almost inseparable,” Corey said.

A victim of family-controlled sex trafficking likely experiences all forms of abuse, she said.

“I don’t think there are any methods (of abuse) that aren’t considered by people who are… trying to promote this kind of cult-like environment,” she said. “The goal in this kind of environment is control at all costs, control of the person you’re abusing.”

Corey said she first experienced sexual abuse as a small child and her family used sexual abuse to groom her for sex trafficking. She added that the sexual abuse is used to desensitize a child to being sex trafficked.

“As the child is broken, the abusive behavior tends to escalate,” Corey said. “It’s almost as if they ( Corey’s abusive family members) consciously wrote out a list of ‘what we have to do and how we have to do it in order to break her.’”

Corey said there are very few family-controlled sex trafficking survivors who advocate for other victims and survivors by sharing their experiences because of the intensity of the brainwashing such survivors have experienced, which leads to dissociative defense mechanisms.

Corey said her family physically abused her in order to keep her from telling others about being trafficked.

“Unfortunately for them, I’m a very willful person and… I speak a lot and I use my voice a lot, so it was very challenging for them to get me to stop talking,” she said. “The two times that I almost died, it was at the hands of gang members that my father had hired to teach me a lesson.”

Corey said it can be very difficult for survivors of family-controlled sex trafficking to even begin the recovery process.

“When you’re in a situation where the people that you are supposed to rely on most in your life … tell you these horrible things about yourself and have sex with you and sell you for sex,” she said, “coming out of that level of intense … cult-like brainwashing is an overwhelming process for most. Most people aren’t going to go there.”

One of the reasons why the recovery process is so difficult is because a survivor must cut ties with family, Corey said.

““When you decide to say ‘I’m going to face my trauma,’ you are essentially saying ‘I’m going to remove myself from the only family I’ve ever known.’”

Corey said having children allowed her to find the strength to remove herself from her family.

“I was trying to protect my children,” she said.

Victims of family-controlled sex trafficking often attempt or commit suicide, she said.

Corey said she attempted suicide at least twice.

According to Corey, her mother was sexually abused as a child and her father was likely abused as a child as well. She said the cycle of abuse spanned generations.

“Sometimes, I wonder if these people that run… this cult environment think about the fact that children grow up,” she said. “I’m not sure it crosses their mind.”

Corey said, as an adult, her parents attempted to maintain control over her by using guilt and offering material bribes, such as expensive vacations.

Corey said the hardest part of breaking ties with her family was letting go of the “safety net.” She said it is difficult to accept that she and her children cannot rely on her family for support if they ever needed help.

It is difficult to raise children without extended family, she said.

“The holidays are really challenging…especially Thanksgiving because that’s such a family-focused holiday,” Corey said.

To address the complex lasting wounds of family sex abuse and trafficking, Corey stresses the importance of long-term recovery efforts for survivors. She said it is important to focus on holistic care, including therapeutic bodywork.

“This kind of trauma recovery is so significant that it can honestly be hard to do in a lifetime,” she said. “If we cannot provide these long-term therapeutic outlets for victims of chronic abuse, they will not recover.”

Corey says she uses her blog to promote the recovery process for trafficking survivors. She said sharing her story online has been an important part of her healing process, but the blog is meant to help her readers. Since starting the blog, she has received emails from survivors thanking her for sharing her story and explaining how they connect to her words.

“I write to people who can relate to the emotion that I’m expressing in the blog,” Corey said.


Please click here to learn more about anti-human trafficking resources.


Kate Miller is a multimedia journalist and senior at Virginia Commonwealth University. She will receive a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications with a broadcast journalism concentration. She attended Smith College in Massachusetts before attending VCU. This semester, she is reporting on the General Assembly for the VCU Capital News Service.

Kate Miller

About Kate Miller

Kate Miller is a multimedia journalist and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University. She received a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications with a broadcast journalism concentration. She attended Smith College in Massachusetts before attending VCU. This semester, she is reporting on the General Assembly for the VCU Capital News Service.