DENVER – She survived years of abuse and exploitation at the hands of sex traffickers and now she’s telling her story.
Jessa Dillow-Crisp told an audience at the Colorado State Capitol, during Human Trafficking Awareness and Advocacy Day, that her victimization began when she was a child.
“I was a little girl and was sexually abused by family members,” she said. “I had to pose for pornographers and was sold to countless men on a daily basis.”
The young woman said she was trafficked domestically in Canada, where she grew up, and in the United States.
She couldn’t go to police because they were some of her abusers.
“There was gang raping,” she said. “The police officer who handcuffed me and raped me, told me I would be put in jail if I opened my voice.”
Dillow-Crisp said it got worse.
“I had somebody very close to me tortured and she eventually died in front of my eyes,” she said with emotions rising. “This stuff happens and I’m here to tell you the reality of its existence.”
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman told the audience that most people think human trafficking happens on the other side of the world, not here in Colorado.
“We know differently,” Coffman said.
The attorney general said Colorado has seen an increase in trafficking numbers and that geography plays a role.
The Special Agent in Charge of the FBI office in Colorado, Thomas Ravenelle, said they’ve been working with other agencies and local law enforcement groups for eight years to arrest people involved in human trafficking.
“The Innocence Lost Task Force recovered 18 children in a one week period, who were being exploited through prostitution,” he said. “In the hands of their abusers, they’re subjected to numerous assaults, illicit drugs and continued abuse, including sex trafficking.”
Ravenelle added, “It’s not an issue we can arrest and prosecute our way out of. It’s only through a multi-disciplined approach involving investigations, prosecution, victim advocacy, treatment and professional care, parents and communities as a whole where we can make a difference.”
El Paso County District Attorney David Thompson said, “Human Trafficking has been called modern day slavery. Unfortunately for its horrified victims, that shocking term and the historical image it refers to is not an exaggeration.”
Dillow-Crisp remembers escaping that life the first time.
“I took a plane ride to Colorado and experienced freedom for the first time,” Dillow-Crisp said. “I remember seeing the tumble weeds on the ground and experiencing the sun touching my arms. But it didn’t last.”
She said her visa was only for six months and then she had to go back to Canada.
“I met a woman who claimed she wanted to help,” she said. “It was at church, at a pancake breakfast, she said, ‘Jessa, I see sexual abuse in your eyes.’ I thought I had found a friend.”
Dillow-Crisp said that “friend” forced her back into prostitution.
“During the 2010 Winter Olympics, it was not fun and games for me,” she said. “I ended up being exploited. I ended up being sold to hundreds of people.”
The young woman said it was a “Divine Miracle” that she’s here today.
She said that thanks to her mentors, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the FBI and local police – she now has a passion for justice.
Dillow-Crisp says freedom means a lot to her.
She quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, “with freedom comes responsibility.”
“The responsibility that I feel is to be a face for hundreds of individuals here in Colorado, including men, women and children, who are being abused and exploited right now.”
The young women said she no longer feels like a victim.
“I’m a victor,” she said.
She said she’s speaking out because she wants others to do the same thing, to be able to recognize human trafficking, and to do whatever they can to stop it.