By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
She’s been on every continent except two and in every state except five.
Kathy Jackson, 55, has traveled the world—but not the way anyone would ever imagine.
Jackson was a victim of human trafficking. She was trafficked for more than three decades and was only able to escape because of a medical emergency. Now living in Alabama, Jackson said she has a full-time job and attends Miles College.
Here’s her story: While in college during the mid-1980s, Jackson attended a jazz festival in Chicago during spring break with a group of four friends she met at school. They eventually made their way to a condo, where Jackson was assaulted, raped, and repeatedly beaten. After that Jackson became a victim of human trafficking and embarked on a devastating odyssey, during which she was trafficked all over the world.
The last few years she was being trafficked, Jackson was in Las Vegas, staying unknown to anyone in hotels like the MGM Grand, the Taj Mahal, and Caesar’s Palace. Her saving moment was heart failure.
“I needed to have heart surgery and my handler—I don’t call them pimps because that’s the name Hollywood gave them—came to the hospital to get the money I had on me,” she said. “A doctor came in to check on me, and my numbers were off the scale. It was all psychological, and for the first time I told somebody [that I was being trafficked].”
The doctor had Jackson switched to a hospital room, where she eventually had her name changed. Jackson met a chaplain who got her connected to The WellHouse, a Birmingham-area faith-based nonprofit that helps women and girls who have been victims of trafficking. Jackson arrived at The WellHouse in November 2013 and stayed for almost two years.
Jackson said there are many misconceptions about human trafficking, such as women want to be involved and they are able to just leave their situations.
“It’s not what people think it is. It’s very organized. It’s not a multibillion-dollar operation for no reason,” she said. “People think you can just leave, but not when they know your family, not when they know where they live.”
Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry and is the second most profitable illegal activity in the world, falling behind illegal drug activity, according to the Human Rights First, a nonprofit human rights organization.
Human trafficking, often called modern-day slavery, involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. About 21 million people around the world are victims.
Anyone can be a victim of human trafficking, Jackson said.
“Both of my parents were educated and had professional jobs,” she said. “My dad had a doctorate, was in education, and served on the board for one of the best public schools in the nation. My mom retired from an executive-level position. I went to church, and I got everything I wanted growing up. The only reason I knew about the ghetto was because my dad made sure that I knew that some of our people were struggling. I did ballet and danced in the Kennedy Center’s annual Nutcracker performance. I was blessed to have that background … and if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. [Human trafficking] does not discriminate.”