BANGOR – In Part 2 of the series Sex Trafficking in Maine: Bringing to Light a Dark Truth,” we meet a victim of sex trafficking to understand how someone could become trapped.
“And I was pretty like badly bruised from being tied up to a chair when his girlfriend did find me and bring me back to him. He was pretty angry. It was just a very bad situation,” said Catherine Geren.
Cathy is a sex trafficking victim. Growing up in southern Maine, she says life at home with young parents was difficult.
“There were just really a lot of struggles at home. There was a lot of fighting,” said Cathy.
According to a 2015 report by Hornby Zeller and Associates Inc. for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, it states often victims are between the ages of 13 and 30.
Cathy fit the mold. Moving out at age 17 and still in high school, she found herself in a difficult situation.
“Not really anyone that will rent an apartment to a 17 year old, per se. So I was involved with a lot of people that were older than me,” she said.
She said many of those people were working at a strip club and encouraged her to become involved in that scene.
“Working in a coffee shop, working in a bakery, ends didn’t really meet to also live independently and get ready to go to college,” Cathy said.
After high school she met her first serious boyfriend. At first, life together was great but it wasn’t long before matters took a turn for the worse.
“He met a drug dealer who was from New York … He encouraged us to rent an apartment for him,” she said.
With her boyfriend getting into more serious drugs, constantly in and out of rehab as well as in trouble with the law, she was stuck.
“And it became more apparent that it wasn’t just drugs that he was selling, he was also involved with a lot of gang affiliations and a lot of violence. Drug trafficking as well as gun trafficking and sex trafficking as well,” Cathy said.
Cary Nason, director of Hope Rising, said that drug traffickers quite often are involved with other crimes.
“Traffickers that are connected with gangs, connected with organized crime. And this is a branch of their business,” she said.
According to the report Human Trafficking in Maine, published in 2017 by the Maine Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, sex traffickers take advantage of victim’s addictions as well as their economic situations.
“I don’t have a job. I don’t have a way to make money. I don’t have a way to take care of myself … What a great way to keep them stuck, to keep them trapped,” said Nason.
Like other victims, Cathy said she felt she didn’t have a choice.
“In a lot of ways, I didn’t have another option because I didn’t really have the support. I didn’t really have a way out,” said Cathy.
Cathy did get away but was lured back by someone she trusted.
“I was just very depressed and very hopeless,” she said. “At that point, I just did really hope that I would die because I just didn’t see a way out of that situation at all.”
Cathy eventually did make it out of the darkness. Her life is looking better. She’s married with a daughter and has made several accomplishments over the last few years.
In the summer of 2017, she began to work with the residents of Hope Rising as a mentor and advocate.
In the spring of this year, she began to work with the youth at Shaw House facilitating educational groups.
Around that time she also won the PILLARS Award from the University of Maine at Augusta, where this past fall she was named a Rising Scholar for her academic achievement and promise.
More recently, she began work as a library specialist at Nottage Library on UMA’s Bangor campus.
For the countless others still reaching for that light, there is a toll-free 24-hour National Human Trafficking hotline for victims, which can be reached at 888-373-7888. This hotline will help connect people to resources in their area.