by DiAnna Steele
Angela* was rescued from sex trafficking and a child pornography ring when she was 15 years old. She carried with her a six-year history of torture and gross sexual abuse—three cracked ribs, multiple scars and burn marks, drug addiction, and the clothes on her back. Fear and distrust, her only companions, followed close behind.
From age 9 Angela was forced to pose hundreds of times for graphic, illicit, and violence-laden photographs. She was sold for sex an average of five times a day—sometimes as many as 20 times. At 5’6” she weighed a puny 97 pounds. Her emaciated frame shook from heroine withdrawal. Dark circles beneath vacant eyes betrayed a story of innumerable sleepless nights. Immune to her handler’s raging screams, Angela lost count of the beatings. Long ago, she gave up on any hope of escaping. But there she sat in an interrogation room—finally free—at least physically.
Somewhere she heard that she was fortunate to make it out of trafficking alive, but in her soul Angela felt dead. Visions of other girls, who died from torture, conjured up envy. Why had she survived when others succumbed to beatings and drug overdose?
Angela didn’t know at the time how close she edged to becoming a statistic. The average life expectancy for a victim enslaved in sex trafficking? Seven years. She also didn’t realize that her trafficker’s arrest and her release from human slavery were directly related to a group of wounded warriors.
Since 2013, more than 100 disabled veterans have been trained as computer forensics analysts through a little-publicized organization in Washington, D. C. The H.E.R.O. Child Rescue Corps, a 12-week program, prepares wounded veterans to identify sex traffickers and gather evidence for criminal court cases.
The organization represents a collaboration between ICE/Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Defense Special Ops Command, and the National Association to Protect Children. Upon completion of the training program, veterans are deployed for a 9-month internship to ICE field offices around the country where they gain hands-on experience in data analysis, often leading to the arrest and prosecution of traffickers in child pornography and sex slavery.
Because of this group of warriors, Angela was freed and subsequently testified against the man who inflicted years of abuse on innocent children. After her trafficker’s conviction and incarceration, Angela’s journey continued on a path of destruction—this time self-inflicted—before she could accept help.
At 20 years old, after a string of failed foster placements, halfway houses, and homelessness, Angela was desperate to pull her life together. She recalled a backpack of items she received after her rescue when law enforcement officials confiscated her clothing as evidence. She was determined to find other assistance and reclaim her life.
Looking for Purpose and a New Mission?
To learn more about the H.E.R.O. Child Rescue Corps, visit www.herocorps.net.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on April 22, 2020.
DiAnna Steele is a former Special Forces wife and mother of sons serving in the US Coast Guard, Air Force, and a former Army Paratrooper. A professional speaker for over 25 years, DiAnna served as a facilitator for Wounded Warrior Wives retreats, as well as training and keynotes for Fortune 500 companies. DiAnna is available for speaking requests and panel discussions. Inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* not actual name; Angela is a composite character based on experiences of multiple child pornography and sex-trafficking survivors.