Rebecca Bender discusses her new book, “In Pursuit of Love: One Woman’s Journey from Trafficked to Triumphant,” which shares her story of surviving six years of human trafficking and how her faith helped her find healing.
Rebecca starts by sharing some context of what human trafficking looks like in the United States. “When people think of trafficking, they envision kidnapped children smuggled overseas and well, that absolutely may exist, but the most common form of human trafficking here in the United States does not look like that. So it’s fueling stereotypes and misconceptions which allows this kind of trafficking to take place. In all of our communities across the country, law enforcement looks for the use of force, fraud, or coercion at point of recruitment or point of destination in order to profit off somebody engaged in commercial sex…Human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise. Second only to drugs.”
Rebecca shares her story of being trafficked. “I grew up in the ‘80s. I was taught ‘stranger danger.’ You’re supposed to look for a white minivan and someone offering you a puppy and a candy. I was on the honor roll. I was on prom court. I would have never been considered to be in an at-risk category for human trafficking.” Rebecca shares that she was excited to get out of her small town in Ohio and go to school at Oregon State University, “But that summer I found myself pregnant at 17. I kept my child and stayed in my small town and decided to go to community college. It was tough, but all of a sudden here came the most amazing guy. He was funny and took an interest in me and my daughter. I thought, ‘This is it. This is what I have always wanted.’ But this was my point of recruitment.”
Rebecca explains that her boyfriend was a trafficker pretending to be someone else. He lied to her about his name, his job, and about being a student at her college, “He ended up taking me to Las Vegas, which is where he told me his job was relocating him. And I felt we were going to get married, so I followed him. And within a day or two of arriving he had my daughter stay with his family and pretended that he was going to take me out on the town. Instead, he drove me to an escort service where he physically abused me and forced me to sign up as an escort. I can remember that moment and think back to when people say, ‘Why don’t you just run those moments?’ … The violent first moments turned into a cycle of abuse, “And I can remember after getting hit thinking, I don’t know where my daughter is. I just need to get home.”
After many attempts to escape, Rebecca was finally able to leave her trafficker after six years. Her mom bought her a plane ticket home and Rebecca escaped when her trafficker was out running errands. “Things were really hard at first. I was right back to being a single mom living in poverty. Everything you own is in one bag. You don’t have a fork. You don’t have a pillow. You have a criminal record. Now I’m back in my tiny little farm town where if they run a background check, they’re going to see prostitution. I couldn’t even volunteer at my daughter’s school. I can remember sitting at my kitchen table and crying out to God and saying, ‘Is this what you have for me? Is this, this abundant life that people talk about? Cause if this is it I don’t want it … And I can remember very clearly hearing what I felt was the voice of God say, ‘If you give me the same amount of time that you gave the enemy, I’ll never be outdone.’ I really decided in that moment to just dig my heels in and try to pursue that transformation myself and try to figure out how to break some unhealthy habits, some character flaws that I had developed, and try to figure out what this abundant life that people talk about could actually be.”
Rebecca went on to study at seminary and is now the CEO and founder of the Rebecca Bender Initiative, and the creator of Elevate Academy, an online school for women regardless of their past, to discover their gifts and pursue God’s calling in their lives.