CHESAPEAKE, Va. - January is known as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
News 3 Investigates has been digging deeper into this issue, bringing to light how prevalent it is here at home.
News 3 sat down with Tanya Gould, a Chesapeake woman and human trafficking survivor.
“This is a life. This is a culture, and all of us were trapped,” Gould told News 3. “Human trafficking is about coercion and manipulation.”
For Gould, human trafficking is a path she’s all too familiar with.
“At the time, I didn't realize I was a victim,” she said.
She was graduating from high school and on a senior field trip, when she recalls meeting one specific person.
“My trafficker was someone who I fell in love with, and that was his way of bringing me into that life,” Gould said. “I thought that doing what he asked me to do was about us being together.”
Gould said it turned into about a year and a half of sex trafficking.
“After the grooming period, after the honeymoon, things seem really well. You feel that you're being protected and looked after, [but] things become very dangerous, and you realize it,” Gould said. “You realize when your trafficker is asking you to bring in a certain amount of money, and you're having a hard time doing that, you realize that when the trafficker beings to control other parts of your life.”
“My trafficker, he made me drop out of college,” Gould added. “Being in the experience, I understood that this was all about him, and not about me, and definitely not about us.”
She told News 3, with the help of a police officer, she was eventually able to get out of the situation.
Today, she's paying it forward helping other survivors, working with kids at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (CHKD) and on human trafficking policies at the state and federal level.
“I made that promise to myself that, when I find a way out, I was going to, like Harriet Tubman, find a way to freedom for others,” Gould said.
News 3 has shined a light on human trafficking in Hampton Roads.
This includes one case of an alleged international sex trafficking scheme involving a Philippines-based church.
In November, the FBI Norfolk Field Office tweeted the agency believes there may be victims in Hampton Roads.
News 3 talked with Matt Moon, Special Agent in Charge of the Criminal Division at the FBI Los Angeles Field Office.
“If what's in the alleged indictment is found to be true, at the end of the day, it's horrific,” Moon told News 3.
According to the indictment, the church named "The Kingdom of Jesus Christ" is said to have 6 million members across 200 countries.
It states young women within the church, typically between 12 and 25 years old and known as "pastorals,” were selected to work as personal assistants for the church's leader known as "Pastor," “Sir," or "The Appointed Son of God."
“They were tasked with cleaning, preparing meals, traveled with the pastor on trips, and they were subjected to what would be called ‘night duty,’ which is having sex with the pastor,” Moon said.
The case also involves accusations of bringing people to the United States with fake visas and forcing them to solicit donations for a fake charity.
“They purport to have solicited money to be used for charitable purposes to help poor children, Filipino children,” Moon said. “But our investigations kind of show that the money kind of went to finance church operations and support the pastor's very lavish luxurious lifestyle.”
It's also said that some church members were even forced into sham marriages.
Moon and others believe there are more witnesses and victims out there and said it's important to speak up if you know something.
“Some might have separated from the church, we believe, and they could be out there,” he said. “We just don't know who they are, and we want to identify them. We want them to come forward because we believe there are more out there than we know of.”
“I'm not surprised when I see leaders of organizations buying sex, soliciting sex, or become traffickers,” Gould said of this case.
Overall, Gould said it's important to understand trafficking can happen anywhere and look like anything.
“Sometimes we get complacent and forget we are leaders in our communities, in our families, and most of all, we're leaders to ourselves,” she said.
This year, Gould was named Director of Anti-Human Trafficking under new Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’s administration.
“How are we holding ourselves accountable? To ourselves, to our family members and to our communities,” she said.
Tonight, on News 3 at 6, News 3 Investigates reveals what one local organization is doing to help youth trafficking victims in Hampton Roads.