* Warning: Some of the details in this story could be disturbing to some viewers.
HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – “He would choke me until my heart would stop, and then bring me back to life,” said a woman we are only identifying as Xaria.
Xaria, who told News 3 she was abused by an intimate partner for 10 years and trafficked for two years, is sharing her story of survival for the very first time.
“I knew what had happened to me, but I didn’t know there was a name for it,” Xaria said.
Advocates tell the News 3 I-Team that it's common for survivors of human trafficking to not understand or realize that they are victims.
Xaria told us her relationship was good in the beginning, but once she got pregnant, the domestic abuse escalated.
According to Zaria, the beatings got worse, and there was a slow progression of control.
“If I ate without his permission, he would stick his finger down my throat and make me throw it up, or he would pour bleach down my throat until I would throw it up,” Xaria said.
She said her partner also forced her to use drugs.
“He wanted me to smoke crack. I told him no and he punched me in the face,” Xaria said.
But she said the drugs numbed the pain of what she was enduring physically and mentally.
“He would lock me in the bedroom and have people pay him at the door, and if I didn’t do what they said then he would beat me,” Xaria said.
Over the 10 years she was abused, Xaria said she suffered from untreated mental health issues, including PTSD. Also during that time, she was locked up several times for a variety of charges.
During one of her times in jail about seven years ago, she encountered the nonprofit Freekind, a group that helps trafficking victims. Prior to COVID, they taught educational classes to people in jail about human trafficking.
Joy Dudley is Freekind's survivor empowerment director. She said survivors of human trafficking are often labeled as criminals, and many times victims are criminalized because of their addictions or crimes they committed in order to survive.
Freekind will go to court to support the victims.
“A lot of times we’re asking judges and Commonwealth's Attorneys, and working with public defenders, to have alternatives to incarceration with the victims because they’re not going to heal while they are incarcerated,” Dudley said.
For Xaria, the road has been difficult. She's been in and out of jail and retreatment centers several times over the years.
“My advocates picked up the phone every time I called for them,” Xaria said.
She says they helped her find God, which was the best thing that could have happened to her.
Xaria said moving out of Hampton Roads and getting the right support have helped her be successful. Today, she works to help other victims with mental health issues and substance abuse problems, and she recently got two promotions at her job.
She works hard every day to stay sober and is proud of what she has accomplished.
“It’s been very hard every day,” Xaria said, adding, “I know that if I can do it, anybody else can do it.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Below are resources that can help: