How could a “regular girl” from Gorham become a victim of human trafficking?
It happened much too easily, for Cathy. A troubled home life combined with the troubles of being a teenager meant that, by age 17, she was living on her own in Portland, working in strip clubs to make ends meet. A boyfriend with drug problems led her into the worst kind of connections, and by the time she was 19, her boyfriend was in jail and she had become, as she says: “my trafficker’s property.”
“He first seemed like he was trying to help me make ends meet, but soon it was out of control.”
Before long, Cathy, too, was a heroin addict, a further chain binding her to her trafficker. Years of sexual and physical abuse, even being held prisoner at one point, led to her losing contact with all friends and family. “The only people I was interacting with were my trafficker and johns.”
For a girl who had known little luck, Cathy finally got her share in the form of Steve Webster, the South Portland police detective who arrived at the hotel where she was being held captive with a warrant for her arrest. Cathy still remembers the moment and the officer’s kindness. “Steve said, ‘I’d like to help you.’”
With Webster’s encouragement, Cathy joined the inaugural program at CourageLIVES, on June 8, 2015. Although she admits it was difficult, at first, to express her own desires, she was soon taking classes and thinking about going back to school, as well as becoming involved in the recovery community.
In spring of 2017, Cathy traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend the More Than a Survivor, Emerging Leaders Conference of the Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) Organization, and once again in the spring of 2018 when the conference was taking place in Oakland, California. In 2019 she will graduate from UMA’s Mental Health and Human Services program, with Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor and case manager licenses. Cathy received the Maine Campus Compact PILLARS (Philanthropy, Innovation, Learning, Leadership, Action, Responsibility, and Service) Student Award in May 2018. Cathy will pursue a master’s program in clinical mental health and counseling, in order to work with the homeless or women with addiction.
With a fiancé and a daughter of her own now, Cathy is also working to repair relationships with her own biological family. As she knows, “Traffickers are really in tune with the weaknesses of the people they traffic.” For a regular girl who has survived extraordinary hardships, the bonds of friends and family offer the greatest hope of all. Today Cathy works with the current residents of CourageLIVES as a mentor and advocate. She travels the New England speaking on the topic of Human Trafficking, and works with at-risk youth sharing her story in hopes of stopping the next generation from falling victim to traffickers… who will always be waiting for the vulnerable.