A couple of months ago on the Victor Marx Show, Victor had the opportunity to interview a fascinating woman who has gone from sex trafficking victim to the founder of the nonprofit Stand4Justice. This organization exists to inspire and lead a movement of committed people around he world who will stand against sexual exploitation by exposing the lies of the industry and offering to help anyone who has found themselves trapped in it.
Sarah-Jane Vegas was born and raised in France. She moved to the United States about eight years ago. Her goal was to do missionary work against sex trafficking. So from France to Las Vegas with just two suitcases, no contacts, no money, and no English speaking skills, this was a courageous move in its own right.
What’s unique about Sarah-Jane’s mission, is that she inserts herself in the trenches. She goes to brothels, strip clubs, and anywhere trafficking might be prevalent. She has encounters with victims as well as pimps. There’s danger in that. And it’s exactly why we invited her to train with us and face those risks in a controlled environment through our survivor training program at the ATP Leadership Center.
What she learned was that she happens to be an excellent shooter. She learned how to manage uncomfortable physical circumstances by training in jiu jitsu. She practiced with blades. The experience can be incredibly empowering and confidence building.
But how did Sarah-Jane get to where she is now? The story started in France, where within the safety of a mother’s womb, she was thrashed around as her mother was beaten by her then boyfriend. Her mother came from a Muslim tradition, but she wasn’t particularly religious when she moved from North Africa to France. She didn’t have any connection with God until she got pregnant with Sarah Jane. That was when her mother found Jesus. So young Sarah-Jane was raised in the Christian faith.
Her first experience with trauma happened when a mentally ill family member assaulted her. She was a young 5 year old girl, and a man, whom she knew, came into her house and tried to strangle her. Fortunately her older brother arrived just in time and saved her life. When her mom came home she was furious. She wasn’t angry with her daughter, but she was furious about the situation. Young Sarah-Jane was unable to process the experience properly, and it opened her up to further risk of assaults.
At the age of 6, she was exposed to pornography and sexually abused for the first time. Because of her fear of being blamed for the incident, she stayed quiet.
As a 14 year old she ended up meeting an 18 year old man at church. He was training to be a military policeman. In her young, fragile mind he represented safety. She saw him as “protection, provision, and everything a young girl’s heart desires.”
This man was not her knight in shining armor. He was horribly jealous and abusive. He was controlling, sexually violent, and dangerous. She stayed in that relationship for four years. As she describes him, he wasn’t a pimp, but he taught her how to submit to a man. He “broke” her.
Her upbringing was very legalistic. So she was uncomfortable with reaching out for help. In her mind, she was having sex before marriage. She had an older boyfriend she shouldn’t be dating. It was the perfect storm because no one saw the abuse she was enduring.
Her boyfriend got himself fired from the military police school for drunkenness, so he started working in a cabaret. Sarah-Jane knew she needed money, so she decided to work there too. She started experimenting with drugs, numbing the pain of her abuse.
Sarah-Jane’s neighbors were male strippers. They had heard the violence next door, and they offered her a possible way out. What felt like help was really exploitation. They convinced her to start dancing. At 17, she was working in strip clubs, feeling a little empowered thanks to the money she was bringing in.
Her neighbors weren’t just strippers, they were involved in a sex trafficking ring. And they were grooming her. In the clubs she met more connected people. A man who claimed to own a modeling agency came into her life, saying he wanted to talk care of her. Sarah-Jane saw this as her shot to get away from her abusive boyfriend. In her mind, she was running away, escaping, a bad situation. But her new boyfriend was a money launderer. He was trafficking drugs. It was one bad situation into another.
Back in the strip club, she met a women’s who wanted to befriend her. She invited her to come over. But it was a trap. She was trafficked herself, and she was a recruiter. In her home Sarah-Jane was introduced to the world of sex trafficking.
Her recruiter encouraged her to work in brothels. She gave her a new name. “Angie” was not Sarah-Jane. She was a new persona. This is a tactic used by traffickers called disassociation.
“Angie” can do anything…
Stay tuned next week as we share part two of Sarah-Jane’s story!