At the age of 18, Katie Rhoades found herself homeless and on the streets. She went to work at a strip club, and that lead her down a path of sexual exploitation.
“I was taken from Oregon to San Francisco and forced into prostitution,” said Rhoades.
For the next three years, Rhoades said she was forced to have sex for money. She tried to escape but wound up going back to her pimp. Eventually, at the age of 21, Rhoades left. She went to rehab, and she eventually went back to school. Her studies brought her to Washington University in St. Louis, where she earned a Masters in Social work.
About two years ago, Rhoades founded the organization Healing Action.
“We serve adult women who have a history in exploitation, sex trafficking, prostitution, pornography,” said Rhoades.
Already, Healing Action has served almost 60 women, and most of them are local.
“It's pretty prevalent anywhere you have racial segregation, oppression, poverty, you're going to find higher incidents of commercial exploitation,” she said.
Rhoades said many sex trafficking victims have histories of sex abuse as children, and it can begin at home.
“Sex trafficking isn't specific to pimp-controlled prostitution. It can be husbands, boyfriends, parents,” she said.
Rhoades said the victims are psychologically manipulated to the point they feel they cannot leave their situation. Often times, there are threats and physical violence.
There are warning signs someone you know may be a victim of sex trafficking.
“You notice your neighbor, nobody leaves the house, but people always come in. You can start paying attention to signs that seem normal,” Rhoades said.
For more information, you can visit their website or call them at (314) 833-4515