How To Save A Life – The Rescue of a Human Trafficking Victim
“You can never find a victim, you can never rescue a victim, and you certainly can never help a victim if you don’t first believe. You start by just trusting.” ~Dottie Laster
Free for 365 days, or 8,760 hours, or 525,600 minutes. In most of her 20 years of life, that‘s the amount of time a young woman has spent walking as a free woman, making her own choices, not being abused and used in ways you or I couldn’t even imagine. A year surely doesn’t seem like much time to me, but to Lisbeth, it has been the beginning of her new life, and she has some very important people to thank for her freedom, including herself.
Her rescue team, whom she now calls her “angels,” consisted of professional women from all across the U.S.: Dottie Laster in Texas, a victims advocate for people trafficked for more than ten years and host of the online radio show “Trafficked” which airs Thurdays from 1-2 PM EST. Private Investigator Vicki Siedow in California, founder of F.L.I.P. (Female Legal & Investigative Professionals). Kay Van Hoesen in South Carolina, owner of Here Women Talk. Private Investigator Jennifer Kieseling in New Jersey, member of F.L.I.P., and Julie Shematz in Florida, founder of Beauty From Ashes where their mission is to prevent, rescue, and restore victims of commercialized sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
September 14, 2010, 2:30 pm EDT: Dottie Laster received a private message from a distraught young woman. So begins the most intense, harrowing, scary, rewarding twenty-four hours it took for Dottie and her team of “angels” to rescue Lisbeth from a Human Trafficker. She was being held against her will, in an extremely controlled environment, forced to do things like have sex with this man, perform in pornography videos, and dance in strip clubs.
After being used for sex for most of her life, her attacker had given her shelter under the ruse that he would help her recover from her prior situation. Though she went there willingly, it wasn’t long before the tables had turned and Lisbeth found herself in a situation that took her two years and two failed attempts at escape to overcome. It wasn’t until Lisbeth found Dottie on the internet and reached out to her, that she was able to begin her final and successful escape.
Jennifer Cusano: What was going through your mind during the rescue?
Dottie Laster: Actually I was in Texas and we had another P.I. in California and another P.I. on the ground where she (Lisbeth) was. I was on the phone when the P.I. was there along with our team. So we had a network of phones where we were all communicating every step of the way. I was actually coordinating all aspects. I was probably the only person, including Lisbeth, who knew all the parts of the rescue. So she didn’t even know where she was going. Nobody really had the full story, that way no one had to lie. It was just amazingly quick everything we did.
DL: Well I was proud to do it so it wasn’t that. It was very difficult. Everything had to come together perfectly, which it did, and now we know that, but at the time you don’t know if it’s going to work out. Anything could go wrong and everything is trying to go wrong, but it worked seamlessly. But behind that, I always say that it’s like ballet. It looks easy, but it’s really a huge amount of energy and effort.
JC: When you knew she was finally safe what was going through your mind then?
DL: Oh my goodness, it was relief. I was so happy. We went twenty-four hours with no sleep. It took twenty-four hours before she left and several more after that before she landed. So when I saw that picture, that’s when I knew everything was safe and I was so relieved and exhausted all at the same time. I could finally succumb to being tired. That was still only the beginning of her rescue because it was up and down for her for many days and weeks after that. When a victim gets rescued, it’s not necessarily all better. Sometimes it gets worse because their bodies finally start to process what they have been through.
JC: Did you have a hand in all the phases of her recovery?
DL: Yes. There were many people and many teams that helped and were involved and assisted in whatever was needed. The need actually increased once we rescued her. So we were still pulling more airplane miles, clothes, food, things she asked for. You can imagine just endless amounts of needs, and then also advocating for her. It wasn’t over yet. People didn’t believe her, or wanted to call the bad guy. It was even more of a battle later.
DL: No, she did not. There were psychiatrists working with her and one of them–they actually became split–one believed her and the one that didn’t had actually called the bad guy. He began calling. Imagine this, we had gone through all that effort to hide this person from the person she left, and then the person who is supposed to be helping her, makes contact with the bad guy. So like I said, it was worse.
JC: Did he find out where she was?
DL: Yes. Due to that call. Then he begins calling and it scares her to death. I mean it truly scared her. I was pulling my hair out saying to myself, “Am I on the wrong planet?”
JC: This is a professional that had the gall to call this person. That is nuts. What did you say to the person who did that?
DL: I never spoke to her. I spoke with the professional that believed us. Doctors are not supposed to do that. I wound up talking to the administrators. That was another battle that none of us had the energy for. We did get through that though, and she was unable to be treated by that person, but that person should have gone to jail. You can imagine the frustration. The victim didn’t present the way the woman expected, so she didn’t believe her. She was extremely traumatized. I don’t know how she is supposed to look, but she looked messed up. Obviously she had all kinds of problems and issues that she was dealing with, so this person wanted to add that she was paranoid and making this up.
DL: I think so. I never spoke to her but I believe that. My point was here we are trying to help this person, trying to keep the bad guy away yet again, and trying to deal with this, and the helper is making things worse, not helping. The victim is distraught beyond description. The administrators called me, and I wouldn’t talk to them unless I was absolutely sure who they were at that point. So then they told the doctor I was delusional, that I believe bad people are everywhere. I surmised that if we were all delusional, which we are not, including the victim, how could we have pulled this off? How could it have worked from so far away with twenty-four hours to make this happen. That victim had to be one-hundred percent consistent. She had to be clear in her thinking and she had to act once we got there. She did that. So she is responsible for her rescue. We could have pulled up there and she could have been not there or we could have been at the wrong place, or she could have been afraid to go, and then we couldn’t have helped her. She did the best part. She told us how to help her.
JC: She let you help her.
DL: Exactly. If professionals would understand that and not ignore the person they are supposed to be helping, but listen to them. If we didn’t listen to her, she would still be there. We would never have rescued her. But we listened to her and she is responsible for her success, not us. Literally we had a needle in a haystack. Can you imagine somebody saying “I think I live here and there’s a park there but I’ve never been anywhere else so I don’t know what’s around me.” She had a very vague idea of where she was. Not like you and I know where we are. She had enough information, and we verified it with information we got from her IP address, and the internet, and from her postings so we were able to confirm it. There was a huge amount of work that went into this. From the first call forward. We were verifying information, and we found her to be consistent. We also found the alleged suspects to have criminal-like tendencies. Social security numbers that weren’t valid and things like that. We immediately established what appeared to be going on. It turned out to be consistent, but we checked it the whole way.
DL: The local police had talked to the man and believed that she had stolen the cat and a laptop, and that she was crazy and left without her medicine. So they chased our P.I. to the airport. They thought that we were kidnapping someone. The plane was actually stopped at a layover and it scared her to death when the police boarded. She thought he had won and they were taking her back. They confirmed that she was leaving of her own free will. Thanks to U.S. Airways we got security to sit with her and the whole staff escorted her to the next stop. She was treated like a VIP, moved up to the front of the plane. They totally took care of her. When she landed they made sure everyone was off the plane and out of the airport. Then they brought her to the person you see in the picture. That’s when we knew she was safe at last.
It’s unfortunate, but the level of difficulty they received from the police and other people with authority is not uncommon. You would think that it wouldn’t be that way, but it is.
As if being trafficked was not enough, when Lisbeth was finally safe, it seemed as though anything that could go wrong, did. The journey to healing is difficult enough, but to add to it people questioning her sanity, not believing she was a victim, and then contacting the man she was trying to escape from, it’s a miracle she didn’t shut down completely.
Giving her a platform to make her own decisions, and loving her and supporting her unconditionally when her choices were not wise has been a big part of Lisbeth’s journey toward mental freedom over the past year. She has made friends, and in her own words feels supported and safe, but to get to that point many times it meant that she had taken ten steps forward and three or four steps back.
Lisbeth is determined, though, to beat the odds and make a full recovery. Certainly with her team of “angels” continuing to help her and provide her with the necessary support, coupled with her sheer will to survive, she’s well on her way.
September 15, 2012 – Two Year Anniversary of the Rescue: Lisbeth, aka Ellie, posted this update about the changes in her life since her rescue.