'I'm a survivor': Women raise human trafficking awareness during Detroit panel

Subjected to human trafficking from a very young age, Paige Stocchi was able to turn her life around with the right help. She now dedicates her life to advocating for other victims in similar circumstances.

After being placed in foster care in Pennsylvania, Stocchi was "brutally raped" by her foster father, she said. "Me and another girl ran away to her family… Her family ended up selling me off to my first trafficker."

"I was there for about 3 years," she continued. "(I) was then sold off to my second trafficker, and I was there until I was 16."

Stocchi's story was among several highlighted at a panel discussion called Let’s Talk, hosted by the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network at Greater Grace Temple.

The panel was held on Wednesday, in the middle of Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Stocchi's traumatic life in human trafficking became even harder to break away from as years went by. 

"(I) started drugs when I was 19 and then started into the life –because this is what I was taught– (of) prostitution," she said. "Been to prison, in and out of treatment centers."

Hope came once Stocchi found the Sanctum House in Novi, a sanctuary for women survivors of human trafficking. 

Now, "I’m a survivor, I’m a board member of Sanctum House, I’m an advocate for women, I’m a mentor, I own my own business," Stocchi said. "If you would’ve asked me seven years ago to make a list of what I expected my life to be seven years from then, I would’ve been cheating myself."

Sanctum House's founder, Edee Franklin, says it’s all about resources.

"We need to get into the schools to educate parents, to educate the children as to what is really dangerous," Franklin said. "They think (they're) going on the Internet and talking to somebody who… looks like it’s a young guy – and it’s a trafficker that’s trying to lure them in and groom them. So that’s one way. If you see something, you have to say something."

While people often associate human trafficking with street abductions, it can occur and go unnoticed even in familiar surroundings, Stocchi said.

"It could be happening in your backyard and you don’t even know it. It can be happening at your next-door neighbor’s and you don’t even know it," the survivor added. "It’s not a prejudice crime. It doesn’t care what zip code you are from, it don't care what area code you’re from. It don’t have no color. Its favorite color is green – money."

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, you can always contact The National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to BEFREE (233733).