Criminal Justice student finds salvation after human trafficking nightmare

Breanna Bryant did not grow up like most girls.

When she was just three years old, a man broke into her mother’s apartment late at night. He held a gun and an extension cord. He demanded money. Her mother told him that she couldn’t pay him, and he beat her and threatened to electrocute her to death.

In fear, Bryant cried out. Her innocent cry of terror saved her mother’s life that night, but the cost was her childhood. She was kidnapped. He took her as a payment for her mother’s debt – then he sold her.

So instead of doing all the things young girls take for granted – going to school, making friends, playing with toys and dolls – Bryant was sold into the dark underworld of human trafficking, dramatically altering her life forever.

“The next two and a half years of my life were horrific,” said Bryant, now a junior Criminal Justice major as Sam Houston State University. “I was taken 17,000 miles away from my home and lived among a few other girls. But this group home was much different than any other I had been to. We were conditioned to do what we were told, to satisfy the gruesome desires of men. My identity, value and innocence were stolen from me.”

There are 27 million people worldwide who are sold into the black market of human trafficking. Eighty percent are women, and almost half are minors.

Texas is a hotbed for this criminal enterprise. A quarter of all human trafficking victims in the United States are here, mainly in the Houston area. Recently the I-10 corridor between El Paso and Houston was identified as the main human trafficking route, and Houston is recognized as one of the main hubs and destinations for traffickers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A “Hot Topics” discussion on human trafficking is being held on campus at the Lowman Student Center Theatre from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday. The discussion features several panelists, including Kathryn Griffin-Townsend, founder of “We’ve Been There, Done That,” a non-profit organization in Houston that rehabilitates women who were victims of sex trafficking. The panel will answer questions and inform students on human trafficking and prevention efforts.

Individuals are lured into human trafficking by a promise of a good job in another country, a false marriage proposal turned into a bondage situation, being sold into the sex trade by friends or family, or being kidnapped by traffickers, according to Concerned Women for America, a Christian women’s organization.

Many people, such as Bryant, are also sold to fake adoption agencies. This is a dark trade, and it involves many dirty professionals such as judges, brokers, and social service workers.

“A year after I was sold by the man who kidnapped me, I was sold to a black market adoption agency,” Bryant said. “A couple that did not meet the requirements for a legal adoption took me in immediately. For the next year and a half I was brain washed to think this was my family. Looking back, nothing about this family seems normal. I didn’t attend school or really have friends. The only person my age I remember was ‘my cousin.’ I now wonder if she was in the same situation as me.”

After two and half years, Bryant said someone made a mistake and the family’s secret was exposed.

“My biological grandfather had hired a detective to find me, and somewhere along the line, someone accidently leaked, and by the grace of God, it traveled back to my grandpa,” Bryant said. “It took several months for my family to track me down and fight to get me back.”

Victims of human trafficking can suffer from physical, emotion and social trauma. They have difficulty sleeping, nightmares, involuntary bedwetting, eating disorders and chronic stress. They can have difficulty re-adjusting to society, low self esteem and experience depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological disorders, said Katia Shkurkin, a sociology professor at St. Martins University, Wash., presenting at a human trafficking conference.

Bryant said she has severely struggled with PTSD and a distorted self-image ever since she was rescued.

“I was a mess. After so many years of being raised in corruption, how could I begin to learn any different?” Bryant said. “I had to be taught what was appropriate behavior for a child. I suffered severally from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and fear had its grip on me. I was afraid of the night, anyone getting close to my face, and especially having the feeling of being suffocated. None of these things go away over-night and still the consequences of these events live with me.

Bryant said she couldn’t bear to look into a mirror because her low self-esteem made her disgusted by who she was. She thought she was worthless until a divine inspiration led to healing.

“The Lord came into my life,” Bryant said. “He taught me that forgiveness is choosing freedom instead of holding onto a burden of bitterness and shame. It is by no means saying that what someone did to me was okay, but it was handing over the responsibility for justice to God. Going through the process of healing was very difficult. It was like cleaning a wound. You can’t just stick a bandage over a deep wound; it has to be clean and bound. Jesus wrapped himself around my wound, around my heart. I am no longer a victim of heinous crime. I am a child of God.”

Today, Bryant is devoted to making a difference for women and children who are victims of human trafficking through rescue and rehabilitation.

“I want to build a home for them that is welcoming, a place where they can find refuge and overcome this burden,” Bryant said.

In addition to the Hot Topics panel, the film “Holly: Human Trafficking, a 12-year-old’s story” will be shown on campus Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. and Wednesday through Thursday at 5 p.m. All screenings will be in CHSS 130.

The SHSU Political Engagement Project and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences are hosting the events.

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