TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - In 2018, the national human trafficking hotline worked close to 11,000 cases — a majority of those cases were victims of sex trafficking.
In Tucson, those who have experience first hand said sex trafficking happens more than many think, and they are hoping to help others stay out of it.
For many people, shopping for a wedding dress is just one of the first steps to the happiest day of their lives, but the gowns at Free Ever After are helping many others with their worst memories. Repurposed and used gowns hang from the racks for customers to buy.
“I don’t see the purpose of throwing things away and the backstory because of my history,” said Brandy Chase, who was shopping for a dress at the boutique.
Chase said she has been abused before, which is one of the reasons she came to Free Ever After to shop for a dress. The proceeds from the gown sales go to Masterpiece Mentorship, where survivors of trafficking mentor those through past traumas. Grace Tang is one of those mentors and said she’s been “out of the industry” for 14 years.
“It started as a child…being molested and raped,” Tang said.
As a vulnerable teen, she said she was an easy target.
“I fell into the hands of people that just took advantage of me and lured me into a life of darkness,” she said. “Once you sell yourself once, it’s easier to sell yourself multiple times.”
For nearly two decades, her life was stuck — cast in the shadows of the illegal sex trade industry, until she finally reached her breaking point. In a toxic relationship at the time, one where she was beat often, she decided she was done, and took 100 pain pills.
“I … ended my life,” she said. “All I saw was the machine, and I flat lined.”
But, she said she had an encounter with god.
“I heard a voice say, ‘Grace, I’m not done with you,’” she said. “It took me to die to get out of that.”
In recovery, she found her new hope and purpose. She turns her pain into art, casting the hands that were held hostage for so long, as free and open. She makes casts of hands or feet as pieces of art. She said it’s a way that she has found healing.
“I found my purpose, and that’s what kept me out of the business,” she said.