Special Report: Survivors in the Streets – Rewriting Endings Part 2
In part one of our special report, we introduced you to Leslie King, a human trafficking survivor.
Now, we’re taking you to the streets to see how she helps other men and women including one woman from northern Michigan.
In part two of their special report, Survivors in the Streets: Rewriting Endings, Whitney Amann and chief photojournalist Derrick Larr share how they turned these heartbreaking stories — into hope.
“I remember as I was getting sleepy, that’s what I call it dying, getting sleepy, my heart is like boom boom, boom boom,” said Leslie King. “And out of nowhere with the last bit of breath I had, I said if there’s a God in heaven, help me.”
Independence Day of 2000 had a different meaning for Leslie King.
For her, it was the day she found the strength to set herself free.
“The fight was on,” she said.
After 20 years, she got herself off the streets and the help she needed.
Now 20 years later, it hasn’t been easy and she still looks back.
“I had to find my purpose and I did.”
But not in the way you might think.
“Now this used to be my area all up in here.”
She’s dedicated her new life to helping other women who have found themselves where she was for so long.
Answering calls, anytime of the day.
“Hi baby this is Leslie, what’s going on?
I have a crisis going on right now.
Hey, breathe, just breathe for a minute.
I don’t feel safe at all because of my history and my background and I’m going to be totally honest with you I’ve been clean for seven months.”
And searching the streets, anytime of the night.
“My instincts tell me to go back down Division Street,” said Leslie. “Bingo. Poor baby she’s always out here, poor thing bless her heart.”
Leslie took us along to witness the often heartbreaking scenes she sees while doing street outreach in Grand Rapids.
“Hold on baby here I come,” she said. “Here sweetheart its cold out here.
Do you know who I am?
My name is Leslie here you go.”
Human trafficking isn’t just happening in Grand Rapids or big cities.
“Oh it’s in your community and just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it aint there,” said Leslie. “It might mean you don’t know what you’re looking for.”
It happens every day most times, right in front of you even in northern Michigan.
“I remember coming through here many times, especially during deer hunting season,” said Leslie.
We sat down with a human trafficking victim from our region, who is now recovering thanks to Leslie’s help.
To protect her identity, we are not showing her face and changing her voice.
“Prostitution isn’t something that’s just one street in Grand Rapids or one street even in Big Rapids,” she said. “Prostitution is something that is everywhere, it’s everywhere that you look.”
So what should you look for?
“Prostitution doesn’t come in a mini skirt always it can be a professional person, it can be a college student, looks and dresses a certain way but at night time they go out.”
“A lot of people when they think of prostituted women they think of thigh high boots daisy dukes blah blah blah that’s not always the case,” said Leslie.
They’re often times the people that look just like you…
And when it comes to the average trafficker?
“It could be your next door neighbor, your pastor, the police, an elected official, anybody,” said Leslie. “Nobody’s immune from being a john. Your husband.”
Leslie knows she can’t save these women…
“They have to save themselves,” she said.
But that won’t stop her boots to the ground efforts.
“See they standing out here, these dudes is out here look at this,” she said. “Look at them just waiting like vultures.”
She will continue passing out ‘blessed bags’ with her number and necessities, that feel more like luxuries to these women.
“Gere you go sweetheart here’s a blessed bag for you. You going to be okay?
No not really. My hands are froze, feel how cold my hands are.
When you’re ready, hit me up with that card, I was out here for 20 years I know what you’re going through. I love you baby.”
You might be wondering how Leslie keeps going.
“A lot of prayer, a lot of determination for me to keep going,” she said. “When I see the women I just remember when and I just thank God that he allowed me to go through everything that I went through in order to go back.”
Leslie founded Sacred Beginnings, the first survivor led peer mentor group in the state with two homes that offer hope and healing for these women.
“I don’t want to end up dead on the streets, I don’t want to end up another statistic.”
While Leslie’s story has come with some very difficult chapters, she’s determined to give these women the tools to re-write their ending — just like she did..
“You’re not alone, I’ve been there done that over 20 years, I understand it,” said Leslie. “If I can get out of the game so can you, give me a call.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call Leslie at 616-443-6233.
Click here for the link to Sacred Beginnings, the first survivor led peer mentor group in the state, founded by Leslie King.
You can also call 888-3737-888 or visit the state’s website.