HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. - A survivor of sex trafficking is sharing her story at an event in Fishers this weekend in hopes of educating parents about pimps targeting children in the suburbs.
Heather Sewell was raised in a broken home. She was raped at the age of 14 and then placed into foster care at 17. When she turned 18, she was out on her own with nowhere to go.
She remembers being homeless and helpless.
"I ended up sleeping in the back seat of an abandoned car for about three months," said Sewell.
She showed up at a job interview and thought she was going to be a waitress. She wound up dancing at a club in Gary.
"It became a way of life. It became a hustle. It became a ‘You are a top money girl. You’re gonna go make the most money. And we’re going to shower you with accolades and make you feel like you're special. And you’re gonna come back tomorrow and you’re gonna do it all over again'," she remembered. "That took me on a five-year journey of prostitution, drugs, and just being marketed and sold in the club."
While Sewell admits her rough start made her more vulnerable to being trafficked, she believes anyone from any background can become a victim.
That's why this weekend, she's speaking at the Hope for Human Trafficking Symposium in Fishers. The event takes place at Christ the Savior Lutheran Church on 10500 E. 126th St. Sessions begin at 10 am and run through 3 p.m.
Sewell and advocates want to teach parents trafficking can happen in the suburbs.
"We see a lot of recruitment occurring online, definitely through the social media apps," said Megan Jessup-Smyth, COO of Ascent 121. The group assists victims of human trafficking.
Jessup-Smyth said kids in Hamilton County are being recruited on social media and they are even becoming victims of sextortion- sexually explicit images given to the wrong people and victims too ashamed and afraid to ask for help.
"Just be aware of what your children are doing online. Be aware of their activities online. Be aware of what social media apps they are using,"
Because of more awareness, Ascent 121 has noticed the number of youth seeking their help more than double in one year.
"Just last year in 2016 we served 110 children who came through our programs," said Jessup-Smyth.
That's why Sewell wants to tell her story. She said the biggest mistake a parent can make is believing it will never happen to their child.
"We’re human and we’re all wired for relationships. We want to be loved. We want to be accepted. We want to be valued. We want to feel like we’re important and sometimes parents can get so caught up day-to-day, they don’t have a relationship with their child," she said. "If your child has stopped talking to you, that’s the biggest warning sign there is."