Sex trafficking victims can get beaten within an inch of their life for refusing their pimp’s demands twice. The third time, they either give in or they’re killed.
Trafficking survivor Laurin Crosson visited the BYU campus to speak to members and visitors of the BYU Anti-Human Trafficking Club on Tuesday, Feb. 17. The Wilkinson Center event room far exceeded its maximum occupancy of 108 as students crammed the room to hear her speak.
Crosson told her story of growing up in an upper middle class home in Newport, California. She attended boarding school and college, was an athlete and a champion ice skater. She started modeling and eventually found herself caught up with a fellow model who seemed like a nice young man. He turned out to be a porn star and a pimp. “Traffickers can find the vulnerability wherever it might manifest,” Crosson said. “There’s no target they can’t reach. There is no pain they cannot turn to their advantage.”
Crosson was a victim of trafficking for most of her adult life, being sold for sex throughout the United States and even in Provo. She and her fellow trafficking victims called each other “sister wives” and learned to look out for each other as “the pimp (was) never, never not watching.” Today, all of Crosson’s “sister wives” are dead.
Her pimp influenced nearly all her choices over a 20-year-span. She either complied with his demands or he would beat, starve or drug her until she gave in.
Her pimp trafficked her back and forth between Mexico and one day Crosson said she found herself stranded a mile out in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego. She heard helicopters encircling and the sound of rescue boats coming toward her. “At some point in my rescue, I distinctly heard a deep, booming, male voice that said, ‘This is the last time I save you from yourself,'” she said. “I knew absolutely that the voice was coming from God … and it changed my life.”
Crosson managed to escape her pimp, but not without taking a bullet to the head. She was sent to a hospital in Utah to escape danger. A friend told her to speak with a bishop at Deseret Industries once she’d been released from the hospital. She met with Bishop Ben Shippen and poured her whole life on his desk saying, “Fix my life.”
Ben Shippen, who was serving as a transient bishop at the time, felt overwhelmed and said he couldn’t comprehend her situation. He gave Crosson his wife’s phone number and told her to call. “If anyone had told me eight years ago we would be attending here tonight and seen her the way she is now, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Joan Shippen said.
Ben and Joan Shippen said it took a long time to help Crosson fully escape her former life, but she did and was eventually baptized.
Crosson has since started her own non-profit organization called RockStarr Ministries based in Salt Lake to help care for adult trafficking victims. She uses her personal cell phone number as a 24/7 hot line for prostituted individuals to receive help.
Crosson visits cities across the United States where she brings lunches and condoms to prostituted women. Her organization over the last year has helped 15 women get away from their pimps and ultimately escape trafficking.
It’s difficult to escape trafficking because pimps have such strong psychological and physiological holds over “their girls” and there are so few resources to help them escape. There are more than 300,000 beds for abused dogs, but fewer than 266 beds for sex trafficking victims in the United States, according to Crosson. She is now meeting with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to help influence legislation to provide care for prostituted women who want out.
She said eliminating the demand will eliminate the supply. Crosson, who was an unwilling participant in a number of pornographic films, lambasted the porn industry. “Every time you click to watch pornography, you are looking at a trafficked person,” she said.
Crosson said a cultural change is needed to fight trafficking. “I get really tired of hearing the songs glorifying the pimps and the hoes, and we hear this all the time,” she said. “We’ve got to change the culture.”