Riverside County is hosting a virtual conference on human trafficking this week. The free conference started on Monday and runs through Thursday. You can find more info HERE. News Channel 3’s Madison Weil sat down with one of the main speakers, Dr. Katariina Rosenblatt, a sex trafficking survivor and founder of the anti-trafficking non-profit There Is Hope For Me.
“I experienced human trafficking at the age of 13 the first time. I was at a hotel in Miami Beach with my mom...she had left my abusive dad and was seeking peace,” said Dr. Rosenblatt.
Rosenblatt says while her mother was at work, a sex trafficking ring operating out of the hotel where they were living began targeting her.
At the hotel, she says she met a 19-year-old girl named “Mary” by the pool who offered to be her friend.
“Honestly I didn’t understand half of the things she talked about,” said Rosenblatt. She says they began spending a lot of time together.
“I knew at 13, I longed to have a family...a father. My mom always worked and my dad was abusive, so when [Mary] introduced me to her pimp and he said I could call him daddy, I fell for it and thought this was a safe person,” said Rosenblatt.
She explains Mary had quickly gained her trust by offering her the idea of a secure family. Rosenblatt says she now recognizes this was all part of the “grooming process," a manipulative approach common in sex trafficking.
“Mary told me tomorrow we’re going to play game...you get to be the bride and I want you to put a white dress on and dress up as pretty as you can,” she said.
Mary had spent enough time with her, that even Rosenblatt’s mother trusted their friendship and had no idea what was happening.
“And I just told my mom I was going with Mary because she was like, where is my sixth grade daughter going? I was going to be with the friend that she had already met so she didn’t have any questions,” she said.
That day, Mary led Rosenblatt to a hotel room. She remembers a hotel maid was guarding the door and that Mary paid her.
“Mary took me to the hotel room where there was a 65-year-old John waiting for his purchase. I felt uncomfortable right away...I felt icky...I always tell kids to trust their instincts,” she said.
Mary had told her the man wanted to be a “father figure” to her.
“He started to touch my hair and tell me how beautiful I was and then they started to negotiate my price,” she said.
It’s a number she says she’ll never forget: $550 for her virginity.
“When he asked me to sit on the bed, I said no,” she said. They then offered her marijuana, which she refused. She says she now believes it was most likely laced with something designed to weaken a victim and prevent them from being able to fight back.
“He started to ask me questions. He said, ‘Would anyone miss you if you were gone?’ I said yes. He said, ‘Would anyone hear you if you screamed right now?’ I said yes, my mother will hear me.”
She says the man got nervous and kicked them out. Mary grew angry with her but Rosenblatt managed to make it back to her own hotel room that night.
The very next day, she says two other members from the sex trafficking ring kidnapped her and attempted to kill her. She says they put her in a car, drugged her and left her for dead on the side of a remote road.
“They left me there in this vacant lot. I crumpled to the floor because of the drug that they forced me to take. At 13 years old...the doctor...when my mom did find me, the doctor said it was lethal,” she Rosenblatt.
She believes the attempt on her life was because she had not complied and already knew too much about the trafficking ring. In what she calls a miracle, she made her way to a payphone and survived that night.
Rosenblatt would go on to have other encounters with traffickers and drug addiction in her life.
“There was a reason that I survived,” she said.
Rosenblatt is now a Ph.D., working towards her J.D. and the founder of the anti-trafficking non-profit There Is Hope For Me.
She’s also written about her life in her book Stolen and speaks internationally about trafficking prevention. She now urges parents to have these tough conversations with their kids.
“If they are at any age where they are exposed to strangers, or any online social media app, warn them about social media safety. Warn them about stranger danger...about their ‘no no zones’...have those difficult conversations,” she said.