(WMC-TV) – Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the Mid-South. People are being sold as servants, laborers and sex slaves right in our own backyards.
A Cordova woman is sharing her story, and is now fighting back against human trafficking.
Kim Benson is a wife and mother. At age 18, she was betrayed by someone she trusted.
"You really believe that no friend would do that to you. She was my friend!" Benson explained.
She said she went with her friend to a house party, where she drank until she passed out.
"I woke up the next morning with two-dozen used condoms all over and crawled out into the living room and there was no furniture, no people...the apartment was a set up," she said.
Benson's so-called "friend" sold her to a commercial sex ring.
"She was handed a wad of cash as big as my head in a spiral knot," Benson remembered.
Ringleaders threatened to kill her if she did not continue to make them money. She said it took months to escape from the criminal enterprise that is now generating billions of dollars worldwide.
Ryan Dalton is with Operation Broken Silence, a group that tracks the most disturbing elements of this trade.
"If you're able to get a minor between 9, 10 and 11 years old, that child is going to be easier to control in the sex trade than an adult," said Dalton.
More than 100 cases of child sex trafficking were documented in Shelby County just last year. Experts believe there are many more cases that went unreported.
Many adult sex trafficking victims are often mistaken for prostitutes, who willingly sell themselves.
With the help of her husband, Daryl, and her son, Kim Benson formed A Bridge of Hope Ministries, which is a group dedicated to ending the cycle of abuse.
They target high sex-trafficking areas like Lamar Avenue in South Memphis.
"We want those individuals who have been harmed to know that there is hope," said Daryl Benson.
Roscoe and Deloris Johnson, pastors of Restoration Outreach Ministries in North Memphis, are also part of Benson's team. They help to spread the message of hope at school and church events.
"We know we're gonna have people on Sunday and what better time to take it and put it as part of your message, part of your announcements, and give people the awareness of it and get people involved," said Roscoe Johnson.
"To a lot of people it's not even real, but now I know it's real. And to talk to the survivors, we know that it's real," said Deloris Johnson.
Kim Benson is real. And with a dedicated team, she is determined to turn tragedy into triumph.
"If you know something is going on and you choose to look away, you then become part of the problem," said Benson.
Anti-trafficking groups statewide successfully lobbied for tougher Tennessee laws against traffickers and those fueling the demand.
Five new laws were passed making Tennessee laws some of the strongest in the country.