To Japan and back: Indiana woman shares story of human trafficking

CINCINNATI, Ohio - In 1984, Marti MacGibbon suffered from a full-blown drug addiction and was sold into the multibillion-dollar human trafficking industry.

A set of vulnerable personal circumstances set in motion what would be MacGibbon's ordeal in human trafficking. MacGibbon was addicted to drugs, living in her car and managing anyway she could.

"Traffickers watch for vulnerability," MacGibbon said. "I was living in my car, had a crazy boyfriend, [and I] was just trying to make ends meet.

"I wasn't in touch with my family or friends. I was isolated and the person who trafficked me knew all of that."

Thursday marked Human Trafficking Awareness Day around the world, and there's a likelihood human trafficking has touched the lives of Tri-State residents one way or another.

In MacGibbon's case, she was raised in a typical middle class family in Muncie, Ind. She was a successful standup comic who scored an appearance with Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show." MacGibbon said up until the appearance, she was a recreational drug user, but after the excitement of meeting Carson, she spiraled out of control.

It was then she encountered the woman who changed the course of her life. The unidentified woman was an illicit distributor of young women to serve Japanese businessmen, MacGibbon said.

"I knew that's what it was, but I was told it would be in a five-star hotel and I would be in control and I could make decisions about what I wanted to do," MacGibbon said. "I was desperate enough to go, I took her up on it. I had a one-way ticket and very little cash."

McGibbon was imprisoned for two months, locked in an apartment and was told by the traffickers "her body would end up in the bay" if she didn't cooperate.

One of the businessmen MacGibbon was assigned to helped her make her escape back to the United States. He possessed intimate knowledge of the human trafficking trade and bought her freedom, she said.

"I'm one of the lucky ones," MacGibbon said. "I wasn't supposed to even come back. The trafficker [who originally sent her to Japan] sent a girl every month, and I checked into the other girls when I got back to the U.S.

"I'm the only one that returned."

All the while her family had no knowledge of her captivity in Japan. When she returned to face them, she didn't want to burden them with what happened to her, and rather than changing her previous habits, she continued to abuse drugs in an effort to cope, she said.

MacGibbon shared her story in her book "Never Give in to Fear: Laughing all the way up to Rock Bottom" (Download Marti's book on Kindle for free Friday).

Unfortunately, MacGibbon's case is only one of millions occurring around the world and around the Tri-State every day.

The human trafficking industry generates more than $32 billion annually and is the second-most profitable criminal enterprise globally, according to a report by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.  The report indicates there are more than 27 million victims of human trafficking around the world today.

"Facing the numbers is hard for people to wrap their heads around," said Gretchen Hunt, the training coordinator at the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Program said. "The natural impulse of people is to say that human trafficking doesn't happen because it's too awful. We don't want to think it can happen."

In Kentucky, up to half of the victims trafficked started as children.

"This is very much a child-protection issue," Hunt said.

In the world of human trafficking, the average age of women is between 12 and 14, with the FBI suspecting that 1 out of every 5 involved in prostitution in the United States is a child.

Locally, law enforcement authorities should remain vigilant of the telltale signs of child trafficking, such as runaways, older boyfriends and even branding, Hunt said.

"They can look for somebody with tattoos with the name of their pimp," Hunt said. "When people are dehumanized, they are treated as chattel and the same thing happens with girls in the sex industry."

The tattoo reinforces in the psyche of the girl slave she is property and signals to other traffickers she is already owned. Trafficking exists in Tri-State communities, rural and urban.

One such case in Kentucky involved a family acquiring a Filipino woman to serve as a domestic worker. She allegedly worked 18-hour days for 50 cents per hour; meanwhile the family apparently demanded she pay the $8,000 debt to the network that trafficked her to the states, according to the study "Human Trafficking in Kentucky" conducted by T.K. Logan, Ph.D.

The National Underground Freedom Center study examined federal and Tri-State laws relating to human trafficking, and found loopholes hindering the prosecution of violators.

Traffickers are able to easily bounce from state to state and across city borders where laws and regulations on human trafficking differ, according to the report.

"A lot of it is being concerned about people, caring about your neighbors," Hunt said. "If something doesn't seem right, call someone, call the police or the National Human Trafficking hotline. Do something to show concern for those people."

The National Human Trafficking Hotline number is: 1-888-3737-888

Click here to be directed to the National Policy Group.

Digital Editor Kareem Elgazzar contributed to this report.

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