‘Sold into the life’: Surviving a $150B global industry flourishing in Alabama

Special Reports

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — I just remember him taking me out to the parking lot and saying ‘This is what your life is.'”

That was Hadassah Lane’s life for months. She was forced into “the life” — trafficked for sex across the South, thousands of miles from home.

“He would point to cars and he would tell me ‘go to this car and go to this car and go to this car,’” Lane said.

And her story isn’t rare. According to the Global Slavery Index, there are more than 6,000 victims of sex and labor trafficking each day in Alabama. Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide. To put it into perspective, that’s more than General Motors made in 2019 and 40% of the cases happen in the Southeast.

40% of human trafficking cases happen in the Southeast

Experts say part of what makes Birmingham such a hotbed for trafficking is that two of the nation’s busiest sex trafficking highways are two of the city’s main arteries: I-65 and I-20.

“The 140 mile stretch between Birmingham and Atlanta is the most highly trafficked stretch of interstate in the entire country,” said Doug Gilmer, resident agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations.

Gilmer said human trafficking happens every day, in plain sight. Since 2007, more than 50,000 cases of human trafficking in the United States have been reported to the national human trafficking hotline.

“We continue to hear from people that we don’t have human trafficking going in our community,” Gilmer said. “I tell those people you’ve got your head in the sand.”

But there is hope for victims. Since escaping her trafficker, Lane has gone through counseling and reunited with her son.

“Being able to see him was the most heartwarming thing that made me say ‘keep pushing,’” Lane said. “Don’t give up, because it’s possible.”


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