Trafficking survivor turns horror to helping

Although she grew up in a wealthy part of Cincinnati, Ann Marie Babb’s life turned tragic at the age of 11 when a human trafficking group targeted her. For the next 10 years, she endured horrific abuse at the hands of her traffickers.

Babb shared her personal journey of horror and recovery during Heidelberg’s fourth annual Human Trafficking Awareness week Wednesday.

By age 12, Babb said she had become an active drug and alcohol addict. “That lasted until I was a freshman in high school,” Babb said. “My mind allowed me to forget that part of my life, but it left a very, very black hole in my soul.”

Babb said as soon as she graduated from high school, “I ran out of Cincinnati to California, where there are bigger and better drugs.” She returned to Ohio a couple of years later, suffering from severe mental illness and abuse. She got a job and befriended a woman who was connected to one of her traffickers. Invited to live with the woman and her boyfriend, she became their property.

“I had no say in what I did or who I saw,” Babb said. “I was escorted to and from my job. I never saw one of my paychecks.” She was drugged and dropped off at houses every night for two years. Even during raids of the houses, no one picked up on signs that human trafficking was taking place.

“They’d find me cuffed to the bed and nobody bothered to ask why … or ask why I was covered with bruises or not able to lift my head. Even in the ER, no one ever asked the right questions,” she said.

Even if they had asked, Babb said she was wary of uttering a wrong word for fear of being beaten again.

One rainy, cold night, Babb escaped and ended up asleep on a downtown Cincinnati street, awakened by a woman who took her to the hospital. After 24 hours, she called the only person she knew: her trafficker.

“I died that night. I was punished for trying to leave. That woman saved me. I was totally isolated. I was property and that was the bottom line.”

Traffickers prey on the vulnerable and isolated, Babb said. Victims are “seen but unseen.”

“Nobody treated me like a human being for years.”

Yet, she remains grateful for the experiences and the journey. “It has shaped me and allowed me to help other women get the services they need. I’m an advocate for them,” she said.

Today, she is vice president of business operations for the We Care So We’re There Center in Middletown, Ohio, and founder and director of Springhaven Home, a safe house for women who’ve been rescued from sex trafficking.

Because Ohio ranks fourth in the country for human trafficking cases, Babb said raising awareness is key. “One of the most important things is that people learn to ask the right questions,” she said, adding that if you see something, say something.

“Educate yourselves and others,” she said. “Even if one woman, one girl is saved, it’s worth it.”

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