The Optic Siren; Is The Phoenix Rising

“Before she became fire, she was water. Quenching the thirst of every dying creature. She gave and gave until she turned from sea to desert. But instead of dying in the heat, the sadness, the heartache, she took all of her pain and from her own ashes she became fire.”

January is Human Trafficking Awareness month. Since 2010, the month of January has been dedicated to raising awareness about the different forms of human trafficking, also known as “modern day slavery.” It isn’t something you would ever think could happen to you. The truth is, human trafficking can happen to anyone and does not discriminate based on race, income, or up bringing. Anyone can become a victim at any given time.

Educating people about this crime and how to spot it is Kelly Barreiro’s life purpose as she has lived the horror of human trafficking first hand. Today, she shares with us how her career as an optician has helped her overcome the nightmare and start her path by helping others. She hopes that with sharing her story she can save another’s life, At 17 yrs old a friend set her up on a dating site where she connected with a 27 yr old man. He introduced himself as a mental health major by day & DJ by night. Kelly struggled with self esteem issues her whole life, so when the 27 yr old “jock” took interest in her, she was smitten. “He made me feel noticed, I had been rejected most of my life and his words made me feel loved and wanted,” she states.

Early into meeting the 27 yr old, Kelly found herself in a position that forced her to move out of her home and live with him. She remembers not being able to keep anything inside his home and she quickly uncovered the darkness that wasn’t showcased on his perfect dating profile.  He was a monster. Dependent on drugs, he started offering Kelly drugs regularly and when she said no, he began lacing her drinks with them. Before she knew it her life was forever changed.

“I have flashbacks of men violating me, people I viewed as “important” began doing things to me that no human should ever endure. If I didn’t make enough money at the end of the night, he would beat me. I stopped eating and was no longer allowed to bathe or brush my teeth.” Kelly was mentally gutted and formed a trauma bond with her abuser. “What I remember most about my abuser is when he instilled loyalty in me.”

I’ve struggled for many years. I’ve stayed silent. I never want another girl to go through something she doesn’t want just to provide a roof over her head and food to eat. I now know that what I did after being trafficked was not my choice, but a product of my circumstances.

“I don’t think anyone can understand what it’s like to have a man who repeatedly goes around in circles screaming at you to “be loyal to him.” Over and over he would say, “you HAVE to be loyal. I’m all you have! Nobody else will love you like I love you! Your family doesn’t even love you! We have a circle of loyalty; you can never break that. If you do, then everything will be broken!” Kelly states, “It went on all night. That memory is still embedded in me to this day and feels as if it was just yesterday. I wasn’t chained to my bed, or even chained in a room but I was chained by his words and violence.”

Kelly spent three months being actively brainwashed by her abuser. She recalls the day she finally reached her limit, “I had enough. I managed to get out to my car where I hid. I sent out a mass text message saying goodbye and overdosed using his drugs. By the grace of God, my text reached a friend that cared and listened. I remember praying for God’s forgiveness as I was drinking the drug laced Gatorade. I was awaken by the sound of cops banging on my car window and sirens surrounding me. I looked around and saw a familiar face realizing it was my high school friend and her boyfriend standing amongst the police that had woken me up.” The next steps were paralyzing for Kelly as she was certain her abuser would kill her if she told the truth. The cops investigated the home Kelly was staying in with her abuser said nothing.

“If looks could kill, I would have been dead in that moment. All I had to do was tell the truth, but I was weak. When the officers left, he told me I wasn’t worth the risk anymore & that my body was used up anyways. Later, I had gone to the hospital and the doctor told me the amount of drugs I had ingested when attempting to commit suicide had damaged some of my memory cells. That combined with the trauma explained why my recollection of the past 3 months was hard for me.”

Kelly attempted taking refuge in a homeless shelter following her discharge from the hospital. She was turned away because she had a car. The homeless shelter saw this as an asset so she proceeded to do just that, call her car “home.”

“At 18 yrs old I was homeless, alone, and trying to rebuild my life.” She would apply for jobs within walking distance, but states “it was difficult finding work as a “unkept 18 yr old.” People would look at me with disgust”, not knowing the trauma she had been through. She began asking for money from people she knew and had enough to pay her cell phone bill and put $4.00 worth of gas in her tank. With what was left of the battery life on her phone she searched for jobs that night in her car. She came across an ad that read “Are you a broke college student? Bills & no way to pay them? Are you between 18- 21? No car or experience required! Call XXX-XXX-XXXX today” so she called. ” $200/hr to a broke, homeless 18 year old is like hitting the jackpot. The lady on the other end of the line reassured me the agency would take care of me. She sent a driver who picked me up and took me to shower, brush my teeth, and put on clean clothes.”

“Escorting isn’t prostitution as long as you don’t cross that line,” the nice lady had said. They promised safety and security but Kelly found herself with a gun to her head more times than she can remember. “I became really good at escaping. I would fight back as men attempted to rape me. I felt motherly to some of the girls as I tried protecting them. This experience was triggering from the trauma I had already endured.

For many years, I struggled with knowing I went from being trafficked to putting myself in the business. I have remained silent for many years, suffered from PTSD, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and depression. I was in my own hell.”

Kelly gave birth to her daughter 7 years ago. When she became .a mother, her life changed and she knew she had to protect her daughter at all cost. Kelly completed a course to become certified as a medical administrator and medical coder/biller & began work at an optometry clinic. She has spent the past 8 years of her life rebuilding, going to therapy, and staying sober. Today, Kelly is an Optician and business owner of her own mobile company and online optical, Her life mission is to help other girls like her get out of sex trafficking while bringing awareness to the issue.

How to recognize someone who may need help:

  • Visible signs of physical abuse (cuts, bruises, burn marks.)
  • Overly tired
  • Sexualized behavior
  • Inappropriately dressed or underdressed
  • Withdrawn, depressed, lost sense of time
  • Evidence of being mentally or physically controlled
  • Inability to speak for oneself or share ones own information
  • Loss of personal identification
  • Having few or no personal possessions
  • Display of expensive clothing, shoes, and accessories
  • Distinct tattoos of names, $ symbols, or barcodes can indicate tracking
  • Significant other of a completely different lifestyle

If you or someone you know a victim of trafficking please contact The National Human Trafficking Hotline 1 (888) 373-7888 or Text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 24/7 free and confidential for people in distress call 1-800-273-8255

Article written by: Kelly Barreiro

Find her here: LinkedIn | Instagram

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