Human trafficking is a crime that plagues communities across our country and right here in metro Detroit.
Just last month, we brought you the story of a human trafficking operation uncovered in a neighborhood bust. Police raided multiple homes and rescued several women.
Human trafficking can happen in any community. It's a crime that often goes unnoticed, but its effects are devastating.
There are survivors, and people who are working to help survivors get back on their feet while fighting human trafficking.
A Survivor's Story
It's been just over a year since Erica Dubre was saved from a life of being human trafficked. Just over a year since the last time her pimp would lace the drugs that caused haunting scars on her body.
"Fentanyl and Ajax was what he was putting in his heroin," Dubre said. "I'll have scars for the rest of my life, on my arms from that stuff."
It's just one of the horrendous abuses Dubre suffered during her four years being human trafficked out of a house off Paddock St. in Pontiac.
She was 30 when it started. She said her pimp was nice, until he wasn't.
"I was an addict and a drug dealer came to me and asked me if I would come stay with him and he would take care of me," she said.
"My nickname for him was the Boogeyman, it's the best way I can put it. He'd pop up out of nowhere and you knew as soon as you seen him, it was not good," she added. "He would hire boosters, pay them in drugs or money to get us clothes, deodorant, makeup. But that's the bare minimum of anything he did good because we were also peeing and pooping in a bucket in the basement for awhile."
According to Dubre, more than 20 women were being trafficked in and out of the house she was living in. They were all forced to sleep with "The Boogeyman" and go on what he called dates with strangers where treatment was designed to make them feel worthless.
"You just feel like there's no way out, you feel like you've let your family down, your children down, so you just feel like there's nothing else. You've already been a prostitute," she said.
Dubre said she probably would have died if it wasn't for what happened on Sept. 1, 2022, when the house was raided.
"They kicked both doors in on Paddock at the same time," she said. "I said, 'we're getting raided' and at that time I'm hiding drugs in the house."
Police arrested the pimp and everyone at the house at the time. Erica was taken to jail, and then taken to the hospital and said she almost lost both of her arms.
Michigan State Police Lt. Edward Price testified as an expert witness at the trial that sentenced Erica's pimp, Richard Lee Coleman, Jr., to 75-125 years in prison.
"I've had the opportunity to travel throughout the United States and do human trafficking investigations and you will find it everywhere," he said.
Price has been investigating human trafficking for 15 years.
In 2020 alone, a total of 2,198 people were referred to U.S. attorneys for human trafficking offenses, a 62% increase from 2011.
"You know they could be talking to that exploiter, that pimp online and be sitting on the couch with their parents right at the dinner table, not knowing who they're communicating with," Price said.
Eighty percent of human trafficking survivors end up being re-victimized if they do not have a safe place to go. That's why safe homes exist.
Protecting and Helping Survivors
The Hope Against Human Trafficking Safe Home in Pontiac provides women with a protected place and resources to get their freedom back.
"The first product that we started with is the fidget rings that we have," Shannon Sloan, the co-owner of Ring True and Free Bird, said. "So all of them come attached to cards that have different encouraging words and quotes like "strong, clarity"
Sloan and her sister, Amanda Kozlowski, bring their business to the safe home. They employ human trafficking survivors, offering them possibly their first real job making jewelry.
"They have been forced to earn an income for other people with their bodies for so long, we want them to know that they can do something and make something beautiful with their own hands and be proud of something that they've made and feel empowered that way," Kozlowski said.
A safe place to live and employment drastically increases a human trafficking survivor's ability to stay free. Dupre is fortunate to have both.
Medical professionals were able to save her arms, and though her physical scars remain, she said she's never been healthier or happier.
Dupre now has her own car, a job, she's reconnected with family and she's once again confident in her worth.
"It's been a fight and it's hurt me severely every day, but I still am alive and I'm just going to make something with it," she said.
Erica's family has started a GoFundMe as she gets back on her feet. Part of that money will go to skin grafts for her arms.