Charlotte mom shares 'secret life' of growing up a sex slave

By the time she was seven, she was secretly exchanging sexual favors for help with her homework.

She's the same mom cheering on her kids on the soccer field or sitting beside you in church. She's also however, spent most of her life living with a secret.

"I swore I would never, ever talk about it," says Lanie George, a mom of four who lives in the Charlotte area.

George says she spent almost her entire childhood as a sex slave.

"Because it did start so early, I just started to keep my mouth quiet."

The first time she was exploited, George says she was just three years old.

"I had no idea that it wasn't okay to happen to a little girl," she says.

George said she was a second-generation sex trafficking victim. Her mother spent years in the shadows, too.

By the time George was seven, she says she was in the back of her mother's strip club, secretly exchanging sexual favors for help with her homework.

"My school bus dropped me off at my strip club," George says. "The men would buy me something to eat after school. They would start with helping me with my homework, and then I would have to perform the sexual act for them."

As George continues to heal from the years of abuse, there is still one thing she can't understand after all of these years.

"Why didn't other people go, 'that shouldn't be happening to her?'" she questions.

George's story is one that's happening in the darkness of every corner of the Carolinas.

"It's happening under people's own roof," says Shawna Pagano, the Mecklenburg County Project Coordinator for No Rest, an organization that is fighting the trafficking of young people.

Pagano says human trafficking is "absolutely" a major problem here in the Carolinas, but it is difficult to quantify.

Statistics show there were 181 human trafficking victims in North Carolina in 2016. But those were just the cases that were reported to a national hotline. Many cases often go unreported, Pagano says.

RELATED: Selling Girls | Sex traffickers are targeting children

"It really is, in my opinion, the tip of the iceberg," Pagano says.

The average age a girl is first sold is just 15.

Pagano says girls are often targeted through social media accounts. Their age, vulnerability, desire to be noticed and the ease of accessibility makes them easy prey, she says.

And the predators often are people who seem trustworthy, Pagano says.

"One of the misconceptions that we're really trying to eliminate is that traffickers are driving around in a white van full of puppies," Pagano says. "Some traffickers have some of their victims start recruiting other victims, so young women may start recruiting other young women within their own school system and social networks."

George says she wants girls and young women to know there is hope.

"The journey is hard but it's possible," she says.

About four years ago, she started a non-profit organization called Redeeming Joy. The organization has now helped more than 200 young women who are sex trafficking survivors.

Girls once sold, now saved.

"I will do this until I take my very last breath," George says. "Until every woman knows that she's valued, accepted and loved. And her story doesn't end from her past."

© 2017 WCNC.COM


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