A survivor's story: Idaho human sex trafficking victim speaks out

Posted at 8:01 PM, May 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-24 09:28:10-04

"Never once did I think I'm going to grow up and I'm going to be a prostitute," said Amanda Forrest. "But when you don't have options, you don't have options."

Amanda Forrest didn't know she was a victim of human sex trafficking for a long time; she didn't realize she was being manipulated by traffickers who were able to exploit her to make money both in Idaho and out of state.

Forrest grew up in the Treasure Valley. She called her childhood "shaky and broken" and as she entered adulthood, she found she needed money to pay the bills. So she started working at a local strip club, which started a wild journey ... until she was able to call herself a survivor.

"They are almost always coerced, they are almost always manipulated into it," said Rebekah Stearns a counselor who is studying to earn her doctorate in education. "It's just they are psychologically chained up to this way of living."

Human trafficking is a crime defined as using force, fraud or coercion for the exploitation and trading of people for labor or a commercial sex act

Forrest talked about some of the hardships, including losing one of her best friends in a car accident, turning to substance abuse, and dealing with depression.

Stearns said that most victims of human sex trafficking end up addicted to drugs or alcohol. For Forrest it was alcohol -- readily supplied by her traffickers.

Meanwhile, Amanda was just trying to survive -- and, in a last-ditch effort to make enough money to buy a car that she hoped would give her a chance to get in a different, a normal line of work -- she traveled to Williston, North Dakota at the height of the Bakken oil boom. It turned into a bad situation very quickly.

"These guys turn me out, sell me for an 8-ball -- and the guy that was pretending to be my boyfriend said 'You have to do this for me,'" said Forrest.

Forrest returned to Idaho without money to buy a car, right back where she started -- but more depressed. Stearns said victims often end up having Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

However, Amanda also met Windie Lazenko in North Dakota, who turned out to be a shining light during a very dark time in Amanda's life.

Lazenko survived being a victim of human sex trafficking herself; as a result, she started her own foundation in North Dakota -- called 4 Her North Dakota -- and she was able to convince Amanda Forrest that she was being trafficked.

Forrest realized she had experienced 15 out of 18 red flags in a pamphlet she was reading: being in a controlling relationship, being isolated, not having any money, identification mysteriously disappeared, getting drugged and unwanted sex were just a few of those.

After another rough patch back in Idaho, Forrest found Inside Out Salon, a Boise non-profit run by Dawn Maglish, that was established to bring awareness, advocacy and action to fight against human trafficking.

Forest said that support group and a steady job were the biggest reasons why she was able to escape a life of human sex trafficking.

Now she wants to help others -- and plans on setting up a foundation in the Treasure Valley with the help of Windie Lazenko.

"She's got a very powerful insight. And the way she approaches this subject is just so articulate and she just truly cares," said Lazenko. "I'm very honored that I get to mentor her through this process."

Inside Out, Lazenko and Forrest all say that the demand for buying sex is what's driving this illegal trade. Globally, trafficking has turned into a $99 billion dollar industry, according to a study posted back in 2014.

On the day this story aired, the Idaho U.S. Attorney's Office in Boise issued a press release about a Meridian man who pleaded guilty to "coercion and enticement" after soliciting sex from who he thought was a woman and her 15-year-old daughter. Actually, t was a sting operation by the Idaho Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, also known as ICAC.

41-year-old Bruce Froman faces ten years to life in prison. His sentencing has been set for August 14 at the federal courthouse in Boise. This is not his first offense. Froman was convicted of enticing a child over the internet back in 2011.

This most recent case was investigated by the Department of Homeland Security, ICAC, the United States Attorney’s Office, the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office, the Ada County Sheriff’s Office, the Boise Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office, the Canyon County Prosecutor’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Garden City Police Department, the United States Marshal’s Service, and the United States Postal Inspectors Service.

Here for a link to the press release click here.