From Pain to a Platform: How this Human Trafficking Survivor Thrives
The first time I meet her face to face, I am stunned by what I can only describe as her flawless beauty.
She is a woman who glows.
Her skin glows. Her eyes glow beneath her glasses.
Even her teeth seem to twinkle in a smile that rarely settles.
I notice her shoes (of course). They are fierce black heels wrapping teeny-tiny delicate feet.
She rocks some tattoos and a cool mom vibe that makes me think she’s the kind of mom—replete with the groovy jewelry and outsized personality—that would intimidate the rest of us in the school pickup line or the PTA meeting.
Yet if you ask Heather Pounds about her shiny skin and sunny smile, those hip shoes on her tiny feet, and she’ll claim the compliment not for herself, but for “her Jesus,” as she loving refers to Him.
She gives Him the credit for those bright eyes that have seen far too much; the gleaming skin that was once bruised and battered; the tiny feet upon which she stands with such conviction but once carried her far from home, into unspeakable and dangerous places.
Most of all, Heather Pounds believes, Jesus took her brokenness and built with it a platform, and there she stands: a victim turned survivor turned giant-slayer.
And nothing, but nothing, will stop her from helping others escape their nightmare, as well.
In fact, it’s tough to imagine this 40-something Heather as the 14-year old she once was: A girl abused and neglected who ran from one bad situation in Lexington County, South Carolina, into another far worse.
It was the early 1990s, and her Romeo was waiting for her out on the streets. Like most human trafficking victims, the man who would “save” Heather from her intolerable situation at home was a family acquaintance, a predator who would exploit both his knowledge of the family and her vulnerability.
In “the life,” men like these are called “Romeo pimps,” and Heather’s quickly got her addicted to him and to drugs. For this needy teenager, for a very short time at least, it felt like love.
“They come in, tell you everything you want to hear, make promises, and just want to be your knight in shining armor,” she tells me.
But, as the Bible warns in 2 Corinthians 11:14, “I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Soon enough, Heather’s knight plunged her into an 18-year cycle of hell where she was purchased and sold repeatedly across South Carolina and the Southeastern United States.
During those years she would survive her first trafficker, who was killed, only to be passed onto other, more violent traffickers. She would endure gunshot wounds, devastating physical and psychological assaults, and the continuous sexual battery that makes the trafficked victim a valuable commodity for monsters—both sellers and buyers. She would be sold to men in high positions, to pastors and lawyers, at places we consider upscale and luxurious, as well as at homes in regular neighborhoods we all live in.
The fact is human trafficking exists all around us. In reality, it’s most often not the Hollywood version of the story—the kidnapped victim being snatched from the mall or from her bed. Like Heather, she is most likely a girl you know, maybe from a troubled home, who’s being preyed upon by a family member or acquaintance. Often she’s a young girl left alone in her bedroom with her cellphone—a device where countless predators lurk waiting.
Heather can identify homes across the state she was trafficked out of and wonders how it was that no one noticed what was going on. She uses part of her platform now to simply urge all of us to pay attention and speak up.
“You don’t have to be right to say something,” she tells me. “You can say something and be wrong. … I think about that in my own life—like, what if someone would have just said something? It could have changed so much earlier on.”
The good news for Heather, and I think for all of us, is that someone did say something to her, and a seed was planted that would eventually change Heather’s life.
During one of her times in jail, she was ordered by a judge to participate in a prison ministry program, and it was there she first felt called to Christ. When she was released from lockup, she went back to her old life. But she says it put her head in the right position to be ready to truly receive what God would put in her heart—and do with her life—when He gave her the courage a few years later to leave off her blinker and drive out of “the life”—this time forever.
But the road to redemption has not been easy.
“It’s like an onion. Each time that I heal there’s another layer. It goes down to the root because it’s a system—a belief system was put in me—that was wrong. I have to root up everything every time it tries to sprout up,” Heather confides.
That, as they say, is the rest of the story we cannot wait to tell you.
Starting in August, and over the next three months, Lighthouse for Life will be bringing you the conclusion of Heather’s glow story, as well as that of other survivors and the amazing law enforcement, health care, and victim advocates who engage with human trafficking survivors and help guide them from darkness into the light.
We’ll close out our series with important information and tips for parents and the community on how to prevent, identify, and report human trafficking.
Look for our compelling video stories on all Lighthouse for Life social media platforms. Also, if you are a business that would like to sponsor a video vignette, featuring a survivor like Heather or local law enforcement advocates like Sheriff Leon Lott, please let us know by contacting Donna Coffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.