Medford, Ore. – In part two of this NBC5 News exclusive, we introduce you to Ella.
After years of sexual abuse at the hands of her own father, she fell into the trap of not one, but five sex traffickers.
As a young teenage mother thousands of miles from home and deeply ensnared in a prostitution ring, Ella would have described her life as “hopeless” – dark and lonely.
But now, seven years free from the men who sexually exploited her, she’s learned to live a happy and complete life helping others move beyond their trauma as well.
“I was born into what appeared to be your typical American dream family,” said Ella. “We just weren’t what it appeared to be.”
As a child Ella seemed to have it all.
Growing up in a middle upper class family she spent her free time tending to horses with her mother.
But her peaceful smile held a dark secret. “My father was just extremely abusive.”
No one would have guessed the kind of horror she was experiencing behind closed doors.
She said, “By the time I was in elementary school my father started taking pornographic photographs of me.”
From there Ella said the sexual abuse escalated, resulting in self-harm come junior high.
“I cut myself, I had eating issues, I was promiscuous at times and then other times withdrawn and didn’t want human interaction at all.”
Ella became pregnant her senior year of high school.
It was after the birth of her baby girl that Ella says she took a big risk by trying to break the cycle of pain and abuse for her new daughter.
“We ran away.”
A cross country drive from Texas all the way to Ohio, Ella – just 18 years old – moved to a town where she didn’t know a single person.
Before long she found an apartment and a job.
It was the start to a new, chaos-free life. But Ella said emotions soon started to cloud her focus.
“I got lonely. I missed my dad – despite what he had done to me. I missed my mom. I missed social interactions with others,” Ella said. “I ended up posting an ad online asking for companionship.”
A middle-aged man responded – and slept with her – leaving $200 in cash before taking off.
But it was the phone call Ella got a few days later that really kicked off a downward spiral.
“His friend called me. And this guy came over after my daughter went to bed and he just talked with me.”
It was a pleasant and welcome surprise for the teenager so used to men initiating and expecting physical interaction.
“Very charming to me that he didn’t try anything. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, there is something special about this man.’”
Before long, she considered him to be her boyfriend. That’s when the relationship changed.
“He had multiple men come into our home one night and gang rape me in front of my child. And from that point on, I was being trafficked – day in and day out.”
Ella’s traffickers, five men, forced her to sleep with anywhere from three to a dozen men every day, using threats and violence to keep her complaint.
“And at that point I thought I was just going to die or disappear and never be found,” Ella recalled. “It was extremely traumatic.”
The abuse carried on for two years until her mother became suspicious of her daughter’s lifestyle.
“And so I called a local number for girls in prostitution and who are being sexually abused.”
Eventually, Homeland Security would get involved.
Ella’s main trafficker served just a year in prison.
She found picking up the pieces after a life full of violence and abuse wouldn’t be easy.
“I was hopeless. I was dark,” she said. “My dad had spent 18 years ingraining in me that there was something innately wrong with me deep inside and that I could not be a successful individual.”
It took a program in Georgia to offer Ella a new perspective and a chance at a normal life.
She said, “It ended up being just an amazing experience.”
Now, seven years removed from her two years of terror, Ella has made it her life’s work to counsel girls and women who have also been victims of sex trafficking.
“Getting involved was kind of a no brainer for me.”
She’s been a survivor leader at Redemption Ridge in Medford for a year-and-a-half.
“There is an element of surprise when the girls meet me and realize, ‘Wow there is someone who has been through it but that has a life that is worth living.’”
For Ella, being a listening ear and open heart for women whose stories are so similar to hers has a goal behind it: To help offer them the same wholeness her life now has.
“Peaceful and not afraid, fearless.”
As for Ella’s father, he has never been convicted of sexual abuse.
She says that case is actually still under investigation.
To learn more about the work being done at Redemption Ridge visit their website at http://www.redemptionridge.org