Human trafficking survivor lured by gifts, fake affection

Human trafficking survivor Caroline Pugh-Roberts believed at first it was love. But the man she thought was taking care of her started to control her and forced her to work as a stripper at clubs along the 401 corridor in southwestern Ontario.

Caroline Pugh-Roberts speaks candidly about nightmarish ordeal and how she turned her life around

Human trafficking survivor Caroline Pugh-Roberts of London, Ont., wants to tell her story with the hope of preventing young women from experiencing the nightmare she lived.

"What they [the predators] do is something called 'love bombarding'," explained Pugh-Roberts. "They tend to shower the girl with gifts, designer clothes, nails, make-up, jewellery, take the girls out for meals and get the girls to fall in love with them."

Often the girls are young, vulnerable and come from a difficult family background. Pugh-Roberts was 35 and at a vulnerable stage in her life. Her mother, husband and two friends had all died within six months of each other. 

She said she loved him. But the 'love bombarding' turned into commands to work and help support what he described as "the family." 

That support meant being forced to work as a stripper in various clubs along the 401 highway corridor in southwestern Ontario. Sometimes, she made extra money from prostitution. He kept all of the money she made over the eight years she was with him.

The escape

Eventually, she had enough and escaped. What she thought would be easy to do ended up taking two years. She couldn't leave London because she didn't know where to go and had no money.

She ran to a woman's abuse shelter, but he found her the same day. He tossed her clothes at the building and shouted for her to come out. The shelter's workers told her she could no longer stay, because she was endangering the life of others there.

Workers took her to another shelter, where she became ill and ended up in the hospital. When discharged, she could not move back to that shelter, she told CBC, because that shelter had a rule that people who remained away from that shelter for two nights were evicted. 

With the last quarter in her pocket, the only person she could call was her abuser. So she returned to him.

But she also returned to her previous life. 

Pugh-Roberts made her final escape by seeking help from the Salvation Army, which found a shelter for her. She stayed for four months before finding an apartment. 

Road to recovery

When she was in a safe place, she decided she would turn her anger into something good. 

Pugh-Roberts entered counselling and received help for seven years. Now, when she is not speaking to high school students or helping other women escape from from trafficking, she's at school, entering her final year studying social services. 

If someone truly loves you, they will never, never put you in danger or ask you to do something that is against your morals.- Caroline Pugh-Roberts

"Ideally I would like to work in a safe house for women trying to leave the sex industry," said Pugh-Roberts.

"I have my wits back about me and through education, I have seen how it happened. And through introspection I've recognized why it happened and how I managed to fall prey."

But she said many young women don't have the maturity to understand that when someone you've only known a short time is throwing money at you and telling you that you're beautiful, there's a good chance it's not sincere. Their goal is to make you their property and have you make money for them, she warns. 

"When I go into the high schools, I end my speech by saying, if someone truly loves you, they will never, never put you in danger or ask you to do something that is against your morals, your values, and makes you feel uncomfortable. If this situation arises, run."