When Jillian Mourning agreed to a modeling gig in Arizona in 2007, she had no idea her life was about to take a dramatic turn. Her manager of four months had arranged the supposed photo shoot – but when Jillian arrived at the hotel, he and two other men raped her and filmed the attack.
“I kept thinking, ‘How did I get here? Is this my fault?’” she says of the moments following the attack. She tried to block it from her memory, but her ordeal was far from over. After blackmailing Jillian with the videos and threatening to post them on the Internet, her manager continued to fly her across the country and sell her to men for sex. Terrified of the footage going public, she complied with his demands.
Then, after six months, all contact stopped; her manager was arrested for unrelated financial crimes. While doing research on the man who had caused her so much pain, she made a discovery: she wasn’t the only victim. “Other models came forward, admitting to having been victims of sex trafficking at his hands. Until that point, I had never even considered myself a sex trafficking victim. I was in denial.”
She realized that few people know what sex trafficking was, nor did they realize it can happen in their communities. Over 300,000 children are at risk of sex trafficking in America each year, the majority having been runaway girls. “People don’t want to talk about it because they believe it won’t happen to them or to someone they care about. But this needs to be a national conversation, because no one is exempt.”
Jillian, now 25, founded the nonprofit All We Want is L.O.V.E. – Liberation of Victims Everywhere in Charlotte, North Carolina. The organization helps connect victims to professional services and resources, from legal advice and counseling to clothing and shelter.
Through her nonprofit, Jillian has launched several initiatives. Student Traffick is a program implemented in several high schools and colleges to raise awareness and funds to respond to the cause. The organization will also lead workshops for law enforcement officials and cable companies on how to spot the signs of sex trafficking. Cable service providers are often welcomed into homes, and can be taught to look for typical indicators including bare mattresses on the floor, too many girls sharing a living space, and numerous men coming to and from the residence.
“Through education and victim advocacy, we hope to put a face and name to the issue,” Jillian says. “We need to stop blaming the victims and start spreading the message.”
Inspired by Jillian’s story? Check out Kayla Harrison, a sexual assault survivor turned Olympic gold-medalist; Rebecca Johnson-Stone, founder of the Walk Against Rape; and Kayrita Andersen, advocate for sexually-exploited children.