I believe in the divine hand of Providence, I don’t think that things just happen or that the universe creates accidents. I truly believe that my footsteps are guided and that my feet have been ordered to walk down certain paths that have allowed me to meet the most incredible women. One such path was in September 2018 in San Antonio, Texas where I was a forum speaker about Human Trafficking at the Life Arts Festival. During my time there I met Kathy McGibbon, a former survivor of sex trafficking, she has been uniquely positioned to tell her story in a way that brings healing while at the same time casting light on this crime against humanity. She’s a creative, the author of Destined: The Unspoken Revealed, a playwright, a mother, an advocate, and an OVERCOMER. She’s strong and inspiring, here’s her story.
My mom was a single mom and she raised me in a wonderful home, albeit she was incredibly strict. When I was younger I would often times think to myself “When I get of age, I’m going to do X Y Z”. And at the age of 21, I had two children and I was living in my mom’s house. We had a good relationship and she was supportive of me and helped me out while I went to school, worked and raised the kids.
In 2003 while I was in school, a mutual friend of mine, went to a talent show that BET was hosting in Houston, there she met some guys that were R&B artists and according to her they were amazing and they wanted all of us to hang out together.
There was a group of four of us that were really close, we kept each other accountable and looked out for each other so we decide to go to their concert together. The lead singer was a very well-known R&B artist in the Houston area and after the concert the four of us were invited to attend their VIP event; and that’s how it all started.
We began hanging out together, my girlfriends and all the guys in the group and the entourage of people who were always around them. We were going to clubs, getting into the VIP after parties and drinking. While this was going on I had a flip side were I was still going to church, still going to school, and raising my kids. After a while, it was no longer the guys and the girls all hanging out together. It was just the lead singer and I; he had created such a divide between me and my friends and my family and I didn’t even realize it. I didn’t see the red flags, I wanted the attention and he was a smooth talker, handsome, he motivated me, he was charming and he was a master manipulator. He invested in me for months. He put all the focus on me and began saying things like “You’re beautiful” “You’re the only one I want” “WE can do this, WE can make things happen together” “I want to help you achieve your goals”. He knew what I wanted to hear and he said it. Over the course of time, that behavior turned possessive and controlling. He began to follow-up on my every move, constantly asking where I was, what I was doing, who I was with. Anytime I was around his friends, if he felt like I was having too much fun or laughing too much he would make leave the group to be with just him. I still didn’t see the warning signs and instead I interpreted his possession as a relationship. I justified it by telling myself he was doing what any boyfriend would do.
After a year of us “dating” he told me that he was going to go to Dallas to start his own record label and he asked me to go with him, with the understanding that it would be for three months. I was really hesitant to agree with the move because my kids and I were still living with my mom and it would cause so much friction. But, he showed me evidence of the record label, showed me the business plans, and what it was going to look like. I told him that leaving the kids with my mom for three months just wasn’t going to happen so he helped me come up with a plan and a lie. I moved into my friend’s house two weeks before we were supposed to go to Houston; this caused enough issues and anger with my mom that we weren’t on speaking terms. Then I told my friend and her family that I got an opportunity to go to Dallas to train for this amazing new job, and asked if they would they be okay to watch the kids for three months while I was there. They agreed and the plans for me to go to Dallas were set.
The Night that Changed Everything
On the night that we were supposed to leave, I showed up to his studio and I immediately knew something was wrong because when I walked in, I was greeted by men and a few women that I had never met before. I ignored all the internal alarms that were going off on the inside of me, I pushed down the fear and convinced myself that these people were there to see him off and that some of them just wanted to go to Dallas to be supportive. When it was time to leave he me put in a vehicle with his driver and then he went and got in a separate vehicle with another woman; instead of feeling anxious for my life I got angry. That’s how messed up my brain was, I wasn’t thinking “This isn’t right, something is wrong”, I was thinking “He’s cheating on me!”
When we arrived at the hotel in Dallas and I walked into the suite, that’s when I knew I was in trouble. I saw other females there and they were not happy, and I knew they did not want to be in that room. Then, this man, who I thought I loved, who had spent a year romancing me and investing in me, he stepped through that hotel door and immediately changed. He became the boss, not the charming individual I fell in love with. Remember the female that he rode with? That was his child’s mother. She took me to the mall, bought me a bunch of make up and sexy lingerie, we went back to the hotel and she did my make up and took my pictures.
Things were happening so fast that I my brain shut down and went into protection mode. I wasn’t processing anything the way that I would have normally processed it. People have asked me why I didn’t run as soon as felt like I was in danger, it’s because in those moments, when things were taking place, it was like I was watching it happen to me but I was completely disconnected from reality.
I convinced myself that everything that was happening was okay. That I was showing him support and that he loved me. When he told me that we needed more money for the business and the investors wouldn’t make up the difference, and that he needed my help, I agreed. He promised me that he loved me and he would never put me out on the street like the other girls that were in his ring. I wanted to make him happy and I held onto the promise that he would protect me and that I was not like the other girls. Then one day he told me that the money wasn’t coming in fast enough, and he took me out, dropped me off on the side of the road and left me there in the dark walking from car to car to make the money that he told me I had to make. When he put me out on the street he became abusive and violent with me and that’s when I began to see him as the monster he truly was.
Those three months turned into nine months. I didn’t even know that I had been gone that long. My mind went into a disassociated state and I lost track of time. For nine months my friend that I had moved in with would wright about how she felt like something was wrong but she couldn’t put her finger on it. I wasn’t completely shut off from my friends and family. He allowed me, under his watchful eye, to call and check on the kids. I had to tell them that my training was extended and that I needed to stay longer. He even sent money to my friend to help cover the cost of the kid’s expenses. Of course I had to earn that money back and repay him but at least my children were being taken care of.
My friend’s family also felt like something was off and they would talk to my mom, but she just thought I was still angry with her and didn’t want to speak to her. Really, there was nothing that anyone could do to help me. From their standpoint, I was alive and okay and the kids were being taken care of financially, what could they report to police? Nothing.
My rescue was different in the fact that no one came barging through the doors with weapons or grabbed me off the streets and whisked me to safety. I was actually “rescued” by the girl he rode to Dallas with, the mother of his child. She hated me at first but over time she started clinging to me and would confide in me. I found out that she had a lot of mental illness she wasn’t being treated for. One night she had a mental breakdown and she got so crazy he couldn’t control her. He was abusive to me but he couldn’t beat her up and throw her away like he would any other girl, because people would ask questions since they had a child together.
I don’t know where the idea came from or how the words were even formed and uttered out of my mouth, but in the middle of all the chaos, I told him that she needed to go back to Houston to her doctor so there wouldn’t be any suspicion thrown on him. It took a lot of convincing but he finally agreed, and the three of us went back to Houston.
The moment we got to Houston I experienced all kinds of triggers. I wasn’t under his control in Dallas anymore and it was like my mind couldn’t handle the brevity of what I had been forced to do. I too experienced a nervous breakdown in a hotel room, and he couldn’t control me either. I blacked out, he took my phone and called my brother and sister in law. He played it off like we had been dating this whole time and he didn’t know how to help me. When my brother and sister in law took me from the hotel I couldn’t tell them what I had been through. When we got to my mom’s house and I walked through the door, I can’t even describe the look on her face. It was worse than disappointment. I felt so much shame and guilt because I felt like I was the one who did this to myself, I was the one who fell for his charms, and I was the one who left. I didn’t get counseling and I certainly didn’t think I had been trafficked.
Seven Years of Healing
It took me seven years to identify as survivor. I tried to keep that part of my life a secret. It took me a long time to learn what trafficking was; I just thought I had a crappy boyfriend.
In trying to cope with the trauma, I buried my past. I dove back into church hard-core and I tried to be normal but when you go through something like that you can’t just ignore it. I started writing everything down that I had experienced, by acknowledging what happened to me, even in the confines of my journal pages, I began to heal. As time went one I started sharing my story one on one with other young ladies and I realized that what I went through, it wasn’t just my story. I couldn’t believe that other women had stories like mine. I started researching domestic violence which lead to human trafficking and that’s when I realized I was a victim of sex trafficking. I started counseling through my church, which helped, but I didn’t get trauma therapy until I was exposed to Elijah Rising.
As I continued to share what I went through so many people reached out and told me that they went through the same thing, they begged me to keep sharing my story and I did. But the more I shared the more questions were asked and interviews got harder to deal with. If you’ve never experienced trauma of any kind, it can be hard to share without re-victimizing yourself. Everyone process trauma differently and sometimes it’s hard for the audience to understand that.
My Story on Stage
When I realized that a lot of people needed to hear my story, but I didn’t know if I could keep sharing it the way I was, I decided to take comfort in my writing. I felt that if I could SHOW my story that more people could understand it and that’s how the stage play came about. It was my way to share without going through the re-victimization. It’s been so healing to me to be able to share what I went through. It also has given me the ability to tell my mother exactly what I experienced during those nine months in Dallas. It wasn’t until 2017 when she saw my play for the first time that the she knew the full story of the trauma I went through.
As I continued to heal, I heard about Rescue Houston and Elijah Rising. I started volunteering with both organizations and became a mentor for other survivors. Walking with women through their trauma I have realized that the more I share the more I heal. Last year, in January I came on staff at Elijha Rising as the Program Director for Restorative Care. I did not have access to restorative care after I came out of the sex trafficking world so it is something that I am incredibly passionate about it. I refuse to let women wait for seven years to begin the healing process.
Could THIS be Real Love?
A while back I met a man who was the audio engineer at our church. I was a volunteer usher and we struck up a conversation. He told me later that even though he didn’t know my story he KNEW I had a purpose and that’s what drew him to me. When I shared my story with him, he was drawn to the fact that I overcame the trauma, and not to the actual trauma itself. He would ask questions but they weren’t triggers. He started coming to my speaking engagements, he read my book and saw my play. He started doing his own research on human trafficking. His response to me was different from what I had experienced in other dating relationships. I was used to the hearing things like “this is too much I can’t deal with it” or there would be a million questions about the entire event, or I became a “project” and when I felt like someone felt sorry for me, I started to feel like a victim, not a survivor.
He has never treated me like that. He certainly doesn’t ignore my past or act like it didn’t happen, but he doesn’t glorify it either. I have began to learn how to trust and love in a way that I believe God wants me to.
I was really nervous at first questioning what his family would think of me because they knew my story in public, but to actually know me in private is totally different. His response was “We all have things. God took the ashes and made them beautiful. This our story together and our journey together.”
Even after deliverance triggers can still happen and when they do, he encourages me as an overcomer. He will tell me “Look at your track record, you have evidence that you can make it and that you will survive.” He is my best friend and I don’t feel shame or guilt or condemnation when I’m with him.
In November, he surprised me in New York and proposed to me. I said YES! And we are going to have our wedding on July 3, 2019. For me, trust is still a process, I trust him completely, but I have to trust myself that this, this life, this love is okay.
My Stunningly Strong Story So Far
It’s summed up in one word, God. If it hadn’t been for God, I wouldn’t have this story to tell. I wouldn’t have persevered and kept going. It’s because of God that I am a survivor and overcomer.
Gena’s PS: To read Kathy’s book or to get information on her play visit: https://www.kathymcgibbon.com/
For information on Elijah Rising their projects, fundraisers and volunteer opportunities visit: https://www.elijahrising.org/
Gena’s PSS: Due to the beginning of an investigation into Kathy’s case, the name of the accused has been withheld and some details have been left out, but it does not change the scope of her story or her testimony as not only a survivor but an overcomer. Please keep her in prayer as she begins to walk down the path of legal justice.