Human trafficking survivor speaks at CSU’s inaugural Human Trafficking Symposium

Audrey Weiss

Human trafficking continues to in the United States, with 4,460 human trafficking cases reported in 2017, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

A woman speaks behind a podium
Rebecca Bender, founder of the Rebecca Bender Initiative speaks in front of an audience in the LSC. In her speech she talks about her experience having been trafficked. she, along other speakers speak at the Trafficking Symposium on Feb. 22nd. (Brandon Mendoza| Collegian)

Rebecca Bender, a survivor of human trafficking, shared her story as the keynote speaker at the inaugural Human Trafficking Symposium on Feb. 21 in the Lory Student Center at Colorado State University. 


Bender, who was trafficked off a college campus, defined human trafficking as a diverse, dynamic business that targets the vulnerable. 

“This is about the buying and selling of human beings,” Bender said. “These women and these children and these young boys are being lured by fake promises.”

Bender’s story began with the divorce of her mother and father, which she said left her feeling “really unimportant and unwanted.” In high school, Bender said she grew into a gregarious and multifaceted student.

Between her senior and freshmen year at Oregon State University, she got pregnant and chose to keep her daughter, a choice she said was glad to have made.

After sometime of moving around and trying to determine her next moves, Bender met a man.

“Trafficking is not always abductions. It’s a gradual expansion of boundaries and an increase in trust.” Rebecca Bender, human trafficking survivor

Bender said she quickly got sucked into a life with the man and moved to Las Vegas with him, with the idea that the two would start a family with her daughter.

According to Bender, her first night in Las Vegas was the night the man brought her into the trade by manipulating her into paying him back for financing her move.

Bender said she spent six years in sex slavery, traded and sold between three different traffickers, had her face broken in five places from “severe beatings” and had two of her owners’ names tattooed on her back.

“People don’t think about the actual thought and bravery it takes to grab everything you can and your baby and try to work your way back across the country,” Bender said, in regards to her escape.

Bender said she escaped ten years ago in December, but afterwards, was at a loss, with no idea what her next steps were.


“We forget about the ‘Now what.’ It took years for me to get to a place for me to feel proud and able to provide for my family.” Rebecca Bender, human trafficking survivor

Bender connected the power and impact of survivors on other victims to the responders at 9/11. She said survivors have the opportunity to bring a lot to the fight, but at some point there iss a time to give the responsibility to credentialed responders.

Since her escape, Bender started the Rebecca Bender Initiative, working to equip first responders, so that they might help victims escape, as well as assisting women and children build sustainable lifestyles. 

By equipping first responders, assisting them in helping victims escape and mentoring survivors toward economic empowerment, we are breaking cycles of poverty, assisting women and children in sustainability and helping communities stay safe.

“I and my organization work really hard at trying to lift others up,” Bender said. “When one rises, we all rise.”

Collegian reporter Audrey Weiss can be reached at or on Twitter @audkward