Milwaukee's April Bentley spent the last five years as a victim of human trafficking. She was taken in as a teenager by a woman who befriended her, then began using her as a prostitute.
"I think I was about 19 when I woke up one day in a strange place because alcohol would erase my memory," Bentley said.
"I didn't know that I was being trafficked. There were many years that I had no idea what that was. I didn't know that I was in a bad space."
The Polaris Project, a non-profit that runs the National Human-Trafficking Hotline, said sex trafficking is a global industry generating $150 billion a year.
This week, the FBI announced the results of a multi-state crackdown on human trafficking called Operation Cross Country. Footage provided by the FBI showed people being taken into custody. Officials said law enforcement identified or arrested 85 people suspected of child sexual exploitation and human trafficking. They rescued more than 200 victims, including 84 children. The average age was 15 and a half, and the youngest victim was 11 years old.
Bentley shared her story with Newsy partner station WTMJ.
"It was a woman who befriended me. She was an older woman. I was 14, she was 25. She basically kind of said 'oh I'll take you under my wing, you're such a pretty girl.' She groomed me," Bentley said.
Bentley said that she quickly learned it wasn't the friendship the woman was after.
"So once she gained my trust she basically just sold me to someone down the street and then made it seem like she didn't know what happened — 'oh, you were supposed to just go make breakfast,'" she said.
Today, Bentley's non-profit organization Rubies works with girls who are at risk of exploitation. She said exploitation is embedded in some communities.
"The community that I grew up in — it was more or less that they celebrated it instead of tolerated it. Knowing that I was 14, where was I getting that kind of money? Why was my appearance changing?," Bentley said.
Bentley has a message to survivors: "We want you to grow and to know that you are purposed, you are valuable and we value you as a person."
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, contact that the National Humane Trafficking Hotline.
Text: 233733 | Call: 1-888-373-7888 | Chat