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 / Updated  / Source: TODAY
By Donna Freydkin and Danielle Dellorto

It may seem like it couldn't take place in America, but sex trafficking is in fact happening throughout the country.

As part of Megyn Kelly TODAY's series "Selling Girls," Megyn Kelly is featuring three women who have walked in the shoes of a sex slave.

Rebecca Bender

Rebecca Bender says she was an all-American teenager growing up in a middle-class family in southern Oregon.

At 17, Bender got pregnant and at 18, gave birth to a daughter and started community college. Life, thought Bender, was going according to plan — until she met a young man at a party.

“He was the kind of guy that everybody in the room wanted to be his friend and all the girls wanted to date him," she said. “He was interested in me, which made me feel special. And made me feel not alone, that I could have stuff to do and someone to go do stuff with and not feel like a burden."

After dating seriously for six months though, things took a turn. She says he started pressuring Bender herself to dance in strip clubs and would take her to drug-laden frat parties. Although these things made her uncomfortable, she would feel hopeful when she saw how great he was with her daughter.

“My daughter's father was out of the picture from the time I was pregnant. And so, watching this, you know, man that I found charming and attractive and funny and fun and adventurous be so kind to my daughter, and pick her up and hold her and play games with her,” said Bender. When he proposed that Bender move to Las Vegas with him, she agreed. But that decision changed everything.

Rebecca Bender on Megyn Kelly TODAY.
Rebecca Bender on Megyn Kelly TODAY.TODAY

One night, he took Bender for what was supposed to be an evening experiencing Las Vegas nightlife. Instead, she says he drove her to a dead-end street and told her she owed him for the new life he'd given her. He had been building an escort service and told Bender she would need to entertain men in her bikini to maintain her new life in Las Vegas. When she turned him down, he slapped her across the face. Because her first priority was protecting her daughter, she agreed.

“I just kept kind of holding onto that hope that we'd go back to being this family and having this great future in store. And that's what I thought, so I complied and then got out of the car,” she said.

She says she was given a fake name: Kelby. He drove her to a townhouse. And an attractive man opened the door. Bender still thought she was only there to dance. Instead, the man, confused, pulled her on top of him.

“I had on a dress, so he had pulled my underwear to the side and I just froze again, like, I just want it to be over."

She says her life became a prison; she was not allowed to drive or go anywhere by herself. His brother, who was living with them, watched Bender’s daughter. Bender says she tried to escape a few times, to no avail. She felt dirty, ashamed and deeply embarrassed. By 21, she was addicted to cocaine and he kicked her out.

Her family took the daughter and forced Bender into rehab, which only focused on her addiction and not the trauma of being a sex trafficking survivor. After she was done with the rehab program, she returned to her boyfriend.

“You romanticize the good stuff and you always forget about the bad stuff,” she said.

He sold her to another trafficker and eventually, Bender broke free after the feds raided a house she was living in. Today, she is a licensed minister and mother of four. And yes, she says, it can happen to you. To anyone. Because it happened to her.

“I was an average, all-American kid from a loving family and I was trafficked by my boyfriend at 18,” she said.

She now is an inspiring national activist with her own nonprofit which both raises awareness of the problem, and provides resources and tools to help survivors heal and thrive.

"How can I sit here in my warm nice house with my comfy surroundings when I know what's happening out there?" she says. "Today, it feels good to bring change. It's very empowering to take my past and use it for purpose."

The mother of 4 has a system in place to protect her own brood and let them speak freely if anything is on their minds. "We set up a safe person for them to talk to. We have a safe adult," she says.

Chelsie Lancaster

Chelsie Lancaster on Megyn Kelly TODAY.
Chelsie Lancaster on Megyn Kelly TODAY.TODAY

Chelsie Lancaster never saw it coming.

Growing up in Texas, she was a cheerleader and a straight-A student, who abstained from drugs or any other risky behavior. A breakup with her boyfriend sent her into a deep depression, but Lancaster was determined to keep moving forward.

"I wasn't a bad kid. It really just goes to show it can happen to anybody,” she said on Megyn Kelly TODAY.

Like so many single people, she signed up for dating sites where she eventually met a man who had his own agenda.

"I was just meeting a guy off the internet, thinking nothing off it. He had his own profile. That's the thing people don't realize," she said. "There are so many predators that are just looking for women on these dating sites. They'll go the whole nine yards to make you believe they want to date you, when in reality they want to sell you."

During their first date, things quickly went south. She says he convinced her to perform in a strip club and she did. Her guard was down, recalls Lancaster, and she felt like she had nowhere to go. Plus, she needed money for college, so she thought, “‘Why not?’”

She made $160 bucks and he took $140 from her and said he needed to pay for her protection. She had no idea what was happening or why.

Lancaster says she was threatened and her family was too, and that he had all her private information so getting away wasn't that easy. She says he then introduced Lancaster, who dreamed of being a singer, to a man he called a music producer.

Within a matter of days, they were selling her on a classified listings site called Backpage.

"They told me I was just going on dates with guys, and I didn't have to do anything. You don't realize you're going to be selling your body up to 10 times a day,” says Lancaster.

“I didn't even realize I was in trouble at first. By the time that I did, I was already so far in. They told me they would kill my family if I ever left. After the brainwashing, you believe what they sat,” she said.

She went to jail twice on prostitution charges, but didn’t tell her police about her situation for fear of reprisal. Then Lancaster got pregnant. She decided to keep her child and told her mom what had been happening. Her mom found a resource called Rescue Houston, which helps get trafficking victims out of the life. She then went to a safe house for eight months and had her baby. Today Lancaster lives on a farm run by a Christian organization that helps trafficking victims rebuild their lives. She works full-time and says her daughter is thriving.

Gaby Humphries

Gaby Humphries on Megyn Kelly TODAY.
Gaby Humphries on Megyn Kelly TODAY.TODAY

Gaby Humphries is a woman who exudes confidence and strength. But appearances can be deceiving.

The Atlanta native and mother of one spent months working as an escort out of a high-end apartment building in the suburbs.

Humphries says she was raped at 13, and growing up, she grappled with drug abuse and poverty. She attempted suicide at 14, and spent her high school years trying to fill a void inside her — often through sex.

She became pregnant as a high school senior. After giving birth to her son, she decided she needed to straighten out her life. But things didn’t go according to plan. Unable to handle the pressures of young parenthood, she turned to drugs and alcohol, and her son's father ended up taking her son and moving to Buffalo, New York.

Money seemed like the answer, so Humphries tried stripping. She then moved on to escorting, which she says was the easiest way to afford a car. She says she went to the classified site Backpage and began messaging a man who would become her pimp.

She worked business hours, and says the men would pay her about $350 an hour, half of which she would give to her trafficker. She says her pimp kept all her identification, meaning Humphries couldn’t break free.

"You can't really escape because you're afraid of what they're going to do. You comply out fear," says Humphries.

But escape, she did. Humphries once passed a big church, and went inside. She sat in the empty chapel for a long time, broke down in tears and began writing a suicide note on a prayer card. She threw it down on the pew and left. But the church’s female pastor found it and decided to track Humphries down.

A few months later, Humphries had a panic attack and went to the ER. She says she called the pastor, who dropped everything she was doing and rushed to the emergency room. There, from the hospital bed, Gaby confessed that she was a sex worker. The pastor told her: Don't go back. You're going to live with me and my family. And she did.

"I never went back. Never," she says.

Humphries went to rehab and became part of the Wellspring Living program for young girls and women who have been trafficked. Today, Humphries supports herself with a government job and is raising her 8-year-old son.

If you or someone you know may be a victim of sex trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Reports and tips are anonymous.

A special thank you to TEGNA media and our NBC affiliate in Atlanta for their partnership in this show.