Familial Trafficking Survivor & Aspiring International Human Rights Lawyer
Trigger warning: Graphic descriptions of sex trafficking, abuse, and attempted suicide are discussed during this conversation. Listener discretion is advised.
Born and raised in Germany, Coco spent the first 15 years of her life as a victim of familial trafficking. For the majority of her youth, she was trafficked, abused, and raped by different people, all coordinated by close family members. She escaped at age 15, and unfortunately, the abuse didn’t stop there. Shortly after her escape, the therapist she was seeing began abusing her. Eventually, Coco escaped again and moved to the United States in 2015 where she fell in love, found a home, and is now a full-time student. Coco is now an aspiring international human rights lawyer and desires to continue the fight against human trafficking from the frontlines. Listen to Coco talk to podcast host, Garrett Jonsson, about her story, common misconceptions about sex trafficking, and how she’s now focusing her education and career of advocating for human trafficking victims.
FROM THIS EPISODE
- Follow Coco on Instagram
- Learn more about the TVPA
- Mentioned in this episode: The Body Keeps The Score
- Mentioned in this episode: Running on Empty
- Video: What Irish Sex Buyers Are Really Thinking
- Article: Men and Boys Can Be Victims of Sex Trafficking Too
- Article: Does Porn Really Fuel Sex Trafficking
- Check out our documentary series, “Brain, Heart, World”
- Polaris Project Stats on Human Trafficking
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Garrett: My name is Garrett Jonsson, and you’re listening to Consider Before Consuming, a podcast by Fight the New Drug.
And in case you’re new here, Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.
We want these conversations to be educational, uplifting, and hopeful. As we sit down with experts, influencers, activists, and people with personal accounts, we cover a wide variety of topics that may be triggering to some- you can refer to the episode notes for a specific trigger warning. Listener discretion is advised.
Today’s episode is with Coco. She’s 26 years old. She was born and raised in Germany. She’s a victim and survivor of sex trafficking, familial trafficking to be more specific. Which means that her abuse was coordinated by family members. She escaped at age 15, but unfortunately, the abuse didn’t stop there. But Coco pressed forward. Fast forward to today, and Coco is still doing her part to fight sexual exploitation.
With all that being said, let’s jump into the conversation, we hope you enjoy this episode of Consider Before Consuming.
Coco your experience, I think it can do two things for us. It can be an eyeopener and then it can also bring us hope.
Coco: Thanks for saying that. Um, before we jump into a little bit more about you, I wanted to mention a couple of stats from, um, well, one stat from the Polaris project.
This stat says that the Polaris project, it’s a hotline that people can call into to report human trafficking, um, which includes sex trafficking. And it says that they have received reports of sex trafficking in all 50 States. So it’s happening everywhere. Um, and it’s, it’s one of the modern day. Slavery is a, is a problem we have in the 21st century.
Coco: It’s… to be accurate the most, the greatest human rights challenge of this century.
Coco: We have more slaves today than ever before in history.
Garrett: And there is a, it’s called the trafficking victims protection act and it was passed in like the early two thousands. And we’ll link that to our episode. Um, so people can better understand what is sex trafficking, because I think when people think about sex trafficking, the misconception is that someone’s being taken from their home.
Coco: Exactly. Yeah. There’s so many misconceptions that, um, based on Hollywood movies and I don’t want to put Hollywood down here. I mean, they’ve done their jobs and, um, there are stories where people get kidnapped and get traffic, but these are the least common types, especially here in the United States. And the United States is considered the capital of human trafficking. Um, and so, yeah, I love to clear up some misconceptions and how people understand that human trafficking is the biggest problem here. It’s not just happening in developing countries, and 80% of customers worldwide are American. Um, and so, yeah, while I share my story later, I can clear up somewhere more misconceptions.
Garrett: Well, let’s just jump into your story then.
Garrett: So can you just start off by telling us where you’re from and, and how this began?
Coco: Yeah. So my name is Coco Berthmann. I’m originally from Germany, I’m born and raised in Germany. And statistically, I should not be here. Statistically, I should be a prostitute or a drug addict or dead. Um, but today I’m here and I’m really lucky that I’m free. And none of the above, I was a victim of familial trafficking. So I was exposed by my family in particular, my mother to commercial sex. So I was born into it. I’ve never experienced a grooming process as I was born into it. And I was solved by my mother. Um, and people always believe that in child trafficking, children are being sold or kidnapped and then somewhere broad for sex. Um, in my case, uh, I wasn’t shipped anywhere. I was sold in within the bounds of my own home. Um, and yeah, this is where I was born into.
So for the first 15 years of my life, I was, uh, trafficked and tortured and raped on a daily basis. However, on the outside world, we seem like a normal family because we lived in a normal house. I went to school, I had to be access, internet access. The only thing that was a different and a little bit different about us was that we would move at least once a year. Um, and I was at 16 different schools, which I afterwards learned. That’s one of the tactics of traffickers to keep victims as orientated. Um, don’t give them any opportunity to, um, build trust a relationship or a support system. And so that definitely took place in my case and in my siblings cases. Um, yeah, but I, like I said, I was in school. I want to went to dance classes and writing classes and what’s on and whatever.
And, um, when you warn into trafficking, as I was in your brainwashed, your entire childhood, what you grew up with is your normal. And you don’t question the things that happen at home as you’re a little, it’s just your normal and being abused on a daily basis was my normal. So I didn’t question it until I grew older. Um, and for me, what started the questioning process was the TV show, Gilmore girls. Um, my sister and I, we watched it a lot. And when we grew older, we started questioning “Why don’t we have that kind of relationship with our mom, like Rory and Lorelai have in the show.”
Garrett: And so how old’s your sister?
Coco: She was two years older. So she died in the process of trafficking two years prior to my escape. And, um, that was the last bit that, um, let me to escape, which op itself was a really crazy experience and really brave.
I don’t think I could do that again. Um, woke up in the middle of the night of November 2nd, 2009, grabbed my backpack, put in some items of clothing, went downstairs, opened the door and ran as fast as I could to the train station. Prior to that for months, I was planning this escape. Um, I’ve researched a clinic on the other side of the country in Germany that was taking care of children with trauma. And I caught them on behalf of a “friend”, because I didn’t want to get in trouble. And I told them that my friend is being abused, um, and how they could help her. And the people in the clinic said, “Well, we can’t do anything until we have a name, but if your friend comes here and wants help, nobody can take her out.” And we have a wonderful law. When you, what says that children, if they want to get treatment in a hospital, even against the will of the parents can be taken out.
So parents don’t have the right to take the child out against the will of the child. And so the, I knew that was my ticket to get out. And I researched that I needed 113 euros, uh, for the train ride. And a week before I wanted to escape, my mother announced that she would go for a weekend to Poland, which I knew would give me enough time to leave the house without her noticing that I left. So she left November the 1st of November in 2009. And after an hour after she left, she called and said, “I have a bad feeling. I’m coming back home.” And for me, my world shattered, because first I was like, convinced she’s a witch. Like “How can she know?” And then second, I was just like, “Well, that was my, my only opportunity. And there it goes.” And that’s it.
And I’m going to die in this life,… in that house. So I went to sleep devastated. And then in the middle of the night, I always describe it as this wave of courage. I woke up and I knew I needed to leave. And it was just really, really powerful.
Um, and it’s just was the weirdest experience for me. I felt like somebody else is moving my body while I’m still making the movement. It was just crazy. And so I went to the closet, threw in some items of clothing in my backpack, went down the spiral stairs, took the money out. I need it for my mother’s wallet. Exactly the amount, not a cent more, um, took one cigarette- at that time I was still smoking. Kids, don’t smoke [laughter]
Um, and went out the door and I put in my eye earplugs and put in Taking Chances by Celine Dion on my iPod back at that time. Um, and I know that’s the cheesy part of my story.
Garrett: That’s not cheesy, that’s cool. Celine Dion, she should be proud that you did that.
Coco: So, well, her entire music and her being was my safe Haven as a child. So she, my sister and I, we created this imaginary world where she would be our mom and every time something bad happened, we would escape in that safe place, imaginary world, where she would tuck us in, in bed or she’d sing us a lullaby, or we could tell her everything that happened. And she would just give us a hug.
Garrett: Oh, man.
Coco: And it just felt so real. And I like always drew her pictures and wrote her letters and I never sent them off.
Garrett: Does Celine Dion know about your experience?
Coco: Not yet. [laughter]
Garrett: I feel like she should. That’d be so cool.
Coco: I just want to give her a hug and say, “Thank you.” [laughter] No? Okay. Well back to the serious topic. Well, so I put in the music, took off, didn’t feel anything other than the cold air in my face and the music.
Garrett: What time of night was it?
Coco: Maybe three or four.
Garrett: In the morning?
Garrett: Where was your mom?
Coco: Sleeping. They are all in the house sleeping and my heart was beating outside my chest. I remember going to the door and everything was shaking and I could hear my heart. I can still hear it,… like really fast. And I like just standing in front of the door. I can still feel it like it was yesterday or just a moment ago. And yet if it seems like a different lifetime, um, …
Garrett: Did you have second guesses before you open that door to leave?
Coco: Oddly enough? No. I was just like, “I need to go.” I was scared. They would hear me, but I didn’t second guess it. I was just scared that we hear me. Cause I knew that would be, I would be done. And so then I run, get to the bus station, the bus driver’s opening the door. He’s like, “Are you going to vacation?”
I was like, “No, I’m running away from home.” He’s like, “Do I have to call the police?” And I look at him like, totally disbelief. “Well, if you do, then I can’t run away. Duh.” He’s like, “Well, good point.” And so he just let me go.
Coco: And I wish I could find out his name, but there’s no way. And then I jumped on the train from Hanover to Frankfurt. And then in front, front main station.
Garrett: How old were you?
Coco: 15. Yeah. I don’t know how I did that. It was crazy.
Garrett: Did you imagine people questioning why you were alone at three in the morning?
Coco: No, I was just so naive. I was just like…
Garrett: Just ready to get out?
Coco: Yeah. And I mean, that’s probably why I couldn’t do it now. It’s like I would be so paranoid. Um, but to be honest, when I had to change the train in Frankfurt and to anyone who was in Germany in particular to the Frankfurt main station, it’s like the craziest train station.
It’s massive. And there I am by myself at 15, the first time, anywhere alone, and then have to find my other train. It was ridiculous. And I had five minute time like to change the train. And um, so I found that another train and I sat down and I found an elderly woman and she just like resonated so much comfort. So I was just sitting down with her and she’s like, “Oh, what are you up to?” And I started lying. I was like, “Oh, I’m moving from to school.” And, but it was just really helpful in that moment. And we were talking for the next three hours and then I got to the clinic. They admitted me to the physical station first because I was in such bad condition. I was malnourished, um, bruise all over. Um, and I didn’t say anything in the very first beginning, after three days there was to social worker. Her name was Catherine, and she was able to get to me and I open up and I told them that I was abused only, but my stepdad, I never mentioned my mother because I was so afraid. And it’s also such a loyalty issue for a child to say something bad about your mom, even though she did horrible things. Um, and so I mentioned,…
Garrett: But your dad was in on this ring?
Coco: My stepdad. Yeah. Um, but my main trafficker was my mother. And to be honest, at that point, I did know that I was sex trafficked. I only thought, “Oh, I’m just abused.” And because I learned in school, slavery ended hundreds of years ago. And so I am totally confused and the anxiety issues, however, I was able then to stay for six months because I was in such bad conditions and the court then granted me that I could live by myself at age 16. And, um, they had a restraining order against my mother to me. And so then I moved out.
Garrett: Did that have to contact your, your mother?
Garrett: Oh, interesting.
Coco: Yeah, it was horrific wall. So after I escaped two hours later, she already knew that I was, she left, I left. And so she called all the police and reported me missing. And then she sued me while I was in the hospital.
And to force me to move back home, to live with my legal guardian. But then I represented myself in court at age 15. Didn’t again, didn’t say anything about the abuse that she put me through. Um, like the sex abuse, but all the other stuff, the physical abuse, the hitting. And, um, what was playing in my case is that my oldest sister, who was six years older, she ran away when she was 15 and I was nine. And that, um, that time. And so there was already a report and child protective services. And so they thought it’s a similar thing.
Garrett: They saw a trend?
Coco: Yeah. And so they just allowed me, which was for me a blessing. So I didn’t have to say everything, which, because I didn’t want to. And I was afraid and I was ashamed.
Garrett: So did you see her in court?
Coco: My mother? Yes I did. Yeah. Um, but she never went to jail for the trafficking cause I never testified against her for that.
Garrett: And that’s common, right?
Coco: Yeah. Really common.
Garrett: That’s one of the challenges we face as a society when it comes to prosecuting.
Coco: Right. It’s so hard to prove a, and it’s so hard to talk about it because there is so much shame and stigma and judgment judging, um, about abuse and trauma, especially sexual abuse, um, that it makes, it makes it really hard for victims or survivors to testify. And especially children who are so confused, um, and then adding to it that it would include a family member, especially one of their parents. Um, and in my case, mother, which is the essential meaning of trust, but in my case, definitely not. So if I can trust my own mother, who, who can I trust? Can I trust the legal system? Can I trust a police officer? So you’re really guarded. And you, you don’t feel like you have anyone on your side or anyone who would believe you.
And as a child, I was fueled over and over again, “This is your fault. You was only produced to be sold.” And if you tell anyone bad things will happen and no one would believe you. Um, and so I was afraid and terrified what would, what the bad things would happen. And I saw my sister dying, human trafficking. And trafficking and Europe, um, is a little different than here. It’s really similar to the Southern American trafficking. There’s a lot of corruption, um, uh, Russian mafia involved, a lot of Eastern European mafia where you don’t and as a child back then, I didn’t know. But I met a lot of people in my childhood bed were really scary and really intimidating that I knew I don’t want to see again. So I never testified against her. And once I was out and I was allowed to live by myself, I didn’t want to deal with this anymore.
I was just ready to move forward. So I moved into my new apartment by myself at 16, starting high school, um, going to school at day, working at night. And so then I decided that I want to do therapy to heal from what happened. And I started seeing a therapist, his name was Sebastian, and he was amazing in the beginning. And I started to develop a sort of emotional dependency at age 16. I didn’t have anyone, I didn’t have family any more. Um, and I didn’t have really friends. I was shy. I was a new child once again in the school. And I didn’t feel like there was anyone who cares about me. So I felt completely left alone after experience saying 15 years of torture. And with speaking of a child gets raped 10 to 50 times, um, during child trafficking a day. So this is five-zero, not one- five. 50 times a day.
Um, and there were times where I had to experience it and had to endure this. And so you feel like you’re worth nothing and there’s nobody checking on you. And then after a while, I was seeing that therapist, he offered to have a private contact. And so we would stop therapy. And at age 16, I didn’t know better. And I didn’t see the red flag. And I said, “Oh my gosh, yes, please. You’re caring enough about me to have wanting to have a private contact.” So that started, and he was really, really nice in the beginning. And he took me out for ice cream and we went for walks. And, um, and then after awhile he said, “I’m so concerned about you living by yourself, making money, going to school. How about you just move in and I can take care of you and you don’t have to worry about your apartment.”
And once again, I didn’t see the red flags. And I was just so happy that there’s someone wanting to be a father figure or mentor or any kind of that, but I’ve never, I’ve never felt like any romantic feelings towards him. I, that was never a question for me. Um, and he was 40 plus and I was 16. So that was, you know, and so I moved in, in the beginning, it was really nice. And then he started saying, and doing great things like, “Oh, I took you out of school so we can focus on your healing for this next semester.” And I questioned that. I was like, “Why would you do that? Like high school was always my dream.” And he’s like, “Well, because we’d need to focus more on trauma healing.” And then he started over the weeks to develop more rules, um, and stricter rules.
That was hard. It was hard to keep up with it. And so he got frustrated more and more. Um, and then at some point he didn’t allow me anymore to your lock my bathroom door because he was concerned that I was doing something I shouldn’t be doing. And then one night I was taking a shower. He came in, as of, it’s not a big deal, “I’m just gonna brush my teeth.” And I was like, “What are you doing? Go out.” And then he tried to abuse me.
Garrett: He was just slowly tearing down these walls, these boundaries.
Coco: Yes. Yeah. And so he attempted to abuse me in that moment. I tried to fight back and that’s when he dragged me down in the basement and locked me up there for two weeks at the first time and did all the things he wanted to do. Um, at that point, he already knew everything of the abuse, that experience as a child and for the next falling two years, he would take me down there frequently.
It’s the first time was with two weeks, the longest time for us for four months. And he took everything that I experienced as a child to the next level. He never trafficked me, but the abuse of situations, he played them out and he did it even worse. And so I started and nobody was looking for me because I had no family. I had no friends. And, um, and he kept feeding that to my brain. “Look, you’re down here, nobody’s looking for you. Nobody cares about you.” And so he totally brainwashed me and I totally believed he’s the only person who cares enough about me to do this to me.
Garrett: One thing that I wanted to mention, because you mentioned that the first that you didn’t, you don’t feel like you were groomed. And once again, you know more about this than me, but my intuition tells me that you were groomed. Because if you look at the grooming process, it’s like, selecting a victim.
Coco: Right. Well, yeah. He definitely grew me into it.
Garrett: And also your parents a little bit. Right?
Coco: I am not sure. I, I was born into it and even infants are being solved for sex.
Garrett: I know. But your mom chose you. She targeted the victim. She gained your trust. I mean, the trust was there because she’s your mom. Then she filled the need. Right? She gave you a home, gave you food and then she isolated you. She moved you around 15 times and then she coerced you.
Garrett: And then she maintained control.
Garrett: Anyway, and then this guy does the same thing was, cause one of the misconceptions we’ve kind of touched on a little bit, was that I think generally in society, people think that traffickers are going to use physical means to hold someone.
Coco: No, not always.
Garrett: But most of the time it’s psychological means. And in this case with Sebastian, was it, was he, when you say he was, you were in the basement, was it physically locked in there or was it psychological?
Coco: Yeah, so I was locked down there, but after a while he allowed me to go upstairs and I wouldn’t leave because, A) I was so terrified B), he made me not only emotional dependent, but financially and logistically, I had no home on my own anymore. I had no money on my own anymore. I had no place to go most school and nobody to turn to. So obviously I stayed. And especially at that age, what do you do? You’re so dependent on an adult still at 17, 18. Um, and so I was stuck and it was horrible because I want to tell you, but on the other hand, you don’t want to leave and you’re afraid of moving.
Garrett: So I think one thing that’s a common misconception. Again, we’re breaking some misconceptions as we’re rolling along here. One of the misconceptions is “Why didn’t you leave?”
Garrett: So I think some people think it might be easier. Like “You wanted to escape. Why don’t you just leave?” But the reality is you have 15 or 16 years of this time of being in the life of sex trafficking.
Garrett: And this isn’t just you.
Garrett: This is again and again, this is happening. And to transition out to a healthy state, to recover to heal is a process that takes years.
Coco: It takes forever.
Garrett: It doesn’t take a month. It doesn’t take a year.
Coco: Escape doesn’t mean survive. And even me now 10 years after I’m still working my butt off to like work on all the trauma. But obviously in that moment, and I try to explain it to people by the example of women who are beaten, being beaten by their husband and they don’t leave. Um, it’s a, it’s a easier concept to wrap your mind around because we talk about it more publicly.
Garrett: It’s more common. Right.
Coco: Yeah. And so why do those women don’t leave? A. Most likely they’ve experienced abuse in their childhood. So they are unintentionally seeking for a controlling individual that loved them. Um, because they’re trying to finally have, for example, if your father or your mother was that controlling person and you were never enough, you tried so hard to have the love you, and they never did. So you go on in your life, unintentionally seeking for those same personality types and characteristics and others to have them love you.
So that finally you get that love, that kind of person, you know, and so a that’s happening. And that’s why victims tend to stay in the loop and tend to built relationships over and over again with abusers and jump from one abuser to the next abuser. It’s not because they want to, but it’s because they’re unable to identify abuse. Um, when the red flags are hitting and then on the other hand, where do you go? Because then you leave. And then people was like, “Why didn’t you leave a year ago?” “Why didn’t you do this and that?”
Garrett: Lots of victim blaming.
Coco: Right. We have so much victim blaming, or “why aren’t you finally over it?” Or “why aren’t you acting in this or that way?” Or “why aren’t you doing A, B, C?”, well, the best response would be, “I’m so happy you’re out. What can I do to make you feel safe?” And not judged again and beaten again, emotionally.
Garrett: It’s even interesting because some of the experiences that I’ve ran across, even like family gatherings are tough.
Coco: Oh yeah.
Garrett: Holidays are tough.
Garrett: You think that, from an outsider, it’d be easy for me to be like, “Coco, why aren’t you enjoying Christmas?”
Garrett: But the reality is when it comes to trafficking and sexual exploitation, the holidays are high traffic seasons. Those seasons bring in trauma.
Coco: Memories, flashbacks, trauma. And you know that there are millions other out there who are experiencing the trauma that you survived. It’s like, you know, sometimes PETA has us animal videos touch or reduce that you watch, and it makes you just sick. And you go to sleep at that night and you keep thinking of that video. Well, people who survived trauma, like this are trafficking. They go to bed every night, knowing what million other people and children go through. And I go to bed with those images and I, you know, and it’s, yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m healthy quote unquote. And I, I’m working really hard to share awareness of human trafficking, but still at the end of the day, your experiences, you’re alone with them. And you know what, over 40 million others experience out there and to come back to….
Garrett: When you say “40 million”, that’s just the number of slaves today?
Coco: Yes. Over 40 million worldwide with the Capitol, um, here in the U.S. and, and I just lately had an experience with a friend where I tried to explain, “Look, Christmas and holidays are really, really hard for me, even though I love Christmas now.” Um, it’s a, because I don’t have a family like everyone else, I have the most amazing friends don’t get me wrong. Um, and all of them want nothing, but make me feel included. But bottom line is, even though everybody’s trying their best and doing their greatest efforts to make me feel included, you’re always just gonna be 95%. You always just having a 95% of belonging to them. You’re always just going to watch from the sight line. If you’re there for Christmas, and everybody starts laughing about the joke, uncle XYZ did four years ago, you can’t join in and be like, “Oh, I don’t know what happened four years ago.”
Garrett: Building relationships takes time and experience.
Coco: You don’t have the same memories with them. You, you can connect on the same level, even though you’re so grateful to you are with them. You’re still hurting because you wish nothing more than you could have been there from the very first day. And so it’s bittersweet and it’s hard. And then also knowing that there are so many people that are being sold and tortured while we’re opening our gifts or eating Thanksgiving dinner.
Garrett: We’re very privileged. Right?
Coco: Right. And while we sitting here trying to talk about what can we do to fight human trafficking, the trafficker sitting at the dinner table at the same time discussing, how can we traffic more efficiently? Um, and it’s, it’s growing and it’s becoming so big that it’s frustrating. I’m trying to teach the world and then trying to teach your friends, like, “Look, I love Christmas and I’m gonna do my best to be here and present or whatever else, holiday, but I’m going to be sad. And I’m going to have a hard time.” And, um, most people understand, but there’s also some people who don’t and then they get frustrated and it’s victim blaming on a level. It’s like, “why do you do that?” Like,…
Garrett: It’s almost on a subconscious level.
Coco: Yeah. Like, “Why aren’t you just happy?” Like, “What do you mean? Why aren’t you just happy?” And then it’s like, “Look, I’ve been in torture the majority of my life I’ve been out less than I’ve been in.
Garrett: How old are you now?
Coco: 26 now. And I finally was able to escape the therapist who abused me at age 18 by attempting suicide. So I was allowed after a while to go for groceries. Um, and then I came back home because where would I go? Live on the street? Oh, no. Um, I wanted to live and I wanted to survive and I didn’t want to be lonely and alone. And so I went back, but at the end of November of 2013, uh, once again, Celine Dion had a new album, um, at that time Love Me Back To Life and I refused to listen to it.
I was so done and I was so angry, especially at her and everyone else. It’s like, “How dare you keep singing about love? All I know about love is this kind of love. And if this is love, I’m done. I don’t want to be loved. I don’t want to love, I’m done dreaming.” And I give up hope it’s, it’s not worth it. This life it’s it’s is it’s screwed up. And so I went to the pharmacy instead of the grocery store, got a bunch of pills, went to the local forest with a wine bottle. And I don’t all those pills. And these may, might’ve been like 50 or a 100 pills, painkillers, sleeping aids, whatever I could find. Um, and I took them all at the same time. And it took about a few minutes, um, when I started feeling something and then I noticed that my body was getting really, really heavy.
So I was lying down and I can still smell the soil and the leaves. And it was really wet and cold. And I remember that coldness in my back and the witness coming through my clothes. And then I started to be unable to move my body. So my entire body became paralyzed. Even my tongue, I couldn’t move my tongue anymore, but I was fully aware still. And then all of a sudden hallucination started and the trees turned into men with hats who wanted to get me. And it was the scariest experience because you were lying there on the floor and you couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything. Not even my pinky. I was just like a stone. And then I passed out. And then what I was told, um, because I was unconscious, I was found by a dog. Um, and then by its owner and they started performing CPR called the ambulance and they were able to get me back.
And I was in a coma for a week, um… fortunately, survived and woke up with no brain damage, which is a miracle in itself. And, um, I remember the first thing I thought after I was fully conscious is, “Oh my gosh, Coco, you’re not even able to kill yourself. Why are you even here? Like you had total failure, you’ll lose her. You can’t even end your own life.” And then, so the doctors were confused, said nobody was looking for me. And they found my key chain in my belongings and they saw that one key chain, Celine Dion. And they brought in the album and I was so angry and I didn’t want to listen to it. And they’re like, “Well, look, just listen to some, a song maybe it’ll help you just like… You know?” So I said, “Okay, fine. I’ll listen to it.” And the very first part of the song, um, the very first song of the album Love Me Back to Life.
Um, and I apologize for the cheesiness. Um, it just was like a click. It woke me up and after the song I called in the doctor and I said, I need the police here right away. So the police came and I testified in my first testimony was eight hours long. Um, it was a horrible experience, um, testifying…
Garrett: Against Sebastian?
Coco: Yeah. And the question, because you have to tell everything in detail and they ask more and it’s really hard for victims. And I think the system, I know law enforcement is doing their best, but it’s, it’s just too rough for victims to go through that. It’s retraumatizing. Anyhow. Um, they went into his apartment, found out that he had another apartment with another woman held captive, um, arrested him. And he was charged not guilty by insanity, which I thought was insane in itself because he was a therapist. Of course he knew what he had to say in court anyways. Um, but then after that I said, “Okay,…”
Garrett: So he was never convicted?
Coco: Well he’s in a mental hospital.
Garrett: Is he?
Coco: Yeah. And, um, the other woman she’s in a mental hospital, she might most definitely will not come out. The trauma unfortunately…
Garrett: Affected her…
Coco: Too much. Yeah. And so after that I taught myself, okay. I had dreams A. I wanted to go to high school, I’m going to do this. And B. I wanted to live in New York city. And so I tried researching and everything. How can I make this work? So I went to school during the day, worked at night as a waitress, found that out that there’s a special pair program in the United States where you can live with a host family, take care of their kids and do some college credits. And in Europe, it’s really common after school that you go abroad for a year or two.
So I decided that I want to sign up for that, but I needed to save up to $3,000 for the program. I was like, “I have no idea I’m going to make this work.” And then at age 21, I graduated high school and I was able to save up the money, sign up for that program. And my host first house family I matched with. And I don’t get to choose place where they’re going to send me was the family, New York city. And I moved there July 20th in 2015 and lived the year of my life.
Garrett: That’s awesome.
Coco: It was the craziest life I lived in the most fancy place. Um, Oh, I can’t believe, I don’t remember his name right now, but there were so many celebrities. Michael Douglas came to our fall party at, Oh, Bruce Willis was our neighbor.
Garrett: Oh really?
Coco: Um, so it was like the funniest craziest out of this world experience.
And after a year I had the opportunity to either stay with a family for another three, six or 12 months or extend somewhere else. And it, for some reason I felt like I really, really, really needed to go West. Um, and so I moved and I thought I’m going to end up in California, but I ended up in Vegas, of all places. I’ve never been a party girl. And so I’ve never um, enjoyed partying or drinking or clubbing or anything. But I just had, I met the most amazing friends item, amazing family. Again, there we, we traveled in private jets to Maui and then I moved back to Germany for you, saved up my money and moved here in August, 2018 for school. And now I’m becoming an international human rights attorney.
Garrett: Really? That is amazing.
Garrett: So are you in your bachelor’s program right now?
Garrett: Wow. Good for you.
Coco: Thank you.
Garrett: That’s amazing.
Coco: So that’s me in a nutshell.
Garrett: Wow. That’s amazing. I have two questions for you. Have you read the book, The Body Keeps the Score?
Coco: I am reading it right now. Yeah.
Coco: Is that where cells have memories?
Garrett: Basically. Yeah, basically like all of our trauma, we keep that with us.
Garrett: And there are ways to overcome it and to heal, but the body keeps the score.
Garrett: And then the other book that I thought of a little bit as you were talking is Running on Empty.
Coco: No, I haven’t heard of it yet.
Garrett: Maybe I’ll link those two books to this episode cause they’re good books when it comes to healing.
Coco: Yeah. That’d be really interesting. And I, in fact, am doing more research right now. I’m giving a TEDx talk in March.
Garrett: Are you?
Coco: Yeah. I’m really excited. And I speak about how escaping doesn’t mean surviving. Cause people have the misconception, “Once you’re out, you’re fine.” Then the actual surviving starts.
Coco: Um, once you realized what happened to you is the actual hard part. And a lot of people don’t don’t survive the healing. And I think it’s really interesting how the trauma is manifesting not only in our mind, but also in our body.
Coco: And there are so many correlations, trauma-victims are more likely to get sick from autoimmune diseases and other illnesses. And, um, I think it’s really interesting to see not only the emotional impact of trauma, but also the physical, because for us society, it’s, it’s easy to judge mental health. I was like, “Oh, you can just get over it.”
But it’s funny to see people when you have some physical evidence, how their minds change. And I’m working right now with an amazing, um, neural psychologist, Thomas Harrison, who is head of our clinics for the organization I work with. And it is, you can see trauma on an MRI. You can see the changes in your brain that the actual trauma and the change in neurotransmitters, and you can physically prove that you have trauma, not only in your brain, but in yourselves and in your blood work and your hormone level, which I think is really, really powerful to know, and to help our society understand that trauma is a physical illness and it’s not just an, a mental disease.
Garrett: Right. Wow. So what do you want to do once you’re an attorney?
Coco: Well, I do want to work as an instrument in the prosecution of perpetrators, but I also want to go into some legal changes in our system, especially internationally wide. Um, looking into the business sectors, um, globally and businesses, unintentionally feed human trafficking so much as of transportation, hospitality, entertainment, um, companies. And I think it would be a great resolution if we had an international law that would require all businesses, that when they start teach all employees on human trafficking, the science and how to identify and then call local law enforcement, because there’s also a thing going on in our society. And I hear it a lot on my social media. “So what if I have some signs? I see, what do I do?” And people are so afraid to call the police, which I think we should re really, really working on. We shouldn’t be afraid to love call our local law enforcement or the national human trafficking hotline because we pay taxes.
They’re there to help us or the people in need. And we shouldn’t have such a hesitance to call them if we just suspect something, if it’s just a suspension and it’s nothing, nothing will happen there. You know, you won’t get in trouble. The only thing that you might cause is the rescue of a person in need. And that’s something I really want to work on as an attorney too, um, change some laws and businesses and then have annual training for all employees and then also do something. Um, and if it’s by law, that if people are suspecting something that they call, so we put more pressure there that the mindset shifts like, “Oh, I’m, I’m supposed to help.” then that rather than, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m not going to call. It’s not my business. I’m going to go on.” and understand. It’s hard to talk about the hard topics and we’d rather look away, or rather talk about the light topics, but talking about human trafficking or abuse or trauma or the bad things that go around us, not in a way to cause fear and you know, but in a healthy way to cause awareness and education will not only help you and protect you, but all the people in your surroundings.
And then also people are really afraid to talk to their children about human trafficking and understand it’s a hard topic and you don’t want to traumatize the child by talking about it, but there are so many, many healthy ways you can talk to your child about human trafficking. And I always tell people, if you talk to your child about human trafficking, I give you a hundred percent guarantee. Your child will not become a victim to it. In fact, your chat will probably be a hero to one of their friends. And so that’s…
Garrett: I think, I think it’s important to mention when you say that “They’ll be a hero to their friends.” I think that we need to emphasize again that this is happening everywhere. And I think if, I think according to a Polaris Project, if I’m remembering these stats correctly, that the top three States that have the highest trafficking are California, Texas, and Florida. And, but it’s happening in every state.
Coco: In Vegas. There are tunnels under the city, which is an entire city in itself, and it’s really dangerous down there. And law enforcement has a hard time going down there because of the danger, um, and the resources that they don’t have. And there are thousands of people living down there, um, and being trafficked down there and abused. And, um, I have an organization that I am friends with Adaptive Operation and its, um, founder arrows. He is going in rescue missions down there and I’ve been trained with them and it’s like, you’re entering hell. It smells like hell. It sounds like hell. There are dead bodies down. They’re drug addicts.
Garrett: Have you been down there?
Coco: Um, not yet personally. Um, but I will go on rescue missions with them. Um, and not for being the one who puts the trafficker down, but as a victim advocate. So I’ll be the one approaching the victim the first.
So they don’t have to deal with one of the others. And it’s, it’s just, you’re entering a different world and that is movie-like down there. And it’s not the common type in the States. Every case is so different. So I can tell you like, “Oh, this is a one on one example, how it’s always happened.” Everything is so different. And we all are still learning all in the counter trafficking world. We’re learning so much. Um, last weekend I was another training with Adaptive Operations and I was fortunate enough to meet with some FBI agents and they’re in the Intel. And as of that last weekend, I believed human trafficking is $150 billion enterprise white, but I was corrected. It’s a $53 trillion enterprise worldwide.
Garrett: That’s the estimate?
Garrett: $53 trillion?
Coco: It’s the most lucrative crime around the world. Unlike drugs, you can sell a human being repeatedly multiple times a day, 10 to 50 times.
Um, and it’s a real business. Um, I have a friend in Florida, she was trafficked. And um, when they were on their period, they had to put up a sponge so they could keep going. And if they didn’t do that, they would be beaten up. So it’s, it’s really, really, really hard to comprehend what is going on out there and that those people need help. And if you see a minor on the street being a prostitute, quote, unquote, it’s not a prostitute,
Coco: So there is grooming. There is manipulation brainwashing, or even torture on extensive levels. Um, torture includes rape gang rape, um, forced drug use, burning, beating, confined confinement, um, branding, a lot of traffic victims have tattoos that indicates that are traffic victim. I have one on my finger that was put on me as a child to have the ring, be able to identify which ring I belong to.
Other victims had their entire pimps name on their chest tattooed. Um, as property off XYZ, you know, and again, this is not happening in developing countries. This is happening in our neighborhoods. Um, while we’re at school at work, uh, on airports, this is happening every day in every day situations and the people who buy children or other human trafficking victims are in people like in the movies. These are people we trust on a daily basis: teachers, police, officers, lawyers, um, religious leaders, um, all sorts of people we trust. And we wouldn’t ever imagine it’s hidden in plain sight. I was that girl in school and dance classes. I was right there and nobody saw me. I was standing in the middle of the other people who could have saved me easily. And nobody saw it because of how smart traffickers are, how so, how good they are in hiding it and manipulating not only the victims, but everyone around them. These are highly narcissistic, manipulative people and highly intelligent.
Garrett: Um, a couple of questions. And by the way, I should’ve said this way earlier, but if I ask a question and you don’t want to answer, then just don’t answer. It. Was your mom trafficked when she was younger, was she a victim of trafficking?
Coco: Um, I believe so. So when I was nine years old, I overheard a fight with her and my step dad where she admitted in the middle of the night. Oh yeah. I was a prostitute when I was a teenager. And for me, like that was a really hard news to digest as a chap. But now looking back, that is the definition of child trafficking. So she was exploited to commercial sex as a minor, sex trafficking victim. So yes, I definitely think so.
Garrett: You mentioned you had two older sisters, right?
Coco: And a younger brother.
Garrett: Was your brother trafficked?
Coco: I believe so. Yeah. But after I escaped, I have no contact with any of them to do to security and safety.
Garrett: I think oftentimes we only talk about the girls and women being trafficked.
Coco: Yeah. Misconception. Um… in child trafficking, 44% of victims are male are boys. So it’s nearly half half.
Garrett: Really? I didn’t realize it was that high.
Coco: Yeah. And also in adult trafficking, we have extremely high numbers and male traffic victims.
Garrett: Well, you’re working… Go ahead.
Coco: Well, I just remembered when I escaped and I became public about my story, a lot of people were like, “Why did you go back to help your child have siblings?” Or “What about your siblings?” Like, and I, like, I know these questions come from a good place and I don’t feel offended, but for future references for other survivors, if you meet a survivor and she was able to get herself out of there, she did the most amazing job. Don’t “Why didn’t you [this] or [that]?”.
Coco: Um, and I, I just really, really feel protective of other survivors. Um, and I, I wish that the listeners here as they listened to this and talk to their friends about this, um, start shifting from wanting to know more about the abuse itself. And I know it’s, it’s a natural thing to ask “So what exactly happened?”, what, you know, rather than, “Hey, I’m ready to listen whenever you’re ready. And I’m so proud of you that you saved yourself. Um, and I, when you want to talk more, I’m happy to.”, “Hey, listen, if you don’t want to talk more about it, it’s fine. I’m here for you. And you did an amazing job.”
Garrett: It’s, it’s having to relive it. So anytime we talk about these types of things, at some level, you have to relive it.
Coco: Correct. And it also, it’s frustrating because you are more than what was done to you and you have so much more to give. If you want to talk more about it. “Hey, amazing. I’m so proud of you if you want to.”
Garrett: That can be healthy.
Coco: Yes. But don’t expect a survivor to talk about her abuse 24/7, and Don’t expect her to save herself and everyone else around her that’s impossible. Um, and so be proud of those who make it out and be proud of those who are, maybe don’t make it out, but still live and still wake up every morning. And so being more sensitive and aware of what, what are you actually asking? And then maybe before you ask, sit down and put yourself in those shoes and how would you feel if I asked you that question? I wish it upon no one, but it’s, it’s, let’s just be proud of one another, rather than questioning and judging everything we do.
Garrett: Yeah. I liked that. Um, I should have asked this question. It popped up in my mind a few times as we were discussing, but, um, it seems like we’ve kind of almost like ended this conversation and I still haven’t asked it.
Coco: Oh, no. Ask me anything.
Garrett: So I wanted to know, I know that in many cases, pornography plays a role with trafficking when it comes to like grooming the victim. And then also in many cases, um, trafficking scenes are filmed and then distributed.
Garrett: In your case, was pornography used in either your grooming process or?
Coco: Yeah, most definitely. So as children, we had to watch porn and we were forced to watch porn to learn what customers want, um, and to be more desensitized. Um, and we were also filmed, um, what happened to us. So I believe there are still videos out there of me and my siblings, and there will probably be out there forever. And I haven’t found them. I’m glad that I don’t want to find them. And there is a lot of child porn and in general porn, and that’s why I am so grateful for it, for Fight the New Drug, what you do and help bring more awareness and break the stigma of shame around it. I think we need to talk more about pornography. And I don’t want to judge or shame anyone who’s watching it or in their recovery to start watching it.
And I think you’re amazing if you’re about or in the process of stopping it, I cheer you on and applaud you. And I’m giving you a standing ovation because I know it’s really hard. Um, but porn is fueling human trafficking so much. It’s feeding the demand. People don’t understand that a lot of porn is being produced in human trafficking. A lot of those victims are being placed or seemingly doing it voluntarily while they’re not doing it voluntarily. And they don’t earn any of the money. They don’t get anything out of this, and they will never recover from that because once it’s out on the internet, it’ll always be out on the internet. And we learned that 20 years ago. Um, and so we definitely have to stop porn. We need to talk more about how dangerous it is, not only for our minds, but physically dangerous and how we are feeding and supporting human trafficking through it. If you watch porn, you are literally supporting human trafficking.
Garrett: Well, Coco, we are so fortunate that you are here today.
Coco. Well, thank you.
Garrett: And I speak for myself, and our audience, and our team, thank you, and keep going and keep being you. And then the last thing I want to say is Celine Dion,… [laughter]
Coco: [laughter] Call me!
Garrett: [laughter] If you, if you hear this, we need to get you together with Coco. So…
Coco: [laughter] Thank you for having me. And I just want to say, I’m a, I’m so grateful for the work you do, and for choosing to talk about the hard things and being brave enough to do that. And then I also want to say, it’s like closing, um, to all the victims and survivors out there. Um, there’s hope and there’s healing, um, and you’re worth it. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. And I get to live the most amazing life now, and I’ve never believed that I’m from a small place in Germany, from the basement. And I’m here on the other side of the world becoming an attorney. I was just called by, America’s Got Talent. I’m going to be on the next season. I’m giving Ted talks.
Coco: I mean, what the heck?
Coco: And if I can make it, then you can, and just don’t let anyone tell you you’re not worth it because hope is there, healing is there. And you’re more than worth it.
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Garrett: Thanks for joining on this episode of Consider Before Consuming.
Consider Before Consuming is brought to you by Fight the New Drug.
Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.
If you’d like to learn more about today’s guest and the conversation we had, you can check out the links included with this episode.
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