Nate was a charismatic man who lured McKenzie in by promising her an opportunity to safely and quickly earn money by dancing for clients. Instead, he forced her into prostitution for two years.
At the time, McKenzie was on a student athlete scholarship, but due to an injury, had to find another way to pay off her remaining tuition. Nate offered her a way: dance for clients and move into his apartment to save rent money. Her first night dancing at the club, Nate kept her protected from the customers, so she felt safe to go with him to a house in the city.
At the house, Nate suddenly demanded McKenzie engage in sex with the men there. McKenzie refused and tried to leave. He immediately punched her in the face, beat her up and threatened to kill her family if she left.
The violent abuse continued. Every time McKenzie tried to leave, Nate threatened to hurt her family, almost daily. “From the very first beating, until the day he pulled the trigger of an unloaded gun in my mouth, I knew obedience meant survival,” McKenzie recounted. “I was alive but was not living. I was a slave.”
Nate started to use McKenzie to drive girls across state lines. She couldn’t see a way out. As desperately as she tried to find ways to leave Nate, his threats against her family would get uglier and more frequent. Finally on day McKenzie was able to run to a neighbor and ask for help. The neighbor put her in a hotel and helped her contact her family.
But back in the city, McKenzie faced prostitution charges and was arrested by the FBI for transporting minors across state lines. She spent three weeks in prison, then sent to a program for victims of sex trafficking. But her road to healing would be a long, difficult one. McKenzie was sentenced to probation, community service and had to become a registered sex offender
STARTING OVER, MCKENZIE BEGAN SPEAKING PUBLICLY AND MENTORING OTHER TRAFFICKING SURVIVORS. TODAY, SHE WORKS FULLTIME FOR AN ANTI-HUMAN TRAFFICKING ORGANIZATION.
Story sourced from the Shared Hope International & the Polaris Project. All pictures shown are for representation purposes only and are commercially available portraits. We have taken great care to change names and identifying details for Survivor’s confidentiality and protection