Oklahoma Teen, Sexual Assault Survivor Works To Help Human Trafficking Victims
OKLAHOMA CITY - A teenager with an abusive past wants to help others out of the darkness. She's telling her story of abuse and rape to bring an awareness to the growing problem of human trafficking in Oklahoma.
"I honestly thought that's how life was," said Nayeli Vargas, a sexual assault survivor.
Vargas said she spent most of her childhood living in fear, suffering mental and physical abuse by family members.
"I was depressed," she said. "I had my thoughts of suicide, but I never actually committed. I never did because my sister was around."
In 2018, she told her counselors at Edmond North High School about the physical abuse and they called the police.
"I had bruises like on my arm, on my neck, on my leg," Vargas said.
Vargas' family members were never charged with any crime, but her case was referred to DHS. She eventually moved out on her own, but encountered more trauma, when she said she was sexually assaulted at a party.
"I go to counseling, speaking about it and so it helps me," she said. "I always told myself I will be better I will meet my standards I will go to college."
Now 18, Vargas is determined to graduate high school through the Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy. She also wants to start an anti-sex trafficking club at school.
"I want to be able to help others, you know, the rape happened to me, so like knowing that that happened to me once just imagining a younger person being forced and being sold out every single day," she said.
Human trafficking continues to the be a problem in Oklahoma, according to Melissa Eick. That's why she co-founded The Dragonfly Home in Oklahoma City, the only state certified human trafficking crisis center in the state.
"Human trafficking is very hidden, it's underground, it's under-reported," said Eick. "Often times people who are being trafficked don't realize that there's a crime that's occurring."
Since 2016, the center has helped around 300 sex and labor trafficking victims and fielded more than 3,000 calls on its 24-hour helpline.
"When they come, they have access to 24-hour crisis intervention, trauma informed case management, medical and mental health care," said Eick.
All the services are provided inside an anonymous location in Oklahoma City, in a home-based setting.
"We intentionally chose these throes of soft and warm, couches, really the opposite of an institutional setting," said Whitney Anderson, co-founder of The Dragonfly Home. "We want it to feel comfortable, so we know the people we serve, they've been through a lot of really hard things and so we want them to come in and feel comfortable at peace as much as possible."
As Vargas moves on from her abusive past, she hopes to be the light for others to guide them on a path of healing, just like The Dragonfly Home.
"Nayeli is an incredibly brave young woman and it's super inspiring," Eick said. "She definitely has a story that is so relatable, and I can just see that she has a lot of compassion in her for these people."
Vargas is also certified by Operation Underground Railroad which helps identify victims of sex trafficking. She also plans to go to college to become a counselor.