Windie Lozenko: When Exploitation Becomes Trafficking
Hannah Policy @justmehannahp
How does a trafficker begin his hunt for his victim? The National Center on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments identifies several specific red flags, or risk factors that traffickers observe in their potential victims.
Factors such as homelessness, youth, trauma, neglect, or family breakdown, among others, can make a victim more vulnerable, susceptible, and receptive to the tactics of a trafficker. (National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments)
Thirteen-year-old Windie Lozenko checked every single one of those boxes.
Windie, raised by a single mother in California, was a victim of early childhood sexual abuse and a frequent runaway, searching desperately for the family and stability that she was never afforded. She carried the trauma and secret of sexual abuse for several years, opting to avoid drawing negative attention to herself or the family member that abused her by reporting it.
By the time that Windie was a teenager, she had every quality that could leave a potential victim startlingly vulnerable. The day that Windie accepted a friendly invitation to spend time at a peer’s home, she had no idea that she was walking straight into the recruitment strategy of a group of traffickers. Simply seeking friendship, community, and a safe place to stay after school, she was excited to spend time with a more popular girl from her school, along with the girl’s older boyfriend.
Shortly after Windie’s arrival that afternoon, an older man and woman also arrived at the home. Windie, who was confused, but also wanting to cooperate with her new friend, was sent to a back room, where she could see the two adults exchanging money with the older boyfriend. They then proceeded towards the bedroom in which Windie was waiting, completely unaware of their prior arrangement. In a podcast interview with Cindy Rivero, she describes how, after her earlier experiences with sexual abuse, she taught herself how to mentally disassociate completely from what she knew was about to happen. Both the man and woman, a married couple, then raped Windie. (Voice)
Following this event, Windie’s already unstable world, was turned upside-down. She describes this as the time that she truly “gave up hope in there being good in the world”. When asked if she ever considered reporting her traffickers at this time, Windie can reference back to the feelings that caused her to hesitate from reporting her earlier abuse: she felt “ashamed, fully thought it was (her) fault, and knew nobody would believe (her).” (Voice)
After this initial trafficking experience, Windie left her public school and home completely. She continued to be trafficked, and later, physically branded by members of a local motorcycle gang, who also offered her a home, something that she desperately needed as a runaway. (Deal)
Throughout this span of time, about three years of her life, Windie was not even cognizant of the fact that her experience was indeed sex trafficking, not just exploitation. The U.S. Department of Justice defines sex trafficking as the moment when a person performs a commercial sex act through force, fraud, or coercion. For under-18-year-olds, it is any kind of commercial sex act. (Baker) But, as a young runaway teen, Windie saw the gang as a family, “the people who had saved (her).” Her lifestyle was a mode of survival. She had no hesitation in doing whatever the group asked of her, until the day that they began to require her to recruit other girls. (Baker)
It was only when Windie came across the work of Annie Lobert, that she was able to put a name to what was happening to her every day. Going forward with this knowledge, she was able to seek help and recovery. After a long road of rehabilitation, she is now what is known as a Survivor Leader. She has dedicated her time to teaching others, including professionals in career fields such as law enforcement and hospitality, how to spot the tell-tale signs of sex trafficking and help victims effectively.
When asked by others about solutions to the massive problem (a $99 billion annual industry) of the sex trafficking network, she speaks boldly: “We need more safe houses; we need more viable and ethical programs.” (Voice)
Where police investigators without proper education or a community who denies the existence of sex trafficking may fail and alienate a victim, ethical programs and equipped safe houses can step in to show victims, like Windie, that there is a viable way out. The public should be thoroughly educated and aware of the signs that a victim is being trafficked. Whether a girl seems malnourished, struggles with social interaction, has tattoos or branding on the neck or back, or has untreated STDs, it is vital that we can quickly notice these warning signs and appropriately refer victims to the help that they need. (Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford)
Bochy's Place is positioned to provide more beds for victims of sex trafficking. If you are searching for a way to help provide hope and healing to victims like Windie, visit our link, https://www.bochysplace.com/getinvolvedhttps://www.bochysplace.com/getinvolved
Baker, Aryn. She Survived Sex Trafficking. Now She Wants to Show Other Women a Way Out. 17 January 2019.
Deal, Jan. Windie Jo Lazenko: Shining a Light and Educating Others on Sex Trafficking. 2019.
National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments. "Human Trafficking in America's Schools." January 2021. Safe Supportive Learning.
Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford. Warning Signs of Human Trafficking. 2021.
Voice, Cindy's. Survivor Story, Ms. Windie Lazenko. June 2020. Podcast.