ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – A horrifically growing trend becoming more common across the nation, and even in Abilene: Human trafficking. One Abilene woman tells her story of being sex trafficked across state lines, which she says is more common here than many realize. Because of these growing numbers and stories similar to hers, Abilene will soon get the city’s first ever shelter for human trafficking survivors.

“For five days, I was tied, raped… Tortured,” Mary McDowell uttered.

In an exclusive one-on-one interview with KTAB/KRBC, Mary McDowell explained how she was trafficked. She said she can remember every detail like it was yesterday.

Mary McDowell, an Abilene human trafficking survivor shares her story (May 2023)

“I remember seeing a Shreveport, Louisiana sign… The whole thing happened at this really run down motel,” said McDowell.

At the vulnerable age of 16 years old, McDowell said a friend told her she could make a little bit of cash just by video chatting online. That’s where the young McDowell would meet her trafficker.

When 16-year-old McDowell agreed to meet the man in person, she said he offered her some water, but she remembered it had a “funky” taste to it, and it made her tired. The next thing the teenager knew, she was waking up in Louisiana, where her trafficker would keep her for days.

“He would leave me without food. He would leave me without water,” shared McDowell. “I stopped fighting because after a while, like he told me, ‘if you keep on fighting, if you yell, if you scream, I’m going to kill you.'” 

Stephanie Rocha, Director of Abilene nonprofit Beyond Trafficking, told KTAB/KRBC stories like McDowell’s may seem foreign to people in Abilene, but it is happening to locals every single day.

“When people don’t have the most basic needs, that’s when exploitation happens,” Rocha explained. “It may be the waitress that’s taking care of you, it may be the person that’s doing your nails, it may be the person that is walking down the street to the bus station.” 

The most common trafficking victims in Abilene are unaccompanied youth, according to Rocha – those who are at risk of being preyed upon. Since the crisis at the border has grown, there are more immigrants being trafficked in Abilene, because they get lost and do not know who to turn to. 

Rocha said there is both sex trafficking and labor trafficking going on in Abilene. 

With 16 reported cases already this year, Beyond Trafficking announced the opening the Amada House – a shelter offering survivors basic needs to prevent them from being re-trafficked. 

“It may take 7 to 10 times for a survivor to leave before they finally leave,” said Rocha. 

Beyond Trafficking said the hope is that safe space will help lower that statistic. Amada House will offer food, water, clothes, and other basic needs for these survivors at this shelter.

The Amada House will act as a short-term solution to give survivors a safe place to stay until they can find something more long-term, which Rocha said, can include placing them in a long-term shelter elsewhere. 

Overall, Rocha told KTAB/KRBC she wants to help more people like McDowell, who was lucky enough to be saved by police, and now works with Beyond Trafficking to tell her story and help others. 

“It’s worth it, to me, to help someone escape that hell because you can’t ever get those years back,” McDowell added.

Beyond Trafficking plans to break ground to build the Amada House on July 4, 2023. The location for this shelter has not yet been announced, but it is said to be funded entirely through community donations.