Texas Woman Who Was Trafficked at 22 Empowers Other Survivors: 'We Overcome by Telling Our Stories'

January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month. This week’s issue of PEOPLE shares stories of human trafficking survivors like Kathy McGibbon Givens, who founded a mentorship organization to heal others

When Kathy McGibbon Givens was 22, she thought she was going on a business trip with her boyfriend — but when she arrived at the Dallas hotel, she found herself trapped in a nightmare where she was sex trafficked for nine months.

Now, the Houston-based woman tells her story, helps other survivors take back their lives and advocates to change human trafficking laws.

"I overcame it, and I'm on this side now, and if I can overcome it, I know that everyone else that's going through it can too," Givens, now 42, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "I am a trafficking survivor, and I am an overcomer. I'm not broken."

Born in Canada, Givens moved to Houston when she was a sophomore in high school. After graduation, she planned to join the Air Force, but at Boot Camp, she discovered she was pregnant.

"When I had my child, my mom swooped right in and she was like, 'All right. You're going to do this. I got the baby, you go finish school, and go be great. And we'll be fine. You'll be fine.'"

Givens enrolled at the University of Houston, worked office jobs and at the same time trained as a medical assistant.

"I was very busy just trying to be great, just trying to better my life," she says. A girlfriend introduced her to an up and coming musician who she would begin to date. Over the course of a year, he isolated her from friends and family.

When he invited her to go to Dallas for three months to meet investors to start a record label, a friend agreed to watch her toddler daughter and newborn son.

Kathy McGibbon Givens speaking at Montgomery County Coalition Against Human Trafficking
Courtesy Kathy McGibbon Givens

The first night in Dallas, everything changed.

"He just turned into a completely different person, like a monster," she says. "He just turned very mean and violent."

That night, another woman dressed Givens in lingerie, styled her hair and took pictures — immediately men started coming to the hotel room. "For me, it was like an out of body experience," she says. "Kathy completely shut down, and I went into survivor mode, because I knew I was in a very bad situation."

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She hoped that if she did what her trafficker asked, he would let her go.

"I remember guns being held to my head," she says. "He was like, 'You want to see your kids again? You want to see your family again? Let's make this easy. Don't do anything stupid.'"

Soon, she was being forced to work street corners, or dropped off at hotels and private homes.

"The scariest thing, for me, was realizing who the buyers were — people that I would have reached out to for help if I was alone," she says. "Members of clergy, people with families ... Like car seats in the back seat."

"I think that was the scariest thing for me, realizing that I don't have anyone, I can't do anything, I can't even call for help," she says.

When another girl got sick, Givens convinced her trafficker to take her to the hospital in Houston. "It was the longest ride ever," she says.

In Houston, Givens called her brother who picked her up. For weeks, her trafficker tried to get her back, but her family protected her.

"He underestimated the power of my support system. It was my support system that didn't let me go. It was my mom that said, 'Oh hell no,'" she says. "My older sister was like, 'You're not leaving.'"

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At first, Givens kept what happened to her a secret. "I didn't understand what trafficking was. It was too embarrassing for me to say all the things that I had done," she says. "I grew up in church and so how am I supposed to come back and say that this is what I've done?"

"I think the hardest thing for me was looking people in the eye again, and trusting people," she says.

Givens wrote in her journal, which she turned into a book called Destined: The Unspoken Revealed. She also started volunteering with the non-profit, Rescue Houston — now Rescue America.

"Listening to these things that these women have to endure or had gone through, I was like, 'Oh my God. This is what happened to me. There's a name for it,' and that's the first time that I learned of human trafficking, sex trafficking," she says.

"Once I learned what it was and learned that more people were suffering from it in silence, people that have gone through it or people that are currently in it, it angered me to the point of wanting to help and give back," she adds.

Kathy McGibbon Givens, Serving with Family for Twelve 11 Partners at Montgomery County coalition againzt Human Trafficking MCCAHT
Kathy McGibbon Givens and family representing Twelve 11 Partners. Courtesy Kathy McGibbon Givens

Now a married mother of four, she has re-enrolled in college and hopes to become a social worker. In 2020, she and her husband co-founded Twelve 11 Partners, a survivor-led nonprofit that mentors survivors, connects them with resources and offers support groups.

"It's literally a place where people can come and just share what they've gone through and what they're going through," she says. "Revelation 12:11 says, 'We overcome by the word of our testimony, by telling our stories.'"

"Had I not overcome the fear of sharing, I think I would have still held bondage to my own trauma until this day."

If you or someone you know is being trafficked, these organizations can help:

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