“Jenn D.” admits that it was jarring to see her testimony in the 2007 federal trial of convicted sex trafficker Denis Paris in print.
“I was angry. I thought my name wasn’t supposed to be in any of the trial,” said the 32-year-old, who asked to be called “Jenn D.” to protect her identity.
But her choice to finally read Raymond Bechard’s “The Berlin Turnpike: A True Story of Human Trafficking in America,” which featured a dramatic account of how federal authorities brought down Paris’ illegal prostitution ring, which was operating in Central Connecticut, has inspired her to help others who are facing the same nightmare.
“Ten years ago when this all happened to me there was nothing set up to help me, or to help victims,” she said. “It was a really hard road. I want to raise awareness for people so they know this happens in small towns, city, to people of all kinds, rich, or poor.”
She reached out to Bechard a few months ago after reading his book which vividly describes through her trial testimony and the testimony of others the horrors she faced as a human trafficking victim in Paris’ prostitution ring. She was unknowingly pulled into human trafficking by a relative who introduced her to Brian Forbes, one of several people indicted along with Paris on federal charges. After bringing her to Connecticut from her home state of Vermont, Forbes sold her and another woman to Paris for $1,200. She was hooked on heroin and required to take six to seven customers a day. She was 18 years old.
Paris and Forbes would often threaten to withhold heroin if she refused to comply with their demands for her to see customers. She was finally able to get away when Paris was arrested. She agreed to testify at his trial, the first of its kind in the nation focusing on human trafficking. But after the trial ended and Paris was convicted, the federal government offered no support or assistance, she said. Jenn D. struggled to deal with her drug addiction, mental health issues and building a stable life on her own.
“There was no drug abuse counseling or housing or someone to just be there when you come out of something like that,” she recalled. “You feel as cold as ice. You have to learn how to love, how to let somebody in.”
With Bechard’s encouragement, she agreed to testify before the state legislature in support of two bills aimed at helping victims of human trafficking.
She also credited Katell “Marie” Gunning, a woman she never met who was instrumental in putting an end to the escort advertisements published in the Hartford Advocate. Gunning, a victim of human trafficking whose time with a pimp was also chronicled in Bechard’s book, died in January.
Now a married mother of two and sober for 10 years, Jenn D. told members of the General Assembly at a public hearing March 27 that she had been a witness in Paris’ trial but was given no access to services, housing or help to get her life back together. She urged legislators to pass a bill now before the Judiciary Committee that calls for mental health and substance abuse services, housing, health care and job training for victims of human trafficking and those arrested for prostitution.
“I no longer speak at the command of my pimp or by the wishes of trial lawyers or for the promises of do-gooders,” she told the committee. “I speak now only for those who have no voice, victims of human trafficking who are waiting for someone to let them out of their nightmare and stand with them as they reclaim their lives.”
It was a moving moment that left a lasting impression, said Bechard who also testified. “When Jenn spoke to the Judiciary Committee, the entire room stopped. No one moved. No one checked their phone. I don’t even think they were breathing,” he said. “The power of her voice and her story was immeasurable. If this legislation passes, the people of Connecticut, especially parents of young children, owe Jenn a debt of gratitude.”
After she was finished speaking, Jenn D. said she has never had so many people “come out and hug me.” “I felt like I got all the power back they took from me.”
Friends have started a GoFundMe page to help Jenn D. and her family deal with medical expenses: gofundme.com/help-jenn-human-trafficking-victim.