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SPECIAL REPORT: Advocating for survivors

IMPERIAL COUNTY, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - There are more than 27 million victims of sex trafficking worldwide, according to the Women’s Rights Group website.

Out of all 50 states, California has the most sex trafficking cases as of 2021.

We are highlighting the story of a local sex trafficking victim who is now the voice for victims in Imperial County.

Each page of this book tells a story of survival, and each place tells the story of a hard beginning and ending that is yet to be written.

"We met as I stepped out of the nail salon. Even though I lived across town in the suburbs, I would intentionally travel on the city bus for hours to get my acrylics how I like them. The quality and skills they possessed in the hood was remarkable. In addition a fraction of the price at the time, I did not know pretty nails was smack dab in the midst of the most renowned prostitution area in the United States," stated Jazz LedBetter, author, activist, and artist.

Her name is Jazz LedBetter and she wears lots of hats.

She is an activist, artist, and author.

But her life wasn’t always easy, in fact, she wrote it all in her book.

At only 17 years old, Jazz met a person who became more than a friend at a bus stop in San Diego.

“I was waiting for the bus innocently enough and he asked me, 'What’s up with you. Oh, you are so pretty, you are so sexy, oh what are you doing?' And he kinda charmed his way into me being comfortable enough to get in the car with him," shared Jazz.

Jazz never knew that once that car door closed, her life would take a turn. She never thought that she would become a victim of sex trafficking.

She said that at first, her trafficker treated her like a princess.

“I felt protected. I definitely felt like we were building a bond and again he was feeding me different types of narcotics so I was loosely under his control," said Jazz.

But that bond quickly vanished. Jazz said she started to notice a change in the man she felt protected by, and that's when she met someone who taught her how to work on the streets.

“When I met his other victim and he took me to a hotel and I can tell this is something they do and at that time there was no get out. I did not know where I was. He took me all the way to Southbay. I had no idea what was going on at the time until it was actually happening," explained Jazz.

Jazz said the most uncomfortable thing she had to do was pose for explicit photos and have sexual intercourse for money.

She said if she would say anything that would go against her new lifestyle, her trafficker would become violent.

She continued that lifestyle, taking drugs and even run-ins with the law.

“The first I was taking advantage of was in foster care. So that was when I was 5, 6, or 7 years old since that time I carried that weight that trauma of being used to when I was actually getting paid and I felt like, 'hey maybe this is the way,' and I ended up staying in that lifestyle on and off until I was about 21," shared Jazz.

But in her early 20s, Jazz said she found God and it was her ticket to leave that life.

She said traffickers would find their next victims at middle schools and high schools.

Jazz shared what she did when she realized this wasn't what she wanted to do. "Seeing how it was just affecting the community and how it was worsening and it was getting more and younger and finding out that girls were getting trafficked as young as 11 around me, so I had to do something."

Jazz was able to leave town, meet someone, and eventually get pregnant with her first child.

But things took another turn, she would once again become a victim, this time to domestic violence.

She said one day her son told her to move to El Centro and start fresh.

“I was at a Motel 6 and WomanHaven told me if you get over the mountain and stay in a room we will come pick you up Monday morning. And sure enough, they came and got me. They picked me up, they gave me the keys to my tiny studio, they took me to the thrift store to help me get all my house whole needs and they helped me start my life," shared Jazz.

Today, Jazz is a different person, advocating with her non-profit organization, Harlot Heart, which started in Imperial Valley.

“More so with Imperial Valley, we do a lot of prevention and awareness teaching them the signs because it’s not just sex trafficking in person they are now. On OnlyFans, there is now online trafficking, where as soon as you turn 18, now she has an OnlyFans, she thinks it’s her only option and it's not," explained Jazz.

Jazz has received many awards, spoken at many events, painted a mural at the Salton Sea, and more.

But her ideas to save many victims are just starting.

“My plan is to go ahead and provide safe housing in some part of District Four with the need for development and funding that is coming in because of the lithium extraction we have the opportunity to give back to the community," shared Jazz.

Jazz also shared why she wrote a book about her life.

“To tell my story. If I could just save one person that is what matters, if one person hears my story and gets inspired, if one person reads my story and says I am not alone, if one person reads my story and gets empowered, if one person reads my story and they want to change their lives and they want to change the world with me, I did my job.”

Make sure to watch the full special report on Thursday, May 23 on 13 On Your Side.

Article Topic Follows: Special Reports

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Karina Bazarte

Karina Bazarte joined the KYMA team as a reporter in September 2022.
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