By Carolyn Marnon – Learning how to recognize the signs of human trafficking is one of the first steps you can take to put a stop to this terrible dilemma that can strike any community. By Presidential Proclamation, January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
You may not realize it, but human trafficking can happen in Wayne. In fact, it has happened in Wayne. The victim? A teenage girl sent to live in what was thought to be the “stable” home of her sister. This home was located in the neighborhood behind the Rite Aid at the Wayne Rd/Michigan Ave. intersection.
Devaun Chandler grew up as the youngest of six children to a single mother, living in Kentucky and other southern states as a child. At the age of 9, she was removed from her mother’s home and sent to foster care because the husband of one of her sister’s assaulted her. Devaun says her foster home was a stable place with two parents in the household. She felt comfortable there.
When she was 11, Devaun was returned to her mother. She missed the stable life she had been living in foster care. She started acting out against her mother. By the time she was 12 or 13, it was decided that Devaun would move to Wayne, Michigan to live with her sister who was nine years older and her “husband.” Devaun calls him her brother-in-law, but he and her sister were never married. He was here from another country trying to get his citizenship.
Her time in Wayne started out well. They bought her nice clothes. She says her brother-in-law was incredibly nice to her. That didn’t last long.
About three months into her stay, little things began to change. She was told to change the way she dressed. Surprisingly, it wasn’t to wear less, but to wear more. Her brother-in-law, let’s call him Bill from now on, wanted her to cover up her body and to respect her body. This respect was part of his religious beliefs. Because she was young and eager to please, she did what she was told.
Slowly, Bill began to become verbally abusive. Things were in the wrong place, she did the wrong thing, whatever it would take to start tearing her down. He would tell her she was beautiful and then later, she was overweight.
Then the next step, the physical abuse, started. She recalls how she jokingly called him a jerk. He pulled her hair back hard and told her she needed to be put in her place. While this happened, her sister did nothing. Devaun says Bill was loud with her sister and kept her sister in her place. Devaun would be bit and pinched hard, leaving bruises.
Eventually, Bill started wrestling with Devaun. She says it was playful wrestling at first. He told her he wanted to make sure she could fight for herself. Although she had been scared when it started, she was now feeling proud that he wanted that for her, to fight for herself!
The wrestling would progress to feeling parts of her body. One night, he came into her room where she shared bunkbeds with her elementary-school aged niece. He told her if she woke up her niece, he would do what he was doing to Devaun to the little girl. “How could you do this to your sister?” he asked, meaning his “wife.”
Feeling bad, she went to her older sister and explained what happened. Her older sister promised her it wouldn’t happen again.
The second time it happened, her sister again told her it wouldn’t happen anymore. The third time, her older sister got aggravated. Devaun didn’t say anything more. Over the span of the next year, the sexual assaults increased.
A month before her 14th birthday, Bill declared he wanted to throw a big party in her honor. He said he wanted to share her beauty. He called it her “coming out party” and took her shopping for new clothes. They weren’t the clothes Devaun envisioned. She says he took her to the lingerie shop down the road. She remembers the saleslady looking very uncomfortable while Bill picked out “clothes.” Imagine seeing a 30-year old man buying lingerie for a 14-year old girl. Devaun says the woman asked her if she was okay. Not wanting to upset Bill, she said she was. After buying approximately $300 worth of lingerie for Devaun, they left.
The night of her birthday party, an upstairs bedroom that had been used for storage was now equipped with a desktop computer with webcam, water, and the various outfits purchased for Devaun. She was introduced as the “guest of honor” to a gentleman she referred to as The Doctor. The Doctor checked her blood pressure. He gave her pills to take. She now says it was to keep her medicated. She says she was scared at the time because she had no idea what was going on.
Down in the living room, there were so many people “you couldn’t see the furniture,” Devaun recalls. Her sister played hostess, passing out drinks and snacks.
As the first man came into the room and picked an outfit for her, Bill gave her a hug, told her he was proud of her and left the room.
More men took their turns with her. In between men, The Doctor would come into the room, check her blood pressure and make sure she was not hurt. She was crying so hard by the time the 6th man came into the room, he broke her nose.
Bill was angry. He took Devaun into the bathroom, cuddled her against him and then cleaned her up. The Doctor set her nose. The birthday party was over.
The next day, she says she woke up sore, bruised and with black eyes. Bill was very excited about how successful the night had been. The Doctor gave her more medications. She missed school until her face cleared up.
Every weekend until she was 16 1/2 the “party” continued. She had “regulars.” She says Bill had some other friends that apparently threw the same kind of parties. She occasionally went to other homes to “work.”
When she first moved in with her sister, Devaun says her sister and Bill both worked. Soon, her sister no longer worked outside the home and Bill did not work either, saying he had hurt his back. As she looks back, she says “No way we could afford everything we had.” She was promised a car for her 17th birthday.
One day she was walking home from school with a male friend. She hugged the friend before she got home. Bill saw the hug and called her a slut for hugging the male. His punishment? Not letting her work that weekend. He locked her in her bedroom from Friday to Sunday with a bucket to use as her bathroom. All weekend, she could hear the sounds of a new girl upstairs.
At school Monday, a friend saw her covered in bruises during gym class. She told the friend she was going to call her other sister who happened to live nearby in Westland. She did call the other sister, telling her Bill was hurting her, and she wanted to go home. The sister said she’d pick her up after school. In the meantime, the gym class friend had gone to a counselor about what she saw. Devaun was called to the office to see the counselor. She told the counselor she was not being hurt. The counselor repeatedly asked her if she was being hurt. Devaun had visible burn marks and bite marks. Devaun says the counselor then reached out, touched her hand and said, “Let me help you.”
The police soon arrived and gave her to the other sister who lived in Westland. She says she apologized to her older sister, saying that she didn’t start all this.
Devaun’s mother suddenly showed up from Kentucky or whatever southern state she was living in at the time. Mom told the police that Devaun was rebellious, that she didn’t want to follow the rules, that her bruises were from falling because she was an alcoholic. She told police Devaun was a runaway. Police took Devaun back to live with her older sister and Bill. She says she slept in a corner of the room. Her mom said she was being dramatic. To this day, Devaun believes her mother was getting financial gains from Bill and her sister.
The police were at school again the next day. The first part of the nightmare was over.
Devaun started speaking about her ordeal about ten years after she was removed from the situation. Her husband didn’t know the details of her past. She had three kids.
One of Devaun’s friends had a heart for the issue of human trafficking and heard of an event called SOAP (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution) she wanted to go to. She dragged Devaun along. “It was very emotional. I felt sick, but relieved too. It was an epiphany to me,” she said of hearing SOAP founder Theresa Flores speak of her own story.
Not wanting the guilt anymore, Devaun wants to help everyone she can. She runs the Metro Detroit chapter of SOAP, one of the most successful chapters, she says. She tries to help survivors of human trafficking. Most human traffickers, she says, are husbands, boyfriends, and uncles. Of the approximately 200 survivors on a Facebook group she’s involved with, only two were abducted into trafficking. Major outreaches of SOAP occur locally during the International Auto Show and the Dream Cruise.
What happened to her sister and Bill? Devaun kept in touch with her sister for about five years; after Devaun left the household, she says her sister asked her for signs that her niece might be trafficked. Her sister eventually went to prison for being an accomplice in helping a new boyfriend flee the country. Although Bill fled the country after Devaun was rescued, she says he is currently back in the country.
She now has no contact with her mother or older sister.
Devaun has several tips to share. If you see lots of traffic around a home with men going in and out all weekend, make a call. If someone has money but has no known source of income, make a call. She says she used to wear long sleeves all summer, even in the heat, to cover her bruises and marks. Don’t be afraid to call in tips. If you think someone is in immediate danger, call the police. Otherwise, you can call tips in to the human trafficking number at 1-888-373-7888.