AUSTIN, TEXAS - Lauren Trantham is on a mission; an 8-week, 10,000 mile cross-country trip on a motorcycle mission to be exact.
"To raise funds for survivors of sex trafficking," said Trantham. "I'm also a photographer so I'm photographing over 45 survivors across America."
Trantham is not a survivor and has never been trafficked, but she thought to do the project after a failed relationship.
"Honestly what happened was I got my heart broken," she said with a laugh. "And when I went to a counselor, she said to me I had been in an abusive relationship. And I thought that's not possible. I'm a confident, intelligent, independent woman."
The counselors statement led Trantham to research abuse and types of abusive relationships. That's when she learned more about trafficking and decided to launch the Ride My Road initiative to help raise money for survivors through the Rebecca Binder Initiative, which offers online counseling for victims.
Through the Rebecca Binder Initiative, Trantham found survivors to photograph in each city she stopped in. This week she is Austin, photographing Toni McKinley.
Most people would never guess McKinley, a mother of four and therapist with a master's degree, is a survivor of sex trafficking.
"I was trafficked on and on throughout my younger years. From elementary, middle and 18-years old," McKinley said.
She lived in Arizona and said people in her family and strangers trafficked her. At the age of 15, she ran away from home, only to fall into more trafficking.
"It's kind of a classic story of trafficking," McKinley said.
She was approached by a man who looked to be in his 20s.
"I was just hanging out at the pool at this apartment complex waiting for my friends to get out of school and so that's when he came by with all these kids and was like 'hey, you wanna hang out with us?' And I didn't see any harm in it because these kids were the same age as me. I could relate to them, they looked like me," she recalled.
She was missing, held in an apartment and trafficked for 20 days.
"A bunch of stuff happened in that time before I got found," she said.
Now, McKinley works to help traffic victims in the Austin area. She says it's important for parents and their children to know the signs.
"Change in the way they dress, change in their friends, maybe they're missing school a lot," McKinley said. She also said having clothing or items they can't afford is a sign.
"An older boyfriend is classic. That's probably the story I hear the most from the girls that I work with," McKinley added.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center has warning signs listed on its website. They include someone who lacks knowledge about their whereabouts, works excessively long or unusual hours, has few or no personal possessions or is not allowed or able to speak for themselves.
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