SPECIAL REPORT: Surviving sex trafficking, part 1

Ella Smillie (KTVL/Sarina Sandoval)

Sex trafficking is a problem nationwide, but what some don't know, is it's happening right here in Southern Oregon.

For 21 years Ella Smillie was a victim of sex trafficking.

It began when Smillie was in elementary school when her father took pictures of her and used them for child pornography.

In a flash, her childhood was taken away. By the time she was in 12th grade she became pregnant with her first child, ran away and ended up with a trafficker.

Smillie says most people don't really know they're being trafficked, it's more like having a boyfriend.

"I bounced in and out. I would get away or someone would come help me or law enforcement would get involved. I would run right back to my trafficker because I thought that he loved me and he cared for me or I was afraid of the consequences," Smillie said.

Her daughter was a year old when it happened.

"The final straw for me was homeland security had come in and started to investigate my traffickers. I had a victim specialist sit me down at a coffee shop and said if you don't get away, you're going to disappear, never see your child again, and you're going to die in this," she said.

Smillie was sent out of state to a home for girls. Now she works as a Survivor Leader at Grace House in Jackson County.

"The unique thing about Grace House is, if you walk into that building it is like a home instead of an institution," said Smillie.

It took years for Smillie to tell her story, but it wasn't until she was diagnosed with a chronic illness called, gastroparesis and chronic intestinal obstruction disorder, that pushed her to tell her story.

"At night I hook up to what looks like a milkshake in a bag and it's actually the calories and nutrition that feed me," Smillie said.

Doctors say the trauma has forced her body into "fight mode."

"That's kind of where it stems from, the adrenal system and your adrenal system is what fires when you're in flight or fight mode. Well if you're in fight mode for 21 years, eventually it's going to shut down," Smillie said.

She's in and out of the hospital and doctors tell her family she's not going to make it. But the fighter in her keeps going.

"Before I was just kind of surviving, now I love my life. I'm excited to push forward instead of before it was like, when is this life going to end," Smillie said.

One out of three girls get approached for sex trafficking and 90 percent of them don't even know they're being trafficked.

In part two of "Surviving Sex Trafficking" find out how law enforcement and airport employees are trying to prevent sex trafficking.

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