When you think of sex trafficking – what comes to your mind?

It might be something like this: a victim kidnapped, held against his or her will in a basement, and sold in hotels from state to state.

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“You don’t hear about the girl like me,” said sex trafficking survivor and overcomer, Anna Ptak, “I was going to school with people’s daughters. I was that girl who could’ve been on their soccer team. I’m the girl who could’ve been sharing make up with your daughter at school.”

Ptak has dedicated her life now to sharing her story in hopes more people begin to understand how vast human trafficking and sex trafficking can be.

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It started more than ten years ago, when Ptak was a junior at a Greensboro high school. She was working at a movie theater part time.

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“There, I met a 40-year-old man [who worked there,],” she said, “When he met me, he heard about my love for music, and he asked me do you want to take guitar lessons for free? And of course, every high schooler’s favorite word is free - so we begin these lessons. They were very innocent at first and then we became intimate.”

Not long after – she was kicked out of the house, and moved in with him, out in the middle of rural Summerfield.

“A few months into it, he started asking me, do I want to be a part of his art project? I could be his number one model,” Ptak explained, “For a girl who has certain issues with self-worth - that was music to my ears, because he was like you can be my number one…you are what matters most to me.”

The pictures became graphic and sexual. But she didn’t know until much later – they had been distributed.

“In 2009, he died of colon cancer. First thing I think is - I need to get those pictures back,” she said.

From one of his family members – she said she got a huge box.

“I opened it up when I got home,” Ptak said, “And, there were thousands of pictures of me doing these extreme things. I found out there were other girls involved. I was so shocked, I couldn’t believe it.”

Even then she didn’t have a name for it. But after a while – she put the pieces together. She had been a victim of sex trafficking.

“I had a label for my pain. Sometimes you struggle to understand - why do I feel this way? And you want to figure out the why behind the what and so ... I had a label and I lost it.”

More than a decade – and a lot of healing and self-care later – Anna Ptak is in a better place. She says now – she has hope, something many victims of human and sex trafficking struggle to find. That’s why she shares her story.

“If we do not paint a realistic picture of what human trafficking is, we are limiting the movement,” Ptak explains, “We’re not allowing us to take full advantage to help others. We’re only seeing it in a certain way.

“I was completely brainwashed. I still fall under the definition because I was being coerced and lied to, and that he was profiting off of me with these pictures.”

Related: Selling Girls | Sex traffickers are targeting American children

Ptak says in North Carolina, sporting events ad strip clubs can be hot beds for trafficking. She also says highways and interstates running north and south, east and west across the state make it easier for this to fly under the radar.

In terms of recruitment – it can happen at school, or over social media. She warns people to look out for when a minor starts seeing someone much older. What she stresses too, the abuser or trafficker doesn’t have to fit a mold.

“My trafficker was Southern, he was white, he was a hippy,” she said, “People usually think of certain nationalities and races associated with it, or they’re wearing gold chains or something…it doesn’t always look that way. A lot of times people come to me and say I had no idea.”

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That's the point she's driving home: it's not always the extremes, and it can happen anywhere.

"You don’t need to be taken anywhere, you don’t need to be prostituting on the street," Ptak said, "It could be happening with the girl in high school who’s getting pictures taken of doing things with whoever she’s doing it with, and they’re being profited off, that profit part is really important."

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