SAN MATEO (KPIX) -- Human trafficking happens every day in neighborhoods across the state and it goes barely noticed, but woman who spent more than a decade trapped in that world is now doing something about it.
"I was trafficked when I was 15 and I had three different traffickers," Elizabeth Quiroz told KPIX. "I was trafficked in San Francisco and San Mateo County for about 12 years."
Quiroz reaches out to people who are victims of human trafficking, prepping essentials to deliver to them. She does this now because she spent her teen years learning about life the hard way.
"The first one was a boyfriend, we call that 'Romeo pimping,' the second one was a woman and I thought she was my friend," explains Quiroz. "And my third trafficker was my drug dealer."
That third trafficker is what really started a dangerous and difficult time in her life.
"I was a drug runner, so he would give me a large amount of drugs to sell for him, and so every time I would get arrested for the drugs I would have to do my time and get out and then be in debt," Quiroz said. "I had a lot of fear because he was part of a gang and I was an addict so I was trying to supply my addiction as well while surviving, making money and doing whatever I can."
In her case, dealing drugs was better than selling her body in what seemed to be her only options of survival.
"When I was being sold to purchases, I was making money but it wasn't mine, it was being taken and I felt like I was a rose and I was dying every time, a rose petal fell off every time and I literally had to detach when I was being raped by these men," Quiroz said.
For more than a decade, Quiroz was in and out of prison, where the cycle would repeat itself over and over again. Until, something inspired her to make a change.
"I had a baby boy," Quiroz said. "He was basically my motivation to get out of that life. When I was in San Mateo County, I just started to get motivated to change and I started reaching out for support."
That support system came from an unlikely source, Christina Corpus, who is now the San Mateo County Sheriff.
"She was this young girl and she was just so under the influence of drugs and then I looked at her charges and I just thought 'oh no, she is going down a really bad path,'" Corpus told KPIX. "I learned of the really challenging childhood that she had."
Quiroz came from an abusive household, raised around gang members and addicts. It made her completely vulnerable to traffickers. When Corpus got to know Quiroz and learned about her upbringing, it made her want to help her even more.
"I don't think she had someone tell her that she was worth fighting for her, herself," Corpus said. "And that her child wanted to be with her."
Fight she did.
In Quiroz's last five years incarcerated, she got out of prison with her GED. She did not stop there though, she went to Santa Rosa Junior College and graduated with three associate degrees.
Quiroz then went onto Sonoma State to earn her bachelors in Sociology. Now she is working towards her masters in Social Justice and Human Rights that she will complete this spring.
Along with the education she paved the way to, she worked for a Governor's Pardon that she received from former Gov. Jerry Brown, expunging her criminal record.
But this, would be her greatest victory: Quiroz fought and got her little boy back after a 9 year-long separation.
Now happily married and reunited with her son, through her non-profit organization, Redemption House of the Bay Area that she started with another survivor, Lisa Diaz-McQuaid, she connects to women who don't know any other way.
"When you assume, well they chose to stay in that life or they put themselves there so that is their own fault," Quiroz said. "That's just not how it goes. Sometimes somebody can't get out of that life because that is what they are used to doing."
Quiroz uses the light she has gained from her journey to shine on victims so they too can become a survivor.
She and her co-founder of Redemption House are running their non-profit out of a storage unit in Santa Rosa for now. They would like to have an office soon and eventually start opening homes to help victims of human trafficking.
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