Minh Dang was a straight A student and soccer star by day, but at night she says her parents sold her for sex. NBC Bay Area's Stephanie Chuang reports how a Bay Area woman is using her childhood horrors to help others.
Human trafficking is a crime that's hard to track and some experts say harder to stop. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calls it the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, but one Bay Area woman is on a personal mission to slow it down.
Family photographs don’t even begin to tell Minh Dang’s life story. Behind the brown eyes of a little girl are unseen horrors, horrors that she says happened at the hands of the two people who should have protected her from unspeakable acts.Her parents.
"They were really partners in the crime," Dang said.
After years of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, Dang said her mother and father teamed up to sell her for sex, starting at age 10.
"They actually recruited people, so my mom placed ads in Vietnamese newspapers and magazines," Dang recalled. "My dad took me to these businesses, they were cafes, and they were fronts for brothels. He would take me to brothels and leave me there for weeks on end, and brothels sell children for sex so that was my job while I was there.”
While in school in Los Altos and Mountain View, her job was to keep her secret life exactly that; a secret.
"My choir and orchestra teacher in middle school thought something was up, but I don’t think could have guessed this was up because I was a straight A student, I wasn’t your typical delinquent kid,” Dang said.
Her middle school gym teacher, Bonny Ellegood, remembered her as an overachiever and 4.0 student.
"I mean she went above and beyond in everything she did,” Ellegood said.
She not only excelled in the classroom, Dang was also a star on the soccer field according to her high school soccer coach Jack Rosenhan.
"This is a player who’s going to go far and has a dream to maybe someday play for the national team,” Rosenhan recalled.
But neither Rosenhan or Ellegood could have ever imagined that at night, Dang’s parents forced her into sexual slavery.
“When I found out, not only was I horrified by this, I mean who would think Los Altos, Mountain View, Bay Area, that human trafficking like that was going on,” Rosenhan said. "And to a young girl like her prostituting her out I was floored! I was gasping for air when I first heard about it.”
Ellegood had the same reaction. "It was unreal. I guess I feel stupid because God, I didn’t even know this went on in the world," she said while wiping away tears.
Her teachers and coaches wouldn’t find out the truth until years later because even after moving away from her parent’s San Jose home and going to college at Cal, she couldn’t break free.
"The first two years I was going to college, but was still enslaved. I was still being sold by my parents," Dang said. “Then they paid my final bill for college, and that’s when I cut all ties with them, that I would contact the police if they contacted me again, and then that was it.”
That may have been the end of her relationship with her parents, but it was just the beginning of a new life for Dang.
She’s now working with actress and activist Jada Pinkett Smith, and her non-profit Don't Sell Bodies.
Just last month, the two met with U.S. senators in Washington, D.C. Dang is using her past not only to urge new legislation to end human trafficking, but also to help other victims who can’t yet speak out.
“It’s not just one focus of stopping human trafficking, but building survivors in that process,” Dang said.
She's also continuing to build up herself, after she says her parents spent so many years breaking her down.
We stopped by Dang’s mother’s nail salon in Mountain View. She refused our request for an on-camera interview, but denied ever selling her daughter.
Click here to see more information from the FBI about human trafficking.