Human Trafficking survivor tells story to the Kern County community


Estefany Henriquez

Rebecca Bender signs an autograph on her book, “In Pursuit for Love” for an attendee at her event.

Estefany Henriquez, Reporter

  The atmosphere was attentive and sobering as human trafficking survivor Rebecca Bender revealed the reality of her victimization by the illegal human trafficking business. 

  Bender is a survival leader and author of a new book titled “In Pursuit of Love.” The novel details the gripping story about Bender’s experience and how she made the decision to go back to the dark past she was running from to assist the FBI and Vice to aid other women and help other women who are being trafficked find the freedom they are looking for. 

  According to Bender, she grew up in a broken home. Her father was heavy drinker, and as a child she did not have many boundaries to keep her safe. At the age of 19, she was coerced into prostitution, abused, and restrained by her boyfriend, who became her pimp. 

  Bender was forced to sell her body for about six years. Multiple attempts to flee, being physically branded, and many abusive pimps later, federal investigators raided the home where Bender was being kept and she was able to escape.  

  “Trafficking is not always about abductions. It is a gradual expansion of boundaries and an increase in trust,” Bender said. 

  Often times, human trafficking is viewed as someone in handcuffs with tape over their mouths, but according to Bender, trafficking can look very different based on culture and the community where you live. It is not what is constantly depicted. Human trafficking is diverse and open to any form of exploitation. 

  Kern County is fortunate to have a caring and aware community due to the efforts of Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking.  

  According to the KCAHT website, the organization is a grassroots coalition created to bring community-wide awareness to and to promote efforts against human trafficking in Kern County through prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships.  

  ¨We wanted to give our community another opportunity to listen in and really learn about this issue and see how it impacts all of our different populations here in Kern County,¨ said Sandy Woo-Cater, volunteer co-director for KCAHT. 

  ¨In the audience there were people from all over the county. These people were interested in hearing the story and asking themselves what lane they could fit in the anti-human-trafficking movement,¨ said Dustin Contreras, volunteer co-director for KCAHT. 

  Audience member Alyssa Olivera appreciated Bender’s ultimate message. ¨It is important for those who want to get involved in the movement, to follow that passion and do what Rebecca says to find your good at and bring that to the cause because there is always space for people to help,¨ Olivera said. 

Estefany Henriquez

  Bender has an online school for mentoring, and she has been able to assist at least 678 women with their own human trafficking issues. Additionally, through the “Find Your Lane” quiz on her website,, community members who want to get involved can find what they are good at in order to help others who are struggling. 

  ¨Resilience is saying ´All of this cannot have been for nothing,´ and you begin searching and fighting,¨ Bender said.