Not long ago, Carey Dyer was held against her will in a hotel room by a pimp who controlled when she could sleep, eat and go to the bathroom, and who beat her when she failed to comply with his demands, she told a crowd of about 75 people in Portland’s Monument Square on Thursday night.

“I rarely slept, if I slept at all,” said Dyer, who eventually escaped only to find herself homeless on the streets of Portland.

But Dyer has recovered, and at Thursday’s candlelight vigil she shared her story of surviving human trafficking.

Dyer attended Hope Rising, Maine’s first residential treatment program and safe house for survivors of human trafficking, two years ago. She now serves as president of Survivor Speak USA’s board of directors. The Portland-based organization’s mission is to provide education, advocacy and mentoring for exploited women.

Thursday’s candlelight vigil was organized by Hope Rising to raise awareness about human trafficking, which is far more prevalent in Maine than the public may realize, several speakers warned.

Portland’s vigil coincided with National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, dedicated to raising awareness about sexual slavery worldwide.

Hope Rising, which operates a home for victims of human trafficking at an undisclosed location in Penobscot County, is owned by Saint Andre Home in Biddeford, a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1940 by the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec.

Hope Rising provides housing for up to five women age 18 and older, with the average stay nine to 12 months. Since it opened three years ago, Hope Rising has served 100 survivors of human trafficking from across the country, most from Maine and New England.

Carey Nason, director of Saint Andre Home, thanked the crowd for coming and said the show of support demonstrates to victims that people care about them.

Nason estimates that 200 to 300 girls and women, age 14 to 30, are trafficked in Maine every year.

“That is a lot of people,” Nason said.

Human trafficking can take many forms, from forced labor to a mother prostituting a daughter for shelter, food and clothing. Some women are trafficked by their husbands and boyfriends as a way to make money or pay bills.

“We are here tonight to express our outrage over this modern-day form of slavery,” said Louise Merriman, a member of the Saint Andre Home board of directors. “You probably think it can’t happen in Maine, but it is happening here. We need to be outraged.”

Local officials say they are aware of the problem and are taking steps to combat it in Greater Portland.

Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck said Cumberland County operates a human trafficking unit that goes after “johns and pimps” and provides support to the victims of human trafficking, Sahrbeck said.

“We do recognize that it is a problem that occurs every day in Maine,” he said.

Daniella Cameron, director of Preble Street’s anti trafficking coalition, said the problem is not going away. She said Preble Street has worked with 150 victims of human trafficking since the program began.

Hope Rising says that in most cases the women the program serves struggle with addiction. Drugs or alcohol become an escape to ease the pain and numb the feelings that come with trauma.

In 2016, the National Human Trafficking hotline received more than 20,000 calls for help from across the country.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

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