A human trafficking survivor who helped thousands of trafficked women has died.
Jennifer Kempton passed away Thursday morning near her home of Columbus, Ohio.
Kempton’s descent into human trafficking began in her teens under the control of gangs in the poor suburbs of Columbus. She grew up in an abusive household, which made her an easy target for a trafficker. A young man who said he loved her became her “boyfriend” and then her pimp. He would make Jennifer sleep with other men to earn drug money.
This “boyfriend” then sold her to a gang who put her “to work.” During the following years, she became the victim of continual physical and mental abuse. The gang used drugs to keep her addicted and dependent on them, forcing her to stay compliant.
She would be raped as much as 20 times a day by her captors. They marked her body with a series of tattoos to show she was “owned property.”
“King Munch” (the drug gang’s insignia) was inked on the side of her neck where everyone could see it. “Property of Salem” (her “owner”) was tattooed in her private area for all “clients” to see.
Jennifer Kempton became one of the hundreds of thousands of victims in the $9.5 billion human trafficking crime trade in the United States.
One night, feeling as if there was no way out of her daily hell, Jennifer attempted to end her own life. She woke up on the floor of the crack house she called home because the rope she tried to hang herself with had broken. At that moment, Kempton felt as if God had given her a second chance and a reason to live. She waited for her opportunity and escaped her captors.
But the tattoos and the scars remained.
“Those tattoos to me meant betrayal, because I went from thinking I was in the first loving relationship of my life with a guy who treated me like a queen, to becoming an addict and being sold by him to supply his drug habit,” Jennifer told The Guardian. “And then he sold me again for financial gain to a known gang that put me on the streets and took me to the darkest point in my life.”
“After enduring this, being raped and beaten and abused, and after getting clean of my addiction, every time I took a shower or tried to look at my body I was reminded of the violence and exploitation I’d suffered,” she continued. “I was so grateful to be alive, but having to look at those scars, seeing those names on your body every day, just puts you in a state of depression.”
“You begin to wonder whether you’ll ever be anything but the person those tattoos say you are.”
After working to be able to afford to pay for a tattoo that would cover up the “King Munch” marking on her neck that she had to see every time she looked in the mirror, she realized that removing the tattoos from trafficking victims could be a huge step forward in their recovery.
Covering up those markings could allow a woman to avoid seeing those memories every time she looked at a reflection.
Every time she changed clothes.
When she would try to wear a bathing suit to the pool.
Even if she tried to wear a short sleeve blouse.
“It was so liberating to take his name off of my body and have what I want there,” Kempton said.
That’s when Jennifer began Survivor’s Ink.
Jennifer raised money to help other victims of trafficking get their tattoos covered by other tats, a chance to say goodbye to all those reminders of a life they never wanted to live.
Survivor’s Ink didn’t stop there. The group rescued women in trafficking situations. They would help the women find safe places to live and opportunities for rehab from their various addictions.
Then, Jennifer tried to help give the biggest gift: a chance at a new life.
“There is this stereotype that we’re a success if we have a minimum-wage job and we can stay clean,” Jennifer told The Guardian. “We can live way above that. Trafficking survivors have faced evil and conquered it. [Survivors] have lived on the streets and survived the worst of the worst. We have had demons attack us, beat us, rape us. We are some of the strongest women in the world; [survivors] can go above and beyond what other people can do. You’re not going to box me up – no way, I’m sorry but no. I’m here to stay.”
Jennifer worked to save women from trafficking right into her last days. Kempton had helped the Columbus police Monday night into Tuesday morning with breaking up a human trafficking ring in the city.
“Our Jennifer was someone who had a real fire for saving people from the horrors of trafficking,” colleague Laurin Crossin told USA Radio News. “She was someone who felt the pain of every single woman that came to her for help. Jennifer desperately wanted to help everyone who needed her. She had such a big heart.”
Crossin added that Kempton struggled to find financing for her group. Donors looked down at the women Kempton tried to help, even though they were slavery survivors. The stigma society attaches to the women forced into prostitution and human trafficking was too much for many Christian organizations to bear.
It’s a common struggle for ministries and organizations that try to help the women according to Crossin. Many Americans and many church groups want to pretend these women just don’t exist.
Yet hundreds of young women are forced into slavery in the United States every week. Women that Jennifer Kempton lived to try and help escape into a new life of freedom.
Many abolitionists paid tribute to Jennifer, including fellow survivor Theresa Flores, author of “The Slave Across The Street.”
“Jennifer was not only a mother and daughter and a sister, but she was a warrior,” Flores told USA Radio News. “Her passion saved many and inspired even more.”
Jennifer Kempton was just 35.
Friends of Kempton are attempting to raise funds to provide her with a proper funeral. If you feel led to help, visit this YouCaring page.
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