Human trafficking activist Jessica Neely speaks at MU International Justice Mission event

Neely: “I’m telling you I’ve chased the pot of gold, and I got burned.”

Former porn star Jessica Neely spoke to a crowd at an MU International Justice Mission event Monday night about her journey from being a victim to becoming a victimizer.

Neely shared her experiences as a porn star and brothel owner before her eventual redemption.

The event, titled Stories of Modern Day Slavery, uncovered details about the sex industries of pornography and human trafficking to a crowd of 105 MU students and Columbia residents, who crammed themselves into a classroom in the Arts & Science building.

Neely is a pastor’s daughter whose molestation as a child and rape as a young adult threw her into the sex industry. Her time in the porn industry left her unstable, financially. She started a brothel in 2011, where she trafficked women from all over the U.S.

“I didn’t know I was a trafficker,” Neely said. “I didn’t know I was the bad guy.”

She turned to Refuge for Women, an organization to help sexually exploited women.

She is now an active voice against pornography and human trafficking. Neely commands attention with impassioned speech, tears and animated gestures. She hopes to gain nonprofit status for her T-shirt making and speaking efforts and start a YouTube channel to expand the reach of her message.

“I’m living for something greater than myself,” Neely said. “I’ve seen it all and I’m saying it’s not worth it, don’t go there, don’t play with that. I’m telling you I’ve chased the pot of gold, and I got burned.”

In sharing her recovery story, Neely talked about the long process of healing from addiction and PTSD. She said she had been hunting for people who cared and urged the audience to never stop caring.

“It was upsetting to hear the reality (of the pornography and trafficking industries), but exciting to hear about love driving out the shame,” recent MU graduate Alissa Jett said. She works at Columbia’s Refugee and Immigration Services office on Broadway.

MU’s IJM chapter partners with the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, which seeks to educate the community about trafficking issues, identify victims and support survivors. Nanette Ward, a volunteer board member for the coalition, introduced Neely at the event and reminded the audience members of their duty to be the eyes and ears for one another.

“Just make sure you leave here and do something,” Ward said. “Tell someone. Don’t let it stop in this room.”

Lawmakers are addressing trafficking issues through a proposed amendment to House Bill 1396 that aims to increase safety for human trafficking victims. The bill was passed through the Civil and the Criminal and Judiciary committees, and it seeks to include human trafficking victims in a program that gives a substitute address to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and rape.

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 67 human trafficking cases were reported in Missouri last year, nearly a third of which involved minors.The center also received 365 hotline calls.

MU’s IJM chapter, one of 200 across the U.S., gained new leadership last fall and has been working on increasing awareness around campus. Co-event coordinator Emily Dunn, a freshman, said the chapter is still learning how to be leaders and make an impact together. She said being on IJM leadership is a good outlet for her passions.

“Something I’ve been passionate about is justice, and I didn’t know how to get involved,” Dunn said. “IJM is a way I could put my beliefs into action.”

The Stories of Modern Day Slavery event also planned to have Jefferson City native Jessica Luebbert share her experience on being trafficked from Columbia but had to cancel last minute. According to KOMU, Luebbert said that in mid-Missouri there is a misconception that human trafficking does not happen here, but as a survivor she knows it happens everywhere.

The MU IJM leadership said they may plan another time for her to speak in the future.

Edited by Waverly Colville |

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