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Trafficking survivor wants to end 'The Game'
04:01 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Elle Snow was trafficked for sex in California

She founded 'Game Over' to protect other girls from the misery she went through

Humboldt County, California CNN  — 

Elle Snow laces up her combat boots, prepared once again, to go to war with “The Game.”

“The [purchasers] really want new products all the time,” says Snow. “The [sex] traffickers like to move their victims frequently so they can’t get to know anyone and it’s harder for law enforcement to track them.”

For Snow, a native of Eureka, a town in rural northern California, this fight against sex trafficking is personal. She says she was 19 when she was first approached by an older man, who expressed an interest in dating her.

“I met my trafficker the same way a lot of us do,” says Snow. “You always hear, ‘I met a guy.’ And he was here in rural Humboldt County and we kept bumping into each other. I took this as fate and he portrayed it that way. He met my mom, he met my family. I didn’t realize that I had been marked.”

‘This is how prostitutes are made’

For Snow, it seemed to be a whirlwind, intoxicating romance.

But that quickly changed, once her boyfriend invited her to Sacramento and got her away from her family and friends.

“The next morning, I woke up and this man was standing in front of me. He had these 6 inch heels which I’ve never worn heels in my life being 6 feet tall and this little pink skirt. I’ve never worn pink in my life. And he wanted me to put these on and told me I had to get to work.”

Elle Snow

At first Snow thought he was joking.

“I told him ‘I’m on vacation, like, what are you talking about?’ And he’s telling me you’re not you anymore. This is not your name. Your name is now ‘Angel.’” Snow recalls.

“There was no way to get out of this situation. He took my clothes, my shoes, my keys, my phone, and eventually he started saying he is not who he said he was, that he’s actually a pimp, and this is how prostitutes are made.”

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Snow wanted to run, but the trafficker threatened to harm her 14-year-old sister.

“The next thing I know was being taken to a brothel,” Snow says. “I was trafficked throughout the [San Francisco] Bay Area for eight months of my life.”

Snow says she tried to escape several times. Usually her trafficker would laugh at her, but one time in particular stands out, when an attempt to leave became physical and she feared her life was at risk.

“I punched him and knocked his tooth out and he got up; I ran into the bathroom. And then for the next few hours I was beat bloody,” she recalls. “I was strangled. He was dragging my body to a car when I woke up. My throat was so swollen and black and blue. I still have busted capillaries in it from all that.”

Surviving ‘The Game’

Snow eventually managed to escape with the help of a friend. In 2014, she testified against her trafficker, David Bernard Anderson, who was on trial, accused of trafficking a 16-year-old girl.

Anderson, who went by the moniker “King David,” was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison.

During that time, Snow realized Anderson was one of many men and women following a set of carefully laid-out rules and guidelines for how to force women into prostitution.

“What happened to me was called ‘The Game,’ this monstrous beast that is this world of sex trafficking,” she explains. “These guys have a complete structure, they have books, they have documentaries, they have podcasts.”

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Kyla Baxley was the lead investigator on the case, for Humboldt County’s District Attorney’s Office.

“It’s important to remember victims of sexual assault and exploitation didn’t choose this,” says Baxley. “Realizing that it was happening here in Humboldt, and having an interaction with Elle Snow, being one of the victims, really helped raised awareness of this issue in the community.”

Humboldt County District Attorney Investigator Kyla Baxley was named  "Investigator of the Year" by  the California Sexual Assault Investigators Association.

And through the course of the trial, Snow came to two important conclusions. None of this was her fault and it hadn’t happened by accident.

In 2016, she founded the anti-trafficking non-profit Game Over, dead-set on protecting other girls from the trauma and misery she went through herself.

“I called Kyla and I told her, I’m going to do something about this,” says Snow. “I’m going to make the world know about ‘The Game.’ They need to know or else they are susceptible to it.”

Fighting back

Now Snow spends many of her days monitoring sex ads on online classified sites, looking for trends.

“I am looking to see who they’re coming in with, this someone showing up and then the same day another person showing up with the same area code.

“And I’m looking for tattoos because traffickers like to brand their victims. The brandings tend to consist nowadays mainly of names. Especially names with a crown on the chest or neck. Also, anything to do with currency, diamonds, money bags as well as anything to do with ‘loyalty to the family,’ ‘loyalty to the game,’ ‘made by,’ or ‘property of.’”

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Branded: Sex Slavery in America -- full documentary
23:30 - Source: CNN

In addition to investigating real-time cases of human trafficking herself, Snow is also training law enforcement and speaking to local schools.

Recently, she co-wrote and produced a play with three students from the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. Called “Jane Doe in Wonderland,” it’s a modern re-interpretation of the Lewis Carroll classic, based on Snow’s own experiences. CNN attended a recent evening performance in front of a packed house at Eureka High School.

A scene from Jane Doe in Wonderland.

“If you’re putting posters everywhere and everybody’s talking about it and they’re saying, ‘Hey, I know what a pimp is. I know those books.’ Then all of a sudden the traffickers don’t feel comfortable anymore,” says Snow.

Rex Bohn, Humboldt County’s 1st District Supervisor, was in attendance that night. He says he’s been impressed on how quickly Snow’s made a difference in this community.

He says: “Elle’s raised, through her own experience, the level of understanding for our local police, our local sheriff’s department.”

In Elle Snow, it seems “The Game” may have met a young woman it can’t beat.

And traffickers in Northern California should be on guard, listening for Snow’s hard-soled footsteps, and the legion of newly informed supporters, charging up behind them.