CINCINNATI - A motivational speaker and standup comedian with Indiana roots is sharing her story of being held captive overseas to help bring awareness to the epidemic of human trafficking.
In 1984, Marti MacGibbon, who was raised in a typical middle class family in Muncie, was a successful comic living in San Francisco who scored an appearance with Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show."
Until then, MacGibbon said she was a recreational drug user. But after the excitement of meeting Carson, she spiraled out of control, becoming a full-blown addict.
"I was living in my car, had a crazy boyfriend, [and I] was just trying to make ends meet," she told WCPO-TV in Cincinnati. "Traffickers watch for vulnerability. I wasn't in touch with my family or friends. I was isolated, and the person who trafficked me knew all of that."
It was then that she encountered the woman who changed the course of her life, an illicit distributor of young women to serve Japanese businessmen, MacGibbon said.
"I knew that's what it was, but I was told it would be in a five-star hotel and I would be in control and I could make decisions about what I wanted to do," MacGibbon said. "I was desperate enough to go, I took her up on it. I had a one-way ticket and very little cash."
For the next two months, McGibbon said she was imprisoned in Japan, locked in an apartment and was told by the traffickers that her body would end up in the bay if she didn't cooperate.
One of the businessmen MacGibbon met eventually helped her make her escape back to the United States by buying her freedom, she said.
"I'm one of the lucky ones," MacGibbon said. "I wasn't supposed to even come back. The trafficker [who originally sent her to Japan] sent a girl every month, and I checked into the other girls when I got back to the U.S. I'm the only one that returned."
All the while, her family had no knowledge of her captivity in Japan. When she returned to face them, she said she didn't want to burden them with what happened to her, so rather than changing her previous habits, she continued to abuse drugs in an effort to cope.
MacGibbon was addicted and homeless again until she says she met her true love and turned her life around, eventually becoming an addiction treatment professional, motivational speaker and author.
MacGibbon shared her story in her book "Never Give in to Fear: Laughing all the way up to Rock Bottom."
MacGibbon's case is one of millions around the world every day, experts say.
The human trafficking industry generates more than $32 billion annually and is the second-most profitable criminal enterprise globally, according to a report by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. The report indicates there are more than 27 million victims of human trafficking around the world today.
"Facing the numbers is hard for people to wrap their heads around," said Gretchen Hunt, the training coordinator at the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Program said. "The natural impulse of people is to say that human trafficking doesn't happen because it's too awful. We don't want to think it can happen."
In the world of human trafficking, the average age of women is between 12 and 14, with the FBI suspecting that one out of every five involved in prostitution in the United States is a child.
Hunt said law enforcement authorities should remain vigilant of the telltale signs of child trafficking, such as runaways, older boyfriends and even branding.
"They can look for somebody with tattoos with the name of their pimp," Hunt said. "When people are dehumanized, they are treated as chattel, and the same thing happens with girls in the sex industry."
The tattoo reinforces in the psyche of the girl slave she is property and signals to other traffickers she is already owned, Hunt said.
Trafficking exists in communities across the country, both rural and urban, experts stress.
One such case in Kentucky involved a family acquiring a Filipino woman to serve as a domestic worker. She worked 18-hour days for 50 cents per hour, while the family demanded she pay the $8,000 debt to the network that trafficked her to the states, according to the study "Human Trafficking in Kentucky" conducted by T.K. Logan.
"A lot of it is being concerned about people, caring about your neighbors," Hunt said. "If something doesn’t seem right, call someone, call the police or the National Human Trafficking hotline. Do something to show concern for those people."
Digital Editor Kareem Elgazzar contributed to this report.