Julia Walsh has packed more pain, suffering and traumatic experiences into a short time than most people would endure in several lifetimes.
Raised in a neglectful Russian orphanage, the 25-year-old never felt comfortable after her adoption by a Texas family. She struggled with depression in school, dropped out of college and fell into abusive relationships and drug addiction.
She was forced into prostitution, made to sleep in the trunk of a car and was held hostage in abandoned apartments.
She was branded as the personal property of her traffickers and given a daily revenue quota, which she earned by having sex with multiple men a day. She also lost a child fathered by one of the pimps who raped her.
Thinking she was running away from horrific situations, Walsh merely fell victim to other men who acted like they cared for her at first before forcing her back into the illicit sex trade.
Four men trafficked Walsh for almost three years in multiple cities in at least four states before a caring Waco police detective and those on the forefront of the fight against human trafficking convinced her there was a way out.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and Walsh thinks her harrowing, heart-wrenching story needs to be told. She’s a survivor and wants others to know they can be, also.
“I want them to know it is possible to get out,” Walsh said. “It is possible to find help, and there are people who will genuinely help you. There is a bright future, and they need to know they are not alone. There is hope for a brighter future. Look at me. I am a walking miracle. I have had so many angels in my life.”
Susan Peters, executive director of UnBound and leader of the Heart of Texas Human Trafficking Coalition, said about 79,000 people ages 22 and younger are being trafficked in Texas, according to a recent University of Texas study.
Peters, Waco police Detective Kim Clark and Waco attorney Robert Callahan, who volunteers with UnBound, were instrumental in helping Walsh escape the bonds of human trafficking after she and her pimp, David Ronald Mims, were arrested in June 2013 in Mobile, Alabama, and brought back to Waco.
Clark, who started looking into the case after Mims also was linked to a runaway from the Waco Center for Youth, traveled to Corpus Christi, Kerrville, San Antonio, Lubbock and Leakey following Mims’ trail.
Clark, Peters and Callahan all met with Walsh after her arrest with Mims. Authorities initially thought Walsh was Mims’ girlfriend and accomplice. But Clark said it didn’t take any super sleuthing before they realized Walsh was very much a victim.
While charges were dismissed against Walsh, Mims, the last of her four traffickers, pleaded guilty and is serving a 40-year prison sentence.
Penchant to flee
Still, it took time to break down Walsh’s street mentality and penchant to flee before they could convince her to trust them, Clark said.
“When we got involved with her, Julia was really emotionally beat down and on drugs,” Clark said. “To actually see her come out of that and be in a very positive situation and teaching others what she has gone through is incredible.
“For law enforcement, it is important to remember you do make a difference, even when you think you don’t. It is a good motivational thing for us, too. You put forth the effort, and it really makes a difference in saving her life. I won’t say change her life because it pretty much saved her life.”
Walsh knows that now and says she wants to spend the rest of her life helping others who are where she used to be.
“I was adopted from a Russian orphanage, and we were neglected there,” Walsh said. “We really didn’t get the care we needed, and I had PTSD and a host of other problems that we didn’t really know about. So relationships were pretty difficult for me. Being close to my family was difficult, making friends, those kinds of relationships.”
She grew up in Grapevine with her adoptive family, who loved her and did their best for her, she said.
“Growing up was difficult. Making friends was difficult. I had a rough childhood and didn’t know how to cope with it,” she said.
Like many troubled teens, Walsh started self-harming when she was 14. She went to counseling, but nothing really seemed to help. She harbored suicidal thoughts, was depressed and felt isolated from everyone around her. Eventually, she was hospitalized on suicide watch and for continuing to cut herself.
The doctors’ diagnoses included depression, anxiety and oppositional defiance disorder. But it wasn’t until after she was rescued from more than two years as a human trafficking victim that doctors recognized that she also suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, she said.
“They were trying to find help for me, but they really didn’t know where to start or where to look,” Walsh said. “They were just grasping at straws. I felt very isolated and depressed.”
Her parents sent her to a private high school in Flower Mound. She didn’t have any friends there and was unhappy, so she transferred to Fort Worth Christian School in North Richland Hills, where she graduated.
In August 2010, she enrolled in Angelo State University in San Angelo.
“I was just trying to get away from my family and put as much distance as possible between them and me. My parents didn’t think I was going to make it because of the road I was on, but they gave me the benefit of the doubt and supported me financially,” she said.
The start of Walsh’s long, agonizing road inside the world of human trafficking started in her freshman English class. She met a man who seemed nice. They started dating, but soon he started physically abusing her and got her hooked on cocaine and pain pills.
“I hadn’t dated much and I really didn’t have much to compare it to. I didn’t know what warning signs to look for or what makes it a bad or dangerous relationship,” Walsh said. “But as it turned out, I walked right into a domestic violence, abusive situation.”
She was flunking her classes, so she and her friend moved to San Antonio. That’s when her parents basically cut her off, she said.
“He was beating me up and taking my money,” she said. “One day he just decided that I was only good for sex, drugs and money. I tried to run away, and he saw me and beat me up again. He told me to never run away again.”
The man kept Walsh in the trunk of a car at times. Sometimes, she had to sleep there. He found an abandoned apartment and was trafficking her out of there while keeping her high on drugs. She was able to run away with the help of a friend.
“A friend of mine in the drug circle decided to take me in,” Walsh said. “He kept telling me he was going to heal me physically and get me back to health and make sure the first guy didn’t come back to get me.”
But the man, a heroin addict, also was abusive and he also took her money. The harsh treatment progressed, and he eventually sent Walsh out on the streets to get drugs for him. Some areas where she would get drugs were run by gangs, and she was raped multiple times on these drug runs, she said.
That lasted about a year until the man became more violent and she thought he was going to kill her. She called police, who helped her move into another friend’s apartment in San Antonio.
She called her mother, who came to see her at her new apartment. She convinced Walsh to move to Euless to be closer to the family, and she got a job working at Whataburger. She said things were starting to turn around briefly until she created an account on an online dating site, and her second trafficker called her and tried to convince her to come back.
She didn’t, but she met a man online and agreed to go out on a date with him. He took her to a motel near Arlington and raped her, she said.
“He made himself out to be a sweet guy. After he raped me, he said, ‘You know you are mine now, right?’ ”
He drove Walsh to his apartment, and two other women were there. He trafficked Walsh out of a bar in Arlington. She also continued to work at Whataburger, but he had someone follow her to work to make sure she didn’t run away, she said.
Walsh stashed money so she could get away, and a man at the bar where she was working as a prostitute told her he knew she was not there willingly and helped her escape.
He gave her money, and she bought a bus ticket back to San Antonio and moved in with a friend. But the friend didn’t mention that she was being evicted, so Walsh soon found herself out on the streets of San Antonio. She was homeless, hungry and soon realized she was pregnant by the second trafficker, who had raped her.
Back on the street
She was on the street when Mims drove up. He noticed she was hot and dehydrated and offered to buy her something to eat. He gave her his phone number and said if she needed anything else to give him a call. She was back on the street when her second trafficker found her and took control of her life again.
He took away her money, her ID, her keys and started trafficking her again.
“I told him I was pregnant so he wouldn’t beat me up, and that kind of worked for a little bit,” she said. “But it got bad again, too, and I called David (Mims). He came to pick me up.”
Mims was kind at first. But he started trafficking Walsh from city to city and state to state along the Gulf Coast. That lasted more than two years before they were arrested and Walsh was rescued.
She lost her daughter, Uliana Celia Walsh, at a San Marcos hospital.
“When I was pregnant, I was still using drugs and kept using drugs at first,” she said. “I stopped using the drugs, and at that point, I still had to work and make a quota. He said all that means is that the baby is his property, too. At that point, the safety of my child was pretty much my number one priority.”
She was not eating properly or receiving prenatal care. She went into labor early, but Mims would not take her to the hospital. Her girl was stillborn, and Walsh had a bladder infection, she said.
After Walsh was rescued, Peters with UnBound helped her get into Redeemed Safe House near Houston, a facility that takes in survivors of human trafficking. It’s a yearlong program and includes therapy, counseling and education to help survivors reintegrate back into society.
UnBound also helped Walsh get in touch with The Phoenix Charity, which pays to remove tattoos, also known as brands. Traffickers often mark their so-called property with brands, not unlike ranchers branding cattle, Peters said.
“Julia’s story is very similar to thousands of other women out there who fall victim to human trafficking,” Peters said. “It happens over and over again. Once someone is trafficked the first time, without getting intense therapy and counseling, they are a pretty easy target for other traffickers. At that point, the loudest voice in their lives is that pimp who is telling them that is all they are good for.”
Walsh said her customers over the years came from all walks of life, including doctors, lawyers, police officers, pedophiles and even card-carrying sex offenders who showed her their government-issued sex offender ID cards.
Walsh is attending college now in North Texas and has reconciled with her parents and twin brother, who was adopted with her from the Russian orphanage. He just graduated from college with an engineering degree, she said.
Walsh is studying social work and is passionate about helping others, she said.
“I just really want to help as many people to get out and stay out and to bring awareness to human trafficking,” she said. “There were so many times I could have been offered help, but people didn’t know the signs to look for.”
Callahan, the attorney who volunteers with UnBound, said he is proud of the strides Walsh has made.
“I am amazed at her resurrection out of the situation she was in,” Callahan said. “UnBound helps place people in aftercare after they have survived human trafficking, and very few people go through the program start to finish successfully with no snags.
“It is a very fluid process, usually because of all the trauma suffered by these people. Julia has dedicated herself to recovery from day one and to finding the resources she needed. That has been a consistent theme for her, and I am very proud of her.”