NEW ORLEANS - Carnival may be in full swing, but beneath the revelry, there's also a dark underbelly.
Experts say during major events like Carnival, there will be an increase of women who were forced into the sex trade hitting the streets.
“One minute I was dreaming about becoming a nurse at the age of 10, and then at 12 years old, I'm tied up in a basement being shot up with drugs and beat and raped,” said Clemmie Greenlee, a sex-trafficking survivor.
Greenlee said she was kidnapped near her Tennessee home at age 12 and forced into the commercial sex trade. Greenlee said her alcoholic parents didn’t notice she was missing for days.
When she was finally allowed to go home, her captors would visit often, taking her from her home and forcing her to wear suggestive clothes and perform sexual acts under the threat of violence.
“You're pretty much terrified,” she said. “You feel like this is your life.”
It's a life millions of women worldwide are forced into. The United States Department of Justice says 77 percent of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are forced into the sex trade between the ages of 12 to 14. Often, it happens right under our noses.
And as thousands of revelers come into town for Carnival, Greenlee worries there will be an influx of sex trafficking and prostitution, like there was during the recent NBA All-Star weekend, when a young victim was rescued, and nearly 30 others were arrested.
“This is all happening right now, with Mardi Gras, today I can guarantee you there are at least 10 girls, in some hotel or some house, tied up, that they don't want to be there,” said Greenlee.
The federal government defines sex trafficking victims as any minor involved in the commercial sex trade, or any adult who has been forced into the sex trade through force, fraud or coercion.
“The sex trade, it's an industry, and like in any industry it's supply and demand. And anytime you have a large influx of people, especially when people are coming to maybe partake in drugs and alcohol, perhaps do things in New Orleans that they wouldn't do in their home town and there's an increase in demand,” said Kara Van De Carr, founder and executive director of Eden House, a long-term shelter for survivors of sex trafficking.
“Often it does involve movement, bringing women from other places down to work on Bourbon Street.”
Next time you're walking down Bourbon Street and you see a women who clearly looks like a prostitute, pause for a second, suggests Van De Carr.
“Instead of judging, maybe you should stop and wonder what is her story? Was she 12 and snatched off the street like Clemmie?” she said.
Clemmie fell through the cracks for three decades until, at age 42, she found a home in Tennessee that helps sex-trafficking victims reclaim their lives.
Now, she's helping others at the Eden House in New Orleans.
“I thank God,” smiled Clemmie.
It's the first shelter of its kind in Louisiana, and in the 18 months since it opened, the long-term program has helped a dozen women.
“There's laughter, there are tears, but more importantly small miracles of recovery that are happening every day,” said Van De Carr.
And every day, Clemmie is thankful for a second chance and hopeful others in her shoes will be afforded the same.
If you spot suspicious activity, you could turn a woman's life around by reporting it.
You can call police or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
You can also download an app called “Look Beneath the Surface” that can help you decipher if suspicious activity is indeed trafficking, created by a local pedicab operator, at antislaveryapp.conduitapps.com.