Human trafficking survivor shares story after receiving pardon from Michigan governor

Leslie King was forced to commit crimes while being human trafficked

Her story is one of second chances. A 58-year-old woman who served time for crimes she committed while being human trafficked was pardoned by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Her story is one of second chances. A 58-year-old woman who served time for crimes she committed while being human trafficked was pardoned by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Leslie King’s attorney believes she may be the first human trafficking survivor to receive a pardon from the governor.

Her story is important because there are many human trafficking victims who have been charged with crimes that occurred while they were trafficked -- crimes they were forced to commit.

King said when she got the call that she had been pardoned “all I could do is scream . . . and fall to my knees.”

Leslie King forced into human trafficking at 15 years old

King said her crimes began when she was 15 years old and was forced into human trafficking. She fell for a man who first treated her with kindness and gifts.

“Every day he would come and pick me up and then he would take me shopping and then he started taking me to the bars and telling me how much he loved me. So he started working on my insecurities that I didn’t know I had,” King said.

He got her addicted to drugs and forced her into human trafficking.

“You can see the marks around my neck. You know, the bruises on my face,” King said.

She was forced to commit crimes if she wanted to stay alive.

“Assaults, carrying concealed weapons, unlawful use of motor vehicle, retail fraud . . . there was so many of them,” King said. “But even though they were violent crimes, why were they violent? What happened? You know what I mean? Nobody took the time to find out what happened.”

She spent years behind bars. Finally, at 36 years old, she was able to start to build a new life -- as much as she could with a criminal record.

“I was going to school for social work but I didn’t go back because I was told that because of my record I wouldn’t be able to get a license and that kind of -- instead of me going forward with it, I just got really frustrated,” King said.

Finally, with the help of the Joseph Project, a nonprofit that helps provide legal help to human trafficking survivors, her case caught the attention of the governor.

Her plan now is to become a licensed social worker. She could not get a license with the crimes on her record, but now she has a second chance.

“But now, I look at my life and I understand the purpose now. I had to go through what I had to go through in order to go back and assist others in getting out. And to also educate communities on cause and effects of prostitution and trafficking,” King said.

King is currently an advocate for human trafficking survivors. She is a member of the National Survivor Network and serves on the board of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force. She also founded a home for sex trafficking survivors in Grand Rapids.

Support for human trafficking survivors

Leveraging the Law to Empower the Enslaved - The Joseph Project: The Joseph Project is a nonprofit organization that connects human trafficking survivors with pro bono legal services. It is inspired by the Biblical account of history’s earliest recorded survivor, who transitioned from exploitation to empowerment (Genesis 37-50).

Sacred Beginnings - Boldly declaring freedom: Supporting victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Grand Rapids, Michigan and beyond.

If you suspect that any child or adult is a victim, or is at risk of becoming a victim, call 855-444-3911 any time day or night. If the individual is in imminent danger, immediately call 911. Click here to learn more about human trafficking from the State of Michigan.

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.