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A five part series on one woman's experience with human trafficking in Kalamazoo

It Happens Here, Part 4: "Terrified with nowhere to go”

A exterior photo close-up of the Kalamazoo YWCA name on the side of the brown brick building downtown on Michigan Avenue. The brown metal sign says "eliminating racism, empowering women, YWCA."
Andy Robins
Stacy Chambliss in September 2023.

In the fall of 2020, things are looking up for trafficking survivor Stacy Chambliss, thanks to the Kalamazoo YWCA. But then something changes.

This story mentions attempted suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call or text the national Lifeline at 9-8-8.

Stacy Chambliss says her trafficking began in the summer of 2019. Then 38, she was forced into sex work and shoplifting by a man who threatened her and her teenage son.

After about a month, Stacy decided to try to get arrested, in the hopes of escaping her traffickers.

“Getting caught on purpose meant I would get to be able to talk to the police and tell them what was happening."

After three arrests for shoplifting, by early October 2019, Stacy’s in the Kent County Correctional Facility. She’s arraigned for felony retail fraud.

She’s in jail for nearly half a year, until March 2020, when she’s able to make bail. Stacy heads back to Kalamazoo and reunites with her son.

A few days later, her main trafficker, who we’re calling Miles, finds her. Then he disappears. But Stacy’s terrified he’ll come back.

Meanwhile, she faces charges in three counties from her time being trafficked. She’s missed court hearings, so she could be arrested any time.

Stacy says she attempted suicide that summer. When she tries again in October, she’s admitted to Ascension Borgess Hospital. That’s where Stacy learns about the Kalamazoo YWCA.

“When I attempted suicide and was at Borgess, a staff member was talking to me about it.”

A safe place

Helping trafficking survivors is a core part of the nonprofit’s mission.

“Any individual in our community who has faced domestic violence, sexual assault, or human trafficking should be able to come to the YWCA and receive services," former CEO Grace Lubwama explains in a promotional video.

Stacy says she moved into the YWCA in October 2020.

“I felt like I had support for the first time. People that understood, and then safety was huge, because while I was there, I didn't have to worry about anybody being able to come in or find me.”

Stacy begins to work through her trauma with therapists. She also starts to work with the YWCA’s legal team.

“That is when I made a decision to live and I was going to follow through.”

Stacy Chambliss has her blond hair in a ponytail. She's looking directly in the camera, with her arm on a balcony deck rail. She's wearing a heather gray crew neck shirt and hoop earrings.
Leona Larson
Stacy Chambliss says the decision to move her was something "they should have made me aware (of) and given me the option, back in December, if I felt I needed to go somewhere else. They made that decision for me, and didn't tell me. And that was my life that was on the line."

News of a murder

But, in mid-December, a 28-year-old woman named Amber Walker is murdered in Richland Township. Her accused killer is a 24-year-old man, Chad Michael White. He’ll be convicted of the murder the following year.

Stacy says she knew Amber Walker and Chad White from the motels she was trafficked in. She says White was friendly with her main trafficker, Miles.

Walker’s murder reminded Stacy of the threats Miles made against her life, telling her that she "would never get away from him. I would end up in a body bag or in the trunk.”

 At the shelter, Stacy talks about Walker’s murder, until an employee pulls her aside around Christmas, asking her "if I ever had an issue with this staff member that worked at the Y.

 “I said, no. And she told me to never talk about my case in front of her and I asked if my safety was at jeopardy. And she said it wasn't as long as I didn't talk about my case in front of her.

“I did not put two and two together,” Stacy says.

 A couple months later, Stacy learns: the staff member she’s not supposed to discuss her case with is Chad White’s mom.

 Stacy’s surprised this was kept from her. Suddenly the shelter feels less like a sanctuary. Former YWCA employee Sarah Turner says it began to affect Stacy’s health.

 “She was struggling a lot at the main shelter. Because it was so triggering.”

 The stress causes Stacy to have seizures.

 “Which is really scary,” Turner says. “And she was having a lot of those.”

A spokesperson said the YWCA does not discuss current or former clients, even ones like Stacy, who are willing to give their permission. (The YWCA did provide a written statement and answers to some policy questions.) So what follows is Stacy’s account of what happened next.

The YWCA’s administrators decide to move her to one of its other facilities. Stacy’s worried about this. She says previously, the shelter team considered that other location unsafe for her. That’s because Stacy’s traffickers were known to frequent the area, and it had less security than the main shelter.

The administrators insist it’s safer now, because Miles is in prison. That’s true — he was arrested in May and sentenced in December.

But Stacy’s worried about her other traffickers, the men we told you about in part two and part three of this series. When she pushes back on the plan to mover her to the other facility, it puts her at odds with administrators.

“It almost was like, a taboo topic of conversation,” says former YWCA employee Kailyn Alderman.

She says lower-level employees knew about Stacy’s distress, but their hands were tied.

“Lower staff would talk about it amongst each other. And upper staff would talk about it amongst themselves, but we weren't really supposed to like, talk about it on a formal account, like at staff meetings or things like that.”

Losing the battle

Stacy says one staff member who thinks she’s getting a raw deal tells her to record her conversations. That’s why she has this recording from April 2021:

Stacy: “No, you will not be helping me move my stuff.”

Staff member: “YES, I WILL BE.

Stacy: “No, you won't.”

The YWCA has cut off Stacy’s legal services, telling her their relationship has broken down too much to continue. And after weeks of being pressured to leave the main shelter, Stacy’s been told she has to go. In the recording, she’s speaking with a staff member tasked with moving her into the other facility.

Staff member: “But hon...”

Stacy: “THE EMT’S...”

Staff member: “I can’t have you slandering — ”

Stacy: “I WASN'T.”

The staff member, who’s helping with the packing, refers to Stacy “slandering” an employee when she was treated for a seizure. Stacy says the employee in question is Chad White’s mom.

Stacy: “I didn’t slander her. The EMTs were here.”

Staff member: “YES, YOU DID.”

 Stacy: “No, I did not. The EMTs were here. They asked what was stressing me out. I said, 'I lost my attorney' and this, this and this. They pulled their service away from me.”

In another part of the recording, the staff member tells Stacy, “You’re not going to be able to talk about the staff at [the other location], anything about any of the staff, okay?"

 Stacy moves into the other facility. But at this point her relationship with the YWCA has broken down.

After a few weeks, she sends an email revoking her permission for the staff to discuss her case. Despite her frustration, Stacy says she did not anticipate what would happen later that day.

The same staff member who helped her pack at the main shelter arrives at the other facility.

 “Said I had 10 minutes to pack my stuff and get out and she had the police waiting in the driveway. And I ended up in Bronson Park with all my belongings terrified with nowhere to go during a pandemic."

Corrected: October 4, 2023 at 3:45 PM EDT
A previous version of this story said the YWCA evicted her the day after Stacy Chambliss revoked permission for staff to discuss her case It has been changed to reflect that the eviction happened the same day, a few hours after she revoked her permission.
Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.
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