Human trafficking victim using past to help others — but needs help to clear her name

A victim of human trafficking is now spending her life working to eradicate it.

Marian Hatcher has met U.S. presidents, received national awards, lectured FBI agents all over the country on the subject, yet her own record remains tarnished with a felony conviction she'd like to shed.

Marian is 55 and hopes Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner will ultimately decide clemency is the clear path in her case.

She desperately wants it done, so she can move forward with her head held high, she says, even though she revisits her past every day to end human trafficking and the horrors that come with it.

Her colored past is actually helping others.

"I committed the felony but I am not a felon,” she said. “That is not who I am. That does not represent who Marian Hatcher is."

The Marian Hatcher of today is a cancer survivor, a teacher to many, a confidante and the senior project coordinator for the Cook County Sheriff's Office on Public Policy. More specifically -- human trafficking.

The irony of it all is the very people who arrested her for her connection to human trafficking and drugs in 2004, led Marian down the road to sobriety and are now her co-workers in law enforcement.

"I work side by side with people who actually handcuffed me and put me in shackles," she said.

"One of the most amazing people I’ve ever met," Sheriff Tom Dart said of Marian. "Who better to break the cycle for the women caught up in this than a woman who knows it?"

Marian knows all about sexual exploitation.  She is not your typical human trafficking victim, but a survivor of it nonetheless. She had a college degree, a corporate job in finance and five children. But one of her husbands sent her down a very dark path. She was in her 30s at the time. She was molested as a child and those scars never went away. So later in life she turned to the streets.

"It went like this: domestic violence, drug use, prostitution, trafficking, and in that order,” she said. "Crack cocaine brought me to my knees...That drug became the love of my life and told me it was OK to leave my children.”

She turned tricks, she said, did a lot of drugs and paid her pimps.

"They protect you from what's outside and so you don't have to be on the street," she said. "You can stay high and drunk and you don't have to face the fact that you've left your family."

“I was missing for almost two years before angels with handcuffs brought me to Cook County Jail,” she said.

Those angels with handcuffs were officers who threw her in jail, triggering the beginning of her new life.  A judge gave her 3 to 7 years of hard time but she ended up serving 120 days in a women's treatment program with the county.

In a sense, she never left.

Together, Marian and the sheriff speak, educate and work toward tackling human trafficking all over the U.S. In 2007, Dart changed the philosophy in his office when it came to the crime. His detectives decided to go after people buying sex rather than the women selling it. Stopping the demand, hopefully, with time will extinguish the crime that often targets women.

Marian has accrued awards, been honored by President Obama and even met President Jimmy Carter at a sexual exploitation summit.

"I said, 'Pres. Carter, I’ve been a good girl for 11 years.  I shouldn't still be a convicted felon,'” she said.

He didn't think so. Neither does Sheriff Dart.

She wants her name cleared for the other women in her life, two in particular: Her granddaughters.

"It truly is a matter of reputation,” she said.

Marian's petition for clemency sits on the governor's desk. She has been represented by the pro bono program at the John Marshall Law School. Students are working on her case.

There's no time frame when Rauner might deliver his decision.

More information at the John Marshall Law School website