She thought she was moving in with trusted friends whom she met through the online BDSM community.
But when she tried to put an end to “roleplay” that had grown more and more abusive, they put her in chains and branded her.
It’s being called the most “severe and disturbing” case of Human Trafficking ever investigated in this quiet Louisiana county. But there was nothing quiet about the Wednesday arrest of three people who allegedly held a transgender woman as a slave for months until she escaped, still wearing the chain around her neck.
An assistant town marshal for the tiny village of Robeline, La., made a horrifying discovery on the night of May 31. At a local business he found a frantic woman suffering from severe lacerations and bruises. Attached was a 35-foot logging chain with a bucket on the end.
The woman, who is in her early 50s, claimed to have stolen a vehicle from her captors in the nearby rural community of Pleasant Hill in order to escape after years of being subjected to abuse, held hostage, and enslaved.
Over the intense investigation that followed, authorities learned that the woman had been living as a slave for two years in the household of David Rodriguez Jr., 37, and Christina Marie Harper, 39. Also living in the house during the period were two minors, ages 15 and 16, who were placed into Child Protective Services.
The three alleged kidnappers: David Rodriguez, Ambre Lopez, and Christina Harper. Photo via Natchitoches Parish Police.
Detective Tim Key of the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office revealed new details about the arrests at a Friday press conference. The woman met Rodriguez and Harper through the website Collarme.com, which iscurrently offline due to an unrelated domain dispute. The woman, who wanted to pursue lifestyle roleplay as a slave, agreed to move from her home in Minnesota to live with the couple in rural Louisiana after her family disowned her because of her “new lifestyle.”
Lifestyle roleplay of this kind is a frequent practice within the BDSM community. But the BDSM community emphasizes the importance of consensual, ethical roleplay practices with clear boundaries. Although the nature of the woman’s slave status may have originally been consensual, there seems to have been little that was ethical about the dynamic at any point.
Rodriguez, who had helped the woman move from Minnesota to Louisiana, allegedly forced her to give him all her cash, along with ownership of her Harley-Davidson motorcycle, shortly after she moved in. Then he registered her at a slave registration website like slaveregistry.com and tattooed the ID on her skin.
Over time, his abuse grew more and more intense. As her BDSM master, Rodriguez forced the woman to do everything from cooking and caring for the other members of the household to performing grueling yard work, including single-handedly digging and installing a swimming pool. She was also forced to sleep in a 3-by-5 wooden box at the foot of the couple’s bed, and expected to perform regular sex acts.
If the woman refused or failed to complete any of her chores, Rodriguez beat her and disciplined her. A third party identified by authorities as Ambre Lomas, 39, assisted Rodriguez and Harper in the woman’s punishment, which included forcing her to drink urine, carving their initials into her skin, and tazing the woman with a stun gun later seized by police from the home.
The woman told police that the beatings and torture worsened over time. When she finally told Rodriguez that she wanted to leave, Rodriguez refused to let the “roleplay” end. Instead, he chained the woman outside “for two days and nights, nude, in the woods, with no food and no water,” according to Key.
After a rainy Memorial Day weekend, the woman was forced to move into a small storage shed on the property, where she was held from Monday May 26. It was there, on the following Saturday, that she was finally able to break out of her captivity and escape.
Natchitoches police and Louisiana State Police worked together on the case, which resulted in a search and seizure of numerous items from the home on Wednesday, including multiple firearms. The three suspects turned themselves in to police Wednesday morning and were subsequently charged with human trafficking, aggravated second-degree battery, and second-degree kidnapping.
The case bears similarities to other incidents of escalating abuse over time by those in positions of power, such as the Stanford Prison Experiment or the brutal murder of Sylvia Likens. But the abuse is also far too familiar to members of the trans community.
The Trans* Violence Tracking Portal, a website recently crowdfunded in order to increase the visibility of violence against trans individuals, released a special statement about the incident on Friday:
The systematic vileness of the dehumanization and assault on this woman by the three perpetrators is beyond words. The TVTP is greatly concerned as well by the rapid negative depiction and victim blaming towards this incredible transgender woman who survived such brutality. …
We are very grateful that has she has escaped, is now safe and that law enforcement has quickly acted to prevent any further harm to the community by these three individuals. We wish her well on her recovery from such a horrid crime and hope that the prosecutor will enact appropriate charges quickly against the perpetrators.
The woman has been removed to protective custody with the Louisiana State Police. If found guilty, her attackers could each face over 30 years in prison.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons