ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — Beneath the smiles you see in snapshots of Alicia Tappan’s childhood are very dark moments orchestrated by someone trusted by everyone.
“This is what those snakes in the grass do, they get into your safe bubble,” said Tappan who describes what happened when she was a junior in high school. Tappan was attending a party at the home of a well-liked and trusted coach.
“He had invited, like faculty and parents over and said, hey, you know, we just did great at state this year,” said Tappan. “You know we want to celebrate with the kids and so we were there at his house, which wasn’t weird because I live seven blocks away.”
After the grownups left the party, Tappan said he exposed students to homemade porn made by two of their friends.
“As soon as it ended, the main characters of this homemade porn walk into the basement and now it’s a party. So, he’s turning down the lights, turning up the music,” said Tappan. “He opens the bar, the video games, we’re playing foosball and it doesn’t matter if you’re drinking or not. He’s going to rufie you. He uses the date rape drug for everybody.”
Tappan’s next memory is horrifying.
“The next moment I have is my head hits the back of this hot tub and I’m being raped by two of my friends and I look around and I’m so embarrassed, but, I look up and there is the track coach with this video camera recording everything, and my friends are next to him cheering him on.”
She tried to get away, and remembers being pushed against the wall, being told she’s too drunk to drive.
“The next thing I know is I wake up underneath a coffee table and my stuff was like neatly stacked on top.”
Like most victims of human trafficking, Tappan turned to her peers.
“I go to my friends who had brought me to this party and I say, hey, I think I was raped last night. Well, rape is really a strong word Alicia you don’t want to go around accusing anyone, do you? I can still hear it in my head, you know.”
Within days the school stripped her of her leadership duties.
“I had advisors from school call me and tell me, like we heard this reputation about you. So we’re going to ask you to step down,” said Tappan. “We don’t need you in our program, right. National Honor Society, Student Council, Postponing Sexual Involvement for Middle Schoolers. I got kicked off, you know.”
Tappan was silenced by friends, bullied by classmates and shamed by grownups she thought she could trust. Tappan felt trapped. “He knew what to do,” said Tappan. “He just slowly caved in on my circle of trust until I had nothing left, and then it was gone.”
Survival mode meant putting on a good face. Tappan was going through the motions while dying inside.
The coach marked his territory, telling her what to wear and even made her get a tattoo.
“This is my tramp stamp. This is, they know I could be picked up at any point and time. This is the part where I start to get, they call it branding right?” said Tappan. “And I’m willing to do it because I’m scared.”
For months she waited in terror for the next message or call ordering her to have sex with whomever he said.
“I was a prize for a college football tournament at a local college, and it wasn’t even like the cool football where they’re actually playing,” said Tappan. “It’s like Nintendo football, and if they won, I had to do this, and if this team won, I had to do this.”
“You get into the sense of you have to do this or it’ll all fall apart, but there’s nothing even to hold on that makes sense, so you’re doing it just really out of fear,” said Tappan.
Tappan is 37 years old now and is not comfortable revealing the coach’s identity even though he’s in prison. Yet, she has the courage to help others understand how human traffickers recruit and groom their victims.
It’s been a long, painful journey to recovery and healing but, Tappan is happily married with two children. She’s Executive Director of The Secret Place in Northwest Florida helping other victims of human trafficking.
Tappan holds a Masters in International Psychology and a Bachelors in Conjunctive Psychology and is pursuing a doctorate degree. She plans on using her education and experience to write a book called “The Brave Girl Diaries,” a survival guide for girls coming out of sex trafficking, and a guide to help the rest of us identify and report red flags “In Plain Sight.”
In the meantime if you ‘See Something, Say Something’ by calling The National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.