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Horror story warns about human trafficking

Stephanie Smith, a member of Soroptimist International of Oak Harbor, center, introduces Shelby Eichner to Oak Harbor High School student Ryan Delbrouck, who designed the anti-trafficking T-shirt she’s wearing.  - Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times
Stephanie Smith, a member of Soroptimist International of Oak Harbor, center, introduces Shelby Eichner to Oak Harbor High School student Ryan Delbrouck, who designed the anti-trafficking T-shirt she’s wearing.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times

For a bright 17-year-old in Portland, Ore., with a loving family and an abundance of friends, becoming a victim of human trafficking seems a world away. But it happened to Shelby Eichner, who, at age 20, is a survivor of human trafficking and travels to share her story in hopes that it won’t happen to other youth.

Human trafficking is a huge concern for Soroptimist International, so Soroptimist International of Oak Harbor asked Eichner to share her story with Oak Harbor High School students. Human trafficking doesn’t just happen in other countries to minorities or poverty-stricken, broken families. It happens here. It happens to students with high grades who excel at sports, just like Eichner.

“The reason we’re bringing her today is because she’s you,” said Stephanie Smith, a member of Soroptimist.

Eichner isn’t allowed to speak about her experiences at her own high school because they’re afraid to talk about the issue, she said. But she’s not keeping quiet.

In high school, Eichner was an all-star volleyball player. She traveled a lot with her family and they gave her every opportunity to be successful, she said. While she was popular at school, there was one thing she was lacking: a boyfriend.

Eichner’s sister had found a few great relationships through the online dating site “Plenty of Fish,” so Eichner said she decided to give it a try. Despite being only 17, she lied and said she was 18 in order to join the site. While it seemed an insignificant lie at the time, it had dire consequences, Eichner said.

Through the site, she met Anthony Pranzetti, who looked and seemed like an ordinary white male from a normal family in Lake Oswego, a wealthy Portland suburb. The 29-year-old lied that he was 22.

After two months, they went on a date to a movie and Pranzetti was late. Eichner didn’t find out until later that he’d been watching her, testing how far he could push her. When she waited for longer than 10 minutes, he knew she was a good candidate for his plans, Eichner said.

For two weeks, they had what Eichner called a normal relationship: movies, dinner, conversation. But one evening, Eichner wanted to leave during a movie at his home because she had finals the next day. Pranzetti gave her a pill, telling her it was just a caffeine pill, something Eichner was accustomed to from long nights of studying. It turned out to be methamphetamine, but Eichner didn’t find out until later.

The next time she went to his house, Pranzetti took her purse, keys, phone and computer when she tried to leave. Confused, Eichner protested.

“He said, ‘You’re not leaving. This is your life now,’” Eichner said. He told her to get in the car and they drove to a deserted parking lot in a bad part of town, where he gave her two options: find her way home on her own or give him her arm.

Without her personal items and with no idea where she was, Eichner said she felt she had no choice but to give him her arm. He shot her up with methamphetamine.

“I was instantly addicted,” Eichner said.

Over the next four months, Eichner shot up three times per day and wasn’t allowed to drink anything that didn’t contain alcohol.

Pranzetti forced her to have sex with more than 200 men and 30 women for money and drugs she never saw. Pranzetti beat her daily and when she overdosed once, he gave her heroin and left her passed out in a bathtub for more than three days.

“Nobody seemed to care about me, and at that point, neither did I,” Eichner said.

Eichner’s grades plummeted. Pranzetti used Eichner’s phone to text her parents that she was staying at various friends’ houses, something not abnormal for Eichner to do during the summer. The one time her parents became suspicious and drove by the friend’s house, they saw Eichner’s car parked there, even though she wasn’t there. Pranzetti even figured out the texting codes Eichner used with her parents and incorporated those into his texts.

Pranzetti also manipulated the microphone in Eichner’s cell phone so that he could hear everything she said, making it impossible for her to call for help. The one time she tried, he told her he would kill her family in front of her and then kill her.

But every day wasn’t horrible, Eichner said. Some days, they’d go on walks or to dinner, and being on drugs, all she remembered was him telling her he loved her and that she was beautiful.

One day, Pranzetti got picked up by the police because he fell asleep in the car while shooting up. It may have seemed like the perfect time for Eichner to escape, but she couldn’t. She relied on Pranzetti to tell her to do everything, even showering and brushing her teeth.

Pranzetti still managed Eichner’s life from behind bars. He set up clients for her and she talked to him every day.

When the police called Eichner’s parents to tell them their daughter was with a sex offender, they were convinced the police had the wrong kid. Even when the police confronted Eichner, she lied to protect Pranzetti, until they brought out a three-inch binder of her phone conversations with him at jail. Eichner, who was drunk and high at the time, tried to commit suicide but her mom intervened.

Eichner spent 10 days in detoxification and woke up in the psychiatric ward. She spent 57 days in rehabilitation. Pranzetti sent her letters asking her to take the fall for everything but as she was coming off the drugs, Eichner began to see the big picture.

“I have to live with what he did every single day. He gets to sit in jail. He doesn’t have to think about it. I do,” Eichner said.

Although she’s now a junior at Portland State University, she still receives threats from Pranzetti’s other girlfriends and friends and experiences flashbacks of the horrible experiences.

“If I had googled Anthony’s (Pranzetti) name, I could have found everything out before I dated him,” Eichner said. He had done the same to a 15-year-old girl a year prior to meeting Eichner.

She encouraged anyone who sees their friends changing to trust an adult with the information, even if they know the adult will get angry. These changes could include slipping grades, being gone more than usual and wearing long sleeves during the summer.

“It’s about treating everybody in your life as special and deserving of respect,” Eichner said.

Eichner encouraged parents to meet their children’s dates.

“For parents, it’s important to know you can’t be your child’s friend,” Eichner said. The parent has to be a parent and be strong in getting the child to talk.

Eichner and her family are happy to answer questions emailed to shelbys.story@yahoo.com.

 

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