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How Two Single Moms Escaped an Alleged Sex-Trafficking Ring and Ultimately Saved Each Other

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Exposing the Boyfriend-to-Sex-Trafficker PipelineSusanna Raab

Editor’s note: This story contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence, battery, exploitation, suicidal thoughts, and child endangerment. It draws from extensive interviews with both women, conducted between August 2023 and January 2024, and reflects their experiences and voices. Other details are taken from allegations in an ongoing lawsuit filed in U.S. district court—allegations that most of the defendants deny; other defendants had not responded to the lawsuit’s allegations or to Cosmopolitan’s request for comment at press time. In early January, a number of defendants—including one of the physicians alleged to have prescribed Julia Hubbard drugs—were voluntarily dismissed with the women’s consent.

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Julia Hubbard (left) and Kayla Goedinghaus.Susanna Raab


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Julia Hubbard was one of the best bottle girls at Plush. Her role at the trendy Dallas nightclub was to support the VIP area. Keep the drinks flowing. Turn customers into regulars. As a 27-year-old extrovert, she made good money. As a newly single mom of two kids under 10, she needed to.

One summer 2009 night, Julia’s manager pulled her aside. A silver-haired gentleman’s date was being kind of loud and messy—Julia should intervene, be extra nice to him. She got the okay to take the man up to the roof for a quiet smoke. This guy must be a big deal, she thought. Customers were never allowed on the roof.

He told her his name was Trammell. Trammell Crow Jr.—some kind of philanthropist. He was a great tipper and seemed friendly, so much so that she took his number and agreed to stay in touch. In the months that followed, he invited her to charity events and she invited him to her modeling gigs. All in good fun—and strictly platonic.

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Julia’s trove of police records and court filings illustrates her drawn-out and difficult escape.Susanna Raab

Around the same time, Julia began dating again. One of her friends introduced her to a former frat buddy of his named Rick Hubbard. Rick, then 35, was handsome, a charmer. Ambitious too, bursting with big salesman energy. As the founder of multiple small businesses, he liked to think of himself as a mogul. Still, he always found time for Julia. He vowed to be a stabilizing force in her life and could even help with her kids, he said. She had never known such support. Growing up, Julia had been sexually abused. She had come to believe she was broken. But now, Rick saw her as whole. “You’re the most lovable person I’ve ever met,” he said.

When Julia mentioned her connection to Trammell one day, Rick couldn’t believe it. “You know Trammell Crow Jr.?” To Julia, Trammell was a casual pal. To Rick, he was a giant, an heir to Trammell Crow, the late billionaire real estate tycoon hailed during his life as America’s biggest private landlord. Trammell Jr. was also president of the philanthropic Crow Family Foundation and the founder of Earth Day Dallas, a global environmental education and leadership summit now known as EarthX. Rick, seemingly dazzled, asked Julia to introduce him.

She did, at one of her modeling events in late 2009. Afterward, she remembers, the three of them went out for an impromptu celebration. The night was a blast. Soon, her lawsuit states, she and Rick were invited into Trammell’s hard-partying orbit, to the wild gatherings Trammell allegedly hosted at his properties. For Rick, this access to a coterie of powerful men in real estate, film, and other aspirational industries was networking at its finest. He wasn’t in the same social class as Trammell’s crowd, but with Julia as his passport, he could pretend.

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Julia withstood increasing pressure from Rick to please their wealthy friend.Susanna Raab

Julia and Rick married in February 2010, but that did little to curtail her new husband’s freewheeling lifestyle. On nights Julia’s kids were with her ex, she and Rick hit the Dallas swinger circuit. He told Julia he loved how hot she was, how so many people wanted to hook up with her. Julia wasn’t always into it, but Rick would insist that she join, that she break free from the “religious indoctrination” of her Mormon upbringing. She remembers an early party at which Rick tried to slide his fingers inside her as strangers watched. Julia resisted, then relented. It was the first time she felt coerced.

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By then, Julia was working as a nude dancer, making six figures a year at The Lodge, a high-end club themed like an opulent hunting cabin. Rick asked that she leave her cash wages and tips on the kitchen microwave each night, ostensibly for the household pot. He managed all their finances, including her personal debit card, and praised her earning power effusively. She could be a billionaire with that body of hers, he marveled. Maybe she should try to get pregnant by Trammell Crow Jr. Ha ha.

Julia ended up having Rick’s baby instead. A beautiful daughter, born in late 2010. A few weeks later, Rick urged Julia to get back to work—and to the party scene, where he made it increasingly clear he expected her to please their wealthy friend Trammell. Rick pressured her to perform sex acts with Trammell’s then-girlfriend as Trammell and Rick captured everything on video. He ordered her to find more and more women for the gatherings, bringing her to gas stations to cruise for prospects on some nights. Trammell had plenty of drugs and dedicated lingerie rooms at his homes with skimpy apparel and stilettos in a range of sizes for lady guests, according to the legal complaint. (In a statement to Cosmopolitan through his attorney, Trammell Crow Jr. denied all allegations of wrongdoing against him, as he has in court filings.)

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Susanna Raab

To be clear, says Julia, these “jobs” were always unpaid, yet she got the sense that money was moving all around her. One time, at home, she glimpsed a letter Rick wrote asking Trammell for $25,000. To Julia, this entire world felt reckless and wrong. Never mind that she had three kids to raise.

She said no. Repeatedly. Rick responded with threats, then increasing violence. Sometimes he wiped the $100 he allowed Julia per week off her debit card so she couldn’t even buy food, she says. Beatings became routine. She alleges that he broke her arm and once delivered a blow so strong, it tore her intestinal lining. Rick was close pals with an elite Texas Ranger—a guy Julia found scary. If she called the cops or tried to press charges, Rick told her, his friend could bury her claims with one phone call.

When Julia still resisted, Rick decided she should be medicated. He arranged for her to have remote “therapy” sessions with his personal business coach, a California-based guru named Benjamin Todd Eller, who Julia would later discover had neither a psychology degree nor a license to practice therapy. (Eller has denied the allegations in court filings, including that he ever treated Julia or wrote the letters described in the complaint. Eller’s renewed request to dismiss the case against him was pending as this story went to press. When reached by Cosmopolitan, Eller’s attorney declined to provide further comment.) Court filings allege that Rick then handpicked a series of prescribing physicians who were willing to consider Eller’s recommendations and prescribe Julia stimulants, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and opioids.

Julia’s life became a substance-altered blur, while Rick assumed total control. As described in the complaint, she tried telling Trammell, the most powerful man she knew, that Rick was forcing her to perform sex acts and forcing her to take drugs to induce those acts. But Trammell took no action to help Julia nor did he cut ties with Rick.

And so it continued. For years.

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Kayla Goedinghaus was having a shitty 2018. Her marriage was over. Her mom had passed away. She was 30, new in Austin, and knew practically no one outside a few work acquaintances. Then boom, something good happened. That November, she met a cute older guy at a house party: Rick Hubbard, an entrepreneur and sweet single dad.

Rick opened up to Kayla with a story that made her soul ache. His ex—his daughter’s mom—was a heroin addict, a crazy mess who had abandoned the family nearly two years prior. How awful, Kayla thought. She was a mother herself. Her daughter was 6, about the same age Rick’s had been when his ex had disappeared. Rick and his 8-year-old had moved down from the Dallas area for a fresh start, into a modern house on a cul-de-sac. Their block included several investment properties Rick was developing through his new company, EcoLoft Homes.

Kayla fell hard for Rick, and she felt her free spirit flare back to life. Even their girls bonded quickly, like real sisters. Kayla decided to move in after only about a month of dating. It felt right. Plus, she was trying to hold down two jobs—stocking shelves at Target and butchering meat for a supermarket chain. “Come work for me part-time instead,” Rick offered. Kayla could provide admin support for his business right from home and be there for both girls during the day.

With a new lens into his professional dealings, Kayla soon noticed that Rick seemed to play harder than he worked, partying into the wee hours while his real estate projects faltered. And sure, she liked to have fun too. Hanging out with him and his dealer friend one night, she took a hit of DMT, a short-acting hallucinogen known as “the God molecule.” Kayla closed her eyes and felt time stretch backward and forward, as though she were dying while taking her first breath. Trippy colors gave way to total blackness. A female figure swam into view.

“There are three phases of life, and you still have one more to go,” the figure revealed. “In the third, you will help save other women.” Kayla opened her eyes and sobbed, not quite understanding what it meant. Not yet.

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Kayla, unaware of Julia’s experiences, was drawn in by Rick’s perfect-dad persona.Susanna Raab

For now, phase two of Kayla’s life had started going off the rails. In a December 2018 incident, Rick and one of her brothers had an ugly altercation at their house. Rick was convinced Kayla’s brother was stealing from them, something Kayla says her brother would never do. Rick pulled a gun. The cops got involved. Kayla consented to a drug screening, which came back positive for ecstasy and amphetamines. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services removed her daughter from the home, placing her with Kayla’s ex pending an official investigation.

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Pages from Kayla’s 2019 journal hint at her struggle to survive under Rick’s control.Susanna Raab

Rick’s growing paranoia made everything worse. The government was after them, he told Kayla. They needed to fight this with the best lawyer they could find, and for that, they needed capital. He had an idea: Maybe his drug dealer friend, the God molecule guy, would be willing to make a sizable business investment…provided Kayla slept with him to sweeten the deal. She protested, and Rick threatened to strangle her. (Cosmopolitan was unable to reach Rick Hubbard for comment despite multiple attempts via phone and email. As of press time, he had neither responded to the lawsuit nor appointed an attorney.)

As recounted in court filings, Kayla submitted to the forced sex act. Afterward, she watched the man hand Rick $27,000 in cash. She’s still not sure where the money went. Everything was happening too quickly for anything to make sense. All Kayla wanted was her daughter back. This synthesis of dysfunction and desperation was unbearable.

Rick arranged for Kayla to begin weekly phone sessions with Benjamin Todd Eller, whom Rick billed as the best psychologist in the biz. Rick also forced her to start seeing a new physician, who prescribed at least five medications for depression, anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, ADHD, and nightmares. From then on, if Kayla disobeyed Rick, he withheld the drugs to mess with her head. Kayla claims she told both providers Rick was abusing her and neither intervened. (Both providers deny this.)

The way Kayla recalls it, in the spring of 2019, Rick’s company was defaulting on its loans. They lost the houses on the cul-de-sac, including their own, and moved to a trailer home in a remote area an hour northwest of Austin. The small dwelling was a pressure cooker for Rick’s fury. Their money problems were Kayla’s fault, he ranted, so it was her job to help fix them. Investors. Investors. They needed investors. That’s when Rick started throwing adult parties right in their living room. He forced Kayla into naked “hosting” duties and sex acts in front of his guests—including their landlord, who would grope Kayla, masturbate, and then let the rent slide.

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The women crossed paths in 2019 and quickly discovered chilling parallels in their stories.Susanna Raab

When Kayla and Rick were alone together, he choked her on at least 25 occasions for resisting, often to the point of unconsciousness. He rigged the home with surveillance cameras and obsessively tracked her phone. She had known this man for less than six months, yet he was now dictating every aspect of her life.

And still, to much of the outside world, Rick came across as a stand-up guy, a champion dad. On the day of his daughter’s third grade graduation, Rick and Kayla rolled up to the elementary school like any other family, normal as could be.

Only there waiting for them was someone who knew better. A smiling blonde woman.

Julia.

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Setting eyes on each other for the first time, Julia and Kayla were zapped with an eerie sense of mutual recognition, as though they were standing on opposite sides of a looking glass: Kayla as the new Julia and Julia as the former Kayla. They even looked alike.

Kayla was almost startled by how normal Julia seemed. This was the demonic, drug-addled train wreck who tried to ruin Rick’s life? Julia seemed warm and friendly. Her daughter ran right over and gave her a giant hug. “Mommy!” the girl exclaimed.

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Now united, Julia and Kayla vow to go “scorched earth” on their accused traffickers.Susanna Raab

Julia, for her part, clocked that Kayla—beautiful as she was—appeared worn out, as though she hadn’t slept in some time. Rick’s breath smelled of stale alcohol, and Kayla’s smile belied an unhappiness in her eyes, a look of detachment Julia knew from experience. An alarm went off in her head: My god, he’s doing it to her too.

It had taken Julia more than two years to recoup the strength she needed to show up that day, to face him again. She’d escaped in March 2017, when a bitter argument about money had escalated into Rick pointing a.40 caliber pistol at her head and calling her a whore. After a terrifying moment, Rick had lowered the gun and stalked out of the house, telling Julia she was already dead to him. She ran.

She dropped her two older kids with her ex and asked that they finish the school year with him, not realizing this would mark the end of her custody. She took her younger daughter and sheltered at her mother’s home 30 minutes away. Julia then had Rick arrested but soon walked back her allegations (ones he would later deny in divorce proceedings), fearful he would retaliate.

Breaking out of the black hole she’d been sucked into—one swirling with complex trauma, violent men, forced substance misuse, and lack of economic autonomy—required an escape velocity Julia hadn’t yet summoned. Months of profound struggle ensued. Rick announced he and their daughter were moving three hours away, to Austin. Julia felt powerless to stop him.

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In late 2018, in an act of transparent desperation, Julia got on a plane to her estranged father’s house in Virginia. She holed up in his basement and forced herself to go off everything—meds, drugs, booze—contorting in agony as seizures racked her body. Some forms of detox can lead to life-threatening withdrawal effects that require medical care, but at the time, Julia could think of no other way. A month went by before she felt human again.

She decided to stay in Virginia. Texas didn’t feel safe anymore. She found a restaurant job and a roommate. Soon, she and her younger daughter reconnected over the phone (with Rick’s grudging approval). Julia still had much healing ahead of her, but the black hole was getting smaller.

With her trip to Austin for her younger daughter’s third grade graduation, Julia had hoped to begin laying the groundwork toward gaining full custody. She went home to Virginia a few days later with a second mission: Get Kayla out too.

Julia and Kayla secretly stayed in touch over Snapchat, using the app’s disappearing messages feature. Kayla wrote to Julia in furtive blasts when she ran errands, pretty much the only time Rick wasn’t spying on her.

The summer was long and cruel. Court filings describe a bachelor party for Rick’s associate at which Rick forced Kayla into performing sex acts with strippers by choking her. There was her horrific birthday weekend at Trammell’s house, when she recalls Rick coercing her into donning skimpy lingerie and submitting to various humiliations, like giving a near-naked ukulele performance. Privately, he pressured her to seduce Trammell, and when that didn’t happen, Rick choked her and threatened her with Trammell’s influence. Rick then led her into the backyard for sex, where anyone could watch. Kayla seriously considered killing herself. She didn’t want to die, exactly. She just wanted to stop living as a hostage.

On her end, Julia raced to devise an escape. She flew to Austin the first week of October bearing plane tickets for herself, her daughter, and Kayla. The plan was to run together to Utah—Julia’s home state—and report Rick to the authorities as a united front from a safe distance.

But Rick intercepted Kayla’s phone at the worst possible moment. The night before her flight, he saw some of Julia’s messages pop up. Fuck. Kayla stayed behind while Julia and her daughter took off. Rick followed them to Utah and spent two weeks chasing them down, ultimately wrangling an emergency court order that required Julia to give up their daughter until an official hearing. A devastating blow.

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Susanna Raab

Meanwhile, in Austin, Kayla scrambled to pull off a solo escape. She made her way to a shelter for domestic violence victims run by an organization called the SAFE Alliance. She filed for an order of protection, her first time taking any kind of legal action against Rick.

A victim advocate from the county, a kind-sounding woman, got in touch and invited Kayla to have a casual talk, wherever Kayla felt most comfortable. With her daughter in tow, Kayla met the woman at an indoor kids’ park. “Listen, I grew up with an abused mother,” the advocate said as Kayla’s daughter ran off toward the bouncy slides. “I know what this looks like. What is he doing to you?”

Kayla was moved by the woman’s compassionate recognition. She didn’t share everything that day, but the advocate sensed well enough. Kayla’s experiences of domestic abuse—the extreme control, the forced sexual acts for Rick’s apparent financial benefit—might actually point to trafficking, the advocate said. Kayla’s brain squashed the idea. What? That’s crazy. I am not a sex-trafficking victim.

It was too much—Kayla wasn’t ready. She wasn’t even sure she could trust the system to help her. Becoming Rick’s enemy suddenly seemed scarier than staying with him. She left the shelter and went home.

On a January 2020 day when Rick and his daughter were an hour’s drive away, Kayla finally thought, Now. She swept through their home, yanking out all the security cameras’ power cords. She hastily grabbed clothes, her ukulele, her mother’s ashes. She and her daughter jumped in the car. As they pulled away, Kayla chucked her phone into the neighbor’s yard.

They drove to a Chinese restaurant for dinner—one last meal before her daughter went to stay with Kayla’s ex for a while. Kayla swallowed her fear and kept the mood light. This was not the time to crumble. She needed stamina for the months ahead.

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Susanna Raab

She crashed with friends in the area, although not for long—what if Rick came after her? So she made her way to Julia’s place in Virginia, but the timing felt wrong; their shared trauma was too raw. In 2021, Kayla entered a California rehab program, a positive experience that almost inspired her to remain on the West Coast...until loneliness kicked in. She took off for Tennessee but didn’t feel like she belonged there either. After all she’d been through, home was proving hard to find.

By July 2022, both Kayla and Julia were in better places. Kayla was sober. Julia was in therapy, officially divorced from Rick, with full custody of their daughter based on Rick’s history of domestic violence. The energy had shifted, and the women felt stronger in each other’s presence. They became roommates and started mapping their next move.

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In the Hollywood version of sex-trafficking stories, victims are abducted off the street by masked men. Thrown into windowless vans. Locked in storage containers. Sold into a violent underworld. And while such horrors can and do occur in real life, they are not the only sex-trafficking stories. A more insidious scenario often goes unrecognized: the one where the “unmarked van” presents as a legitimate romantic relationship and the victim climbs in willingly, unknowingly.

As of 2020, an estimated 39 percent of sex-trafficking victims in this country were brought into it by intimate partners—men, in most cases, boyfriends and husbands who exploit the trust and vulnerability of their mostly female victims, constructing sexual economies around them. Through physical force, manipulation, or fraud, those victims are compelled to engage in sex acts for the trafficker’s benefit. That could mean posing for nudes he secretly sells to cover his gambling debts or sleeping with random men off the street so he can score drugs or letting the landlord watch sex acts through the bedroom window as a form of rent payment.

Experts estimate that thousands of U.S. women are currently stuck in such cycles. And like Julia and Kayla, many may not recognize what they’re living through as sex trafficking. They’re just trying to survive. It took Julia and Kayla time, distance, and external support to truly reckon with what had happened to them. By 2022, they’d connected with an attorney through the Human Trafficking Legal Center, an organization focused on strategic litigation for survivors. That November, they filed a major civil suit accusing more than two dozen defendants of enabling and benefiting from an interstate sex-trafficking venture in which they both were repeatedly victimized.

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While working to win their massive lawsuit, the women hope to empower fellow survivors.Susanna Raab

The case is complex. It may not go to trial for another year, says attorney Matthew Schmidt of Balestriere Fariello in San Francisco, who is representing the plaintiffs. Julia and Kayla both know that they’ll be subject to scrutiny—about their past lifestyle choices, their histories of substance misuse, all of it. That their stories challenge the myth of the “perfect victim,” a pervasive bias that people who are harmed must pass a moral purity test for their humanity to be recognized.

They’re prepared for that and not at all interested in settling out of court. They want their full experiences in the public record so that others may spot the signs sooner. They want women to check in with themselves: Are you a girlfriend or a hostage? A wife or a prisoner?

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In the meantime, Kayla and Julia are prioritizing their healing and health. They see the same therapist, whom they nicknamed Mom. Kayla is reconnecting with her yoga practice. She likes her job waiting tables and is considering going to cosmetology school. Julia has discovered a gift for gardening, along with a passion for advocacy. She’s planning a career pivot toward consulting on trafficking issues. Who knows? Maybe she’ll get a law degree.

Their girls, now 13 and 11, have reunited thanks to the shared custody agreement Kayla worked out with her ex. The home feels full, the family complete. Kayla and Julia joke that they should just marry each other already.

Their emotions often run high—a fire hose of rage and sorrow and gratitude and determination built up from years of survival-mode numbness. Sometimes they find themselves crying together for no specific reason—part catharsis, part incantation.

“Oh my god, look at us!”

“We’re crying, but we’re fine!”

“It’s amazing!”

“We’re okay!”


If you are experiencing sexual violence and need support, consider reaching out to the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 or using the online chat feature at Hotline.RAINN.org.


Hair and makeup: Melissa Jones at Zenobia.

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