As a survivor of “The Life” of Sex Trafficking here in the States I know first hand how difficult it is to get out and stay out for good. The many times I escaped from my pimp I would find myself alone, scared, with no where to go. Often times I would pack up my stuff and secretly leave when he wasn’t home. I would end up going to my parents house and when he figured out that I was gone – he knew right where to find me. He would drive there and call me outside with promises of “changing” his brutal behavior and tell me how much he loved me and then in the same sentence tell me I was a no good “ho” and that no one would ever love me like he did. He would also place lots of doubt in my mind by saying things like “how are you ever going to survive out there in the square world on minimum wage?” I’ve heard the saying – “Nothing changes if nothing changes” and these short stints of bravery and freedom happened so often that my parents stopped helping me carry my belongings into the house. I went back home with my pimp because I so desperately wanted to believe him and see him change.
Needless to say, every time I did, the same abuse and torment would happen. I was emotionally trapped under his power and control, along with my own feelings of shame. Other times I would have the horrible thought of opening the car door while he was driving and just roll out with the hopes of dying instantly. I was too scared to do that but another tactic I used was to run out of the house during arguments and physical violence. On one occasion I ran out barefoot to the corner store and hid behind a stack of newspapers. After I saw him drive by, looking for me, I found myself with nothing. No money, phone or shoes. I had to return home knowing full well when he got back I would get beat even worse. This went on for five long years until I finally found the courage to get my own apartment and leave him for good. I found my way with lots of struggles but what I really needed was a safe place where I could slowly start to rebuild my life.
What about the girl that doesn’t have her parents house or a safe place to go? She stays trapped in the situation because she has a lack of options or gets herself into worse situations because she is just trying to survive the life. These questions haunt me when I consider the limited number of Safe Housing programs for survivors of trafficking in the United States. According to Polaris Project there is estimated 244,000 American children and youth estimated to be at risk of child sexual exploitation, including commercial sexual exploitation. Sadly, most of these children that become trafficked end up staying in “the life” for many reasons and if they “age out” of the system it is difficult to get them services because they are now adults. This is a problem when there is currently only 529 shelter beds designed exclusively for Human Trafficking survivors (Not even Sex Trafficking) and 1,115 shelter beds that serve Human Trafficking survivors and other populations.
I recently worked at a Safe House in the Boston area and have experienced the difficulty of not having enough funding to run an efficient program. We did the best we could do with limited funds and a lot of hope. I would have conversations with Victim Advocates and they would want to refer women to the program but when the issue of money came up – they would admit, “there is none”. Interestingly enough this industry is more profitable than drug and gun trafficking, but there is no money to support the people in the recovery process. Why is that? I think it has to do with the fact that we have given so much attention to other social issues and have failed to realize the enormity of this modern day tragedy.
After some research and to my amazement I learned that there are 13,600 community animal shelters nationwide and while I was on a webpage I saw an advertisement to help “feed a sheltered pet” for .60 cents a day. It occurred to me, that we as Americans may give more attention, help, love and money to sheltered animals than to somebody’s beloved daughter, niece or sister. I realize that this issue has just began to receive national attention. I also understand that housing is expensive in certain parts of the States but I believe this is the first step for what is needed if we are to help women recover and heal from the trauma that they have been through. Designing comprehensive programs where victims can become true survivors and leaders in the movement if that’s what they choose. A safe place where they can start to dream again and create the life they imagined as little girls. A place where community is valued and healthy relationships are encouraged. I write this in the hopes that people will wake up and realize that Sex Trafficking and Slavery is an age old issue but comes with current, debilitating and complex trauma. Safe Housing needs to be addressed with compassion, understanding and funding.
©Copyright 2014 Jasmine Grace. All Rights Reserved.
I was 18 years old.. I just graduated from a vocational high school and passed the test in front of the cosmetology board. I was excited to be a licensed hairdresser and was attending a community college, majoring in Journalism. I wanted to be a writer and move to New York some day, maybe write for one of those big name magazines.
But my dreams quickly faded as I got involved with a guy I met at a local night club….
It was just a regular Friday or Saturday night; me and my girls were already drunk before we entered the club with our fake I.D’s. We were having a good time, dancing and pushing away any whack-ass dudes that tried to step to us. Then this guy walked up to us, and he knew one of my friends’ boyfriends so he was automatically cool. He was a good-looking African-American in his early twenties. We will call him Brian.
He brought me to the bar and offered to buy me a drink. When he pulled out a stack of money and had a blinged-out bracelet dripping in diamonds and gold. I did the once over and followed the shine up to his ears and then to the necklace with the Jesus piece and thought: “Hmmm, this dude might be worth my time.”
You should know that I had just been dumped by a guy that I was dating off and on for almost 2 years and recently had an abortion. He already had two children; he said I was too young and not ready to have his kid. With that said, I was young, broken, naive and looking for someone to love me for me. Maybe even fix or save me.
Me and B exchanged phone numbers and we began to chat over the phone. A few weeks went by and we met up to chill in East Boston. I lived a few towns over, but most of my friends lived in Eastie and he was working as a registry runner for one of the car dealerships close by. He pulled up in his champagne colored Mercedes Benz, I got in and his eyes were hazy from smoking weed but he was cool, calm and full of compliments. Right away he started to tell me about his registry business – how he was an entrepreneur and was “all about making that money.” He asked me questions about my life and we were getting to know each other.
After that night, we started to hang out often, and he would take me out and buy me fancy clothes and shoes. I felt special and began trusting him because he was paying so much attention to me. I learned he grew up around crime, drugs and violence in the inner city of Boston. He never knew his father and said his mother raised him and two other siblings. B was the hustler of the family and took care of his mother even though she worked. They managed to get out of the ghetto and move to a better area just outside of Boston.
I confided in him and told him that I wanted to be a writer and he would say things like: “Why would you want to write for a magazine when you could own it?” or “Why would you want to work in a salon? I can see you owning the salon and just doing hair for fun.” These statements were way out of my league because how was a young girl like me ever going to own anything? I was only 19 by this time.. and he was trying to build confidence in me and have me see him as the guy I would have to stay loyal to. He was saying he could help make all these dreams come true.
He just didn’t say how..
One night, I was invited by a guy friend to a party at a state college. I walked into a small apartment where there was a bunch of drunk college guys. I was expecting a good time – to hang out and get drunk myself when the unthinkable happened. My friend told me the entertainment was coming, that he had hired a dancer from an agency. I didn’t think anything of it until the girl walked in and it was my best friend, Suzanne! I was in complete shock because I hadn’t seen her in awhile. I knew she had moved in with a new boyfriend, but I didn’t know.. She became a stripper?! As I began to cry, she was utterly embarrassed, and, yes, I ruined the party. She left.
I drank myself to an oblivion.
Weeks went on and I told B about that situation. He told me that he happened to know Suzanne’s man and asked if I wanted to talk to her.. I jumped at the opportunity to call her. When we got on the phone, we were both excited and happy to talk. I apologized for ruining her dancing gig at the college, and she let me know that’s what she’s been doing since she got down with her new man. She mentioned that she was living in a big house with some other girls that she called her “wives- in-laws” and I should come visit.
B took me to her house and I was impressed with the Range Rover and BMW in the driveway. The house was in the expensive area of Boston and had a fence around it for privacy. Suzanne had her own bedroom with lots of clothes, shoes and jewelry.
She convinced me that her life was amazing. She most likely believed that because when you are new to The Life, you tell yourself that just to get through the day. As we caught up, she told me that she worked in a massage parlor in Maine and she made up to $1,000 a day turning tricks. She had to give it all to her man, but he provided all she needed so it wasn’t a bad deal because he was promising her the good life.
She taught me how to service the johns and what to say to them so they would give me more money. I left from her house that day, wondering if this life was going to work out for me..
And that, my friend, is how the grooming process of pimping works. The pimp spots the vulnerable girl, makes her feel loved, safe and special because she lacks self worth and is looking for validation. At the same time she starts to fall in love with him. When he asks her to sell her body to complete strangers, she’s not thrilled with the idea but wants him to continue loving her. It’s a form of brainwashing, manipulation and control. It continues to get worse, and it doesn’t end like a fairy-tale.
Every girl is has a different story but the process is the same...
And this is just the beginning of My Story…
*Names have been changed
©Copyright 2014 Jasmine Grace. All Rights Reserved.