My Aunt Ann had a massive stroke over the weekend and they don’t expect her to survive the weekend. And honestly – I’m not sure that she would want to. She would consider it to be undignified and bothersome but she would do it in a way that would make it sound positive and uplifting, for she had that gift.
My Aunt Ann was the quiet voice of wisdom in the darkest of times and words she spoke to comfort or advise or console were always the exact right thing to say. These words were often repeated later as the true value and depth of their meaning sometimes took a while to sink in. When my sister and her husband had suffered a devastating loss and was sitting in silence on her front porch, my Aunt told her a story about the tulips that graced the flowerbed around the house as if it were a passing thought with no reference to their current state of hopeless abandonment.
I come from a family of farmers and gardeners and although I do not possess the coveted green thumb, I always thought that it was the keepers of the ground that truly understand hope and patience. There is no immediate gratification in farming or gardening…it is a labor of love and patience and understanding that a tiny seed that in itself promises nothing, will someday overcome all odds and become a thing of beauty or nourishment for others to enjoy.
Tulip bulbs are planted deep in the ground in the fall but don’t make their glorious appearance until after Springtime. This is a labor of Hope for the Gardener as one never knows what their future will be until the time is right. The Ground gets very dry and cold and hard and the snow covers the ground they wait in for many months. My Aunt had planted these bulbs – as she had done for as many years as I can remember in full expectation that they would become a thing of beauty for an entire Summer.
That year had been a very cold winter. Unusually cold – even for the Midwest. It has run longer than usual and she had feared that the tiny plants that had barely peeked their stalks out from the ground before a last frost late came unexpectedly and froze them solid. Too cold, my Aunt had imagined for the Tulips to have any hope of living through it and blooming as they usually did every spring. For a few weeks each morning as she left for her job as an editor of a small community newspaper, she observed the barren ground, disappointed, but not her faith not shaken that all the work she had done to plant these flowers would go unrewarded.
And sure enough, one morning when the sun had warmed the ground and everything around it, she saw that the tulips would not only live, but that they would be the most beautiful and strongest flowers she had ever had.
And as she finished the story to my sister, she said, “You see…the roots were strong.”
I would like to always remember the strength and patience and hope that my Aunt Ann always gave away so freely. She was a great woman who was one of the first in my family history to go to college, marry and work a full time job while raising a family and was a leader in her small community. She went to church every Sunday at the picture book Country Baptist Church in town that had a maximum capacity of about 100. Many years after she and her husband sold their interests in the lumber yard that supplied many of the surrounding communities with building materials, she supported my Uncle Don in his bid to become the County Sheriff. She used Oil of Olay every morning and evening and ironed her sheets before making the beds in her house that you could bounce a quarter off. Her house was always spotlessly clean and she had the same phone number for over 60 years and never got a cell phone. She dressed as if she were going to church every day, complete with hair and make up done with care and precision. She had a musical laugh and a smile that lit up a room. Her doors were always open and she had a heart of solid gold.
I will miss her every day.
You are brave.
You got away… you lived through it…and you told other people about it. People who could find justice for you and people who didn’t think this kind of thing really happens. You told your story for the others – the next generation – and you offered hope for the ones who are still trapped. Maybe not by a cage or bound by chains, but held in captivity by fear and self-doubt. You have given hope to others and you have put out a call to action to others who are horrified by all of this who can truly make a difference. There are so many out there who didn’t get your chance to escape…there are many more that still don’t think they can and there are even some out there who don’t think they don’t want to escape. This alone puts you in a category of heroes that doesn’t really exist. People will call you a lot of things – Victim. Survivor. Overcomer. And while all those things are true, they are not who you are. The only one who can truly define you is YOU! And it might take a while before you are able to do that and that’s OK. This whole mess will always be a part of your life but it won’t always be the primary thing on your mind and someday you will sleep through the night in peace. Sometime soon – find something you love doing and do it as often as you can. And don’t forget to BREATHE. Deeply and Often. Find friends – especially women friends – outside of this cocoon of victims’ services and law enforcement – ones that don’t know anything about you – and learn to trust people again on your terms. Set clear and firm boundaries for yourself and if anyone does anything that even comes close to violating those boundaries – cut them out of your life. You can relax the boundaries as you learn to trust yourself and others over time.
You are smart!
There is a light inside of you and it will burn brighter every day. You may doubt your wisdom sometimes but it’s really important that you don’t second guess yourself. Don’t try to figure out what made you vulnerable – find out what made you strong! Of course it’s ok to be vulnerable – it’s what makes us human – but we women can be strong and still be soft. You can trust your instincts. You can trust yourself. And you will learn to trust others worthy of your trust again. Take 15 minutes every day and dedicate it to empowering yourself.
You are important!
You are important as a person, as a woman, as a survivor and as a voice for others. And you have many other “titles” and “labels” that define who you are. Be the best woman you can be and all the other things will fall into place. If you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to admit it and ask for help from someone you trust. Your past is what you did – it’s not who you are! Your FUTURE is great than your past. Your best days are AHEAD of you. Don’t look over your shoulder at your past and worry about it. Keep your toes pointed forward and your eyes on the prize…a life filled with love and joy and peace.
I am a survivor of the sex trade. I am also a survivor of a couple of car accidents, more than a few bad relationships and a broken nail the day before vacation. This in no way minimizes the dreadful experience many survivors of the sex trade experience but – as it is 18 years in my rear view mirror – I have to say that pretty much everyone has experienced some kind of crappy experience and managed to come out of it and – well – survive. I aged out. I woke up one day and realized that my days of having people believe I was 22 were over. Never saw it coming and wasn’t it prepared for it.
I’m an advocate for women who want to exit voluntarily and for people who want to stay. I think that when a person in the sex trade wants out, they should be able to get out without having to endure all the stuff they have to endure. They should be able to get what they need to get on with their lives and be as happy and healthy as the choices they make. I think that when people want to stay – for whatever reason – they also shouldn’t be ostracized, stigmatized, arrested and harassed.
There shouldn’t be any stigma attached to the history and he or she should be no more subject to not being able to get a good job and earn a good living. In the past, I earned a good living as a hairdresser and I get to work as much or as little as I like. I could own my own salon – and I have – but I’m a “people person, so I prefer to work for or with someone else and have them pay all the bills and worry about how to keep the lights on. I love to interact with clients and my co-workers and we have a great time at work. We occasionally even joke about my former profession. My bosses know – my co-workers know – and a lot of my clients know about my past. And it doesn’t concern them a single bit. My specialties are stripper blondes and porn star bangs. A little levity, please! Being sexy is fun! Being sexualized or fetishized is not.
I used to have my own organization to help women get out of prostitution but the “sex trafficking” organizations got really nervous about my decision to only help the ones who wanted help and they were shocked that I didn’t want to scurry around bad parts of town in the middle of the night doing “rescues”. I know a couple of pimps and they have some issues but I’m not scared of them and they aren’t scared of me. I know Sex Workers. I know Prostitutes. I know Street Walkers. I know escorts. And I know that if and when ANY of them decides to leave or needs something – that THEY know they can call on me for advise. They know I love them and I accept them as they are – where they are.
And the church ladies weren’t really crazy that I didn’t insist that they “accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior” and jump through a bunch of hoops of fire to get an education and an apartment. Or even a job. I worked with one girl who came to me after 12 weeks living in a shelter and daily attending 8 hours a day of a “program” and church services 3 times a week and she didn’t arrive with so much as a resume. They blackballed me and tried to accuse me of providing drugs and prostituting the women that were staying at the 2 bedroom apartment that I rented to bridge the HUGE gap in housing and services. The top church lady in charge of all the other church ladies came after me because she was jealous that my message of Love, Joy, Peace and Forgiveness resonated with the girls she wanted to “join her program” and she wanted all the attention for herself and her brand new PhD.
I survived that too.
I’m not into politics. Not in My lane. I don’t care to be involved with politicians. They are creepy and the laws they pass rarely impact the women I seek to serve.
I think this issue is a human rights issue in that those in the sex trade should have rights. They should have the right to report a crime without being harassed. They should have the same kind of access to education that everyone else does. They should have health and safety information. They should be able to get financial guidance for how to manage their money. They should have a place to call that can help them get what they need to have a good life. If they stay or if they leave the sex trade.
We women need to build bridges between all of our different experiences and embrace our differences and work to provide protection and assistance for those who DO need help. WHEN they WANT help. Not when its forced upon them by someone else’s agenda or morals or standards.
I’ve spoken to multiple side of the issue and I think we can all agree that we don’t want to see other women and children hurt and I think we can be stronger together if we can set aside the things we disagree on and focus on the things we can work on to create a better world.
If you are a #sanesurvivor – speak up. There are more of us out there than you might think. I’d love to hear about solution for resources and not rhetoric about “victim’s vs survivors” or who is or isn’t a “real victim”.
We really can be STRONGER TOGETHER!!!
Jayashri Srikantiah, “Perfect Victims and Real Survivors: The Iconic Victim in Domestic Human Trafficking Law”, 87 Boston University Law Review 157 (February 2007).
Recent groundbreaking legislation created new immigration relief for victims of human trafficking, who would otherwise be subject to deportation after escape from exploitation. However, few trafficking victims have successfully obtained relief under its provisions. Existing critique has focused on international and domestic definitions of human trafficking and appraisal of the statutory language. This Article explores the problem through a new analytical lens. I suggest that federal agencies implementing the statute have restricted relief based on a flawed understanding of victim volition, under which victims who appear to be under the total control of a trafficker are viewed as worthy of relief, and other victims are rejected as undeserving. Drawing on criminal and domestic violence law as well as immigration legal history, the Article examines the forces…
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Hollywood created dramatic characters that defined the “Old West” and they were easily identified by the color of their hats. The good guys wore white hats, were loners, were generally better looking and almost always “got the girl” in the end. The bad guys wore dark hats, were financially well off and were surrounded by large groups of other bad guys wearing “bad guy” hats. They were almost always holding “the girl” captive under some real or imagined threat or debt. The good guy almost always had some sort of former association with the bad guy – be it a former friendship or working relationship – and their falling out was often over a disagreement about money or a desire to hold the heart of a woman. Sometimes both.
The bad guys routinely misused their social status or financial power to achieve political or societal strongholds and they had often come from bad guy “stock” whereas the good guys often had little family ties and very little financial wealth. A good horse and warm pallet in a barn to lay their head in seemed to be all the good guy needed to get by until he was overcome with the desire to achieve more – usually brought on by some real injustice brought on by the guy in the dark hat – or until he simply wanted “the girl”. Maybe not for himself – but because she was in distress. And that subject is a whole other book!
In the early days of western movies it was easy to identify the bad guy. It was easy to understand why he was bad and it was easy to feel real hate for all that he stood for. As time went on the plots became more complicated and the lines became more blurred. This may have been art imitating life – or the reverse, but we would find that the bad guys started developing an excuse for being bad and the good guys started turning up with a bad guy past that they couldn’t shake.
This over-simplification of good versus evil made it easy for us to delineate between the good and bad actions that define the roles in our community leaders and those that would seek to lead. Just as a badge or a black robe or a clerical collar identifies in individual as a Law Enforcement Officer, a Judge or a Clergyman, we often immediately associate that person with a “good guy” status. Of course we know that all Police Officers, Judges and Priests are not always so good – in fact there is demonstrable proof that some are the embodiment of evil – we are conditioned to associate the appearance with the nature of the individual. The terrain becomes less apparent when we are trying to define the Politician or the Business Man or the Community Organizer. While most of these characters take their role seriously and with integrity, we also know that all Police Officers, Judges and Clergymen are not always so good – in fact there is demonstrable proof that many are the embodiment of evil – but we are conditioned to associate the “uniform” appearance with the nature of the individual. As the uniform takes on less of an official appearance, the ability to delineate the integrity of the individual wearing the suit or the contents of the briefcase. The business card they produce tells only a small part of the story Many Politicians are well meaning and simply become swept away in the process or the lack of their ability to make progress. Many business men and women have great ideas but lack the follow through to reach their goals. Many Community Organizers become frustrated that others don’t share their goals and become competitive and dismissive. It eventually becomes clear that the good guys aren’t always so good and the bad guys aren’t always so bad.
Sometimes the good guys don’t even know when they’ve gone bad and the bad guys don’t know when they’ve been rehabilitated enough to carry the good guy torch.
So, in this age of convoluted agendas, how do we reconcile our approach to the idealistic desire to better our world? How are we able to trust the White Hats when we aren’t sure from where or by what method they got their White Hat?
Oprah Winfrey once said that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking. This might very well be the best way to measure the value of a White Hat but this method carries a risk of trusting them too early. White Hat wearers that don’t really honor the principles of the White Hat are not very likely to expose their quest for power or control until it’s too late and one has put their trust – and all that goes with it – in their hands. And sometimes – even if there was the possibility that the White Hat might not be the real thing – they have been given the benefit of the doubt and not questioned further about their motives. This leaves them to wreak havoc down the proverbial road – often irreparable damage is done and the fallout of their actions can be felt for years to come.
I have come to decide that it is up to each individual to give the gift of the White Hat to one who has earned it. Trust is earned and not given away freely to anyone who asks. The only person who can decide if another can be trusted is the one who is giving the trust and the real power actually lies in the decision to take away trust that is violated.
So consider this as notice to White Hat wearers everywhere…you were given this honor as a gift but it can be taken away if you do not respect its value. In fact, Hollywood has perpetuated the ideal that the guy we thought was bad often dies horribly at the end of the movie. Sometimes he is sickened with regret of his misspent life and dies gasping apologies and sometimes he is blown to bits, never imagining his demise would come to such a brutal end. Almost always Hollywood is masterful in leaving the good guy in charge and he forever changes the lives of all he touches.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Ashley came to OOTL as a referral from a Law Enforcement Vice Officer who had arrested her on several occasions and we assisted her with contacting the Victims Advocate to press charges on a violent pimp who was a Person Of Interest in the homicide of an Orlando Police Office. Although he had “sold her contract” to another pimp that she had been with before and had gone on the lam to avoid arrest he was still an ever present threat in her own mind. Ashley was a product of her environment with little opportunity to even consider that she might have other options. Her mother had been involved in prostitution and had married one of her pimps. Both of Ashley’s sisters had been involved in the escort/modeling game and they were all in denial that prostitution was indeed – the “Family Business.”
The new (or rather new this time around) pimp had given himself the name “Successful” and had dreams of becoming a player in the hip hop music industry. He supposedly owned a record label and was constantly “in the studio” and insisting that his girls work to fund his project. Successful was not what his name implied with the promise that they would live a life of privilege when he achieved his goal. He had 11 children from 11 different mothers and had never paid a dime for child support. Most of the women who had borne his children had worked for him as prostitutes and he was well known to law enforcement as the worst of the Romeo pimps.
A Romeo pimp is a man who snares a woman by convincing her that they are in love. They target a woman who is looking to be loved and tell them they will fill the void in her life. They usually start off as just being friendly – then escalate the relationship with romantic elements – and then finally – “turn her out” when the couple is faced with a real or imagined financial crisis. He tells her that any financial considerations she provided and for the support of his dream to become a famous rap artist, a world class entrepreneur or the father of her children – would be repaid when he eventually made his fortune. It is not at all unusual for a Romeo pimp to be actively working other girls in the presence of the “new” recruit and
Successful was a mild mannered character that would only become violent if he had too much to drink. He was known to treat his stable as well as can be expected but when it was crunch time and the rent was due, he could pressure them into submission using all means necessary. Successful monitored all the girls weight and would send them to the school playground to exercise if he felt they were putting on a few pounds. He gave them new working girl names and allowed them to make one phone call home to family once a week.
In order to ingratiate herself to the pimp, Ashley took on a role that is not uncommon and she became his procurer and trainer of new girls that he would bring on. She would tell girls he was interested in that he was a great guy and very protective. She would say he was kind and generous and would make sure they were taken care of when he inevitably became wealthy and famous. Ashley was an excellent recruiter and she had gotten Successful several new girls while they were out touring the country in his rented Escalade. It was Ashley and another girl who recruited Andrea during a trip back from Atlanta. They had purposely made a stop in Savannah because the deplorable economic conditions there were an excellent opportunity to get good looking girls at a discounted price. The Savannah girls were more desperate and were more likely to get in a car with a stranger than the more experienced Atlanta girls. Ashley had out done herself on this latest trip and had returned to the cheap motel room in the most desolate of Savannah city limits with a half-starved Andrea and another young scared blonde girl who had just been dumped on the street because she had come up pregnant by a trick, She had already had three abortions in her short 20 years.
The three girls and Successful set off south to Ft Lauderdale where the Sex for Sale trade was particularly proliferate among locals and tourists. The girls became close on the way back and- without Successful becoming wiser – Ashley shared her experience with OOTL and told them that she was going to run when they got back to Florida.
Within a matter of weeks of being in Ft Lauderdale Ashley called and stated that she had stolen Successfuls laptop – with all of their contract information on it – and were seeking safe haven. There was a dramatic hideout in an abandoned school yard and several desperate phone calls to OOTL and the initial law enforcement officer that had referred Ashley to us.. They eventually slipped into a convenience store and awaited rescue by a police officer who took them to a local shelter to await the next bus to Orlando.
Sometime in the night the blond girl took off and went back to Successful, leaving both Ashley and Andrea fearful for their safety. They made their way to Orlando and stayed in a hotel until the safe house was ready to accept them.
They were at the safe house for an emotional 12 days before Ashley persuaded Andrea that they were in danger and they should run. Andrea – having been recruited and trained by Ashley – had little opportunity to make her own decisions had did as she was told. Ashley returned to her mother’s house where her 3 young children lived and Andrea worked streets until she had enough money to call Successful and beg him to take her back.
Ashley stayed at her mother’s house with the blinds drawn until the case worker for Childs Services came and informed her that she was in violation of a no contact order of protection with her kids. She contacted OOTL again asking for assistance and we worked once again to assist her by taking her several trade schools and letting her imagine a life that didn’t involve selling her body.
Ashley is the poster child for women who grow up in an environment where prostitution is not only accepted, but almost encouraged. The poverty stricken, low income, project style atmosphere breeds gangs and drugs and guns and anywhere that those elements are present there will also be prostitution. It has been this way for generations and the offspring of pimps and prostitutes brought up in foster care or by exhausted grandparents who have lived similar lives continue a cycle of impoverished existences where education rarely continues past the 8th grade. Few can read or write well and the importance of education escapes them because they only know what they see and the best they can hope for is a low paying job behind the counter of a fast food drive through window. The only successful people they see are the drug dealers who prey on the meager government assisted living that only further traps them by denying them the ability to excel – or even the knowledge that they could do better.
Imagine that you woke up tomorrow with no skills – and no knowledge that you didn’t have any skills. No opportunity – and no knowledge that you had no opportunity. No education and no role model to show you an example of what a normal day might look like. In fact – in this very real example of how life in the projects is. The best opportunity you might have as an attractive young woman is to go to work as a lookout for a drug runner or hold onto weapons for gang members, or, already at high risk just by the nature of the environment, become the girlfriend of the “Romeo Pimp” so that you won’t risk being attacked by all the others and then – just like Ashley, you find yourself trading sex for money and giving it all up to the one who promised to protect you.
To those of us who work with these women, it seems crazy that they don’t leap at the first chance they have to get out of that environment and get an education or a good job or learn new skills that will enable them to provide for their families. But life on the streets is measured in milliseconds and being in what any normal person considers a safe place is like being set on fire. They have never considered a future because one has never been offered so thinking in terms of anything other than what is going to come about in the next few hours is practically impossible. When confronted with an opportunity to enter a year long program, they go immediately into survival mode and survival means fight or flight, and because we refuse to fight they take flight and head straight back to the chaos of the street. A year to them is like an eternity. They have a hard time committing to a single day.
The Anti Trafficking Industrial Complex calls these girls “runners”. They call them runners because no matter how close they come to considering them as “rescued”, the instant they sense a chink in the armor they take off. In hindsight it could be funny if it weren’t so tragic. What are they running from? A comfortable bed with clean sheets in an air conditioned home with hot running water and a full refrigerator? They would rather stand on a corner for 20 hours a day, having sex with strangers, risk contracting a venereal disease, being beat by a pimp or a trick or even being killed and dumped on the side of the road.
A prostitute has a 20 percent higher chance of being murdered than any other human being on the planet. Her life span is considerably less than what the average person could expect if they ate nothing but fried processed fat and smoked cigarettes from morning ‘til night. And even when she’s in her prime and highly sought after because of her youth, the life will age her beyond her years and her eyes will become dead. As lifeless as the life she only pretends to live.
Ashley fears that should she take a leap of faith and embrace a life beyond the confines of what she knows, then all of the time she has already wasted will taunt her every day. She doesn’t consider that her destiny could be one where she shows others that are trapped by their circumstance that there is surely a way out. If she could consider that there is the possibility of possibility, her life could account for the salvation of her own generation and for her children’s future, which if history indeed repeats itself, surely will score a similar outcome that she – and her entire family – has already dictated.
Today Ashley is a well-recognized recruiter for yet another pimp in a house on “The Trail” and continues to draw new women into a life of prostitution. She is estranged from her three children and regularly sneaks into her mother’s house and leaves money to care for them. Her mother knows what she is doing to leave the cash but does nothing to stop it. She is currently married to a pimp who was convicted of murder and is serving 20 years in Florida State Prison. She grieves for him and I wonder sometimes if she doesn’t think back to her brief 12 days where she had a chance to break the chains that bound her and chose instead to fulfill her destiny. She told me once in a rare quiet moment when she wasn’t trying to shock me or find a way to manipulate me into complying with a ridiculous demand that she wished she would be murdered because she didn’t have the will to commit suicide and she thought that somehow if her life were taken in violence that God would forgive her of all her treachery and she would be able to go to heaven.
Author Note: Ashley was murdered in a hotel room by a violent partner in 2017. Her memory will live with me forever because from her, I learned so much.
It seems as though Feminism has shot itself in the foot again. First, by not clearly defining it’s objectives and then by the failure to carry out the meaning behind the objectives.
In her book “Lean In“, Sheryl Sandberg claims that only 24% of American women claim to be feminists until they are informed that it’s grassroots objective was to gain equal pay for equal work. And then the number shot up to 65%. The feminist ideology is so much more than what this simplistic sentence implies, but the feminist movement has become diluted and un-empowered by – um…sorry to say this – WOMEN. Sadly, it seems that the new boys club is much like the old boys club only it is made up of women who are either unable or unwilling to further the aspirations of other women in their greedy hunt for power. In fact, they often follow the old boys club tradition of suppressing new thoughts and ideas of their sisters and fail to see that not only do we lose out as women, we lose out as a human race.
I have come to see that there are two types of women in the world who wield power. Those who use it responsibly and those who don’t. Women who would lead – whether it be a social movement or a political agenda, a philosophy or a fashion trend, a large congregation or a small group of outcasts – these women must be held accountable for bad behavior and and they need to be held accountable by those of us they want to lead. After all, if they are so intent to lead, shouldn’t we know what they stand for? It often seems that women who have been given the gift of leadership, often forget that there are always going to be dissenting opinions in any venue and because they are considered leaders they are required to acknowledge and address those opinions. In fact, they should welcome dissenters because the very fact that there dissent actually proves the existence of leadership. Just because you surround yourself with those who agree with you doesn’t make you right.
I consider myself to be a feminist in the broadest sense. I consider it to be common sense that women should not only support each other when they share a difficult circumstance or a challenge in a romantic relationship, but they should look for ways to negotiate rocky terrain in arenas where they may disagree on fundamental ideals that influence the community that we share. We should take care that our opinions about social and political issues don’t cloud our good judgment and cause us take aim at other women who voice different thoughts or methodologies and we should never – EVER – do this behind another womans’ back. Honestly now…is there anything in this day and age that doesn’t make your spine tingle and the hair on the back of your neck stand up than listening to some snarky bitch run her mouth about somebody else? Especially another woman? How about another woman who is – or was – her friend? Yeah. That really bites. The very definition of the phrase about “who needs enemies?”
I’ve grown quite comfortable with people disagreeing with me. I don’t feel a single bit of anger or frustration when another woman expresses a difference of opinion. In fact, I feel like we will be closer for it because she has obviously felt “safe” enough in my presence to offer thoughts that don’t mimic my own. I may often act like I have all the answers but I can assure you that I don’t. And anyone who truly knows me knows that I am honored to hear a different point of view. I have a great respect for someone who is confident enough in themselves to admit that their point of view might be in need of updating as well. I find it particularly offensive when a woman refuses to take responsibility for her actions based on her faith or by deflecting offensive behavior with an out-of-context scriptural statement insinuating that God supports her action, regardless of the harm it might inflect.
As we women roam the earth in search of our higher purpose, we mustn’t forget our purpose for being here in the first place. Whatever our highest calling is, accomplishing it should never be at the expense of another. If you are a woman you must become a feminist and want for the successes of other women to be realized. And if you are a feminist you must become a woman who values opinions from other women and try to seek to put all of our well being ahead of your own personal goals.
Tyra was a referral from local law enforcement. She had been discovered in a sex trafficking sting where they were looking for a particularly slippery trafficker, but while in the process of tracking him down Tyra’s probation for deriving proceeds from prostitution in a neighboring county was violated and she was serving out her time in jail. The vice officers from Orange County were distraught over the other counties disdain of what the enlightened counties vice unit considered to be victimization and the more dark ages county considered to be criminal and wanted to offer her some kind of support or assistance.
As with any effort to establish communication with an inmate in the criminal justice system, it involves a hundred forms and even more phone calls to the wrong person who either leaves the caller on hold for the rest of the afternoon or offers to take a message that you can see being tossed to the side of the incredibly high stack of paperwork the corrections system is buried by. Something magical must have happened that day because the chaplain answered the phone on the first ring, took my information and gave me the mailing address to send Tyra a letter and an application for entry into a safe house.
Tyra filled out the application and mailed it back to me within a couple of days and I called the chaplain again to let him know that OOTL would be at the jail at 5am on her release date to pick her up and transport her to the safe house. He relayed the information to Tyra and called me back to confirm this was what she wanted to do. I sent a letter to the jail for them to enter into their system so that when she was released, the releasing officer on duty would know that she had transportation and a place to go.
I arranged with a professional team that worked with OOTL to provide us with security and transportation during extractions to pick Tyra up and passed the application on to the safe house so they would be prepared for her arrival. This all sounds organized and straightforward, but each and every girl, each and every program,and each and every agency have their own particular way of handling intake and it is always a struggle comply without some conflict arising that has to be resolved with another agency and with another 100 or so phone calls. The benefit of accessing a girl straight from jail is that most of her medical issues have been addressed and the absolute necessity of a TB screening is completed as well as much of the other medical and psychological screening can be released to us with little more than a signed Release of Information.
Tyra’s release date arrived and all the plans were in place and the transportation team waited outside the doors of the jail and when they saw her come out, they also noticed she looked afraid and it would soon become clear why.
We had not been the only ride home Tyra had that early morning. Her pimp was also in attendance and without introduction she slipped past the transportation team and headed towards his predictable Cadillac. My security guys are not shy and they consider their provision of transportation as their own obedience to God and they didn’t even hesitate before heading to the car and talking both of them to rolling down their windows and offering to pray with them.
There was a stunned silence and then – after gaining a visual ok from the pimp, Tyra offered her hand to the leader of the security team and he said a brief prayer requesting God protect and provide for Tyra all that she would need. While doing so, he slipped my card into the sleeve of her jacket and then clasped her wrist and ended his prayer. They stood up and walked to their car and the Cadillac roared to life and exited the jail grounds quickly.
It was in less than two days that Tyra called – clearly high and clearly panicked. She had been beaten up and couldn’t give me a good location. When I tried the number a few hours later, a man answered and told me that Tyra had checked out of the motel and taken the $40 security deposit and disappeared. There was no discussion of her physical condition and he seemed unconcerned over her well being but he was furious over the loss of the $40.
Tyra called again a few days later, again clearly high, and she begged for me to come get her. We agreed on a meeting place and time and I arrived 30 minutes early to have time to scope out the surrounding area. When 30 minutes passed on our agreed meeting time I called and got no answer.
About three weeks later she called once again asking for rescue from a notorious motel in the area of Orlando known for high sex industry activity. We again agreed on a meeting time and place and we went through the same scenario with a few more requests for additional time and then – once again – no answer after several hours passed. Tyra disappeared from my radar for almost a year.
And then suddenly at 11pm on a Thursday in October, she emailed me asking to be contacted by the same detectives that had tried to help her before. Her disappearance was for a good reason. She had ended up going to prison on more Violation of Probation charges and had just been released 5 weeks ago. It just happened that it was within the days of OOTL opening a crisis intervention home. I knew this was some sort of sign that another opportunity was presenting itself for Tyra’s rescue and restoration, but this time I had something to offer. Tyra entered the OOTL house on October 4th, 2011 and while she exhausted from just living her life the past 2 years – I saw tentative hope in her eyes and hesitant dreams starting to form about her future.
I always ask the girls what they think was the defining moment for them to quit the life. They always look at me like I must be a little crazy for asking such a dumb question – as if any of them really chose for things to end up the way it did.
Today Tyra is working at a job that pays her far more than she ever made as a prostitute and the joy of living what she calls “The Square Life”. She has saved more than $1000 towards paying off her crippling court fines and getting her drivers’ license back. We still fight drug addiction and alcoholism issues. Her abandonment issues have come full circle and she recognizes her shortcomings but isn’t terribly excited about doing anything about them. She is easily overwhelmed and gets stressed by everything and by nothing. Her moods go from extremely happy to overwhelming sadness. She is desperate to be loved and constantly seeks the “love of her life” in the most unlikely and most unsuitable of men.
It is impossible to recognize the love of another if you are unable to love yourself.
Veronica was like a ray of sunshine when she arrived – bright pink Hello Kitty suitcase in hand – at the bus station in Orlando. She didn’t get in until late on a Thursday night and she didn’t arrive at the hotel we reserved for her for several hours after that. She had been referred to us by the victims advocate in another Florida county and her story was a pretty tragic.
Veronica had been shot by a Romeo pimp through her breast and through her arm. She had testified against him at trial but the jury found him not guilty and let him go. He had threatened her while he was being held in jail and the entire State Attorneys office was frantic to find her a place out town. Since he had been found innocent of this brutal crime, Veronica was not eligible for any victims benefits – not that they are that great any way – but it would have provided for a few dollars to eat and possibly even a chance to relocate.
It didn’t seem to matter what obstacles were thrown up at Veronica – she seemed to either ignore them or just turn and find another way to get ahead.. She wasn’’t spiteful or angry in the least about her circumstance but it didn’t take too long to discover that Veronica’s armor was made of paper and rubber bands.
The first few weeks went pretty smoothly. She had made some friends at the motel – however inappropriate they may have been – and within about three weeks I stopped by with some groceries and – against every rule I have ever set for myself or anyone who works with me – I knocked on her door unannounced and discovered a complete stranger lounging in the bed like he owned the place. My first instinct was to run for the door as I don’t make it a practice to hang out in motel rooms with strange men anymore, but I simply handed Veronica the small bags of groceries and backed out of the room with a little chit chat as possible.
She stepped outside the door with me and shamefully told me that she had been lonely and had called a friend from the county she had fled from and he wouldn’t leave now. She was both embarrassed and a little frantic and together we went to the front desk of the hotel and got her a new key card and gave her instructions that when he left to go hang out at the pool, she was to pack his things and set them outside the door and leave the area. The hotel was kind enough to promise to call me if there was a problem and about 4 hours later, Veronica called to let me know he was headed back to the bus depot and back home. He had been angry at first, but had decided not to make a scene. The suburban area of Orlando where I live and where kept the girls wasn’t really much of an area that encouraged homeless vagrants and he could see that he was as close to being arrested as he cared to be.
I knew at that moment that Veronica was going to be a bit more of a project than I might have thought.
She got a part time job and within a week had met Prince Charming and couldn’t wait to introduce me to him. I agreed to meet in a public place and was ready to fire at him from all barrels when the nicest young man I had ever seen approached me – clearly a bit scared as he could see me loading my verbal gun when they pulled up.
“Could it really be that she met a nice guy?” I thought to myself. It was unlikely and completely out of character for girls so new to OOTL to hook up with decent men but not unheard of. I never liked to pass judgment on these experimental relationships that the girls often use to test their boundaries and their newly discovered decision making skills. I always figure that we learn from our mistakes and even though we don’t like to keep making old mistakes in our new lives, a lot of times it helps to have someone help them see the way that old behavior can influence what our lives look like. And there’s a bit of a hopeless romantic in me that really believes that sometimes the Universe shows us what I call “A Promise” – that if we straighten up and get it right, all the things we ever wanted – including being loved – will come to pass.
And sure enough…this new guy was willing to take on all of the baggage from Veronica’s past and walk it out with her. They settled into a sort of domestic bliss with Veronica happily cooking dinner and keeping the small apartment neat while Timothy was at work. But doom was imminent and Veronica soon got bored with the lack of chaos and drama that she had grown so accustomed to.
Although I had counseled her sternly that she should refrain from encouraging inappropriate relationships with the opposite sex, Veronica could not resist her innate desire for attention – ALL of the attention – and out of boredom, she invited a new “friend” over to the apartment while she was alone and the inevitable happened.
Of course she was caught and asked to leave with all of the drama that she swore she was willing to leave behind and immediately returned to tricking.
Veronica is in a transition. She just turned 20 and she feels like an adult but has the attention span of a child. She has not yet tired of the chaos and drama that she has known all her life, but we remain in close contact and at such a time when she is truly ready to surrender and refuse the life of a victim, she has someone to call and someone who cares.
We have had many frantic calls from clients who can’t release the drama. This is almost viral. We seem to get a thrill out of pushing the envelope and seeing how closely we can step to the flame without getting burned. When the inevitable happens and they feel the heat they are always so surprised that they have been embroiled in yet another firefight. It would be comical if it weren’t so tragic.
The cycle is never ending when your life is chaos centered. There is a cycle of abuse – whether it be physical or substance – coupled with trouble from within the family and complicated by bad relationships are the recipe for the disaster that many women can’t let go of. They have often been in this cycle since birth and they don’t know there are other choices.
Veronica has struggled to get the proper medical and psychological care she needs. Most psychologists won’t agree to see her because she has a marijuana addiction that she refuses to release. She will go a few weeks doing well and working and feeling good about her self and then something will take place that just shuts her down and she starts acting out in explosive ways that are almost frightening.
It was during one of the good times – the holiday spirit completely enveloped her and she longed to return home to see her grandmother. She took a trip down to her hometown and then suddenly things went wrong. She ended up being raped by her step brother – violently – as he and his father – also Veronica’s step father – had been drinking. Terrified, Veronica jumped out of the window and ran to a next door neighbor. The neighbor called the police and drove her to the local station. There, the officer on duty ran her name through their database and saw the record of prostitution arrests and immediately shut her down.
Veronica would not be swayed. She insisted he call the sheriffs office and called a local rape crisis center hotline herself and then called me. I also called the crisis center and they assured me they would be on the way. It was nearly 10pm on Christmas Eve.
By 2 am it was clear that no one was coming to take her statement or to a hospital for treatment
To the system – she was a throw-away – of no importance.
After all, according to the police, how can you rape a prostitute?