From One to Another – An Open Letter to Women Who Want Out!

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.

Aside

Stories From Behind The Crimson Curtain

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. 

Stories from Behind the Crimson Curtain – Veronica

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?

Sex Trafficking – Speechless No More!

There are very few people who would use the word “Speechless” to describe me. “Loudmouth” – “Inappropriate” – “Opinionated” – Now those words I would recognize. But as I explore this whole prostitution and human trafficking underworld I am nothing short of speechless. Speechless because so few seem to recognize the damage being done to our entire world by this insidious and sinister pandemic that preys on women and children. Our whole society is threatened by either ignoring these practices or glibly claiming it to be a victimless crime. Some of the victims don’t even know they are victims…they live in a world where they believe this is their destiny and that this is all there is.

I was touched by several stories I heard this week. One woman stopped into a local shelter – just to chat – and talked about how she was working to “get her man out of jail.” He had been arrested for a drug trafficking crime and is going do a minimum of 10 years in prison – this was not his first time around the “wheel of justice”. She only had to raise another $4000 and the bondsman told her he would get him out. So she was street-walking and soliciting strangers – the victim of a man held behind bars who called her collect regularly to check her bail bond progress, complain about the food and tell her he loved her. We all said a silent prayer that he would be sentenced quickly so that she would be able to get enough freedom to have a chance to let us lead her towards a different path.

Another story was told to me about the proliferation of human trafficking in the Central Florida area. Many of the big cities up north have made it difficult for the traffickers to operate and they have found our tropical climate and our ever widening ethnic and cultural framework to allow them to work their evil trade with very little interference from law enforcement. They make themselves difficult to identify and have surprisingly innovative ways of laundering their ill gotten gains through Hair, Nail and Skin Care Salons, Dry Cleaners and Laundromats, Hotels and Motels, Restaurants and Bars. The women – many under the age of 15 – are told that the police will kill them if they find them or they will be deported to their country of origin where their families will disown them because of the shame they have brought on themselves by living a life as a prostitute. Victims not once, but twice.

Two completely different stories of Human Trafficking converging – not thousands of miles away – not in another country – not in another city – but right in front of me. Within blocks of where I live. I was rendered speechless.

As I drove home to my upper middle class suburban condo with a beautiful view of a lake, I was overwhelmed and saddened by my blindness to my surroundings. That cheap pedicure? Not so cheap. My smart attitude with the maid at the four star resort not getting my extra pillows to me quick enough? Not so smart. My annoyed whine about the spot not coming out of my cashmere sweater? Not so annoyed. My judgmental disapproval of a street walker who wanted to get the man she loved out of jail – no matter what her personal cost. Not so disapproving.

How could I be so blind? How could I not see what might have been right in front of me? I’m a smart girl with lots of life experience and I should know better than to not look a little deeper into the eyes – the windows of the soul – and see the pain and the fear and the desperation. I have to give these girls a voice to express their pain and offer more than the copy of a book they may not know how to read. I have to become UNSPEECHLESS and use the things I have known and seen to teach those who don’t understand and to shine a really bright light into the dark corners where this abomination occurs…first in my own community and then in the rest of my state and then into the rest of the world.

There are three kinds of Human Trafficking. The first is the kind that we call “Prostitution”. Prostitution is the result of one person paying to use the body of another for sexual purposes. Doesn’t matter if it is consensual or not. Some prostitution is that of an independent person soliciting for another independent person to pay them for the sexual services. “High Class” Human Trafficking is where a service (Escort Service or Pimp) takes a cut of the money gained from the sexual service in return for making the service available. Many times this is an agreeable relationship because the Escort Service or Pimp promises to protect the service provider from danger. It may or may not be consensual. Escort Services are notorious for holding back appointments from service providers who they suspect of not following the services rules or failing to be available when they are called to “go on a call”. Pimps use intimidation, drugs, violence or the threat of violence and a variety of other coercive methods to pressure a girl into performing sexual services with his customers. Many times the Pimp even uses “love” to compel a woman into an act of prostitution. As in “I love you baby – do this for me – do this for us!” Sinister, isn’t it?

The second kind is a little more familiar when speaking of Human Trafficking. This treacherous practice is very well organized and very international. And don’t think America is NOT international because it happens here too.

Poverty and lack of economic opportunity make women and children potential victims of traffickers associated with international criminal organizations. They are vulnerable to false promises of job opportunities in other countries. Many of those who accept these offers from what appear to be legitimate sources find themselves in situations where their documents are destroyed, their selves or their families threatened with harm, or they are bonded by a debt that they have no chance of repaying.

In some cases a girl is promised an opportunity to model or become an actress. Someone posing as a designer or talent agent will promise the moon to a young girl and many times secure the permission of her parents. They are then whisked off to another city or state or country and forced into prostitution. Some escape but most don’t. In many third world countries the parents are promised a better life or an education for the child and they readily consent, completely unaware of the dismal future of their daughter. In these same countries, parents knowingly sell the girl to the trafficker because they are starving and female children have a much smaller value than the male children. A United Nations report recently stated that less than 40% of 150 countries studied for Human Trafficking statistics had NEVER prosecuted a single human trafficking case which allows the traffickers to operate with impunity across the globe. Many countries refused to even provide their own statistics – even some of the really big ones like Saudia Arabia, China, Libya and Iran. What was even more surprising in this report was that 60% of the traffickers were women – once victims and now perpetrators.

The third kind – really frightening, this one, is the kind where children are snatched off the street and – once again – forced into prostitution. This happens in every country in the world and is devastating to parents who wonder forever if their child is alive. I’m sure most of them pray they are dead rather than living in this existence. Every time I hear a story of a missing child, I am silently praying for their quick and safe return but at the same time I fear for their safety and the likelihood that they are being trafficked. While women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for the sex trade, human trafficking is not limited to sexual exploitation. It also includes persons who are trafficked into ‘forced’ marriages or into bonded labor markets, such as sweat shops, agricultural plantations, or domestic service.

The United States of America is principally a transit and destination country for trafficking in persons. It is estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked to the U.S. annually. We Americans – as a country – have enhanced pre-existing criminal penalties, afforded new protections to trafficking victims and make available certain benefits and services to victims of severe forms of trafficking. We have also established a Cabinet-level federal interagency task force and a federal program to provide services to trafficking victims. The U.S. Department of State began monitoring trafficking in persons in 1994, when the issue began to be covered in the Department’s Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Originally, coverage focused on trafficking of women and girls for sexual purposes. The report coverage has broadened over the years, and U.S. embassies worldwide now routinely monitor and report on cases of trafficking in men, women, and children for all forms of forced labor, including agriculture, domestic service, construction work, and sweatshops, as well as trafficking for commercial sexual purposes.

Our commitment to abolishing the practice of Human Trafficking is far from complete. Each individual who remains silent on the subject or considers prostitution to be a victimless crime, should reassess their position by research and soul searching and then act by telling a friend, a family member, a neighbor about what you have learned. Only through education and continuously pointing out the dangers of prostitution and human trafficking can we begin to stop it.

Be SPEECHLESS no more!

To report an instance of suspected trafficking, please call the HOTLINE: 1.888-373-7888
http://www.HumanTrafficking.org

OOTL – The Stories – Ashley

     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.
     We call these girls runners. We call them runners because no matter how close we 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. Her past could be such an example of a God that loves and forgives all to take a shredded and tattered mess of several generations and repair it beyond her greatest expectations. 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.
     All I could tell her was that she was already forgiven – that it had always been so.

OOTL – The Stories – Alana

               Alana’s story began in Albuquerque New Mexico where she was literally kidnapped from a nightclub and transported across many state lines, eventually landing in an upscale hotel in the tourist district of Orlando.  There, among exhausted parents with small children, world class theme parks and the busy convention center business travelers, the fast growing criminal enterprise of Sex Trafficking grows at an alarming rate.  It is also one of the few areas in the United States where the local police department vice unit has accepted the challenge of treating prostitution as Sex Trafficking and have successfully prosecuted several cases where long prison terms have been imposed on pimps. 

               Alana was actually living in Tampa with her pimp and had accepted an escort service call off of a website called backpage.  They frequently made trips to the Orlando tourist district and set up an in-call situation at one of the hotels where families stayed while they were vacationing at Disney. 

               The pimp – known as Boogy Fox – was already under investigation by a federal task force because he had been known to force other young women into sexual slavery.  His last girl had run from him but was too afraid to make a statement and had disappeared from the radar.  They had made several attempts to set up a sting in Tampa but were unsuccessful.  After noticing that the pimp was posting ads in Orlando, they reached out to the local law enforcement and requested cooperation.  It was at short notice and on a Friday, but the officers immediately made arrangements with Alana by phone to meet her at the hotel they had booked through priceline.com.  After agreeing on a price for sex, they immediately let Alana know they were police officers and that they were not looking to arrest her – they only wanted to arrest the pimp.

               At first she denied any knowledge, but after assuring her they would be able to protect her and assist with getting her home, she allowed the detectives to call OOTL for extraction.  While they waited for us to arrive, she showed them the meticulous records she had kept, detailing every phone call, every client and every transaction.  She also showed them her bible which she obviously read regularly while highlighting passages – making exhaustive notes in the margins.  At the request of the federal officials, they did not arrest Boogy right there and then.  In fact, they went down to the car where he was waiting and told him who they were and what was happening with Alana.  They told him they were confiscating her laptop, her cell phone and that she was being arrested.  While he was obviously surprised, he didn’t say much and drove away.  The federal officials that had been tailing him when he left Tampa easily picked up his trail when he drove back into town and followed him to his home where they watched him “sanitize” his home and dispose of any incriminating evidence that Alana had ever been there.  He contacted friend who came and picked up a large amount of cash which was also confiscated by law enforcement.  Later, after obtaining a warrant to search his home, they found that he compulsively kept all of Alanas identity documents and her dental records in a safe hidden in the wall of his closet.  Alana confirmed that he had told that since he had her dental records there would be no way anyone could identify her body if she didn’t comply with his demands and he had to kill her.

               During their search, they broke down the door and removed nearly all of his personal possessions as they had been purchased with illegally obtained from the proceeds of prostitution – including his car, cell phone, televisions, stereo equipment and most of his clothing.  He was quite put out by the officers actions and angrily asked one of them what he was supposed to do now.  The officer pulled a quarter out of his pocket and tossed it on the now empty nightstand and told him to “call someone who cared”.

               I arrived at the hotel and faced two exhausted detectives who had been on duty more than 72 hours.  I quickly helped her put together what little possessions they were leaving with her and we loaded up my truck and headed to the OOTL house.  Alana was extremely nervous about what was going to happen to her and didn’t really seem to believe that she was not being taken to jail until we actually entered the condo.  We set her bags down and I showed her her bed and the bathroom as well as the generously stocked kitchen and told her she had access to anything she wanted.  I let her use my cell phone to contact her cousin who immediately offered to come and get her.  We agreed upon a time and place to meet and I left her to enjoy her newfound freedom.

               I came back about two hours later to make sure she didn’t need anything and found her fast asleep – fully dressed – on top of the covers.

               When I picked her up to go to breakfast the next morning, she was rested and much more relaxed than she had been the previous day.  And she was ready to share more of her story.

               Alana had met Boogy at a nightclub in downtown Albuquerque New Mexico.  He had wined and dined her.  Been flattering and attentive.  Told her she was beautiful and the kind of girl he could fall in love with.

               This was music to Alana’s ears.  Her relationship with the father of her two children was hopelessly deadlocked in a battle over custody.  Since Alana had no education, she was unable to provide a stable living environment and her Ex rarely allowed her to see the children and constantly told her she was a bad mother.  In fact, he told her she was a bad wife, a bad woman and a bad person in general.  Eventually she believed it and became reckless – a party girl.  And the perfect prey for a monster like Boogy.

               Boogy convinced her to return to Florida with him. He told her about his house and his job as a club promoter.  He promised her he would help her get custody of her children and they could all live together in bliss – away from the prying eyes of her family and friends and especially the controlling ex-husband.  It sounded like a dream come true and Alana packed a few things – Boogy said not to bring too much because he would buy her everything brand new! 

               By the time they drove through Houston, Alana knew she had made a mistake.  The clothes he bought her were nothing more than skimpy lingerie and he would take pictures of her and post them on a local website offering sex-for-sale.  At first she said no, but Boogy became menacing and violent so she eventually complied.  After Houston, they moved on to a rowdy New Orleans right before Mardi Gras and the pictures and ads started again.  It was in New Orleans that Alana was nearly killed by a client who wanted to play domination games with her as the submissive.  When Alana didn’t return to Boogy at the appointed time, he knocked on the clients door, and found a tearful and terrified Alana tied up in a closet.

               They made their way to Florida and before Alana knew it – she was trapped.  She was too ashamed to call her family for help and Boogy closely monitored her phone calls and computer access. Her days and nights became a single ongoing nightmare.

               It was four months before the sting in Orlando finally freed her from Boogy.  He was later convicted of various trafficking charges and Alana now lives back with her family and has reconciled with her children and is in school studying to be a nurse.

               It was her willingness to testify about Boogy’s brutality that brought about a ten year sentence and sex offender status for Boogy.

Out Of The Life – The Stories -“Sandy”

  In January of 2008 I met a prostitute inside the walls of the Seminole County Jail during my “Out Of The Life” Life Skills class who I will call Sandy.  She was 46 years old and this was her 78th arrest during her adult life.  She was only sentenced to a few months for a minor felony drug possession charge and had very seldom spent more than 6 months in jail at any one time.  All of her charges between the two local counties ranged from Lewd and Lascivious to Open Container and a couple of Solicitation charges in addition to countless drug and drug paraphernalia charges. 

              She was disconnected from her family – elderly parents and 3 children who were grown and lived out of state.  In fact, she was disconnected from her own self and was well known for being a belligerent and demanding inmate.  She was not well liked by her fellow inmates and had all the hustle of getting coffee and snacks from them for performing various chores and trading the small comforts one is allowed in jail.  An extra pillow can be traded for three instant cups of decaffeinated coffee and the willingness to take over other inmates daily chores could get her a few snacks and candy from another inmates bi-weekly canteen purchases.  Sandy was always on the lookout for someone who was new to the system and would befriend them with full intention of getting them to assist her in making three way calls to the outside and helping her garner information about what was going on in her “hood”.   Not that it mattered.  When Sandy was sober she was one of the nicest most generous people I had ever met, but when she was using, she was hell on wheels.  She knew all of the frequent flyers in this relatively small jail system and she didn’t like them any more than they didn’t like her.  Her relationship with other inmates was usually strained because she was combative and confrontational.  She didn’t fight enough – or in front of anyone important – who could send her to solitary – but she certainly didn’t try to keep any peace either.  She slept with one eye open and always had her ear tuned for an opportunity to hustle.

                Sandy was about as institutionalized as a girl could get even though she had never been to prison. She had spent enough time doing time she felt comfortable in jail even while swearing she hated it.  She was on a first name basis with the women’s chaplain who had been there more than 28 years.  She knew every correction officer in the building and kept a meticulous mental note of the ones she could manipulate and the ones she couldn’t. 

                Sandy was not anyone’s favorite person.  She would feign illness to get to the medical unit just for a little peace and quiet.  She didn’t have any friends, inside or outside the jail.  She had failed at nearly every drug program in the Central Florida Area.  She hadn’t done much better at transitional houses.  She had been to several and they all not only kicked her out, but refused to even consider letting her back in.

               At first she denied being a prostitute.  She liked to think of it as hustling for drug money.  To her, it wasn’t prostitution – it was commodities trading.  Much like a Wall Street stock trader would negotiate the price of wheat, Sandy would negotiate a sex act for drugs or money to get drugs.  She loved to drink, smoke crack or marijuana, snort cocaine or shoot heroin when she got the chance, and she never wanted to party with other people.  After she had negotiated her transaction she would disappear into the woods or under a bridge and get as high as she could stand for as long as she could stand it until her body demanded more drugs or alcohol and she would reenter society almost as a lioness would hunt for food.  The cycle was continuous with brief interruptions of sobriety forced upon her by the justice system.

               Every time Sandy was arrested, she would get prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping medication by the jail facility because she would answer the classification questions as if she were likely to harm herself or someone else.  She would discontinue them as soon as she was released.  Sandy lived in hell and she felt perfectly comfortable there.  She expected nothing better. 

                Sandy was only a little taller than 5 feet.  She was slender but in horrible shape.  She had a pasty complexion that was a result of poor nutrition and her color was exacerbated by the cold jail environment.  She had natural blond hair that was a bit stringy and unkempt and green eyes that could be very dark when she was agitated and very bright when she laughed, which was seldom. Sandy had been pretty at one time before all the drugging and drinking had ravaged her body and her mind.  She had lost all her teeth to the fist of a pimp she refused to work for and had been raped and beaten on so many occasions by street gangs she had lost count.  She was constantly outrunning one drug dealer or another to whom she owed money.  Just a few months before this latest arrest she had been dragged into an alley by a group of young men who were initiating a new member into their street gang and she was beaten and raped repeatedly, losing all of her identification as well as the cheap and broken dentures that were held together with super glue.  The boys – all under the age of 14 – crushed what was left of them with the heel of his boot as they left.  Sandy had managed to walk to her parents house over the next couple of nights, hiding in the woods and under bridges during the day out of fear of being arrested.  She had several fractured ribs and was bruised from head to toe.  She never reported the beating or the gang rape…after all she reasoned – with more than 50 arrests for prostitution, who would believe her?

                Her decent into hell had begun when she was young.  She had been sexually molested by her father from the age of eleven until a few days before her arrival at jail for this current charge.  Her mother was terminally ill and she routinely stole her mothers’ pain medication in addition to having her father regularly supply her with drugs so she would continue to have sex with him.  Sometimes she would beg him not to make her do it – and sometimes her wish would come true because he would be too drunk to perform – but in the end, she was complicit in her relationship with him as she was both his daughter and his lover.  After all – cheating with Sandy didn’t really count to him as a violation of his marital vows.  The sexual misconduct had gone on so long, neither of them was able to consciously delineate between the rightness or wrongness of the action.  Sandy knew it wasn’t necessarily right to have sex with her father in exchange for drugs, but the alternatives to supply her gargantuan need for the abuse of substances were far more horrific than what went on in that little guest room less than 20 feet from her mothers’ death bed.  And it was far better than turning tricks behind a gas station or risking running into a gang in the park.  Sandy considered the home of her abusive father the safest place she knew.

                Everything had come to a head for Sandy and her father one cold night in January because Sandy was too high to be a compliant sex partner and he raped her anyway.  The police were called, discovered – or were shown by her father – the drugs and the paraphernalia that he had secretly purchased and Sandy was locked up.  Her father told her had placed a restraining order against her and she would never be allowed to come back to the house again.  Her mother was within months of dying a horrible death from cancer and her children and her sisters had – quite literally – thrown up their hands in frustration and cut off what few lines of communication that were still open to Sandy.  She had three children she hadn’t spoken to in years.  She had never been a part of their lives.

               So there she sat – less than 30 days into a 6 month jail sentence.  She hadn’t written any letters or made any phone calls home.  In fact, she told our small support  group that she would never contact her parents again because she was so embarrassed at the shame she had brought to the family.  She had stated that no one else in her family was the way she was.  They were all smart and had good jobs.  I would later find that substance abuse was the norm in her family dynamic and Sandy was just carrying on a family tradition.  She was always generally uncooperative but she was more belligerent than ever and when she signed up to attend my class, stating that  she only did so to escape the daily drudgery of the pod she spend 24 hours a day in, hustling for coffee and treats from the more affluent inmates.

               Naturally, as was expected of anyone who wanted to catch the sympathetic ear of the women’s chaplain, she buried herself in the bible and was able to quote more scripture than I was.   I later discovered in her property an impressive collection of bibles that were issued by the chaplains office, reflecting living proof that Sandy took these bibles with her when she left.  Apparently, they could also be traded for drugs and were handy for rolling joints of marijuana laced with PCP.  The missing pages pretty much confirmed this little trick I had heard of but never actually witnessed.

               In spite of her difficult nature and her characteristic spitefulness, there was something about Sandy that resonated with me.  I wanted to help her.  I wanted her to help me.  I was new to this “ministry business” and I was enthusiastically naïve.  I longed to teach Sandy that she could live a life free from substance abuse and self neglect but it would turn out that Sandy would be the teacher and I would be the student and I would learn many things from Sandy.

               This book is a compilation of what I learned about myself and the girls I work with as we try to find our place in a society that is grudgingly sympathetic to our plight but unsure as to what station they are comfortable allowing us to serve.  We have all been involved in the sex industry in one form or another and we have all managed to overcome but we are plagued with memories, guilt, shame and a social stigma that very few understand. 

               Out Of The Life was born out of desire to reach out to girls like me as my husband and I sat outside on our patio on a balmy October evening in 2008.  We were talking about our lives and how we felt about what it had taken to get to where we were.  We had a small business of our own that was treating us pretty well although we didn’t own a house and certainly didn’t have any money in the bank.  We worked really hard, seldom taking time off – much less taking a vacation – but we enjoyed having all our bills paid on time and a little left over at the end of every month to go out to eat or catch a movie guilt free.  And best of all – we really enjoyed getting up every day – working hard and going to bed totally at peace with having a life we loved living.  It had not always been so.

               I had been thinking for a couple of years of writing a letter to my probation officer in Texas and apologizing to her for being such a rotten probationer.  I had called a few numbers and googled her name and discovered that she had died from Breast Cancer.  I was devastated.  I had written the letter so many times in my head that it almost felt as if I would be unforgiven forever if I failed to do something that would reconcile – even if only in my own head – the damage I had done.  I felt defeated and I hadn’t even begun to fight.

               This was not a new feeling for me.  My struggle to regain my footing in a life that had begun with so much opportunity and so much promise has spiraled out of control in the early 80’s and I had paid for much of it in the 90’s.

               Much like Sandy, I was completely undone by my circumstance and – even as lately as a few years ago – I feared that I would never be “OK”. 

               As I looked into Sandy’s eyes week after week, I saw myself from years ago, bound in hopelessness.  I knew how she felt in that moment.  And I knew – I just knew – I could help her find her way back.

               It turned out that Sandy was bound to the street with invisible ties that I never even came close to being able to see at the time.  She returned to the street 2 weeks to the day that I picked her up from the jail and we haven’t spoken since. But the lessons I lived will stay with me for a lifetime and have come to impact the manner in which I continue to try and reach them.

               There have been others – many others – that I was unable to “save” but I continue to have an open door in hopes that they will one day walk through it and find a life they never imagined.

               A Life they Love Living.

The Woman In Me

The Woman in me laughs with enthusiasm.  She smiles when something is funny and she has a crinkle in her forehead that she refuses to inject with poison to make it go away.  She has trouble with her weight and she has really great hair.  She holds a grudge and she can be really stubborn.  She hates to be wrong and hangs on to righteous indignation for as long as possible.  She is a control freak.  She collects unfinished projects – always sure that they will somehow get finished at the last minute.  She can hold her fist high in defiance and she can sob in a corner barely able to see through the fog of tears.  She can be slow to anger and embarrassingly slow to forgive sometimes.  Once she forgives she forgets what she was mad about. 

 

She can see the big picture but can get hung up on the details.  She is big on instant gratification and loves to get the best for the least.  She can “make do” with what she has but she hates to be deprived of what she needs.  She thinks she needs more than she really does.  She is so passionate that she can become frozen in action – the never ending futility seeming to take over and smother her.

 

I don’t know which of me is the real me sometimes and I don’t know if I will ever be able to find a balance between all of those extremes.  Sometimes I feel fear that is overwhelming and sometimes the despair from the shame of feeling that fear makes me cringe.  Fear can creep up behind me and try to clutch my throat and kill me.  And that is when I am most determined that the Woman in me will prevail. 

 

Whoever she is and where she came from, she feels more deeply than the outside shows.  I have learned to cover my fear with a veil not unlike the ones worn by the Muslim women I see at the grocery store.  I feel a strange companionship with them because at least their veil is on the outside and not a mask worn over a broken heart or a life without meaning.  I have everything they have except the burka of denial.  Hidden denial on my part that I am any more of free than they are.  The difference is that I have created my own burka, my own mask, my own self delusion, my own fear of breaking through and announcing – not to the world – but to myself – “I am afraid!”

 

Whatever I am made of can show itself in both unbridled compassion and a wretched selfishness.  Polar opposites are inside me.  A fantastic web of contradiction.  I know I have power but I sometimes forget where I put it.  I know I have gifts but I have spent so much time playing around with my creativity I feel like I have hidden the most important gift in a box and put it high upon a shelf, never to be explored or reasoned with.  Some days I feel like I am moving around with purpose and then someone shuts the lights off and its dark and I feel afraid.  Like I can’t find a candle to get around or to find my way out of the dark. 

 

The wind blows hot and then cold.  The dark and the light are the same thing – they bring trepidation and uncertainty – a sureness of step and then a ditch where I fall and can’t get out.  Almost like a grave.  I step softly but I hear the thunder behind me.  There is rain on the way. 

 

Fear. It’s the thing I haven’t mastered.  It’s the unknown part of the equation that is the Woman In Me.  Not a fear of failure because I’ve had plenty of that.  I failed at nearly everything – even the things that I thought made me successful have really been success brought about by failure on some level.  It’s a general sort of all-encompassing fear.  Fear that my life is meaningless.  Fear that when I die I will have done little more than take up space. 

 

I would suppose that everyone suffers from some degree of fear.  Some fear of something.  Fear of the Unknown.  Fear of Snakes.  Fear of Wet Grass at Night.  The challenge then, is to identify what you are afraid of and decide if it is a reasonable fear and then move on to the next one.  All of the fears I mentioned above are I have had and I have determined that fear of the unknown – for me – is an unreasonable fear and I don’t fear it anymore.  A fear of what might come to pass tomorrow or next week or even in the next couple of hours are things that are out of my control.  Sure – I make plans for next week – even next month.  I book vacations in advance and I make lists of what I need to take care of before an event.  But I don’t let the fear of what might happen in the future control what I do today.

 

My fear of snakes used to be so strong that I wouldn’t pick up a volume of an encyclopedia that I knew had a picture of a snake in it. As a young girl, I feared about snakes being under my bed and would take a running jump to get into bed so that they couldn’t strike out and encircle my ankle and pull me under.  My fear bordered on phobia.  As a girl who grew up in the city, my chances of running into a snake – especially under my bed – were somewhere along the odds of America ever being interested in soccer.  Now, after careful analysis of my fear of snakes, my preference is to not see them or hear about them, but a story on the news about a monster python caught sneaking around a residential neighborhood doesn’t keep me awake or cause me to avoid that part of town.  I didn’t go through phobia awareness and I didn’t go to snake handling school.  I just realized that the chances of my running into a snake at the local grocery or while getting a pedicure was unreasonable and it faded away.

 

The fear of walking in wet grass is an offshoot of the fear of snakes and a far simpler resolution.  I wear shoes in wet grass.  There you go!

 

My fear of never accomplishing anything or making up for past transgressions is a far more mind bending than anything I’ve ever even acknowledged. 

 

When asked to be the Executive Director for the Restoring Humanity Foundation, I secretly coveted the ideal but feared I didn’t have the skills or the knowledge to complete such an enormous project.

 

My background as a prostitute or an escort service owner, or a felon, or a makeup department manager, or a corporate supervisor could never possibly prepare me for the task at hand.  I would be responsible for the lives – the actual lives of hundred of thousands of girls that I knew were out in the rest of the world waiting for me to come and rescue them – like Joan of Arc, I should sweep in under cover of night and with a wave of my sword fight off the villain and shelter them under my velvet coat and they would then be safe.

 

Or maybe not.

 

As the project continued to develop, it made no sense to me to leave out any of the women or girls who had disappeared from their families without any hint of where they might have wondered off too.  Many times, as I watched the tragic stories of Natalie Holloway and Jennifer Kesse on the news, in the bottom of my heart I knew these women would never be found.  At least not their bodies.  These women might alive and might have been kidnapped and ferreted across some border and were now sex slaves.  As their mothers spoke bravely to the media – trying so hard to accept the law enforcement mandate that they were probably dead, I felt an overwhelming empathy for them.  In some way – although not a mother myself, I felt that even though they must know what I knew, it must have been so much more comforting to think that their beloved daughters were not being tortured or drugged or threatened with their lives every day.  It would have been easy to accept that disappearance and death were a far better outcome that the alternative.   Let’s get real here.  A woman doesn’t just leave her purse and her cell phone and wonder off into the unknown.  They were taken by force.

 

I started to realize that victims of Human Trafficking were all one and the same.  They may have had different beginnings but they had been taken from their families and denied the life they were intended.  I realized that all of the victims we were going to be going after would have their own story and their own strength in enduring all of the atrocities that befell them during their time under the chaos and that the only thing that could heal their wounds would be to be set free and allowed to soar.

 

There is a special tragedy in that of a child who is stolen from her family.  Whatever their place in the “Scale of Humanity” that you accept – whether that child is from a slum in Uganda and faces starvation and genocide on any given day or that child that is born into a well heeled family in a safe suburb of Brandon Florida who – like so many of us who live in relative safety – simply didn’t lock the door or lower that garage door one night out of nothing more than false bubble of broken security.  That same special tragedy is that of a child whose mother is barely a child herself –  and a damaged child at that – facing severe mental issues that allow her to sell her child to strangers she meets in park in San Antonio and to tell the father he is dead.  The college student with good grades and a bright future that suddenly fails to show for class.  The high school student who doesn’t even know she is pregnant and leaves her baby on a doorstep without knowing what will become of him.  The family facing eviction, starvation and the cruelty of humankind that finds their only asset is a daughter who they force themselves to betray and believe the story told to them that she will be better off in another place for a few pennies.  The young mom who turns her back for a minute at a public park to turn around and find her child gone.  The young girl rebelling against her strict parents who buys into the promise of stardom, riches and fame in the land of America. 

 

They are all gone and – now – they are without hope. 

 

I had no choice but to act.  And to act in such a way that even if I couldn’t find one of them – I would find others.  And by my actions, someone would live to regret their choice to steal the life of a girl that was destined for greatness.

 

My wish is for the penalties for the actions of those who would take hostage, capture, abduct, lure, steal, rape, assault, damage, terrify, intimidate, terrorize, menace, endanger, jeopardize, and silence women, children of any nation, in any nation to be so harshly dealt with by all governments who value and embrace femininity, and for their victims to be healed from within and free themselves from the bondage of everything these “traders in shame” have sought to kill and let God make them whole.

 

And it is this that brings me here.

Speechless No More

There are very few people who would use the word “Speechless” to describe me.  “Loudmouth” – “Inappropriate” – “Opinionated” – Now those words I would recognize.  But as I explore this whole prostitution and human trafficking underworld I am nothing short of speechless.  Speechless because so few seem to recognize the damage being done to our entire world by this insidious and sinister pandemic that preys on women and children.  Our whole society is threatened by either ignoring these practices or glibly claiming it to be a victimless crime.   Some of the victims don’t even know they are victims…they live in a world where they believe this is their destiny and that this is all there is.

 

I was touched by several stories I heard this week.  One woman stopped into a local shelter – just to chat – and talked about how she was working to “get her man out of jail.”  He had been arrested for a drug trafficking crime and is going do a minimum of 10 years in prison – this was not his first time around the “wheel of justice”.   She only had to raise another $4000 and the bondsman told her he would get him out.  So she was street-walking and soliciting strangers – the victim of a man held behind bars who called her collect regularly to check her bail bond progress, complain about the food and tell her he loved her.  We all said a silent prayer that he would be sentenced quickly so that she would be able to get enough freedom to have a chance to let us lead her towards a different path.

 

Another story was told to me about the proliferation of human trafficking in the Central Florida area.  Many of the big cities up north have made it difficult for the traffickers to operate and they have found our tropical climate and our ever widening ethnic and cultural framework to allow them to work their evil trade with very little interference from law enforcement.  They make themselves difficult to identify and have surprisingly innovative ways of laundering their ill gotten gains through Hair, Nail and Skin Care Salons, Dry Cleaners and Laundromats, Hotels and Motels, Restaurants and Bars.  The women – many under the age of 15 – are told that the police will kill them if they find them or they will be deported to their country of origin where their families will disown them because of the shame they have brought on themselves by living a life as a prostitute.  Victims not once, but twice. 

 

Two completely different stories of Human Trafficking converging – not thousands of miles away – not in another country – not in another city – but right in front of me.  Within blocks of where I live.  I was rendered speechless.

 

As I drove home to my upper middle class suburban condo with a beautiful view of a lake, I was overwhelmed and saddened by my blindness to my surroundings.  That cheap pedicure?  Not so cheap.  My smart attitude with the maid at the four star resort not getting my extra pillows to me quick enough?  Not so smart.  My annoyed whine about the spot not coming out of my cashmere sweater?  Not so annoyed.  My judgmental disapproval of a street walker who wanted to get the man she loved out of jail – no matter what her personal cost.  Not so disapproving.

 

How could I be so blind?  How could I not see what might have been right in front of me?  I’m a smart girl with lots of life experience and I should know better than to not look a little deeper into the eyes – the windows of the soul – and see the pain and the fear and the desperation.   I have to give these girls a voice to express their pain and offer more than the copy of a book they may not know how to read.  I have to become UNSPEECHLESS and use the things I have known and seen to teach those who don’t understand and to shine a really bright light into the dark corners where this abomination occurs…first in my own community and then in the rest of my state and then into the rest of the world.

 

There are three kinds of Human Trafficking.  The first is the kind that we call “Prostitution”.  Prostitution is the result of one person paying to use the body of another for sexual purposes.  Doesn’t matter if it is consensual or not.  Some prostitution is that of an independent person soliciting for another independent person to pay them for the sexual services.  “High Class” Human Trafficking is where a service (Escort Service or Pimp) takes a cut of the money gained from the sexual service in return for making the service available.  Many times this is an agreeable relationship because the Escort Service or Pimp promises to protect the service provider from danger.  It may or may not be consensual.  Escort Services are notorious for holding back appointments from service providers who they suspect of not following the services rules or failing to be available when they are called to “go on a call”.  Pimps use intimidation, drugs, violence or the threat of violence and a variety of other coercive methods to pressure a girl into performing sexual services with his customers.  Many times the Pimp even uses “love” to compel a woman into an act of prostitution.  As in “I love you baby – do this for me – do this for us!”  Sinister, isn’t it? 

 

The second kind is a little more familiar when speaking of Human Trafficking.  This treacherous practice is very well organized and very international.  And don’t think America is NOT international because it happens here too. 

 

Poverty and lack of economic opportunity make women and children potential victims of traffickers associated with international criminal organizations. They are vulnerable to false promises of job opportunities in other countries. Many of those who accept these offers from what appear to be legitimate sources find themselves in situations where their documents are destroyed, their selves or their families threatened with harm, or they are bonded by a debt that they have no chance of repaying.  In some cases a girl is promised an opportunity to model or become an actress.  Someone posing as a designer or talent agent will promise the moon to a young girl and many times secure the permission of her parents.  They are then whisked off to another city or state or country and forced into prostitution.  Some escape but most don’t.  In many third world countries the parents are promised a better life or an education for the child and they readily consent, completely unaware of the dismal future of their daughter.  In these same countries, parents knowingly sell the girl to the trafficker because they are starving and female children have a much smaller value than the male children.  A United Nations report recently stated that less than 40% of 150 countries studied for Human Trafficking statistics had NEVER prosecuted a single human trafficking case which allows the traffickers to operate with impunity across the globe.  Many countries refused to even provide their own statistics – even some of the really big ones like Saudia Arabia, China, Libya and Iran.  What was even more surprising in this report was that 60% of the traffickers were women – once victims and now perpetrators.

 

The third kind – really frightening, this one, is the kind where children are snatched off the street and – once again – forced into prostitution.  This happens in every country in the world and is devastating to parents who wonder forever if their child is alive.  I’m sure most of them pray they are dead rather than living in this existence.  Every time I hear a story of a missing child, I am silently praying for their quick and safe return but at the same time I fear for their safety and the likelihood that they are being trafficked.  While women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for the sex trade, human trafficking is not limited to sexual exploitation. It also includes persons who are trafficked into ‘forced’ marriages or into bonded labor markets, such as sweat shops, agricultural plantations, or domestic service.

The United States of America is principally a transit and destination country for trafficking in persons. It is estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked to the U.S. annually. We Americans – as a country – have enhanced pre-existing criminal penalties, afforded new protections to trafficking victims and make available certain benefits and services to victims of severe forms of trafficking. We have also established a Cabinet-level federal interagency task force and a federal program to provide services to trafficking victims. The U.S. Department of State began monitoring trafficking in persons in 1994, when the issue began to be covered in the Department’s Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Originally, coverage focused on trafficking of women and girls for sexual purposes. The report coverage has broadened over the years, and U.S. embassies worldwide now routinely monitor and report on cases of trafficking in men, women, and children for all forms of forced labor, including agriculture, domestic service, construction work, and sweatshops, as well as trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.   

Our commitment to abolishing the practice of Human Trafficking is far from complete.  Each individual who remains silent on the subject or considers prostitution to be a victimless crime, should reassess their position by research and soul searching and then act by telling a friend, a family member, a neighbor about what you have learned.  Only through education and continuously pointing out the dangers of prostitution and human trafficking can we begin to stop it.

Be SPEECHLESS no more.

To report an instance of suspected trafficking, please call the

HOTLINE: 1.888-373-7888

http://www.HumanTrafficking.org