Freedom from Sex Trafficking
What would it be like to get out of this house? Emma had wondered this for as long as she could remember, although the specific house changed frequently as she bounced from foster home to foster home. Both her parents had been arrested for drugs when she was four, so she had been in the system for what felt like forever. She hated it. She never felt like she fit in with whatever family she was with and though she was grateful to have a roof over her head she felt completely alone in this world. Emma did okay in school, enough to get by and usually nothing more than was required of her. She didn’t have very many friends because usually with each new foster home it also meant a new school. This foster home was the worst one yet though, she had just turned 17 and the thought of living another year with these people felt unbearable.
It was late in the afternoon and she couldn’t take it anymore. She packed the few items she owned and walked out the front door. No one noticed, she guessed they probably wouldn’t for a while, so she’d at least have a head start. She had no real plan of where she was going, she just started walking. It felt exhilarating to finally be making her own decision, the further from that house she got the freer and lighter she felt. She wasn’t worried that she really didn’t have any money or a place to sleep that night, she was resilient, she knew she’d figure it out.
It had been two days since she walked out the front door. Emma guessed that her foster parents weren’t even looking for her yet. She was sitting on a park bench starting to feel a bit hungry, she had gone to school on Friday, so she had eaten there but Saturday was proving a bit harder. As she sat contemplating her next move a handsome guy started walking her way. She tried not to stare at him and quickly diverted her gaze, but to her shock he sat down next to her and introduced himself. She was really wishing she had showered that morning, but he didn’t seem to notice. They chatted for a while and then he asked if he could buy her lunch. She practically could have kissed him but held back.
Jerome was so easy to talk to; he had bounced between foster homes as well, so he understood the nightmare she was living. This was the first time she could remember feeling like she had connected with anyone. They sat and talked after they had finished eating for hours and then he offered to drop her off at home. She cringed; she didn’t want to tell him she had runaway. He must have sensed it in her pause, because he asked her if she’d rather come stay with him and his roommates that night. She couldn’t believe her luck. It didn’t take long for Emma to settle into an easy routine with Jerome. She had never felt cared for before by anyone and he didn’t seem to mind that she couldn’t help pay for things. He always just said they’d work it out later. Sometimes he even came home with little gifts for her. He truly was her knight in shining armor.
It was late one evening, Jerome was throwing a little party at his house with some friends that Emma had never met before. She had enjoyed a few drinks and was just starting to feel comfortable when Jerome pulled her aside and told her it was time for her to help him out. He explained that he owed his friend some money but that his friend was willing to let it slide if she repaid him in another way. Emma instantly felt panic rush through her, she did not want to do whatever they were implying, but at the same time she felt like she couldn’t say no because Jerome had taken such good care of her. She agreed. It was awful. She headed straight for the shower after and then curled up in bed, tears streaming down her face as she lay there trying to forget what had just happened. She knew she was resilient, and she figured this was a one-time thing but at the same time she felt ashamed and violated. She felt more broken than she had ever felt in her life.
Jerome was different the next morning somehow, she feared he was mad at her for some reason. She had done what he asked hadn’t she? He explained to her that he was having some money issues and could no longer take care of her. He started crying as he said it. Her heart ached for him and she told him they’d figure it out together. Jerome was quick with the solution and began explaining how if she did what she had done the night before a few more times they could make some quick money and keep the house. He reminded her how much he had done for her over the last month and that he felt like it was her turn to step up. She didn’t want to, but she had fallen in love with him and didn’t want to lose him or the roof over her head. She agreed, she’d do it, just a few times though. A few times turned into a few months which then turned into a few years. Emma was a shell of a person by this point, she was angry and hopeless. Jerome was different, more violent with her now than she had ever imagined he could be. The two had a son together after the first year, and he found it funny to threaten their little guy on days when Emma refused to see clients. He knew she loved that little boy more than anything and would do whatever Jerome asked if it meant protecting him.
One afternoon Jerome was in one of his terrible moods. He dropped her off in front of the hotel and told her not to come home until she had made $1,000 or he would make sure she wouldn’t get to see their son again. Their son looked at her from the back seat, totally unaware of what was going. Her heart broke again in that moment. She did her best to make it through her first few clients. She knew the money would be close and so she booked one more just to make sure she had enough. When her last client showed up, she was exhausted and very ready to be home snuggling her little guy. She opened the hotel room door and knew something was different about this guy. She was right, turns out he was a police officer. She went into panic mode. As the officer started talking to her, she refused to answer his questions, the only thing going through her head was she had to get home to her son. She was so afraid of what would happen to him if she didn’t show up with the $1,000. The officer realized she wasn’t going to answer his questions, so he handed her his card and told her if she changed her mind to give him a call and he could help her.
This is too often the reality for victims of trafficking. The threats being used to control them are still very real and present regardless of whether law enforcement steps in. They will often stay silent in order to protect their children or other loved ones. Therefore, the arrest and prosecution of the trafficker is so vital, these victims will not feel true freedom until whomever is controlling them is behind bars. Join us in the fight to help Law Enforcement develop winnable cases against predators and provide recovery to victims in a way that offers a true path to freedom. Donate today.