Sex Trafficking: Tessa’s Story
Tessa was a spunky, athletic, fun-loving 17-year-old. Her mom stayed at home to raise her and her two brothers, while her dad had been the only pediatrician in their rural town. To say that Tessa grew up sheltered would be an understatement. Her parents always had the best intentions, but their overprotective nature left Tessa with some naivety. Tessa had always been the youngest in her class which meant she left for college four months before her 18th birthday.
Tessa attended a state university a few hours from her hometown. She was looking forward to school and what the next few years held as she pursued her degree in nursing. Tessa knew that the only way she was going to survive the pressures of school was if she found a few good friends and a good gym. Running had been her method of stress relief in high school. It only took a few days before she had both those things figured out and the year was looking like it was off to a great start. She was starting to enjoy some freedom and a true adventure for the first time. Her new town offered more opportunities and excitement than the small community she came from and Tessa was excited to explore.
We can all remember the rush of our first moments of becoming an adult, out on our own and ready to take on the world.
Assessment & Recruitment
A few weeks after joining the gym she met this guy. Luke was slightly older, in great shape and had this mysterious way about him that intrigued her. He said he was a web developer working for a big tech company. He would find his way to the treadmill next to hers and then ask her all kinds of questions. Tessa wasn’t the type to easily give information to strangers, but Luke somehow made her feel completely comfortable. She couldn’t quite figure out why she felt so comfortable when he was near, but she opened up about her upbringing and small-town childhood quickly.
After a few months of small talk, he asked her out. Tessa was thrilled, a little nervous because she hadn’t ever really dated, but thrilled none the less. Luke knew at this point how little experience Tessa had in the realm of relationships, but he managed to do his best to reassure her that he was ok taking things slow. Tessa daydreamed over their first date; what she would wear and where he might take her.
The daydreams of any teenager.
She woke up on the Saturday morning of their date to a knock on her door. Outside stood a delivery guy with a dozen pink roses. She was shocked! Shortly after the delivery her phone buzzed indicating she had a new text message from Luke, it read, “Hope you enjoy the roses, they are almost as beautiful as you. Looking forward to tonight.” Tessa could not wipe the smile off her face.
With the help of her friends, she decided on the perfect outfit a long black skirt and a pink tank top. The butterflies in her stomach were out of control as it neared closer to the time Luke said he’d pick her up. The minute she saw his face though she instantly felt calm. Their dinner was perfect, and he dropped her off on her doorstep with a kiss on the cheek like a perfect gentleman.
Tessa couldn’t help but feel like this was too good to be true. The only nagging factor in her mind was that she hadn’t told him how young she was quite yet. He was older and sophisticated, and she loved getting to feel like an adult when they were together.
Luke texted her the next day to say that he had a great time at dinner and would like to do it again. After some back and forth they agreed to dinner and a movie on Thursday. Tessa tried to focus all week during class, but she struggled, she could not stop thinking about Luke. When Thursday rolled around, she received another text from Luke this one caught her off guard. He told her for dinner tonight she needed to wear the shortest black dress she had, and he preferred that she wear her hair down and red lipstick. This text felt weird to Tessa, but she figured she was young and had little dating experience so maybe this was normal.
When he picked her up, he looked happy with the outfit she had chosen but something about his demeanor seemed different. He wasn’t nearly as gentle or comforting as he had been the weekend before. She tried to brush off the bad gut feeling that was starting to creep in. After all, she knew Luke and trusted his intentions.
After dinner Luke said he needed to make a quick stop, he had a few friends in town visiting and he wanted to swing by their hotel before the movie. She didn’t mind, since meeting his friends seemed like a positive step.
When they walked into the massive hotel suite that bad gut feeling from earlier was in full force inside her. She did her best to shove it down and the drink they offered her seemed to help. The guys were whispering and then Luke said he would be back for her later and walked out the door.
Confused she tried to follow him, but one of the men stopped her. Another started playing with her hair and then picked her up and carried her into one of the rooms, yelling “I’m first” as he went.
A knock on the door woke her up the next morning. It was Luke yelling at her to get her clothes it was time to go. It was at this moment that Tessa realized she was lying next to a stranger; her clothes were scattered about the room and her whole body hurt. An instant wave of terror and nausea swept over her. Luke yelled again and what used to be the calm, sweet voice of the man she met at the gym was now replaced with a demanding and much angrier version. She noticed as they left that one of the men handed him a wad of cash and said thanks, she was good.
“She was good”, what did that even mean? Luke told her that they were headed to his house, she could shower there and the other girls would help her get dressed for their date tonight. Trying to wrap her head around what was going on she begged him to take her back to her dorm room. He laughed and said that his friends had already taken care of her dorm room and that if she wanted to see her family again, she was going to have to listen to him.
Her phone buzzed in the cup holder of the car as they drove, it was her mom calling. He grabbed the phone and gave her strict instructions, you are going to tell your mom that school is going great, that you met a nice guy and he took you to a wonderful dinner. Then you are going to tell her that you are headed out to study and you can’t talk right now. Tessa took a deep breath and did as she was told. She had never felt a fear like this before and she felt like she was drowning.
Automatic & Maintenance
Throughout the following months, Tessa had periodic phone calls with her parents, but never without Luke watching like a hawk. He had control of her phone and would text her brothers and her parents every so often, usually making up excuses as to why she hadn’t come home to visit. He texted the friends she had made at school as well and told them that she decided nursing school wasn’t for her and she had moved back home. It didn’t take long until they stopped texting her to check-in.
Tessa had learned quickly that if she didn’t listen to Luke, he had no issue hitting her. The last time the bruise on her ribs had lasted for days. He told her to if she was asked about it to say she had had a few too many and fell down the stairs. Tessa had lost count of how many men she had been forced to have sex with… but she guessed by now, the day before her 18th birthday, it was nearing a thousand. Luke made her see at least 8-10 per day and she couldn’t remember having a day off. Tessa felt so much shame, pain, and loss. She constantly felt confused and disoriented. How had her daydreams become a nightmare?
Become A Guardian
Countless women and children are living like Tessa under the control of someone like Luke. They are being forced to perform sexual acts at an alarmingly high rate every day, and these predators are very good at covering their tracks. Predators like Luke are a unique level of creep that enjoys the challenge of taking a girl that has a family and friends that will miss her and luring her into The Life. We cannot win the fight against these types of criminals without your help. Become a Guardian and help us stop the horrible exploitation of young girls and boys just like Tessa.
*Disclaimer: We strive to never re victimize someone by telling their story, we also strive to protect any information that may be used in an open legal investigation and therefore Madison’s story is a combination of multiple survivors stories and all names and locations have been changed.