Caroline’s Story of Hope

A Survivor’s Journey

I cannot even remember a time in my life when I received attention from an adult that was not abusive in nature.  I grew up with both physical and sexual abuse from the age of five when I was first molested.  It never felt right, but it felt normal to me.

At a high school wrestling match when I was 13, a 35 year old man struck up a conversation with me.  He would come often to these events and seek me out; he said nice things to me and made me feel good about myself.  Eventually he invited me to his house parties and I was happy to get out of the house because things were really rough; also, my parents were going through a divorce, and it wasn’t a big deal for me to be gone.  I craved the attention I got from him, but then he brought other men there to have sex with me too.   It didn’t really feel right, but it felt normal.

I had a baby when I was 16 and I got involved with a gang after my mother took my child from me.   As part of the deal I was used by all the gang leaders and then passed down to the younger members.   I was confused and unclear about what was going on.  I knew there were drugs involved and money changed hands for sex with me and other girls, but I never saw any of it.

I had numerous experiences with the child welfare system.  They kept picking me up and returning me home and I kept running away again.  In my mind, I didn’t feel safe anywhere; I felt safer anyplace but home.  They put me in foster homes and I ran away from those too, and then once I became a juvenile offender, I ended up in secure facilities…but I even found my way out of those.

I decided to run from the gang that owned me, and moved back in with my mom.  During that time I had several abusive relationships, and at 21, started working as an escort and in strip clubs.  I fled in the middle of one night and hopped on a bus to Kansas City, because I was in fear of my life.  Almost immediately I was approached by an older man who befriended me and then sold me to a pimp in exchange for some drugs.  This pimp had 8 women in a house and that very first night they told me what to wear, they set me out on the track, they showed me how to get in and out of the cars with the guys, what to say when I got into the car, what not to say, how to recognize if it’s a police officer.  It was just like boot camp!

Often there were underage girls in the house and there was always a fight for affection. He liked to keep us in limbo and to keep us competing with each other for his attention.  I wanted all of it and I would do anything to get it, whether it be telling on the other girls or turning more tricks so I could give him the most money.  I was determined to win him for myself, and I thought I had when he got me pregnant and moved me out of the house and in with him.  I understand now that it was a branding technique, a way to ensure I’d stay under his control.  That, and the drugs that were waiting for me on my bed stand every morning, did exactly that.

I was prostituted until I was at least 6 months pregnant, motivated by the idea that I was his number one in spite of the fact that I had seen him in bed with at least 3 other women at one time.  I was never locked up but I was in a prison of the mind.  He was in complete control, and he maintained it by alternating affection and brutality.  If rules were broken, like being dropped off in front of the house by one of your tricks, someone got beat up, to make an example to everyone. Most often it was me because I was the most “loyal” (needy) and he knew there was no family I could run to.

He broke my nose when I was pregnant with absolutely no remorse, and made rule breakers stand outside nearly naked for hours.  He is in federal prison now on drug charges, not for pimping! Despite his brutality, many of his girls are waiting, will run right back to him when he gets out because his control over their minds is so complete.  He is God to them.  It doesn’t feel right, but it feels normal, and that’s all they know.

Fortunately for me, I met a God who thinks of me as His Favorite!  I also met Kristy Childs of Veronica’s Voice who has shared the experiences I’ve had and overcome the same mental and physical addictions and humiliations. I have a great job that I am perfectly suited for, helping other girls escape their bondage.  I am now part of Veronica’s Voice as their Outreach Coordinator, funded by Shared Hope International under the WIN program.  I hand out outreach bags to the girls who are still being used in prostitution, and go visit the jails and meet with girls who have sexual exploitation issues. I also go to youth programs—I started a youth group recently for people ages 13-21 where I educate them about pimp control and risk reduction. But most important, I am building a life where my baby girl and I can live in dignity.

When I go out to the streets now, it is to share with them how different life can be.  Usually when I pull up on them they’re just so excited to see me and see that I made it out and they say things like, “If you can do it, I can do it.”  It gives them a lot of inspiration especially if I haven’t seen someone in a long time and I go out to the jail and I run into them and they’re like, “Gosh, you know, you look so good.”  “How did you do it?” Then I offer them different options and even if they’re not ready to get out, I still come back around.  I may give them my card fifty times and it might take a month, or two months. Eventually, they end up showing up even if it’s just to take a shower or for something to eat.  That’s a first step, but an important one, to believe in themselves and find a new “normal”, one that also feels right.

About Taryn

Taryn Offenbacher is Director of Communications and joined Shared Hope International in 2009. She has completed field research and authored reports on the sex trafficking of U.S. citizen minors in Arizona and Virginia. Her ongoing concentration in leveraging social and digital media to generate awareness has resulted in extensive coverage and awareness of the dynamics of child sex trafficking in the U.S.

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