The Courage to Speak Out
My life turned upside down when my stepfather came into it, bringing abuse with him. Neither my mother nor my real father protected me or intervened on my behalf, and I tried repeatedly to run away. The juvenile system just labeled me as incorrigible after I was returned home so many times, so I got the message constantly from both home and the juvenile justice system that I was bad, I was bad, I was bad–so I believed that I was bad. I knew that to really escape the abuse I would have to get out of Joplin.
I left Joplin, hitchhiking, and I ended up in Denver. It was through the hitchhiking experience that I started prostituting. I was 12 years old and the only currency I had was my body, so I traded sexual favors for things I needed like a ride, a bed to sleep in, and food. A couple of times they said I was too young and they wanted to help me, but it was always a lie. They would just use me. After arriving in Denver, someone told me I could get money for sex and buy my own food and necessities instead of having to trade it for my survival. That sounded good to me! I was immediately approached by a pimp. The other women told me to “go home” and “it can’t be as bad as what you’re going to find here”, but I didn’t want to go home. I’d rather take my chances being abused by strangers than by those I felt should protect me– and I really wanted to feel protected. I desired the protection of a pimp because once while sleeping on a park bench I was dragged into a car and taken to a house where nine different men raped me. I escaped and found a payphone; I suddenly realized I had no one to call. That was a really overwhelming feeling, to stand there knowing I had no one in the world to call.
I think I knew the guy was a pimp, but I needed protection, someone to care for me, someone that cared if I got hurt or if anything happened to me. Of course it was all lies. At 14 I was arrested and sent to jail because a guy who tried to rape me claimed I robbed him. I did pull a knife, but it was to protect myself from rape. My mom and stepfather came to get me and took me back to Joplin. I bounced between them and relatives in California. Feeling lost and confused, I got involved with a pimp from Kansas City who drugged me and flew me to Alaska before I woke up. He had me prostituting out of a massage parlor and on the street. One day he picked me up from the massage parlor from a 12 hour shift. I hadn’t made enough money so he took me straight to the track and put me to work in my open toed heels in the snow. I was controlled by fear. Once I was hung in a closet for a couple of days by my thumbs and I didn’t know how long I would be in there. He taunted me from outside the door; he was very emotionally abusive, as well as physical and sexual. I was so terrified of him that even when he was in Alaska and I was in Denver, he had control of me and I was afraid to make the break. I was with him the longest.
I was jumping in and out of strangers cars all hours of the day and night. I was brain washed and under the control of violent pimps. My life was in the balance ALL the time. For years I talked with God, asking for help until I began to pray for death. I prayed for several years for God to let me die. If all I was made for was to be a whore I wanted to be dead. Just let a trick or the drugs kill me. Though I contemplated suicide, I saw no way out. Just when I had gotten to the edge of the end GOD delivered me and showed me my way out. It was a miracle! It was like I was in complete darkness and could not see the way, the moment I heard my unborn son’s heart beat God spoke into my spirit and immediately I could see! I was in the light! He delivered me from severe depression and drug addiction. He guided me through my process of healing and recovery.
After I was completely out, I still lived with the fear of being found out. I still lived with the pain of seeing the women on the streets and knowing how it felt out there. I prayed for God to use me, to use my experiences to help others, to make what I had gone through have meaning.
My goal is just to make a difference in this world for the women and girls that are trapped in prostitution. I had a friend who was murdered when she was twenty-one years old. I was older than she was by ten years. We met when she was only 14, this little girl in the hallway, always approaching me, telling me about her life. We had such similar experiences that we became very close. Her name was Veronica and her story made me wonder how many paths I had crossed with girls and women that had been through the same thing I had, but we had never talked about it. I didn’t get involved in other women’s lives. Veronica was the first. I started Veronica’s Voice, a street outreach and drop-in center for victims of sexual exploitation, and now I know a lot of women and girls who have parallel life experiences that led them into survival sex.
I have overcome. I have become a leader that believes in the potential of other survivors to lead. I have experienced a great redemption that has changed my life and now I have the courage to speak out. The women we serve at Veronica’s Voice have learned to let go of the shame and understand that something happened TO them—they were the victim, not the criminal—but now they are survivors. Watching them grow and become empowered is what inspires me to continue to fight for America’s forgotten citizens.
A lot of people look upon these women and girls simply as objects to be utilized in whatever way they want to use them. The user is just the average man—it can be anyone—from janitor to CEO, and he is usually a married man with a family. He’s not looking to leave his family, so he justifies what he does by looking at her as an object to be used instead of a human being. I wish people would just see the little girl. These girls come from lives of unimaginable violence. At Veronica’s Voice, we’ve had a young girl who was sliced up with swords and almost lost her arm and nearly bled to death. We’ve had a gal that was shot twice in a motel, and even though the room was in the john’s name, nobody would prosecute the case because it was her word against his. We’ve seen a lot of trauma against these women; one girl was sodomized with a baseball bat. None of these women or girls want to be in this situation of being prostituted or being drug addicted. They are just struggling to survive.
We must remember that the women that are on the streets across America, drug addicted, in and out of the system – they were yesterday’s children. Let’s not forsake them.