“Why didn’t she just leave?” That is the question I hear all the time. Movies and TV shows about human trafficking show girls kidnapped off the streets or locked up in hotels by pimps. Think about the movie “Taken” with Liam Neeson. Truth is, how a girl is trafficked is much more complicated. It often takes years of love and outreach from groups like FAIR Girls for her to “leave.”
This is a story that few media outlets have the patience to tell right. However, this month in Marie Claire, a FAIR Girls survivor advocate, Alissa (not her real name), shares her story of how she was sold into sex trafficking by a vicious pimp who knew how to exploit her youth and vulnerabilities. Alissa isn’t her real name. Even though she put this pimp and five others in jail in a landmark human trafficking trial, she still has to be careful to protect her name. I really hope you’ll read her story of going from victim to survivor and inspired by her courage then join FAIR Girls as our survivor services coordinator. The hundreds of girls Alissa helps through our prevention education and direct emergency services programs are inspired by her and motivated to take back their own lives.
One such girl is 16-year-old Jamie (not her real name). She is same age Alissa was when she was lured into a life of exploitation. Alissa and I were online doing digital outreach, which means scanning hundreds of sex ads on Backpage.com where we often find missing and exploited teenage girls being sold by their pimps. We saw an ad on Backpage.com that actually depicted the image of a girl who we know. She’s a 20-year-old survivor of sex trafficking. We notified the police and Backpage.com that the ad featured a real victim of trafficking who we know is no longer being exploited because she is safe at FAIR Girls. However, we were really worried that the real girl who was being sold might be a child.
After a month of searching, we found Jamie. The police brought her and another young victim to us in the middle of the night. Her pimp had somehow gotten a hold of the photos of our other survivor and used her photos to hide the fact that he was selling a child. One minute he would pretend to love Jamie, the next he would show her gun and threaten to kill her if she ever left. Thank goodness the police found her before he did. I wish some of the men who had bought and raped Jamie had been arrested and held accountable, too. But, at least Jamie is now on her way toward freedom. We asked Backpage.com to help us figure out who was using these images. We warned them that most likely a child was being sold in her place. They did nothing.
Just like Alissa, Jamie has experienced years of abuse. Her mother left her and the foster homes are nothing but more abuse. She feels alone and has run away more than 20 times. Each time, she would be locked up in a detention facility until she would be released back to an abusive foster home. Jamie trusted Alissa enough to tell her everything and ask for help. Now, Alissa and I are working to get her to a safe place to live where no other man can buy and rape her. She calls Alissa and I almost every day from the children’s home where she is currently living. Alissa understands why it was so hard for Jamie to “just leave.” She knows that years of abuse will tear down your self-esteem to the point that you don’t think you are worth real love. Now, Alissa* is working to make sure that she never goes back into a life of abuse and exploitation.
If you read this, please share our Marie Claire story and maybe we can help raise the bar of compassion for girls like Alissa and Jamie. Maybe we can stop asking “why didn’t she just leave,” and begin to ask “How can I help her leave?”
As always, thank you so much for your support. We could not help girls like Jamie without your generous contributions and faith in what we do. Thank you!
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