Human trafficking is a crime that affects people for all different types of backgrounds from any country. Literally, anyone can be a victim. Many is society believe that it is a crime that doesn't affect them. But the reality is it that it affects every community. So, who actually becomes a victim? How does an American girl like me go from a giggling schoolgirl to a girl sold into sex trafficking at the age of 16?
To answer that question, I had to walk back into my own painful past. Victims of trafficking do not wake up one morning and decide to allow themselves to become victims. Simply put, you don't choose to be a slave. I went home to visit my family a few weeks ago because my father was sick. I thought it was the right thing to do despite my mentor begging me to not go. It was the worst experience that I have had in years. I haven't seen my family in seven years. I was seventeen then.
Going home to an community that I have spent years trying to avoid was a challenge. Years of pain can out in the form of tears and anger. Being home with family reminds me of a saying that my aunt would often repeat to me, "if I knew then what I know now my life would be perfect." With that saying in mind, I looked back at my life and compared it to what the statistical victims appears to be. It made me cry because I was the perfect victim in just about every aspect of life. If only I had known. But, as a teenage girl, what could have I have done to stop it? Or, the real question: could anyone have stopped it? I think they could have.
Like me, 80 to 90 percent of victims of trafficking had been sexually abused. At my job at FAIR Girls, I tell the teens I teach in our prevention education class that being raped doesn't mean that you will become a victim of trafficking. However, it puts you at a greater likelihood of being trafficking because you have experienced a traumatic event that make it easier for a trafficker to exploit you. That is but one vulnerability.
I luckily missed the average age of entry, which is 12 to 14 years old because at the time I had a positive support system. However, once I moved away from my support system it was easy for my trafficker to take advantage of me at age 16. My mother was drug addicted and my dad was an alcoholic. Simply put, they were not able or willing to pay attention to me. Sadly, the trafficker who raped and sold me was paying attention. This placed me at further risk. I didn't know. I thought that it was normal since all of my close friends came from homes similar to mine. The reality is that what I thought was normal was actually far from normal.
As a survivor advocate and program coordinator for FAIR Girls, I encounter teens every day who have similar life experiences as me when I teach our prevention education program. My job is not to tell them that they come from horrible homes and that they are potential victims. My job is to help them see the warning signs that could place them at risk of being trafficked. Many react like I did at their age. They think this couldn't happen to them. They believe that they would know what to do if they encountered a pimp because they already feel like they are on their own. I used to think that, too. But in all reality I had no idea what to do in the situation once I was manipulated into the situation. Thankfully, I had a group of strong female role models to help me when I escaped. Now, I work alongside a team of young women at FAIR Girls who are building the same support systems that could have helped prevent me from being trafficked or helped me get out sooner.
As I sat on the train traveling back from seeing my family, one wish kept me strong. I wish that no child -- girl or boy -- would have to grow up at 12, 14, or even 16 and face the harsh world of sex trafficking. If you are reading this, then you can help. If you see a girl at risk because of her family, past sexual abuse, or lack of support then talk to her. Ask her what is going on. Educate her. Show her our survivor stories on FAIR Girls web site at www.fairgirls.org. Or call us at 1-855-900-FAIR (3247) because we can help.