TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains sexual content / detailed accounts of sexual abuse and exploitation of minors
(Preface thought: the point of all of this is NOT a “boohoo this thing happened” but a “oh wow these things do happen and we are absolutely able to, and SO many currently are, fighting against this and here’s some ideas and info for you to be aware of on this! 🙂
Before diving into this post that will follow up on a recent forum held here in CT on Human Trafficking, I’d like to preface with a semi-brief background of my personal life, to give some understand as to why Human Trafficking matters so much to my heart and why I think it’s something we need to be talking more openly about among our young people and the adults who are striving to love, build up and protect them. I also want to state that this may be a little “over ambitious and undereducated” but this has been so crazy on my heart that I’m willing to send out something prematurely thought through and expand on the different parts later. There is always “later” – I’m pressing into the “right now” of this topic:
Below is a brief conversation I had at 14 years old with a grown man named Anthony:
Anthony: “Hey baby, you had a game this week right? How did that go?”
Me: Really good! We didn’t win but it was close!”
Anthony: “That’s awesome sweetheart, I loved that picture you sent me of you in your uniform. You sure are sexy”
Anthony: “Of course, you are absolutely beautiful. How’s home been?”
Me: “Eh not so great, my parents are fighting a lot and I’m always in trouble for something”
Anthony: “That’s terrible, your mom sounds like she’s a total b***. I’d never treat you that way”
Me: “We just don’t get along very well, I wish I wasn’t here”
Anthony: “Maybe one day you wont have to be anymore”
About two weeks after late night phone calls like this, he started requesting more provocative photos of myself, which I willingly provided. Not too long after that he asked if I’d be willing to do video calls. Those video chats started similar to the phone calls. Late night chats about friends, movies, and learning about my life. Once again, shortly after, he requested I wear less clothing. Slowly but surely these calls become entirely sexual, learning at 14 how to pose and say things I didn’t fully understand myself. I was sent links to now do what Anthony had taught me with whoever was on the other end of these video calls. I’m aiming to not be incredibly detail specific on the acts of these encounters, as I don’t find its necessary or helpful in most cases, but I do want to be sure its understood that these video calls were with multiple other grown men – with the intentional purpose of arousing and carrying them to their desired level of the sexual encounter. I sent requested photos to these men as well, all while falling naively in love with a man I’ve never met but felt a strong emotional attachment to. Anthony and I’s phone calls become few and far in-between with time. Emails turned strictly into new and exciting ideas he had dreamed up in this online role-playing game he had me in, as well as detailed descriptions of what he was planning for us to do when we would finally meet in person.
When I was 15 years old, I got in trouble with my parents for something entirely unrelated to what was going on inside my webcam. I was unable to talk with Anthony for over two months. When I finally got back onto my laptop and received phone privileges, his number had been disconnected and his email was no longer a “valid email address”. At 15 years old, I was utterly heart broken and drowning in what felt like rejection from this man who I truly believed loved and cared for me.
Unfortunately, this was not the end of my journey in the world of online and in-person sexual encounters. Having already had a history of abuse, a lack of self esteem, identity and proper lessons on appropriate boundaries concerning my body, sex and adult-child relationships – I was in a very good position to be not simply be “pulled into” this world but to willingly jump into it, thinking it provided all the answers and all the care I felt was lacking in my own world.
In complete honesty, I even struggle now as I write this to not go back to the automatic thoughts I held for years of, “This wasn’t wrong. I choose to do what I did. I wanted to do this. This has nothing to do with trafficking or exploitation.”
The reality is, I was a child and these were grown men. I was incapable of making consensual decisions regarding my body and sexual acts (online or in person) at my age and these men knew this was wrong. These men choose to engage with a child in a way that is legally, morally, and ethically WRONG. I was groomed to have an attachment to this man and he used that connection to manipulate his way into having me engage and perform in as many acts as he could get me to. There were times he would stop calling or writing if I didn’t comply happily or rapidly to his requests which left me as a child, already prone to utter people pleasing, desperate to do whatever I could to have all of his attention back. These video calls could have been recorded; these pictures were most likely shared off with other online pedophiles engaging in child pornography. That thought makes me stomach churn. Looking back now, I see a broken child that was used and it honestly hurts to think that this damage is captured and saved on a file only God knows where…documented demolition of a child’s innocence. Can we recognize child porn for just that? In every form of it, in every case, it is the documented demolition of a child’s innocence, safety, security, childhood, spirit, freedom, joy, peace, sanity, health, trust, being?
I’m not choosing to share this information to simply dive into the messy details of my experience of this world. My heart behind this is to explain that there is a huge misconception of how someone gets involved in all of this. That every story is different but not all stories are as dramatic or “far out there” as the movie Taken or even some Law and Order SVU episodes. (“I wish it was that easy to prove cases of trafficking,” says Wendy Bowersox, who you’ll read about later in this post)
At 13 years old – I simply joined what I thought was a harmless online chat room to meet new friends, as I often felt alone and out of place in my school and in my community. Chats with kids “my age” about funny tumblr posts and random late night pre-teen wackiness soon found its way into questions like
“How old are you?
“Where are you from?”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Have you every kissed anyone?”
“Can you send me a pic?”
What seemed minor turned into something twisted and shameful to me as a young teen. I was feeling trapped, too involved to back out and over exposed to a side of darkness in this world I didn’t know even existed. I had no idea this was an international crime, or even remotely inappropriate, as I drove to a from my small town school and dance practices in the suburbs of Connecticut. I lacked safe resources to ask imperative questions, I lacked proper education on the dangers lurking about the internet and because my exposure began on a screen, by the time I had reached the age where I could drive (often worded now as “a license to drive was my license to sin”) I had become incredibly desensitized to the severity and the dangers of the sex industry, which made it that much easier to get involved with men looking for easy prey. I was hungry for love and attention and having been groomed enough virtually with men like this, it wasn’t a big jump in my mind to take the step to meet them physically.
I think its also important to note that at the age of 16, a trusted male adult in my life took advantage of our relationship in a way that left me thinking, “this really is all men see me as.” Hurt and angry by the thought that this was all I was good for, I choose to dive further into this world of sexual relationships with older men. I think most of it was trying to simply make sense of something my mind could not wrap itself around. It solidified the concept that love meant sex. For years this man had been solid male figure in my world and the day it crossed a “no turning back” point – this fierce lie rooted itself that if someone truly loved you, they would want to have sex with you – and if you truly loved them, you would do it. If I wanted “true” love, true connection, I had to be willing to give all of me away. Sex became my love language, as well as my own demise…
It was a simple click of a button at 13, years of relationship and exploitation through online child pornography, a history of abuse which lead to the next step of, as a young adult, working as a prostitute. I spent the next few years with no regards to self worth, self needs/care, or understanding that this life was not the be all end all of what I had to offer as a human being.
At 19 years old, I choose to quit all my jobs and take on prostitution full time. I worked as a call girl and had already acquired a number of regular clients over the years since I had started meeting with people at the age of 17. I made videos with some clients, had plain Jane (or maybe better to call it plain John?) encounters with others. Things ranged form uneventful nights to being trapped in a house all night with a man who was clearly mentally unstable and incredibly violent – simply hoping he’d pass out drunk at some point so I could sneak out. That next morning my stomach dropped as I saw every door lock (as he had 7 of them) secured – thinking he was serious when he said, “You’re never leaving, you’re mine!” Thankfully he was just over paranoid but that brought me to a screeching halt…for about a week.
The reality is, I’m sure some of you reading this knew me somewhere between 13-19. You saw me at school, at a game, at a family event, social event, at work, ect. I’m going to guess many of you are thinking, “I had no idea,” “No freakin way,” “I knew her then, how is this possible?” I’m also guessing some of you can think of someone else you know, who was involved in this, and think those same thoughts. I can even venture to guess some of you are still trying to sort out how you yourself got even remotely involved in this world. Maybe you once joined a chat room. Maybe you once sent an “innocent” photo yourself and thought nothing of it. Perhaps you cruised through those video chat sites and responded to some requests. It honestly starts out seeming harmless and really, it is harmless … until it isn’t. There’s no fool proff way of getting into and out of this, but there is awareness and its a vital piece of restoring our state and rescuing our current and future generations.
This entire world hides and blends itself right into the every day lives of you and me. Cheryl Sharp, Depute Director and one of the panelists in the event I’ll be mentioning soon commented, “If you’ve been to a hotel before, you’ve probably walked past someone being trafficked. They look like normal people just staying in a hotel for the night.”
This world hides in people who look like a “normal couple”, lunch dates that look like a simple “father daughter outing”, a “kid” commenting on another kids post and then writing a private message. The predators of minors are skilled, crafty and trained well on how to take down an unprotected, unprepared prey. Does that not lead us to understand that in order to combat this, we too must be skilled, crafty and trained well on how to build up and protect our communities?
If the issue continues to be viewed as something that is “over there” and “not something my kids would ever be affected by because of where we are” – there will be more stories like my own and sadly a continuation of stories that are far worse.
I want to thank the community I was in and the strong mentors in my life who held me accountable, called me into greater and out of darkness when I was 19 years old.
I want to recognize that I was lucky to have people who were willing to listen to what I had to say, people I felt safe enough with to even share what was going on and people who didn’t walk away form me, despite the mess I was in.
I want to acknowledge that I was able to successfully get out of the sex industry early enough, before more damage and more bondage/entrapment could have occurred.
I want to acknowledge that this is not how everyone’s stories end.
I want to recognize that three months ago, a young girl who I once worked with was pulled into sex trafficking and murdered.
I want to recognize this shocked her community, shocked her family, and shocked even me. There is such a stigma, even in someone who’s seen parts of this industry, as to who is the “at risk” youth. It’s never wise to assume someone is unreachable to these predators.
I want to recognize that I am one of the lucky ones and that I was spared much pain and because of that, I want nothing more than to educate, advocate for these young girls and boys, work on prevention/awareness plans and make sure that as we fight against this crime, no one in MY general vicinity is able to say, “How was I supposed to know?”
If you’re reading this, I wish to start in motion the removal of “I didn’t know” from your vocabulary. If you’re reading this, you now don’t get to be a bystander. If you’re reading this, it is time.
It is time to see the world that’s hiding in front of you and to move towards taking back our current and future children’s childhoods. If you’re reading this and you too were a victim of these crimes, I am so sorry.I hope you know you’re not alone. You are not to blame. You are not to hide behind the walls of shame these perpetrators built over you. You can find a voice here. That CT is fighting for you. That though we can not undo the past, CT isn’t blind to the pain this state contains from those victimized in the past and that this pain spurs them onto make vital changes for the future. If you’re reading this, the future really is now. If you’re reading this, thank you already for being willing to join the movement. I hope you continue to read and learn more about how to fight this good fight and how to move towards healing and hope for yourself and others around you.
I’m aware everything you’re about to read next may sound like a lot of distant acts that you thought only impacted distant places. It will contain many names of people you don’t know, working with organizations and against a social injustice you may still not fully understand. Lets first start with some basic facts:
Fact: Sexual exploitation is the sexual abuse of children and youth through the exchange of sex or sexual acts for drugs, food, shelter, protection, other basics of life, and/or money. Sexual exploitation includes involving children and youth in creating pornography and sexually explicit websites.
Fact: Domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST), which is the commercial sexual exploitation of children through buying, selling, or trading their sexual services, is happening in the United States. Forms of DMST include prostitution, pornography, stripping and other sexual acts.
Fact: The Human Anti-trafficking Response Team (HART) was created in order to focus on and reduce Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST)
Fact: The average age of entry in domestic sex slavery 12-14 years old
Fact: Over the last year, End Demand CT has continued raising awareness about those paying to sexually exploit Connecticut’s children and most vulnerable. In 2016, more than 650,000 ads offering commercial sex in Connecticut were posted online.
Fact: Since 2008, 485 minors have been referred to DCF as possible victims of DMST
Fact: There were 202 referrals for Sex Trafficking of minors in Connecticut to DCF in 2016 and that number is projected to have increased in the 2017 HART report
Of the 202
184 were female
17 were male
1 was transgender
118 of those minors came from parent/guardian homes
32 were runaways
59% of those minors were between the ages of 12-16
Fact: 70% of victims of domestic minor sex trafficking experienced prior abuse at home
Fact:YOU can do something so help stop this
In a world of exceedingly vast darkness, thank you Connecticut for taking the initiative to shed light on & fight against something that is far more prevalent, in our very own home state, than so many realize. The Village, an agency that works to provide homes for neglected children, partnered this Wednesday night with Connecticut Human Anti-Trafficking Response Team (HART) to host a panel on the Criminalization of Human Trafficking Victims. The event titled ‘Collateral Damage’ was lead by: Yvette Young, Wendy Bowersox, Tammy Sheed, Cheryl Sharp and Jillian Gilchrest. Yvette Young, HART Coordinator, opened Wednesday night’s panel discussion with “The only way not to find the problem is to not look for it.” Connecticut is certainly doing its part in both acknowledging the issue and moving towards statewide abolition of this crime. With that being said, Special Agent Wendy Bowersox also noted that “we have a long way to go to redirect this issue” and the panel collectively agreed that the more we educate our communities, the more able we’ll be to recognize and refer situations to the proper agencies.
How do we educate ourselves and what exactly are we educating ourselves on? That’s a great question and thankfully, there are ample resources available to the public to your own ball rolling:
HART (Human Anti-Trafficking Response Team) FAQ page:
The Underground – CT Faith Based Organization working towards ending Sex Trafficking in CT:
Love146 Events in CT:
Love146 Connecticut Survivor Care 2016:
National Human Trafficking Hotline:
Guys, I’m honestly sitting here worried I haven’t posted the right websites or links to what would most help spread the awareness but the reality is: GOOGLE IT. You are going to have thoughts and questions that I didn’t even touch on here and I really don’t have all the answers anyways. I just wanted to share this side of my story to spread the awareness to mostly those who know me, that this really can happen to anyone and its not something to just pass off as a “third world issue”
I was so moved and inspired by this panel discussion that I’m not sure I’ve thought about much else in these last 48 hours now? I’m sitting here at 2am finalizing this post – researching ways to get more involved and planning my criminal justice career path to start my own journey towards healing my home state. I’m asking the questions now that I didn’t know to ask “then”. I’m learning because its all I can do.
Please ask questions, please make the calls, seek help and prepare your own hearts before talking with your kids if you have them or your family members, friends, or whoever it is you feel led to talk to.
I had such a different ending due to having had people who took the time to invest in my life, to be mentors and pseudo parents. This is simply my story, my experience. Every story is different and I fully understand that some of you reading this may have been affected by this tragedy and are thinking, “I was there for them.” “I had these talks.” “I would have done anything for them.” “They had a safe home.” “I did everything I could…”
I think this industry is so twisted and distorted that trying to make sense of the darkness will leave you feeling lost inside of it, with not much hope and very alone. There are no perfect answers. There is no “one size fits all” prevention plan. There simply isn’t. Thats not the answer we want to hear but something we really do want to be hearing is your voice. You. Your voice. Your story. Because I know there are so many out there who have one. Who are able to provide experiences and information that would be otherwise lost without you. The more we band together to support and inform one another, the more ground we take back against these people who are fighting to tear apart our families and children’s lives.
I am still recovering from the trauma those choices led to and healing my mind, spirit and body from the damage life brought (and the damage I choose) over the years. I recently came home from Timberline Knolls Treatment Facility in Chicago for my Eating Disorder, Trauma and Mood Disorder. I’m learning to see myself as capable of more. I’m learning to find first find me knees and then from there, find my feet and run to take actions where I feel called to. I’m finding my own voice and this is me shouting (or typing really) for change.
Are you feeling called to take action? Feeling as over ambitious and undereducated as I am at times? Educate yourself! Sponsor a child, be a mentor through a school or Big Brothers Big Sisters, check out those website links because there’s definitely info on how to get involved in mentoring at risk youth. Find out what YOU think YOU can do for this. If it’s praying, do it! If it’s donating, do it! If it’s talking with your kids openly and honestly, do it! If it’s mentoring, do it! If its getting involved in spreading awareness in your community, do it! If its coming forward as a survivor, do it! If it’s coming forward with information or a referral of suspicion, do it!
Speaking of which:
National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-(888)-3737-888
DCF Hotline: 1-(800)-842-2288
Love146 New Haven: (203) 772-4420
Rape+Sexual Assault: 1-(800)-656-4673
If you are aware of a child who is being victimized you can make a report to the Careline at 1-(800)-842-2288
Alright alright, fresh out of words.
Thank you guys for reading this. Shout out to you if you made it this far. I honestly agree that the more we talk about this, the more stories shared and the more we become aware of what’s going on – it truly will limit the amount of room this industry can hide in.
There is a large demand here in CT for something that we, collectively, have not always been fully aware of. This, as Yvette Young stated, “is a backyard issue“. This crime does not discriminate by class, race, social status, rural, suburbs, age, ect. It thrives off of a lack of awareness in our adults to prepare and protect the naïve minds of our children against predators both on the streets and on our screens.
Thanks for hearing my story, for becoming a little more aware than you were ten pages ago haha and for taking a step towards hope for our kids here in CT.
Evelyn ~ xoxo