Marjorie was sex trafficked for seven years until she finally left her most abusive trafficker after seeing how the relationship was affecting their baby girl. She is now working on her higher education and is the founder of The Well Path, a recovery organization for those who have been sexually exploited. I wrote these poems based on her life, and her story is found below.
“It happens in any neighborhood. Whether you’re out in the middle of nowhere, or whether you’re in the city. And it happens to any socioeconomic class…I grew up in church.”
Backrooms, Bathrooms, Black alleys
It was all for the money
But none of it for me
Thank God, Christ set me free.
You don’t want to be where I have been
Or see what I have seen—
Who knows where I would be if it had not been for him.
I was that woman in the shadows
Putting on shows, shoes spiked,
Red lips white hips bared
Staked to the bar, barring none
Come one come all—
Easily won after the night was done
A few bucks here, a few bucks there
But hardly none in the pockets of my purse
Life like that don’t come easy
Life like that must be trained.
“Put on a smile sweetheart,”
Pain and gain the motto of their game
Me, just a pawn to the master.
I’ve a new master now:
The King of Truth called out their lies
Pray your eyes never see what I have seen
Or be where I have been
I thank God every day for his mercy;
I lived longer than the seven years
Most “girls like me” would see
Under the guise of a willing,
Light streams across my wooden chest.
What is my name today? Rough hands grasp my tangled wires, jerking me upright. I sleep, eat, drink, dance, lifeless, for he pulls my strings. god, why do you do this to me? I always hid my face as he held my body in his hands. But this time I see—it is not God who holds me captive. Time to cut the strings.
I thought I was done
I thought I was saved
I looked in your face and hoped and I prayed:
You were the one, the man of my dreams
But love only lasts for so long.
Plied high with drugs I stayed through it all,
Even when you kicked me—when you watched me
Fall, with your baby in my belly
So still and so small
It wasn’t just the drugs though, that I’ll admit.
I was desperate for love—just a smidgeon of it.
But then the real love of my life entered in
And I realized I couldn’t even begin to express
The change of my outlook on us,
Once that mothering instinct set in
You tried to bind me to you with her birth
But it was through her that I found my true worth
And when you beat me and made her scream and cry
That gave me the courage to break all our ties
You thought to control me–but that wasn’t my fate–
That babe I didn’t want was what set my life straight.
Seasonings of Life
Well, it’s supposed to be seasons
But that seems trite. I was put on boil and left there
I thought, forgotten. But I didn’t know that the richest
Broth takes a long simmer. I didn’t know that while I sat
Cooking, with every fluid of life seeping out around me,
And salt packed into my aching wounds—I didn’t know
That when I was packaged and sold, and later sitting on a shelf,
Labeled, that one day I was to be the seasoning to someone else’s life.
Marjorie grew up in the suburbs of Lake Elsinore, where she had been molested by her step-grandfather, and later by her step-father, since the age of five. She ran away from home at age 15 after being raped by a neighborhood boy on her way home from school.
People who have suffered rape as children are likely to be re-victimized later in life. Over one-third of women who reported being raped under the age of 18 also report a rape as an adult, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Statistics About Sexual Violence.
When Marjorie ran away, she was living (drug free) in drug house with a much older boyfriend in a biker-gang environment. As a runaway teen, she was almost sold to the Mexican cartel by the biker family she lived with and whose child she babysat. When she overheard what the couple was planning, she said she felt paralyzed and the only thing she could do was huddle around her bible and pray that she was not sold. She was curled up like a ball on the floor for hours until the father of the baby decided she was more necessary as a babysitter, so she was not sold.
At 21 Marjorie entered the adult entertainment industry. She was sex trafficked by security guards at a strip club where she worked as a waitress, and later as a dancer. She said the security guards would keep her from giving lap dances unless she did as they asked: performing sexual favors with men the guards had arranged for her to meet with. She rarely received money from those encounters, but instead had to give it to the guards.
From stripping she moved on to the escort service. Many of these escort services can be found online or in magazines and newspapers. After being trafficked through the strip club she felt safer working with a personal driver through an escort service she had found, until she was nearly killed by a sex buyer. She realized that whether she was selling her body for money or being sold by a trafficker, she was never safe, and all her efforts to make money were really an attempt to fill a huge hole in her heart.
“My life leading up to that, the emptiness, and knowing that I could probably never have a real relationship with anybody because of what I was doing, and the values that I grew up with … I just wanted to die.”
Sex trafficking survivors often describe how hollow they felt living a life that repulsed them, but were unable to leave because their trafficker had made them feel like there was no better life for them. Marjorie said it takes upward of 17 attempts to leave the sex industry before a person is actually successful, and the most successful attempt is usually after a person has had a close encounter with death.
After seven years of being trafficked by different people, she finally managed to escape her last and most violent trafficker, the man who raped her and impregnated her as a means of controlling her—as referenced in the poem “Sweet Irony.” Her last trafficker was a “Romeo,” the type of pimp who seduces women to get them into prostitution. He told her he loved her, and made her feel cared for, but once he learned how to exploit her vulnerabilities he became a whole different person.
Marjorie and other survivors have said traffickers usually have a very controlling and possessive personality, and will seek to manipulate every little thing about their victim, from how they dress to how they eat, and will use every tactic imaginable to control their victim and keep them from leaving. This is what inspired the poem, “The Puppeteer.”
Force, fraud and coercion are the main three tactics used by traffickers, according to Dr. Jamie Gates, a sociology professor from Point Loma Nazarene University. Gates co-authored the 2016 study on sex trafficking in San Diego, “Measuring the Nature and Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego” (and he is not the same Jamie mentioned later in this series).
“The Puppeteer” follows the style of poet Karla Cordero in her poem, “The Killing Jar: A true account on grasshopper studies.” It is a prose poem that uses extended metaphor and imagery to describe injustices toward minorities, or in this case, sex trafficking.
Marjorie said her ex- “boyfriend” would often drug or beat her to get her to do as he asked, and whenever she tried to escape him he threatened to hurt her family. He got her pregnant so he would always have a hold on her life, and even while she was pregnant he would beat and drug her. When she realized she was pregnant, she said she contemplated an abortion and suicide, but her decision to keep the child was what ultimately saved her life.
About a year after her baby girl was born, when she saw how her beatings were affecting her child, she knew she had to get away. Marjorie promised her daughter she would never let anyone hurt her the way she was hurt, and that promise gave her the strength to leave her trafficker once and for all. She was able to make peace with her past through her relationship with God and various church organizations.
“Back Rooms, Bathrooms and Black Alleys” is a mimic poem of Thomas Lux’s poem, “The People of the Other Village.” The title of the poem flows into the body, and ends with a little-known statistic. In this case, it is that most women in the life of prostitution have a life expectancy of seven years due to either drugs, disease, assault, or suicide. Marjorie said that if a prostitute is under 18-years-old, his or her life expectancy drops down to only two years.
Prostitutes are also the primary targets of serial killers and other psychopaths because in our society they are the least to be cared about if they go missing.
Marjorie is now a victim advocate for other sex trafficking survivors, and works with anti-trafficking organizations and police around San Diego County as a sex trafficking subject matter expert, to help people recognize trafficking and help prosecute traffickers. She is currently working on degrees in psychology and criminal justice.
Marjorie said it is a huge step forward that she is now working with police, rather than being targeted and arrested by them. Today, many officers now realize that prostitutes and people in the sex industry rarely choose those occupations of their own freewill.
Marjorie continues to tell her story at anti-trafficking events to reporters and anyone willing to help stop sex trafficking. She hopes to reach the broken-hearted and give them hope, even at the expense of her own mental anguish at having to relive the experience every time she shares her story. But she said if she can help the life of even one woman, it is worth it. This was what inspired the last poem, “Seasonings of Life.”
For more information, I made this video featuring Marjorie and other experts in the field of sex trafficking: JMSReports.org.