Ever since sharing my experience of meeting Jesus, I’ve been asking God, “What next?”
Every time, I would receive a little reminder of my poetry project on sex trafficking survivors. Again, I was reluctant to share this because I had big plans about turning the series into a book once I’ve interviewed more women.
However, our plans do not always mesh with God’s, and I’ve realized it is more vital that the stories of these women be shared rather than hoarded away for my personal plans.
With that said, I’ll be sharing the stories of the women I met in three separate posts. But first I’d like to share a little bit about my project and how it came about.
The coming poems and stories are inspired from interviews I have conducted with real women. Some of these women have experienced domestic abuse, sexual assault, child molestation, drug addiction, and mental health disorders. Most have experienced all of those things. But they all have one thing in common: they are sex trafficking survivors.
Through my work, I hope to show that these situations can happen to anyone, at any time in life, regardless of age, race, or social status—yet there is hope of escape, and the poems are inspired by the stories of those who did.
I was inspired to write about sex trafficking survivors after interviewing women for articles as a news intern with KPBS, and for my capstone journalism project in 2016. My project focused on “The Ugly Truth” campaign, run by the San Diego District Attorney’s Office in collaboration with various anti-trafficking organizations, to spread awareness of sex trafficking in San Diego. I found the women I’ve spoken with for this project by contacting anti-trafficking resources, such as Generate Hope and Survivors for Solutions, and the people there helped set me up with interviews. All the stories I heard really touched me, and also helped me see that I could have been one of them, since the situations they described happen all the time, and it even happened to me.
When I was 18, I was into theater and acting. I would scour the internet all the time, including Craigslist, looking for acting, dancing and photoshoot opportunities. One day, I agreed to meet with a man for a photoshoot, and we were set to meet in a McDonald’s parking lot. When I got there and saw him, however, my heart started pounding and every alarm in my body went off. He hadn’t seen me yet, so I stuck my car in reverse in an attempt to high-tail it away. I do not know what set off my alarm bells because he was a young and relatively good looking man, but I just knew I had to get out of there.
Unfortunately, my car slammed into a pickup truck that was passing by me at that moment, and not only did I damage both our vehicles, but I drew the attention of the man I was trying to avoid. He came over as I was exchanging insurance information with the poor old man I had hit, and after introducing himself, within a minute or so he started acting very intimidating toward the older man, as if he had some kind of protector-rights over me. At that point, I told him the truth: that I was trying to avoid him, I didn’t need his assistance, and he could just leave. He became upset, tried telling me that he was a real photographer and pointing out his Gucci bag as if it meant something to me. After I finally left the scene, he continued texting my phone for at least an hour, trying to make me feel guilty for judging someone I did not know, but I ignored him and nothing happened. When I look back on it now though, I see how this experience mirrors the ones related by the women I’ve spoken with, and I see how differently things could have gone for me.
Prior to this, and in a completely separate incident, I had also been propositioned on Facebook to become a female escort. I had no idea what being an escort entailed, and the girl who first messaged me said it was a fun way to travel around the country and meet new people, plus it paid really well. When I conveyed a slight interest, I was immediately messaged by an older, very good looking man who proceeded to try and convince me it was a good idea. At that young age and with the way it was glamorized, I might have bought into the scheme.
Fortunately, I happened to click the profile of the girl who had messaged me, and saw all her profile pictures were scantily clad and extremely provocative. That was enough to deter me.
My final reason is because I have seen a victim of sex trafficking on the streets of San Diego, but failed to recognize it for what it was. The face of that young girl still haunts me. You can read about it in a previous post.
I write this collection as a tribute to the women who have survived sexual exploitation. To the women who are still trapped, but want to escape. To the children we see every day, but never suspect are being abused. And to the people everywhere who want to do something to stop the sexual abuse.
At the heart of the sex industry is a lesson on class division: those who can afford to pay for sexual encounters, and those who feel they cannot afford to not take the money.
To the people who think being in the sex industry should be a right, I ask who really benefits? The men, women and children who are often taught at an early age that their bodies are merely a means of income to get what they want, or the abusers, “Johns,” and pimps who taught them that? It saddens me that much of the U.S. legislation to “support the rights” of sex workers is really a disguise to enable Johns to buy, and pimps to sell. Just ask any of the survivors protesting organizations like Amnesty International, who fight to support sex workers. Sex trafficking survivors and are forced to vote on the issue alongside their previous pimps and Johns, all the while the pamphlets they created to voice their side are silently collected and tossed in the trash.
When the victims are constantly silenced, and only those with money allowed to speak, how can things change?
Thankfully in California there are new laws being pushed to prosecute sex buyers, but not the prostitutes, since law enforcement has realized many of the prostitutes only choose that profession after years of sexual exploitation. However, many other states are still prosecuting prostitutes and letting the Johns go with a slap on the wrist. If we really want to make change, we need to understand where these women are coming from, and help them feel loved again.
For those who want to escape, there is a way. Each woman I spoke with shared the miracle of her life freely, as you will soon read. My hope is that you will learn something that can lead you or someone you know out of his or her net of despair. At the least, I hope to change our judgements and misconceptions about prostitution, pornography, strippers and escorts. What we see is not even half the story, and there is a whole lot of hurt and abuse hidden behind the scenes.
I would like to say a very special thank you to Marjorie, Jamie and Susan for your willingness to open up to me and this project. A final word of thanks to Professor Claire Colquitt and my peers in San Diego State’s English Honors thesis class of 2017 for your encouragement, critiques, and suggestions.