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Escaping the Sex Trafficking Industry

A Q+A with a former sex worker, who weaves her own painful story of being lured into "the life," with the stories of the girls and women that she now helps.

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I think there's always the possibility of redemption. Even in New York City, we've seen some major improvements from the way the system was 20 years ago. There's still a lot to do—we know that training workers and parents, reducing caseload size, developing therapeutic foster care, strengthening kinship care, and putting more emphasis into preventive care are all solutions. 

Unfortunately, if a child is in a situation where removal from the home becomes neccessary, there's already been trauma. Putting a traumatized child into a 'system,’ not a home, with strangers is creating a perfect storm for further trauma.     

As a teenage girl, you jumped at the chance to model because, as you write, you would do “anything that will make me feel less invisible.” It occurred to me that so much of your current work is about really and truly seeing the girls that you help. When was the first time, in your journey, that you felt really and truly seen?

That's a really hard question. Probably the time I write about in the book at the conference in Canada [at which Lloyd spoke publicly to other survivors]. I was honest and open with people about my experiences, and because they were survivors, they heard me and saw me and, best of all, accepted me. 

While your story is similar to other victims of exploitation and trafficking in some regards, you were an anomaly in that you had a loving mother for the early years of your life. You write, “those formative years helped lay a foundation and a memory of nurturing that would be instrumental in my own recovery process.” It seems like you’re suggesting that learning to be nurtured is a bit like riding a bike, where you can “jump back on” later if you’ve had the experience in the past, even if it was long ago. Is this right?

I don’t know that you always can get back to that, but it's incredibly hard to develop it later in life if you missed out totally. The studies of feral children show us that without even a little nurturing and love very early in life, there are certain developmental milestones that are totally missed. I'm very lucky to have had the early experiences that I had. 

You write about the infuriating glorification of “the pimp” in our culture, adding that, though the typical image that Americans have in their minds is that of an African American man, it is actually far afield of the reality of who profits off of sex exploitation. Can you set us straight? Who is buying and selling girls and women in America?

Men are buying them. Every age, race, socio-economic background of men are 'johns.’ It's a little more complicated who's doing the selling. The truth is that the average street pimp selling American girls is often a man of color, however, Mexican pimps are selling Mexican girls, Russian men are selling Russian girls etc. Those who profit off the sex industry overall are not the ones who are standing out on the street. They're the owners of massage parlors, escort agencies, strip clubs, and brothels. 

What internal and external factors allowed you to finally leave your exploiter/abuser?

Its a long, involved story but the short version is that it happened in stages and that there was definitely a higher power at work in orchestrating events. He had to leave the country at one point and that gave me a window of freedom that I wouldn't have otherwise had. At the same time, I started going to church and something happened inside me, a conversion experience, that made me want something better for my life and believe that it was actually possible.   

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