What Does Sex Trafficking Really Look Like? A Survivor’s Perspective.

I was listening to Cyntoia Brown speak about her experiences as a teenage sex trafficking victim, and she explained how she did not realize she was a victim at first. In fact, it took her years before she understood she was taken advantage of and harmed by adults. This may fly in the face of what many assume sex trafficking looks like. Yes, sometimes children and teens are kidnapped and endure abuse while physically restrained against their will. But more often, it is a psychological bondage and the threat of violence that keeps girls out there.

It is confusing to be given things you need, like food and clothes, and to be told that you are being cared for by men who then exploit you. I had more than one “john” tell me that I was beautiful, and seemed like a nice girl, and they hope I get clean. Yet, they were happy to take advantage of my addiction and circumstances. One man chastised me about my behavior, saying he had a daughter my age, right before he raped me. I was 16.

A picture of me from this time as a teen

Cyntoia thought the man who was pimping her out was her boyfriend. She took responsibility for what she believed to be her free choice to engage in “sex work”. Adults manipulate young minds for their own gain. I thought I was very mature for my age, and that was why adults were interested in me. I thought I could handle myself, and so I blamed myself whenever things went badly and I got hurt. I was too young to realize the vast difference in maturity between myself as a teenager, and the men who abused me. I believed I was at fault.

Now I am 31 years old, and a mother. I see clearly how easy it is to gain control over vulnerable youth. I realize how normal adults would never seek sexual relationships with young teens. It wasn’t possible for me to know this as a teen, because I lacked the perspective that only age can give. I know how I treat teens, and cannot fathom taking advantage of a young person. I blamed myself for making poor choices, but the adults who decided to use me are responsible for their abuse. I would try to help a teen who is addicted, on the street, mentally ill, etc. That is what good people do. \

It may surprise people to hear that the vast majority of the men who sexually exploited me by paying me for sex, were otherwise average guys. Blue collar workers on their break, patrolling the streets for underage girls. White collar workers who pay for sex before going out with their family on sunday afternoons. By and large, middle and upper middle class men who have no problem driving into destitute neighborhoods to find desperate girls and women. I have seen businessmen, doctors, lawyers, construction workers, and even police officers. They go from abusing us, back to their workplace, their homes, their communities. They don’t wear signs declaring they are abusers of girls and women. They blend right in. This is one reason why I keep my kids close.

I have very deep concerns about the increasing pornification of our culture, and this push to declare “sex work” to be “just like any other job”. We can address the issues surrounding the legality of prostitution without gaslighting girls into thinking it’s “just a job”. We all know it isn’t. We need to protect the youth who are struggling, and we need to call out and hold accountable the men who exploit them. I am adding my voice because I care about those girls, and I care about the women who carry the scars from this life. Every day I feel more and more free, but it took a lot to break away from that life.


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