Sex trafficking is a form of modern slavery that exists throughout the United States. Traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. The situations that sex trafficking victims face vary, many victims become romantically involved with someone who then forces them into prostitution. Others are lured with false promises of a job, and some are forced to sell sex by members of their own families. Victims of sex trafficking include both foreign nationals and US citizens, with women making up the majority of those trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. In 2015, the most reported venues/industries for sex trafficking included commercial-front brothels, hotel/motel-based trafficking, online advertisements with unknown locations, residential brothels, and street-based sex trafficking.
When Tonya was 13, she met Eddie at the apartment she was living in with her mother in the Dallas, Texas, area. His estranged wife was the property manager. Tonya was classmates with Eddie’s stepdaughter, so the two would often see each other at the apartment and in the local grocery store. It was there that the two first exchanged numbers. Things began to change one night when Tonya ran into Eddie at a bar. The two reconnected, the flirting picked up where it left off and Tonya went home with Eddie that night. Tonya was a runaway at the time, so she eventually moved in with Eddie and the two began a relationship. It was a “normal” arrangement at first. Tonya would cook, clean and look after Eddie’s kids from time to time. However, it was when the two were at a party filled with alcohol and drugs that the relationship took a turn. After nearly 30 more minutes of constant pressure, Tonya agreed to have sex with the man. What she thought would be a one-time thing became an everyday routine for the next few weeks. Night after night and bar after bar, Tonya would go out with Eddie while he advertised her to potential “suitors.” Tonya thought she loved him. She felt she could deal with the physical toll the trafficking took on her body. It turned out that the hardest part to deal with was the emotional and psychological effects.
At first it was just supposed to be like, oh this is what we were doing to make money because he wasn’t making enough money to pay for his child support and everything. And after he started to like make me do it every night and stuff, I started to realise but… in my head I just, I’d drink, I’d do whatever drugs he had just to like, clear my mind so I wouldn’t think about it. Because at the time I felt like he was perfect to me, you know he was there and he’d tell me like hey you know, you’re mom doesn’t love you, no one loves you. Because they’re not looking for you and they don’t care why you sleep and like you live with me, and I take care of you what are you gonna do without me? ‘Cause you can’t get an apartment on your own, you can’t get a hotel. It was basically like I needed him and like I said, I felt that I loved him.
Physically I didn’t feel anything. But emotionally it took a toll on me, like I didn’t feel… I didn’t feel like I was a person. I felt really bad. There was nights I couldn’t sleep, there were time I thought about killing myself. I just thought about like the type of person I was, what people would think about me if they knew what I was doing, what my mom would say. Just stuff like that.
My initial feeling after it was over was sort of a relief but it was very painful. I felt a lot of pain, I didn’t know who to trust and I was just waiting for him to come back. I was thinking in my head like he’s gonna come back you know nothing’s gonna happen and then after like we got to the place and they started to interview me it’s like, I felt like I had to just let it all out. Like you just have to vent to someone and just tell them everything.
I feel like people think that they deserve it because you fall in love with someone and they make you feel that way. They make you feel less of a woman, less of a person, less of a… just less of everything when you’ve done so much that you know is un-Godly and you keep hearing those words repeated in your head. ‘You’re not nothing, no one will love you like I love you’ you start to believe it, and you start to become that person and they take control over you. So you feel like you deserve it because they tell you. And I know for me, I felt like that because like I said I wasn’t around my mom, I wasn’t around my family and I didn’t grow up in a home where this would be something that’s acceptable. When I first went home you know, I heard people talking under their breath saying ‘prostitute’ and calling me dirty and you know, that just, it makes it all so real that it was your fault. My family didn’t see it as oh she’s a victim, people see it like that. And so you really start to believe it, that it was your fault.
I think to prevent trafficking the main thing law enforcement can do is just be aware of the signs of when they see it to help girls before they get to the point where they feel like, he’s everything to them. Because I know if someone would have talked to me before, when he first started to make me do it, when I thought it was wrong. It would have prevented a lot. It would’ve helped if someone would’ve noticed the signs. A lot of cops they’ll treat you like you’re just a prostitute, they don’t talk to you like you’re a person, they don’t realise you’re a victim. And if law enforcement, they take it into consideration that you are a person that no matter what, how many men you’ve slept with or what you’re out here doing. That there’s a reason, you know, and that you… it’s not what you chose.
Courtesy of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement