There are an estimated 403,000 people living in modern slavery in the United States (GSI 2018). Sex trafficking exists throughout the country. 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.
Anne was 14 when she ran away from home. Whilst homeless in Minneapolis, a man took her in with the promise of food and clothing. He encouraged her to work as a sex worker and took her earnings. Anne worked for twenty years as a sex worker, facing constant abuse and threats from her pimps.
I had a really good childhood, um, my father was a good provider, we lived in a good neighbourhood, um, we were very protected so that made me more naïve to- I didn’t know what was really going on outside of, you know, my family or whatever. I had a good family life though, I mean we were provided everything we needed, and there was love in the house and I just didn’t… My mother and my father, my dad worked a full time job and an extra job, my mom worked with him and when she wasn’t working with him she was taking care of the family. I had a younger brother that lived in the house with me, the other three kids were already grown so it was just me and my little brother. We were like the second family for my parents so they got to do it a little better than they did the first time. I lived in Minnesota, we lived in Minnetonka, Minnesota and then we moved to St Louis Park when I was in the fourth grade. All I remember- one thing I remember about my childhood is, maybe because they were so protective and so, um, kept us from knowing stuff, that I always felt like I wanted to be free, you know what I’m saying? Like free from that but it was good that we were protected you know and everything and so my childhood was real good and then once my sister was murdered that was the beginning of me finding out about the world. Even though we weren’t told all the details about her murder, we were young still and protected, but it started me and my angry- being angry and not wanting to be at home and I started running away from home and skipping school and going downtown and meet other kids that were- you know it wasn’t, it was just hanging out downtown, I got fascinated with downtown I guess and started running away from home.
I was fourteen [when her sister was murdered]. Yeah fourteen and we got a phone call that she got shot in her head and something happened to me after that, I just turned and I was so enraged and I never dealt with the pain, I never dealt with the sadness and I didn’t realise that my parents and everybody else was hurting because my hurt was so bad, you know. She was 24, she was living in Las Vegas, Nevada and found out years later after being “protected” from the truth that both my sisters were in the life. She was in the life when she was murdered in Las Vegas. I didn’t know that at the time, I just knew that somebody had killed my sister and I was enraged, you know, and it started me running away from home, skipping school and then I can remember kids like, ‘That wasn’t true, your sister was”- you know what I’m saying? And making- that made it worse, I really didn’t want to be around after that you know. And then to watch my mother go from- my mother was like this wholesome woman who sewed and cooked and after my sister died she just turned like a vegetable just sitting in the chair all the time and there was no making her happy, or- was just turned from this happy where there was love and family and all this to just, yeah, just really messed up the whole family.
What happened was, I had been on the run for a long time and I was hungry. I was homeless for 8 months on the streets and I met this pimp (I didn’t know he was a pimp) but he offered me food and clothing and he was so nice to me and bought me- took me to Montgomery Wards in St Paul and bought me new clothes. And by me being so naïve and everything I just thought ‘Oh he’s such a knight, my prince charming’ or whatever but I remember hearing him and the other guys in the bathroom and I could hear him saying like he’s sending me to work and there was so much betrayal with him because the woman he sent me to work with was really his “woman” but he said it was his sister and he ended up being very, very violent and well, to make a long- by the time I was 17 I’d been trafficked in about 10 or 15 states and I considered myself a vet. I finally got away from that pimp but then I recall other issues like where one pimp would say, ‘You’ve got to go to work’ and then you go and the pimp said, ‘well your man sold me to you’ so there was so much manipulation and game being ran on me and I didn’t know. And I can remember being on the Nicollet Mall in a phone booth, it was a blizzard, I’d been homeless a long time and I was made a ward of the state so they considered me incorrigible was the word they used and so I couldn’t – I guess I’m moving from my childhood – but it’s like once I got in it was like there was- I couldn’t go back home ‘cos I was a ward of the state, I didn’t trust the police ‘cos they had beat me up on several occasions and it wasn’t like there was any jobs out there that were gonna- you know, so. And the pimps didn’t care so I was really alone you know and everywhere I did try to trust somebody it would be betrayal and lost clothing and people want to fight you, steal from you, I mean it was just not a good, not a good life. And then when I was about 17, like I said, I considered myself a vet and I decided that (well back in the day they used to call it renegade) that I would go renegade and that means no pimp. So I thought like, ‘Oh I’m free from the pimps’ but in reality, I just figured this out a couple of weeks ago, I was making myself target to any pimp out there which made it even worse for me so, you know, I just didn’t think there was any way out. And I started, at 17 years old I started using heroin. I was a full fledged heroin addict at 17 years old. And I just worked and made my money and got out of people’s way and you know. But there was so much game and trickery played on me by me, you know, they just tossed me around from pimp to pimp to be honest with you like it was lost in a card game.
I never went to Memphis. I went to Omaha Nebraska, Iowa, um, the furthest south I went was Oklahoma City, but a lot of it was in Omaha. Um, and then Wisconsin, I mean I was trafficked- I never really went to New York, Memphis, none of those places. They also worked us at the truck stops from here to Chicago, Rays truck stop they worked us at and that was if you didn’t make your money you had to go out there. Yeah and if you didn’t make your money you had to go out there to try to get more money, like if you didn’t make your quota for the day or whatever and like the kind of pimps I was around they were like, ‘If you don’t make no money you can’t eat.’ And then you make all this money for them, and then they give you 5 dollars ‘Go get something to eat’. But I was under their, their demand- you know what I’m saying, under them so much that I would have thousands of dollars in my pocket but only spend that five dollars because that’s all we were allowed to spend. You’d get beat badly [if you didn’t]. Sometimes you’d get beat even if you bring ‘em the money. One time that I remember (I wanted to have this on here) that I was in Omaha Nebraska and the guy that I was with had warrants so nobody knew who I was with so I was considered renegade in their town and they say if they unscrew the lightbulbs, like when you’re coming in at night, if they unscrew the lightbulbs that means they’re about to rob you or whatever, so the guy gave me a knife and told me if the lightbulb just start swinging or whatever so I remember this very clearly that I felt the hotness on me and I screamed and I did cut- I ended up cutting somebody but I remember this so clearly, I was in the hotel room, there’s blood all over the money and I looked like Carrie from the movie, just blood everywhere, and I remember being in the shower for hours just begging God to get me out of this life, you know, and apologising and I felt so much shame for the life you know. I believed I chose that life, and that’s not- when I set out to, when I left my parent’s house is was not my intention to become a prostitute, I just was a runaway you know and got caught up. So, yeah, scared. And everybody I trusted turned out to be somebody you can’t trust so by me being so naïve to start it was just one betrayal after the next that had me to where I didn’t trust anybody. I mean like I said by the time I was 17 I didn’t trust anybody.
At first I just did what I was told to do when I was under the pimp, you know, to keep myself from getting beat or to keep myself from being abused and like if they said go to work, if they say work two days straight no break okay and I did. I remember walking University ‘til my feet bled and he didn’t even care that my feet were bleeding. But once I went renegade and got away from the pimps, my defence was crazy, I played crazy. I learned in the streets, if you play crazy people don’t bother you. So I played crazy and I just got in, got my money, and got out and then just tried to stay out of their way, you know. And at one point even I thought, ‘Oh I’m so out of the life that I’ll make the pimps my customer’ and I started boosting. So I found out the pimps like leather coats and the things they’d like I started to turn them to my customer, and then I would make, even make- I never made it to New York but I was thinking ‘Oh I’ll have nothing to do with that’, but I was providing the suitcases full of clothes and make up and everything a girl needs to go, they called it a whole case, and they’d buy them from me and so I was still in the life but not thinking I was in the life. I was still providing, you know, I was still part of the life but thinking I was out, type of thing.
It’s drugs, it’s abuse, lots of abuse. Whatever you have to do to survive. And in my case I had, um, they said I had a big mouth and I was incorrigible and they said at one point I wasn’t even pimpable, whatever they call it, because I didn’t have any respect for them anymore. And I remember this one pimp very clearly that they tricked me to this party and he put me on a wood block and [..] my mouth, you know like they used to sell slaves back in the day and I remember the man that bought me, he was like, ‘Well I paid £250 for you, you better make some money’ and I remember spitting blood at him and just telling him I wouldn’t make him a dime and he might as well, you know, and he said he was going to throw me in the river and I was like, well do what you got to do, you know I was sacred, but he never threw me in the river thank God. I was just like, ‘Throw me in the river then, I don’t care, what else can you do to me’, I was raped everyday, I was beat everyday, I was sexually, verbally- I was abused every way you can be every- on a regular everyday. I wasn’t safe in the streets ‘cos the police started abusing me too, I mean I was abused be police unrecognisable, so where did I, who did I have to turn to? You know? You couldn’t trust anybody.
They’d [Anne’s pimps] drag you- they’d tie you to the car and drag you down the street. They’d put you in the trunk of the car. They’d beat you and won’t let you heal your wounds. I had a gun in my mouth, I’ve been pistol whipped, I’ve been hit with tyre irons, baseball bats, whatever they could… burned with cigarettes because I wouldn’t give up my money at one point, the guy just sat and continually burned my leg with the cigarette and then this one guy I met I thought ‘Oh he’s a nice guy, he’s not a pimp or whatever’, I woke up to him slapping me continuously, and saying that was going to make me strong, but I was already, you know, strong, but I mean it just got to be to where abuse was normal. Any kind of abuse. It wasn’t nothing to be called a bitch or a hoe or- I’d be in public places and someone would say ‘Hey bitch’ and I’d say ‘Huh?’, like I’d answer to bitch and hoe and like, ‘I’m a hoe’ it was something you know. I was a hoe, that’s what I felt, but inside, like out in the streets and around people I had to have this- I had to carry myself in a way so people wouldn’t mess with me, I had to be hard, I had to be strong. But when I closed them doors and be in the hotel rooms by myself and felt different. I felt shame and hurt and just scared, I didn’t know where to turn, you know, I didn’t know how to get out.
I finally got out at 35. So 14 to 35. And even when I got out, mentally I was still in, you know what I mean? I was out physically but in my mind I still lived like it had to be in packet and I would never look a man in the face, men would speak to me and I’d look to the ground immediately and, um, just really stayed to myself so afraid that I might do something that would trigger them to abuse me or whatever. You can’t look at a guy, I mean I had this one pimp that kept me um, this was when I was in my twenties, he kept me in a different room, like when he’d have people come to the house I wasn’t allowed in the same room because men would try to talk to me. And I kind of chose that too, just ‘can I just go in my room? I don’t want to be bothered’ because they’d come into your house and like, they’d look at you and I’m in my own house. Why don’t you have these people leave my house instead of me feeling like a prisoner in my house, and I don’t know, just the thinking of it my daughter used to tell me I had slave mentality and I never knew what she meant by that until I started to realise like, I didn’t have any confidence in myself, I couldn’t hold my head up, intimacy was no way with men. I tried to be intimate with different men and they’d be like, ‘Well that’s not what your face was-‘ my face was like ‘Get it over with, you’re hurting me’ you know. And so like, when I was in my fif- when I was 55 years old and my friend said, ‘You need to go to Breaking Free’ and that’s when I came here. And it wasn’t until I started the classes here and being a part of this that I realised how mentally I was still trapped, you know. So a lot of people say, ‘I’m out of the game now, I’m out of the life’ but mentally there are so many women still trapped and they don’t even know it, you know.
That’s how I used to feel: that I wasn’t worth anything. That I was just a waste of time even though I’d raised two beautiful children and grandchildren and I still felt like nothing I just felt empty and alone and it was really until I got completely alone in this place and then coming to Breaking Free when I found out all this stuff about myself so. I actually love myself now and I’m free now so that’s what’s important now, but I want my story to be told because I don’t want my past to become someone else’s future. You know, I don’t want nobody to have to go through what I went through its awful, I don’t wish it on my worst enemy. And I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me either it’s just the life I got myself trapped in, you know, it wasn’t my choice. I want that to be known. I didn’t choose to be a prostitute, I didn’t choose to be abused, I didn’t- if I’d had my choice I would have picked a whole different life for myself so.
[Interviewer: Any advice for 14-year-old girls who might be in a similar situation?]
You should teach them to love themselves, to hold their heads up and be proud of who they are and know their worth. And another thing, you should let them know what’s really going on in the world, to overprotect a child isn’t good, I mean, if I’d have known- I didn’t know there was pimps, I didn’t even know what a pimp was, I mean, if they know about it, like they need to know that there might be somebody online trying to pull you and sex traffic you and we need to teach our girls to not be victims and not go for it, you know. By knowing there is people out there that want to hurt you instead of over protecting them and they don’t know what’s out there. You need to be aware and we need to teach our young girls to love themselves. You know I didn’t- I thought I loved myself, you know what I’m saying, but there was some reason why, that I allowed it to, you know, but it’s not a choice, it’s definitely not a choice and its slavery by every means. I feel like in reality I was enslaved for those years and after so…
Narrative and image provided by FSPA