It took me over 40 years to break my silence, and now that I have found my voice, I want to continue to tell my story.
I was abused by family members when I was just a young girl. After the abuse, I tried to tell my mother in a hand-written note, but she chose not to believe me, and I got no help, validation or therapy for the effects of the abuse. I eventually stopped even trying to tell my mother. I felt like nothing I did mattered, I didn’t want to go to school or talk to my friends. I fell into a deep depression.
I decided to run away from home to escape from the pain I was feeling every day, and I continued to run away from home dozens and dozens of times between the ages of 12 and 14. Sometimes the police would find me and bring me home, or they would take me to detention centers and reform schools and hospitals. The abuse I had suffered in my home was still never addressed. Because I never received any treatment, I was a walking target for predators, pimps and traffickers, who in my opinion have uncanny radar they use to seek out damaged children, who they force into trafficking.
One time after I ran away, a couple found me hungry, cold and in need of shelter on the streets of Washington, D.C. They picked me up and groomed me for prostitution. I was 14. After months of being trafficked by them in Washington D.C., they sold me to another trafficker who whisked me away to New York.
I stayed with the trafficker who bought me in D.C. over 7 years, selling my body for him on the streets of New York City. I tried to leave him a few times, once even making my way all the way back to Virginia, but I never succeeded. He always came after me and brought me back to New York.
In the beginning, my naiveté and lack of self-esteem from the abuse I had suffered made it easy for me to believe he was my protector. Later when I began to see what he really was — a predator and pimp — he controlled me with severe beatings and death threats. He beat me with coat hangers, tried to throw me out of his car, and threw me down several flights of stairs. I was terrified of what he might do to me and saw no escape.
During the time I spent on the streets being trafficked, I went to jail numerous times, I was raped, robbed and at deaths door more times than I can count. Although I was the victim, I had a criminal record. The pimp who was trafficking me was never arrested. The police would come through the streets and round up dozens of women and girls (never the pimps and traffickers) and take us all down to the station, I was arrested several times, and the police never questioned my identity or my age.
Between the ages of 14 through 17, I spiraled downward into drug addiction and was no longer a commodity to my trafficker, who eventually released me. I was on my own in New York and addicted to heroin. At age 20, I met a drug counselor at a clinic who reunited me with my family in nearby Philadelphia, Pa., where my older sister had been living for several years.
In 1979, I reunited with family members at Christmas time, and I never went back to New York. I was able to get off of drugs and go back to school. Because I ran away from home at such a young age, I never finished the sixth grade. So I had to get my G.E.D. After I got my high school diploma, I went on to college and got a degree in early childhood development. I was married and found out I was infertile because of all the abuse and trauma my young body had been through. After visiting an infertility specialist I was able to conceive and had a beautiful baby girl who is now 23 years old.
Through all the years of recovery, I never told anyone about my past. I kept it all inside, never letting the horror and shame of those years out. No one knew what I had been through — not my husband or my daughter. I carried my trauma with me and it took a toll on my body through the years. I developed uterine cancer in 2006 and had a complete hysterectomy and radiation treatments.
I will never forget the night all of the horror and trauma of my past came rushing back to me. It was the night my daughter ran away from home when she was 15 years old. I thought of what could happen to her on the streets if I did not find her, and I searched and was able to find her several hours later at a friend’s house.
That night after I brought her home and she went to sleep, I tied a string from her doorknob to my hand so I would wake up if she tried to leave. And I decided that I had to tell her about my past no matter how hard it was for me. And I told her about everything I had been through when I was her age a few weeks after bringing her home. She never ran away again. She is 23 years old now, and I have a grandson who just turned 6 years old.
Lately, I have felt the contentment and strength of finally getting to know who I am — I am a strong woman who does not need to be ashamed of my past. I am a survivor who is alive today because of my strengths and vulnerabilities. I believe my inner soul remained untouched despite what I went through for so many years. I also believe I am alive today because someone watched over me during all those nights I was out on the streets. Call it what you will. I call it God.
I have had different reactions since I began speaking out and telling my story. Some have told me I am brave and that telling my story was a selfless act and helps people. Others have asked why I would break my silence after so many years. I believe I am alive today so I can tell my story of survival, and I believe overcame adversity to help inspire other people who are struggling with some of the same things I did. If I can help even one of those people, then I did what I was meant to do.