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.
Laurie was around 9 or 10 years old when she started working as a sex worker in Minneapolis.
My childhood, I kind of felt like I didn’t matter. Um, when my brother molested me from the age of three ‘til five, and after I told my mom, my mom kind of went into a deep depression and my older brother tried his best to take care of me but when I was nine years old he went off to college and couldn’t take me with him. And so that’s kind of where I was left to fend for myself and figure out a way to survive. And my best friend’s older sister was in the life and it kind of seemed like it was normal, like it was the normal thing to do and so I went along with it. I was about nine or ten, in Minneapolis. I worked for my friend’s sister, she’s the one who initially showed me how to be in the life and she’s the one who introduced me into knowing how to be in the life.
[Interviewer: Do you remember your first trick?]
I do. I remember there being three men in the room and, um, I remember all three of them raped me which I didn’t think of it- I didn’t look at it like that then, I do now, but I didn’t look at it like that then. Um, what do I mean by that, um, like, I just, I looked at it as a way to make the money to be able to survive. I didn’t think of it as being raped at that time, I didn’t think about it like that.
I was on the street. South Minneapolis. Lake Street, Bloomington, Chicago, Franklin. She was out there walking with me most days. She was there to collect the money.
[Interviewer: Were there other girls your age out there?]
I don’t think they were my age. They didn’t appear to be my age. It felt like there was kind of no options, there was no place for me for me to go, what else was I gonna do? And I went to school sometimes, I didn’t go to school as much as every- as other 9, 10, 11 years olds, I didn’t go to school as much as them, but I went to school periodically.
[Interviewer: Did anyone ever bring up child protection?]
They did, um, a couple of times teachers would ask questions and of course I would make something up like they came- because as far as they knew I was still living in a house with my mother, so a couple of times they came to our house but when they came to our house, I knew that if they came to our house and everything didn’t look like it was ok, that they would take me away and then where was I gon’ be? I already felt alone in the world, now I’m really be alone in the world.
[Interviewer: Did you have sisters or brothers?]
I had those two brothers, but they are 7 and 9 years older than me.
[Interviewer: What were some of the survival strategies you had to use as a 10-year-old girl on the streets?]
Um, well I was using a lot of drugs um… I just kept telling myself that it’ll get better at some point, when it will get better I don’t know, but at some point it’ll get better.
[Interviewer: Did you have another pimp after the sister?]
I did. When I was… I’d have been probably 12, I met, um, I met a man and I want- I of course being 12 years old wanted someone to rescue me which is what, which is what it seemed like he was going to do, he said he was going to help me, which is not what happened, but being 12 years old I wanted to be rescued. And so I ended up moving in with this man and continued, of course I was continuing in the life because that’s how I met this man, being in the life. He sent me out. He would sit in the- he would sit in his car while I went and got in several different cars.
Um, what had the biggest impact on me? Um, feeling like I didn’t have a choice. Feeling like this was what my life was meant for, like this is all I’m ever going to be able to do. And what would I like to tell others… That there are other options. That there are other choices. That they’re not alone. That other people have gone through what they’re going through.
Narrative and image provided by FSPA