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.
Ms R moved to the United States from Somalia with her mother and siblings when she was 12 years old. She became involved in sex work at the age of 13 in order to help her mother.
I was born in Somalia and I did not grow up with my dad, I grew up with my Mom and siblings, three siblings and just watched my mom work 9 to 5 jobs everyday and come back home basically with no money left after she paid bills and nothing on the table, no food.
We lived in a camp. It was scary. In the middle of the night we’d hear women yelling, screaming, getting raped and in the middle of the night a lot of women just walking around trying to feed their kids and they sell themselves just to feed their kids. They had their own little spot [in the camp]. It was not mostly known, but they had their own little location. If they did not do it they would get hungry, the kids would be hungry, the kids would be crying, um, and sometimes the men, if they feel like they didn’t like what the woman is doing, they would abuse her and go and marry a younger woman and have the young woman go do prostitution and sell themselves.
When I came to America I was maybe 12. My mom, when she would work 9 to 5, it usually starts in the Somali community with a family member, so my uncle raped me and from that point I just couldn’t tell my mom, I couldn’t talk to my mom about it and I didn’t have no support so I go to the streets for support. I was thirteen.
I ran into a group of girls that were trafficking and I related to them. They showed me love, they gave me money, they gave me food, they pretty much gave me everything I need. And then after that they introduced me to their pimp. He basically said, you know, your family if- they’re not going to want you, they’re not going to talk, they’re not going to help you, um, you know, you’ve already been exposed to rape, I can help you, nobody will ever- you will not get hurt, I’ll make sure you have money, I’ll make sure your mom can pay rent and not get kicked out and just, he basically told me that he would do everything for me.
In the beginning he was ok with me staying with my mom but eventually it turned into where he took me with him and the girls and we’d just start going upstate, travelling all over. One good place that we used to go a lot was Tennessee.
Some of the women, like I was already exposed, I, um, a couple of my friends were already exposed but there was some women that we had to go recruit. And they were young, they were really young and those were the ones that didn’t have no- they’d never been raped, they’ve never experienced anything, all they wanted was drugs and it started us giving them drugs and from there they just became one of us.
[Interviewer: Was the pimp Somalian?]
Yes, we grew- we pretty much grew up with these guys. I knew of him but I didn’t know-know him, but I knew of him. The community always protects the men. Um, the Somali community always protects the boys and says that they’re no harm, they’re not causing any harm and they’re just always sheltering the men. They say that we come from a bad family, they try to shame us, say we come from bad parents and so that’s why we can’t talk to them and they just, they pretty much shame us. They say that we’re whores, that we’re trash, they tell the whole community don’t talk to us. That we’re the wrong type of girls.
It was the group of girls that recruited me. I felt safe with them. Um, there was a guy. Um, mostly is what they’ll do is they tell us they love us, they care about us, they’ll take care of us, they’ll make sure we have everything and really all that really mattered to me, more than the money at one point was love.
[Interviewer: What would you like to tell other women involved in sex trafficking?]
That she is a queen and her body is beautiful and that no man should ever take advantage of her body and she’s beautiful, she’s a queen.
[Interviewer: What do you want people to know about you?]
Beside of what I went through and everything that I went through that I am a very smart woman and that I’m a queen and that no man is more powerful than me. That I should feel as equal to him
Narrative provided by FSPA