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.
Jewell Baraka was exploited for three years in prostitution and three years in pornography in the 1980s and 1990s, from age 11 to 17, in Portland, Oregon. Her narrative is from an interview with Francine Sporenda for the Révolution Féministe website, originally published in French and then in English by Nordic Model Now!, a UK secular, feminist, grassroots women’s group campaigning for the abolition of prostitution and related practices.
I was trafficked by my father at 11, and at a brothel type warehouse in Portland, Oregon. I call it a brothel because it was a warehouse filled with temporary walls creating rows of rooms off of hallways. There were probably 50 rooms in total. The warehouse was kind of a cross between an underground, underage brothel and an Asian massage parlour type of prostitution.
On regular working nights we were escorted from the entrance to our room and then the buyers were brought in to us. It’s the guards who took each girl to their rooms for the night and took the money as they brought the men to us. So only they knew the true numbers of men, girls, and the amount of money that flowed through that warehouse. There did seem to be a rotation of girls, meaning we were not all there every night. Still there were a lot of girls involved. They had nights for new buyers where they lined us all up for these men to look and choose and on those nights we were all there. The first time I was in a line-up I was number 87.
I used to focus my gaze intently on the door to my room. All I had to do was make it from the time it opened with another buyer to the time it closed as the guard escorted him out.
I was raised in a very religious family by appearance, although as you might expect, my father was a sociopath. I say that from my own observation and experience, not from a clinical diagnosis. Of course, he was not the kind of man to go near any type of mental health clinician. I have no idea what made him that way, how he became the man that I knew.
Trafficked can be a broad term so let me clarify what I mean when I say, “my father trafficked me.” My father is the one that struck a deal with these men when I was 11 and he was the one who upheld that deal every night for the next 6 years. I did not live at the warehouse. I went to school and church in the day, but every night two men would come to pick me up. And every night my father would strip me, put an old oil smelling blanket around me, and throw me in the trunk of their car. And then he did the reverse at the end of each night. He never actually went to the warehouse or the studio, but he was certainly the one responsible for my exploitation, which is why I call him my trafficker.
[…] I was there when the deal was made for me so I know there was money exchanged. The other thing I know is that my sociopath father was all about his pious image and obviously he was not living that life. So my guess is that the negotiations for me began because they had something on him.
That is the question that haunts me. Who were they [the other women at the brothel]? We were not allowed to talk as they escorted us to our rooms, but we would lock eyes. I never knew their names, but I knew their faces and eyes. I remember the terror in their eyes. I often wonder if they are alive and if they are, where they are now?
They were all young, in the same age range as me during that time. I was at the warehouse from 11 to 14.
My father’s sexual abuse began when I was 5 with stripping and touching. When I was 7, it escalated off charts. That’s when I saw the man, the sociopath behind the mask. His sexual torture games began that day as he tied me in a closet and stuck a knife inside me. I can only assume he was trying to make my hole bigger so he could insert himself into me more easily. The abuse, rape, and torture continued throughout my childhood until I left home at age 19.
[…] The buyers came from all walks of life as far as I could tell. I saw the rings so I know many were married. The ones that stuck out were the religious men. I knew them by the crosses they wore around their neck or the priest collars that they still had on when they came through my door. The common thread between all of them is that they were old enough to be my father. There were no men in the 18-25 year old range coming into this warehouse. These were father men coming in to buy 11-14 year old girls. That is what tied all these men together.
They were not looking for girlfriends. They were looking for sex with a young girl acted out through some specific picture they had in their mind. Reality was the last thing they wanted in that room. From the moment they walked through that door I was in the middle of an act that would please them. It was never about me at all. Also, profit was the bottom line at the warehouse and they wanted to make a lot of it. So they moved the men in and out very quickly.
Young seemed to be the point of this particular brothel type warehouse. Anybody coming to this warehouse was looking for young girls. There just were no girls older than about 14 or 15 there. Being there for 3 years I watched the cycles of the warehouse. Younger girls came in and girls who were 14 or 15, one night, would suddenly not be there. It was like that for me too. One night when I was 14 they took me to the studio instead of the warehouse and after that I never went back to the warehouse again. I think the demand for young girls is much higher than we imagine here in the United States. And the buyers are not shady looking men stalking playgrounds like they show on television. They are fathers and brothers and husbands from all walks of life.
We were not allowed to refuse customers, or to refuse even one of their demands. The one time I refused a customer did not go well for me. I remember that night distinctly.
I thought it was gross what he was asking of me and made a face at him, which was enough to incite his rage. He dragged me out of the room down to the hall, to where the boss of the warehouse was sitting. After he had finished ranting to the boss, the boss looked at me and then to one of the guards and just nodded. The guard calmly walked over to me, put a gun to my head and cocked it. As he began to pull the trigger he pulled the gun away from my head and shot it into the outside wall. Then hitting me across the head with the gun, he said, “Never do that again! The next time the bullet goes in.”
I got the message. I learned from that, that we, the prostituted, did not have rights. That was the day I knew that my humanity and all the rights that came with it had been revoked. To survive I knew I had to do and become whatever they wanted me to be. That night, a different type of violation of me began. In order to survive physically, I was forced to betray myself. Our survival instinct takes us down roads we would never take if we were really free. And it becomes another layer of violation. It takes a long time to heal from it but we do heal from it, it just takes time and hard work.
[…] I was not aware of the influence [of pornography] when I was at the warehouse because I was not watching pornography myself. When I ended up in pornography, though, it all became clear. At the warehouse I remember wondering, “How do men even think of this stuff?” As we began to film in the porn studio, I saw the source of their inspiration clearly. The themes were the same and it was clear that this, porn, was the source of my buyers’ inspiration. Porn was feeding their twisted inspiration and demands.
From my experience, I would say that paedophilia is a huge problem here in the United States as well as across the world. Rachel Moran once said, of her time in indoor prostitution, “I have answered phones in enough brothels to know that the number one, question asked by the johns is ‘how old is your youngest girl?’” I resonate with that reality. The father-aged men that came to the warehouse wanted young girls, the younger the better. And the warehouse was a huge money-maker. There were about 50 rooms so you can safely say that hundreds of men came through it a week. Portland then, and I think now, is not even in the top 20 of population in the US—which highlights the unseen problem of paedophilia in America.
I think that is precisely the reason that they transitioned us out of the warehouse when they did. They made more money with younger girls.
I don’t know how they were not seen [by the police] or if they were paying somebody off. It felt like a very organized operation so I am sure they had some way of dealing with that. I had quite a few buyers who were religious men, but there may have been a flow of law enforcement through the warehouse too. In any case, the men who ran the warehouse were meticulous about details, details that kept them covered. For instance there were gym like showers that they moved us through at the end of each night. Looking back, it was not to be kind, it was to wash the evidence off of us. Also, we were never allowed to talk to each other so there was no ability to gain support or line up corroborating testimony. We never even knew each other’s names. And I was transported in the trunk of a car so I never knew where the warehouse was located. All I knew was how long it took from my house to the warehouse and a brief glimpse between the trunk and the warehouse door.
The men’s motivations for buying sex, for not knowing us, was to be able to use and throw us away without guilt. The point of exploitation in prostitution and porn is to create a disposable population that can be used and abused by men without regard for their humanity. They want to not see us, to pretend as if we, the exploited, are not human.
I did not see them outside the warehouse so I am not sure how they interacted with their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers and co-workers. However, I do not believe you can dehumanize, abuse and rape a girl in one part of your life and not have it affect the way you relate to every other female in your life.
Courtesy of Nordic Model Now!