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.
Rebekah Begay was sexual abused at a young age by her family and by her first boyfriend. Begay developed a drug addiction and ran away, flying to Atlanta to live with her sister. When she was 16 years old, Begay met a man on a dating website, but after a few months he took her to a house and sold her into prostitution. She was able to run away when one of the men she had been sold to was distracted but the experience had lasting effects.
I was first molested at the age of 6, by my father, who was also molested when he was a kid. I don’t know who molested him … maybe an uncle. Anyway, he used to come in my room and rub me all over my body. It started once when I had hurt myself, so it seemed natural then, but it progressed from there. My parents divorced right about that time (not because of that … my mom didn’t know)
[then her dad moved in with a prostitute]
So I was exposed to a lifestyle I didn’t understand. I kept the abuse to myself, because that’s what abuse victims do.
When I was in seventh grade, I became friends with a kid named Jay, the first boy who showed an interest in me. He was a member of the Crips, and when I became his girl, the initiation was a gang rape. But because I had already been conditioned to be abused, I still ran off to California with this guy, where we started dealing drugs.
[But when Jay got murdered by a rival gang]
The cops found me and brought me back to Billings
[By the time Begay lost the boy she thought she loved, she had become addicted to drugs, and fell into a pattern of running away, dealing drugs to get by. When her mother couldn’t take it anymore, Begay’s sister offered her a place, living with her just outside Atlanta.]
On the plane ride to Atlanta, my sister told me that she was pregnant, but not by her husband, and I was so surprised that I didn’t tell her I was pregnant too. When I got there, I found out that her husband was also dealing drugs. He came on to me all the time, but I kept putting him off. Things finally blew up when he found out my sister’s baby wasn’t his, and she told him it was my idea to keep it from him. So he beat the shit out of me. I was so mad that I ended up punching myself over and over in the stomach until I lost the baby
[Begay found a job at Applebee’s about the same time she met someone on a dating website—his name was Bo]
He’d come and visit me at work, and eventually he asked me out, and he treated me like nobody ever had. He took me to nice restaurants, taught me how to act in places like that. Took me to fancy parties, sometimes on yachts. He came from a well-to-do family and was studying at Georgia Tech, so as crazy as it sounds now, I didn’t think anything was suspicious. I totally fell for this guy … saw no warning signs at all.
One night he called and said he really needed to see me, so I asked my friend David to drive me down to Atlanta. David told me he had a bad feeling about the whole thing, but I insisted. “Bo gave me a single rose. He’d never given me roses so I was really touched. He said he needed to make a stop. The house where we stopped wasn’t as nice as the places we usually went, so that made me a little nervous. And I noticed there were a lot of very young girls, a lot of people I’d never seen before. One of the girls offered me some ecstasy, and I was like, ‘No, I’m good.’ The girl looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to need something to get through this.’ That scared me a little.
[Bo took her to a room and told her]
“Baby, you know all those nice things I’ve done for you all these months? You know I love you, and you love me, right? So you have to do something for me tonight. I’ve got some guys out there who paid good money and you’re going to go out there and make them happy.”
I was shocked. And I was like, ‘No way!’ but he told me he would kill my sister’s kids if I didn’t do what he said, so I didn’t think I had a choice. I took on seven guys that night.
After Bo sold me to those guys, it became a routine for about the next four months. I ended up living with him and some of the other girls. He set me up with a cop one night, and this guy was the worst ever … he bought me for several hours, and he burned me with cigarettes, raped me with his gun. I was earning as much as $1,200 a day, all of which went to Bo. I stole from him once and he locked me in a closet for three days.
Finally, Bo sold me to some Russians. I was supposed to stay with these guys for a week, and I’ve never been so scared. I remember sitting in a bathroom, knowing that if I didn’t escape there was a good chance I wouldn’t survive. I could tell one of these guys was new … he was nervous, looking around a lot. So I asked him if he wanted to go outside for a cigarette. And while we were sitting on the deck, something distracted him, and I just took off running. It was pure luck from there. I ran across a highway, and the cars just happened to come along and block the way long enough for me to run to a Chinese restaurant, where I crawled into a dumpster and covered myself with garbage bags. They even looked in the dumpster. I was incredibly lucky.
[Begay called a friend who took her in for the next two weeks]
I couldn’t even talk. I didn’t want anyone near me. I didn’t want to look at anyone. I was a mess.
[Begay was 16-years-old when she escaped from these men. She came back to Billings but was still drawn to life on the streets, and she ended up getting arrested for drugs, which earned her a three-year sentence to Job Corps in Ogden, Utah. Here she met a quiet, shy man whom she later married and they know have three children]
It has not been easy. I had to get high to have sex for many years after all this—using either coke of pot. We separated several times, but each time I’d find out I was pregnant again.
[The couple are now in the process of divorcing. Begay’s story changed when she started attending church and found two mentors who listened to her story and offered guidance and support she’d never gotten from her family]
Today, because of women like them, I have made it my life’s work to reach out to other girls and try and offer the same kind of support they’ve given me.
One of the most painful things after I escaped was finding out that not one person in my family was looking for me.
Narrative credit to The Montana Quarterly
Original Narrative can be found here