Envision an eleven-year female child, in 5th grade, playing with Barbie’s, sweet and innocent. Playing with the Barbie’s with no care in the world, believing in my Barbie world life is great, escaping from “things” going on in my real world, a mother with an addiction habit, a father who is not around. For that moment in time, all is good in my pretend little girl life... no one can hurt Barbie and me.
Now a year later, I’m twelve years old, in sixth grade, and there are no more Barbie dolls, I was brought into” the life.” I was picked up by an older classmate in high school who promised to take care of me. He promised me safety and security. I told him about my mother and he said he understood. I was relieved to have someone know the fear, sadness, and responsibility I felt as the only daughter of a drug addict who depended on me. My brothers were doted on by my mother and she didn’t ask them to support her, but I was going to the restaurant where she worked, washing dishes and bussing tables. I was her “go to” gal, even though I was a child. I loved my mother.
Once I was in the life, I was afraid and trapped. I was twelve, not even a teenager. I was told I had to earn money and if I was allowed to keep any I would give it to my mother. She knew what I was doing but could only care about getting drugs.
As a child I think that when I was walking the streets I wished somebody would have noticed that I was under age and try to help me. But there was no one...I was invisible, my sweet innocence stripped away from me. People walked by me--a little girl in grown up make up and short shorts. They looked at me but didn’t see. I would cry silently at night because no one, absolutely no one, seemed to care.
I remember getting stomped on by my pimp when I was in my teens at that that time, in Detroit Michigan, on Michigan Avenue. People were just walking by me, around me, like nothing had even happened, as if I wasn’t even there, I was invisible once more. The police finally stopped by on the scene and asked me what was wrong. I was too scared to tell the police my pimp did this to me...The police didn’t even ask me what color was the car, what type of car it was; they just took me to the ER.
At the hospital I said I was 18, but I was underage. How did they believe that I was 18 years old when I didn’t even have an ID on me? How could they not see that I was a little girl, a young teen not an eighteen year old? Were they blind or did they not want to know? And there was no one for me to call to come get me, that I could tell them anyway.
I wished someone in the hospital would have investigated the situation, and showed they cared so I could tell them my real situation. There were so many signs that I wasn’t 18, wasn’t legal age. I was invisible once more. As I lay in the ER on the bed, out of the cold, under a blanket, safe for a moment, I cried. I wanted someone to see the truth and save me. I prayed a silent prayer because I could not say aloud what was happening. You see my pimp had eyes and ears everywhere. If I talked I knew that I would be beaten worse or killed so I prayed that someone would see without me saying anything.
Throughout living in “the life”, I lived in 20 states, some places two weeks, others a month or so. And some places just a night or two, enough to make by “quota” for the pimp that owned me at that time. I have been involved with a gang while being “in the life, “ and I am “tagged” with tattoos. It is not safe for me to go to certain cities because I would be marked for assassination by rival street gangs.
When we went to court, I was afraid at first. I couldn’t think clearly and was having trouble answering the prosecutor questions. Then the defense attorney said, “Admit to this court you chose the life style.” That made me angry. I thought carefully and said “I was only twelve years old. How dare you! I was only twelve.” The prosecutor said that I was the best witness he had ever had. The pimp was put away for many years. In fact, he got the longest sentence for a trafficker to date in Virginia.
I did get an opportunity to leave prison and go to Latisha’s House—the first and only place that would take me in 18 years of being trafficked, testified against my trafficker, went to trauma counseling for PTSD and anxiety disorder, took parenting classes, got legal employment, paid full restitution and court fines, and won the toughest court battle yet. I got full custody of my daughter. I became a mom while being trafficked and my daughter was put into foster care when I was arrested. With the opportunity to regain my life, lost dreams, and skills at Latisha’s house, I was able to prove that I could be a good parent and had full support of the prosecutors, social services and my own counselors.
While at Latisha’s House, I learned that God had heard my silent prayer in that Detroit ER. I know now that He loves me. I learned that I was beautifully made. I learned that I was not a mistake. And my pimp was wrong, someone did care if I lived or died. I have been forgiven and have learned to forgive myself. I was angry and ashamed at first. Now I am proud of who I am. I love myself. I love life. I love the present and the future. I am no longer defined by my past.
Today I am a manager at Walmart and work at Latisha’s House as a part-time house manager helping other young women change their lives. I can relate to the anger, sadness, despair, but I don’t let them feel sorry for themselves. Life can be good again if you work hard, accept grace and help.
By a Latisha's House Graduate and Survivor. To learn more about Latisha's House, visit www.latishashouse.com/.