Ashley. Not Alone.
When I was 13, I felt like I was in a dark place in my life. Honestly, it felt like the end of the world for me. My dad was killed and my mom was really struggling. I didn’t feel any love at home, not even in my own heart.
I was looking for love in all the worst places because I was just so hungry for attention. I started not going to school and no one even noticed, for real. I started doing things that I never thought that I would be doing, like smoking weed and having sex. I got involved in this gang because I felt like they would give me love and protection when no one else would do that for me. It’s really hard to be a little girl out here where everyone has an idea of what you should be or how they can take advantage of you if you don’t have protection at home.
When I ran away from home, I met this older girl and she introduced me to her “folks” and asked me if I was trying to make some money. I really didn’t have a choice by then because I didn’t have any clothes, food, or even a place to sleep. I felt like I had to do what I had to do to get by, and I was only 13. I did not see that I was being groomed, lied to, and brainwashed by a trafficker who had sold girls as young as 12.
I was so frightened and scared at first. This girl’s “folks” were a man and his wife who said they could be my family. I had to make like $500 a day to stay “in the family.” After some days, I started to think this was just what I was meant to do. I was thinking “this is what is happening to me.” I didn’t want it to really be who I was going to be. I really didn’t know any better.
Now people ask me how I was feeling before I was trafficked. Honestly, I was just in a lot of pain and feeling guilty. I didn’t value myself because no one showed me how. I couldn’t control my self hate. I wanted to be wanted. I didn’t know what real love was at all because I had never felt like I had experienced it. The closest to love was my dad, but he was gone.
I wish I had known what was happening to me was called “human trafficking” because I would have known it was a crime and not my fault. No one ever should have to experience this but it can happen to anyone who is in a bad situation like I was then. I was arrested on the streets in DC one night. My trafficker went to jail; but, I did, too.
I want anyone who is reading this, especially if you are a kid who is all alone like I was, to know that you do not have to be afraid to get out and you I hope you don’t feel like there is nobody to help you. You might think that people are here to judge you. Some might, but there are also real people who are here to help. Some of them have been through what you are going through. They will love you for you, not something you can give them. You might think it won’t be okay, but it could be if you are willing to reach out for the help you really deserve.
To me, love is when someone has my best interest at heart and never gives up on me, even when things get tough. They do not judge me for my past and they just love me for me. You deserve this too.
When I was 17, I was in detention again because I kept getting locked up for stuff like prostitution. I was so lost. Then, I met these people who were survivors and they helped me see I could trust someone. I didn’t want to talk to them at first, but they were just there all the time and not judging me.
After I got help, I got to work on a law that makes it illegal to arrest kids who are being “prostituted,” like me. This really mattered to me. A Senator from New York, Senator Gillibrand, read my story and it helped them pass this law. I felt so powerful. It was kind like justice was being paid forward, you know?
I am a single mom now of two wild, cute little kids. I dream about my future where I’m stable and able to continue to be a good mom. I love being a professional advocate helping to create campaigns like www.IAmJasmineStrong.com with Freedom FWD because I get to help girls in a way that no one helped me when I was 13. I want to be a role model for my kids and other youth.
When I think about what worked for me, it’s really having people who cared about me, learning what really happened to me, and also just discovering who I am. I hope everyone can have these things no matter what they are going through.
You are not your past.
You are not alone.
You are a survivor.
Ashley, Age 23