At the age of 16, I became a victim of sex trafficking. When you read that, you might think that I am broken. I am not. In fact, I’m full of joy. I am full of joy even on days when life is hard.
So, let me tell you how a transgender young woman who fell into sex trafficking came out thriving and full of joy.
I found joy after trafficking by keeping my faith and always remembering who I was growing up prior to me entering trafficking and “the life.” I realized that I was still the good person I was before I was trafficked. I had to decide if I was going to let what other people did to me control me. Or, could I use my past to make myself a better person and help those coming up behind me?
If you are surviving something — it could be sex trafficking, a toxic relationship, or, anything that is hurting you — Know this: there was joy before you were hurt. There will be joy again. I am living proof!
I was born into a really diverse family. I got to travel, see new people, and just be a kid. Life was kind of perfect. Then, my dad died when I was eight years old. I still miss him.
At the age of 12, I knew that I was different. I would see girls and not really feel anything, but I’d be full of butterflies if a cute boy walked by. I was living in a part of town where my gender identity was really not accepted on top of being mixed-race. Eventually, kids at school started to call me fagot and queer because of my flair. It hurt me to see kids and family I loved turn against me. I tried to not show it, but I would cry inside. I would just keep wearing my style and trying to be me, but eventually my mom threw me out of the house when I was 14. I tried staying with friends, but eventually everyone would kick me out because I was just too different to them. I felt like I was just making problems for everyone and wanted to do it on my own.
I was really alone on the streets and a guy who I thought was a friend offered to help me find a place to stay. I didn’t think there was any other person who would accept me as the me I was meant to be. What I thought was acceptance was just him trying to use me to make money. This happens to a lot of kids who end up on the streets.
He took me to a party and he sold me again and again. It took me almost a year to escape him and the countless men who bought and raped me. This was the darkest part of my life.
I had to fight for my life. I fought to get to safety and the police came after I called 911. In the hospital, I told the nurses everything. They called a youth group and they came to help me. That night, I spent the first night in a small little apartment they had and I was on my way to freedom. It was a long way to freedom.
Okay, now you know what happened. It’s my story, but what defines me is my power to never stop smiling. I want to share what I feel worked for me. These are tips based on what I felt worked best for me, so take what you think might work for you.
Heal Yourself: Therapy or support groups are really great ways to have a safe place to talk and learn ways to help calm down or just let the anger out so it does not make you sick inside.
Redefining Yourself (Transition): For me, this was starting hormone therapy and really becoming a strong young woman. For you, that might mean something else. The deal is you just pick what this means and do it!
Do What You Love: Fashion and modeling makes me happy. What about you? Don’t just accept the status quo here, challenge yourself. Do you like painting? What about dancing? Or, maybe swimming or sports. You do you but do it often! I push myself by learning new modeling skills and networking with people who I know are legit and serious about the industry.
Help Others: When you help others, it helps you, too. I love talking to young survivors and helping them by just sharing my story. I am passionate about making the world a more beautiful place. I want to keep modeling because I want to show the world what diverse beauty really looks like and that anyone can reach their dreams. I also want to help other survivors of sex trafficking who might think they are alone.
I have learned that everyone has survived something. My story is just one of many stories so maybe it won’t relate to you. But, I hope you see you are beautiful and good. You are so going to rock your dreams. Believe in yourself so that the world can see you as the beautiful person you are every day.
Peace and Love,
Tutu, Age 23