I prefer to be known as SHE. I am a 23-years-old, a mother, a professional in the restaurant industry, and a survivor of child sex trafficking in America. When I was 17, I ran away with my friend to Washington, D.C. where I was sold by pimps into sex trafficking. When the police found the ads the pimps had put of me online, they came to the hotel. I remember the one who said, “Honey, you are going to be okay. What’s your name?” That was the beginning of the journey because I had to learn how to save myself.
I had to come home to me.
When I was 17, my friend’s boyfriend was a pimp. I didn’t know that and things were really hard for me at home. I was just always sad and not sure where I could lay my head at night. I was just in this really dark place in my mind.
Even then, there were things that I loved. Like cooking. My favorite thing to make is chicken stew. I love seeing the vegetables and chicken come together.
When I first got out of the trafficking situation, I didn’t know myself. I just worked every day at this cafe and kept to myself. I would walk down the street holding my bag after work and being so scared of everyone. I sometimes did not know where I could lay my head.
When the Detective who helped me get out of that situation offered to help me fly back south to go home, I just knew there was nothing for me there. It would be the same people and same bad situations. I was getting help from a nonprofit who helps trafficked girls and this Detective would check up on me. They cared for me, but I did not care for myself. I just had to disappear for a while.
It was like I was in a dark cave. Only it was a tunnel. We all have been at rock bottom and we think it is a well we can not escape. It is really dark. Maybe like me, you think you want to give up because you can’t find the light.
In the tunnel, I was so sad. I was blind and crying every night. My hands were hitting the walls like my heart was hitting my own negative emotions. Pain was what I grew up with and what I knew.
Then, I started to see a tiny ray of light. It was not outside. It was inside me. I was lighting up and day by day a little more light shown until I could come out of the tunnel.
That is when I met my boyfriend. I was leaving work and dropped my bags at the metro station. He offered to help me carry them, but I said no. He did it anyway and talked until I gave him my number. We were texting and talking but I just really didn’t want a boyfriend. I wanted to be alone for a while. Then, one day, he asked me out and I said yes.
He took me to Six Flags. I was so scared of those roller coasters and kept closing my eyes. Then, he said, it would be better if I opened my eyes and looked around me. It would be less scary because he was there, too. When I finally opened my eyes, I could see all around us. He was there and it was fun and beautiful. I’ve been with him ever since.
He is always there for me no matter what. He does not judge me for my past or hold it against me. If we get into a fight, he doesn’t say, “You are like this because of what happened to you.” He’s positive and really supportive.
I think that your home is where you have your heart and your love. For me, I had to be really careful who I let into my home. Now, my home is full of people who love me. I have kid toys around the house, dog things, a fish tank. I also have a really, really nice kitchen.
I dream of starting my own restaurant. I want good food. Really good ingredients. I remember times when I didn’t have a kitchen or place to lay my head. I would have to eat out at cheap fast food places because that was all I could do. I know if you put love inside the food you eat, you will give love to those who eat it. I love seeing my family eat my food. Now, I want to share that love with others.
People ask me how I got here today. Maybe they do not know my story. Well, it took me finding me. No one can help you unless you help yourself. I love me now. I am not selfish about it. By loving me, I can love you. I can love everyone because I know that I am worthy of my own love. Home is love and I am home.
One of my favorite quotes is “eat; don’t be eaten.” In my last year at the group home, I decided that I didn't want to be eaten by the things or the people of this world. Instead, I want to eat and to help others eat. Through my trauma and my own healing process, I realized I had found my life’s purpose and stepped into my name - “Nia.” I am committed to helping others flourish, strive, live, and love to the best of their abilities. We are all strong. And we will all rise.