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lunedì 30 gennaio 2012
Surviving The Sex Trade
A look at how human trafficking victims fare in life and love after surviving the sex trade.
Samantha* is 30 years old. She is a makeup artist, a nanny, a professing Christian and an advocate against human trafficking. This cause is near and dear to her heart because she has been there herself. At the age of 24, she wandered into what she thought was a job interview in Southern California and ended up being drugged, beaten, raped, and forced to work in the commercial sex industry.
As horrifying as this sounds, her story is not an isolated incident. Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry worldwide, and the United Nations has found evidence of it in 80 percent of the countries around the world. President Obama recently declared January to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month in response to some rather staggering statistics:
The Not For Sale Campaign, a nonprofit dedicated to ending modern-day slavery, estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked in the United States each year, with 30 million enslaved around the world. The U.S. Department of State reports that 80 percent of all trafficking victims are women and children that have been forced into the commercial sex trade, just as Samantha was. Yet, Samantha is a survivor and does not want that part of her life to define her anymore. It happened six years ago, and now she is free. Just like other women her age, she is searching for the right career as well as the right partner to one day spend her life with.
When I think about Samantha dating after all that she has been through, it strikes me how difficult it must be for her to open up and learn to trust again. She is willing to try, however—and her healing process has already been an incredible journey. It all began with one man who wandered into the club where she was stripping. It was this man's love and support, in combination with the counseling she received at a nonprofit organization called Treasures, that gave her the courage and strength to change the course of her life.
But before I go any further, I should tell you her story. It's heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time.
Samantha moved to Los Angeles when she was 24. Her dream was to have a successful modeling career, and she began pursuing her goal by attending casting calls that were advertised in the area. In the midst of her job hunt, she was contacted by a "modeling agency" that was interested in representing her.
Once she arrived at the photo shoot, they gave her some drinks, asked her to take a few topless shots, and then asked for her identification so that they could make copies for her file.
Everything after that, she says, is a blur.
These men had drugged her drink, and then proceded to beat and sexually assaulted her. Over the next few months, they forced her to work in the porn industry, and withheld all of her identification unless she did exactly what they said. They also threatened to send the topless photos they had taken to her family and friends if she wasn't cooperative.
It all came to an end one day while driving through the streets of Hollywood with her captors. "I started throwing one of my usual temper tantrums," she said. "I can be very strong willed, and very obnoxious when I went to be. And that day, my captors finally reached their limit and decided I wasn't worth dealing with anymore."
Samantha said they got angry, dropped her off in front of a strip club, and told her to fend for herself. She never saw them again after that, but she also had no money and nowhere to go. She went inside the club, asked if she could dance, and thus began the next phase of her life.
"I hated every minute of it," she said. "I kept telling myself I was going to stop stripping, but in reality, I didn't know how."
Her journey out of the sex industry and into the life she now leads today began, perhaps surprisingly, with two inanimate objects: The first was a cross necklace, and the second was a magazine.
Samantha was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and often wore a dangling cross hanging around her neck while she stripped. She saw it as a form of protection and comfort. One night, a group of men came into the club for a bachelor party, and one of them noticed her necklace. He asked her why she was wearing it, and after listening to her answer, he wrote his phone number down on a piece of paper.