[music] Welcome to the Positive Youth Development Podcast Series from the Family and Youth Services Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The series is produced by the National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth. In this episode, we talk to a young woman who ran away from home at age sixteen, seeking independence and a place to fit in. Jobless and living with a friend, she met a man who offered her affection and a job at his recording studio. Instead, he took her to his house in New Jersey, where she was forced to prostitute herself along with ten other young women.
Female Speaker: He wound up taking me away to Jersey. And, you know, he wound up telling me that I don’t really need any friends. Any of the friends that I need are at the house where I’m going to stay now, which is my new house. The other girls that I was working for … we were all working for this one man … they were called my wife in laws. So, he told me, you know, if you need to talk to somebody, talk to your wife in laws.
Whatever he wanted me to do, I did because he provided me a place a place to stay. He gave me food. And he gave me the affection and the attention that I was looking for at the time. And that was one of the main reasons why I had joined the life. You know, because I got all of that affection and attention that I didn’t have from my family and from my friends. And I felt like, why not listen to him?
When I was growing up I really didn’t have the knowledge about pimps and prostitutes. To me that it was all TV. That it was all fake. My mom never ever spoke about it. And like I know in Hunts Point there ladies, you know, prostituting. But I was not around that. So I really didn’t understand.
I would call my friends, you know, on and off without him knowing. And he would tell me, like, why you don’t come back home? Why you don’t try to stay away from him? You still have me. You still have your mother.
I’m like, yeah, but it’s just such a different change already that I’m scared. What would I do if I go back home? I already felt like I had an establishment. I already felt like I put in so much time and so much money and so much effort into this man that it was like what else can I do? What else am I good at? This is all I know now and since I’m used to it nobody’s going to want me. Especially if I tell him what I’ve been doing.
Sometimes you feel like you’re just so caught up that you don’t know how to get out. And you don’t know who’s going to be there when you get out. You have so many fears. It’s fear of being alone. It’s fear of going to jail. It’s fear of him looking for you and wanting to kill you because you left him.
NCFY: According to one study, 70 percent of youth on the street eventually become victims of some form of commercial, sexual exploitation. Like many others in this situation, Andrea was caught by the police and treated as a criminal. Though she is also a victim of crime herself.
FS: I really didn’t want to even go and turn myself in. But he convinced me to turn myself in. Because he said then I wouldn’t be able to go back out and work for him. I wouldn’t be able to make money. You know, he started to make me feel bad. I went to jail and I started to analyze things for what they were.
He didn’t visit me. I never did anything to put me in jail until now. I was just like this is something that I can’t be doing for the rest of my life. I can’t be going back to jail. This is the worst experience ever. Like, I’ve never experience something like this.
When I came out of jail, I wound up going right back to him. He was there to pick me up. And I went to the house. And I wound up going right back to the streets. But I got locked up the next week. And even the cops tried to tell me to snitch. And I’m like, “No. I’m doing this because I want to do it. I’m doing it my choice.”
You know, everything was just a lie. And it was all because of the fact that I was taught to say. I was scared not to be loyal to him.
I started to think about my family. Like, yeah, it was a broken home. But I still had a family at the end of the day. And I knew that if I was to go back, my mom would accept me. And my brother would accept me. And my sister would accept me. Even though I wouldn’t be able to tell them what I was going through because I was so embarrassed and so ashamed.
And I started to think this is not something I can tell my mom that she’s going to be proud of. This is not something that I can tell my friends or my family that they will be proud of. This is something that I’m embarrassed to say. When someone already manipulates you and tells you, listen. If you do this, I’m going to give you this. You do it because you need things.
It wasn’t really about money. Most people don’t even know that we give all our money to this one guy. Yeah, we would make $500, $1,000, $2,000. But it would all go this man.
This was a domestic violence situation as well. Like somebody that really loves you wouldn’t want you to sell your body. Like there’s boundaries there. They have to respect you. They have to have that trust. When I was in the life, guy called me like twenty times a day. If you trust a girl or you trust a man, there’s no reason you should have to call him so many times.
After I left this guy, my state of mind was not all the way like, oh, I’m going to go to college. I’m going to get a job. I’m going to do better and this and that. You know, I still had that state of mind where as I need money, I know how to make money easy. I never dealt with it. It takes time. It takes a lot of time.
I was in a housing program. And they were giving the movie “Very Young Girls”. It touched me because there were girls being exploited. And I was just like, oh my god. This is something that I’ve been through. And I never really told anybody. And I didn’t know there was any place that I can go to. I have this warrant. And I know I can run, but I can’t hide. And I want to clear it up. And this would be the perfect place.
NCFY: The producer of “Very Young Girls” is Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, or GEMS, an organization in New York which helps girls like Andrea exit the commercial sex industry and to develop their full potential.
FS: Once I got to GEMS it helped me a lot not to blame myself and to know that this guy knew what he was doing. This guy planned it. This guy set it up. And because at this time I was in a vulnerable situation, he wound up taking advantage of that.
I could come here with nothing on and they would still be here with hands open and like what do you need? Are you hungry? Do you have a metro card to go where you’re going? Do you need clothes? There are clothes next door.
I didn’t want to talk about it. Because I would get so depressed. And being able to have other girls that can relate to the issue was something that really helped me a lot. And it’s such a gratifying feeling like when you’re doing something productive and you’re doing something that you really wanted to do, just didn’t have the support.
I wasn’t the only victim. There were so many girls. There was like ten girls. He had a house in Vegas. He had a house in the Bronx. He had a house in Jersey. This was like an organization already. Everyone has their time when to exit the life. Because there’s people that are struggling with it. People are going back. People, you know, who have came out of the life, but not everybody.
You just got to be supportive and talk to them. Ask them, you know, what is it that can I do? How can I help you? You want to go to someone that you feel is not going to judge you and somewhere where you can feel you’re wanted and you’re loved and you’re respected regardless of what situation you’re in or regardless of how you feel, they’re still going to be there by your side.
NCFY: The National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth is a free information service that offers resources for people and organizations interested in helping youth. For more information on runaways and homeless youth and the commercial sexual exploitation of young people, visitncfy.acf.hhs.gov.
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