Woman by the Water

Amanda

As I got in the first car, my palms were sweating and my heart pounding out of my chest hoping I would remember everything he told me to do. I was so scared; I really did not want to do this; he told me he didn’t want me to either, but “sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do to get where you want to be in life.” It’s not like that was new to me.

I've had to do some things I didn't want to do for as long as I could remember. He said it’s not a career, it's a come-up and promised it would just be for a little while and one day we would have this great life together, and none of it would matter. He said, “I’ll have my production company and make it with my music. You'll have your own chain of salons and we’ll be living the life we want. Just focus on the prize baby girl!” 

He also reminded me of the support and stability I didn’t have that he was providing me. I didn’t have a great childhood; my view of what was normal was distorted. I never felt accepted or that I belonged anywhere. He preyed on those vulnerabilities and led me to believe that he really cared about me and wanted to help me have a better life. So, when we got arrested together, I didn't cooperate with the police. Why would I tell on someone I thought was helping me and that I was making a choice to be with? I was manipulated into thinking that I was choosing that life. Physically I could leave, but mentally I was trapped. I was so brainwashed; it took years for me to identify as a victim of human trafficking so I could receive the help that I didn’t know I needed. 

I heard the term human trafficking a few times in that life but I didn’t believe that was what was happening to me. I thought it was a choice I was making. In my mind, I was choosing this path in hopes of a better life one day. I thought human trafficking was forceful and involved kidnapping and drugging. He did not kidnap or force drugs on me. Actually, he helped girls get off drugs. He didn't allow us to do any drugs but marijuana and would make girls leave if they did. We had to give him all our money because he said he was going to give us his all and we had to give him our all. We had a quota of $1000 a night, but he didn't beat us if we didn't make it, if he knew we were trying. Instead, he would have us start earlier the next day. He would even allow us to turn down money for different reasons, like if the customer wanted to do something unprotected or was acting sketchy. He always said our safety is a priority, so I thought he really cared about us. 

He was physical sometimes if we didn't follow the rules, if we questioned him about anything, or if he felt disrespected in some way. He said he didn't like hitting us but that he had to discipline us so that we would be the best we could be. He made it seem like he was disciplining us for our own good, kinda like how a parent disciplines a child. He made sure we ate and were healthy; he kept our hair and nails done, dressed us in nice clothes, and had us driving luxury cars. He would even send money to our family if they needed it. We traveled the country together and experienced things we never had before. That life was painted as a glamorous come-up, but I would soon experience the true darkness concealed by the glamour. 

For almost nine years I was trafficked all over the country, on the streets, internet, strip clubs, bars, hotels, casinos. Wherever I went, if someone spoke to me, I was on the market and trained to get anything I could out of them. I was the only girl the first few months but I would have to recruit other girls because he said that the more girls we have, the faster we can get out, and it’s safer with more girls because we could look out for each other. He called us a team and a family. 

After about five years of working for him, I was tired. I had lost my best friend who I also recruited and two other girls I had worked with. Horrible things kept happening to me; my biggest fear was to die at the hands of that life and I just wanted out while I was still alive. He made so many broken promises and I knew I made plenty of money to get out. I tried to leave several times but that life was all I knew and the only support I had. So, I found myself going back to the familiar in hopes for “a new familiar” one day.

For about four more years I would continue to struggle for a way out. I had two more traffickers hoping they would provide that elusive way out, but they were all the same person with a different face. I had buyers that appeared to be that “way out” but they had their own motives as well. I felt I had no control and no escape, and the only way out or to gain any control was to take my life, at least then it would finally be over. I felt hopeless. BUT JESUS put someone in my life to share the gospel with me as I had never heard it before. He spoke right through her to my heart, opening my eyes to His truth. He became that hope for me. She told me I was being trafficked and tried to help me by giving me all these resources for victims of human trafficking, but in my mind, that was not me; I chose this life. 

So, I continued in the life I knew, but something was different. I learned that was not His purpose for me and I now had hope that things would be different one day. Every night I prayed that God would protect my life and show me a better way. The start of that better way came when He put more people in my life that invited me to a class their church was having that taught about human trafficking. Like I said earlier, I had heard the term human trafficking before but this was the first time I heard the terms force, fraud, and coercion. When she explained fraud and coercion and about the different types of traffickers, she was describing my life and everyone in it. I was floored! What??? This really did happen to me! That was one of the most difficult things for me to accept and the start of my healing journey. 

They connected me to resources but I didn’t receive their help right away. There was this grip on my mind that was almost impossible to break free from. I wanted a better life badly but I was so scared of the unknown. It was like God was showing me the better way I had been praying for but I was afraid of what that better way was. I didn’t want to do what He was telling me I needed to do to be free. I made it harder on myself and suffered more than I had to by being disobedient and not receiving the help, thinking I knew what was better for myself than God. But He was so graceful and merciful, continuing to chase after me, putting more people in my life. He allowed me to keep bumping my head until I stopped trying to do it on my own and pushed through those fears, finally surrendering my will to His, receiving His better way. 

That better way became a restorative safe house program I was in for two years where I learned more about what really happened to me so that I could heal and truly overcome. I learned how to trust and that there are people that truly care with no motives. I learned how to cultivate an intimate relationship with Jesus; I learned how to love myself and to receive love. I gained the tools and support I needed to be successful outside of that life. I learned how to live again. 

I am now a hairstylist and educate the public by sharing my story. I am also working towards my bachelor’s in Biblical and educational studies. I will one day travel the world sharing the Gospel and restoration power of Jesus. Every day is a fight to continue to overcome, but I stand firm on the truth of God’s Word and His promises for my life, and I apply everything I have learned and am learning. As I was writing this story, it was like writing someone else's story because I am truly restored. I am so grateful for everyone that has been part of transforming my life including those I have never met. I pray that my story will give you compassion and an understanding for anyone you may come in contact with that is “choosing” that life. I pray it will also be an encouragement to you, seeing it as an example of a restored life of true freedom that is also promised to you if you haven't yet received it.