Washington, August 22, 2012 – According to the United Nations, human trafficking is a thirty-two billion dollar a year business. There are an estimated twenty-seven million slaves in the world today and that number is growing exponentially. In the United States the Department of Justice estimates close to 300,000 children are at risk of being trafficked in this country right now and the average lifespan of a trafficked child is seven years according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Human trafficking is second only to the drug trade as the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the country. According to the United Nations, human trafficking generates $9.5 billion yearly in the United States.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that the average age of a trafficked child is thirteen to fourteen years old. A pimp makes $150,000 to $250,00 per child a year and each pimp has an average of four to six children. The average victim of sex trafficking is forced to have sex an average of twenty to forty-eight times a day according to the Polaris Project. A human trafficker will approach one in three teens within forty-eight hours of leaving home according to the Justice Department.
Our children are being thrown into the darkest abyss of humanity and some have been lost in a broken system. In 2010, Los Angeles officials reported that 59 percent of juveniles arrested for prostitution were in the foster care system. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that of the children who are reported missing, who are also likely sex trafficking victims, 60 percent were in foster care or group homes when they ran away.
As a survivor of child sex trafficking I suffered for seven years as the prisoner of a pedophile ring that ruthlessly sold my innocence for profit. There are so many who suffered alongside me bound by the chains of fear and their faces will always haunt my dreams. So many did not survive the world that so relentlessly fed on a child’s innocence, as the drugs, alcohol and abusive lifestyle took their toll on the fragile nature of its innocent victims. There are so many stories of bravery and defiance but there is one that will always remain both in my heart and in my mind.
It was in the early hours of a Wednesday morning in late summer at the age of fourteen that I decided to escape my toxic environment in search of something better. I tried to be quiet as I dabbed Iodine across the cut under my eye and groaned in pain at the ache of my bruised ribs. The memory of the encounter with my mother’s intoxicated boyfriend the night before was still playing in my mind like a bad sitcom.
With the determination to leave behind the madness of my situation I prepared to depart on that late summer’s morning. My thoughts were that this time I would make it, I would disappear and they would never find me. I had no plan other than to loose myself somewhere that they could not follow, and for this had chosen to go to California. I would find someplace near Mexico so that if I found myself backed into a corner, I could make a run for the border.
I slung my backpack and my sleeping bag over my shoulder and with fifty dollars in my pocket I began to put the world that had held me prisoner far behind me. I walked and hitched rides with people until after a month of sleeping in doorways and begging for food, I arrived on the outskirts of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My trip had become sidetracked for several reasons, the main reason being you seldom find someone who is going exactly where you want to go. I had also worked for a few days here and there.
When kind souls offered a hot meal and a place to sleep, I trusted my intuition and accepted those offers that seemed genuine. Outside Milwaukee I found an abandoned cabin that provided shelter from a fast approaching winter. I was running low on cash so I decided to explore the surrounding area the next day to look for odd jobs.
I had spotted lights in the distance as I had entered the cabin the night before so I set off early to explore the possibility of at least one meal for that day. A clearing loomed in the distance and beyond I could hear the sound of cows, marking the location of a dairy farm.
I decided to approach the barn where I could see someone just beyond the doorway and it was then that I met the woman who would haunt my dreams from that day forward.
Her name was Cheyenne. She was Native American, and the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on. Her long black hair shone against her olive skin as her dark brown eyes met mine. She was fourteen at the time and she had fled South Dakota at the age of twelve to escape an abusive father and was searching for something better.
The farm belonged to an elderly couple that had lost their son in Vietnam and their hearts longed to heal from that loss. Providing shelter to runaways provided a temporary solace for them. They gave us both a warm place to sleep and kept the questions to a minimum and for a while I thought the past would never find me.
Cheyenne and I grew close and after three months she began to tell me the secret behind the scars that marked her body and the ones that she kept hidden inside.
After leaving South Dakota at the age of twelve, Cheyenne had drifted around much the same as I had until one day she had the misfortune of crossing paths with the face of evil. While she was sleeping in an abandoned car on the outskirts of Denver, Cheyenne was grabbed by three men and thrown into the trunk of a car. She had been knocked unconscious by a blow to the head and when she woke up she was in a warehouse locked in a small room with twenty other women. From that point on Cheyenne tried to escape the sex traffickers who had grabbed her, but routine beatings and forced drug use had left her too weak to break free.
For almost a year Cheyenne had been imprisoned and it was fate that would finally secure her freedom. She was being held in a warehouse somewhere near downtown Chicago when a fight broke out between the men who had held her captive. A nearby gas stove was overturned and a fire had started.
In the chaos of the burning building, Cheyenne escaped. She ran until her feet could no longer carry her and after sleeping in the woods for days had come upon the same dairy farm where we had both found refuge. Cheyenne cried as she told me her story and as I help her in my arms as we fell asleep together.
For the first time in years I cried. I wept not only for Cheyenne and the suffering she endured, but also for the child inside me that had suffered so much.
As the months and the seasons progressed Cheyenne and I grew incredibly close and I could feel myself falling for her. I felt as if I could almost touch my dreams of happiness. I think back to that moment and wish I could once again lose myself in the innocence of that time, because soon after, forces would intervene that would bring an end to our paradise.
We had both tried so hard to hide from the darkness of our past but in the end it finally caught up to Cheyenne and both of our lives were forever changed. The elderly couple that became our benefactors often journeyed into the suburbs of Milwaukee to sell the vegetables they grew at a farmers market, as a means of income. As we returned from these occasional trips, we often stopped at the same restaurant near the interstate to have lunch.
It was late Saturday morning one spring day as we drove back from a successful trip to the Farmers Market. As we made our regular stop for lunch Cheyenne and I were excited as our conversation focused on the prospect of spending the money we had earned to see a movie later that night. We finished our lunch and exited the restaurant with Cheyenne in the lead. Suddenly four men emerged from a nearby van wearing masks and ran toward us heading straight for Cheyenne. The sex traffickers who had held her prisoner for almost a year had finally tracked her down.
I could see the fear in Cheyenne‘s eyes and I immediately inserted myself in between the men and where she stood. Although I fought with all my might two of them grabbed her and began dragging her towards the van nearby. I made one last attempt as one of the men picked up a broken bottle and swung it at me. It struck my arm and I began to bleed profusely but I would not let this deter my momentum. Suddenly everything went dark as I was struck from behind with a lead pipe.
When I woke up I was in a hospital and Cheyenne was gone. I could see the elderly couple standing outside the room talking to police. I quickly found my clothes and discovering that I was on the first floor, dressed and slipped out an open window.
I searched for Cheyenne and eventually found the warehouse in Chicago that was now burned to the ground.
Sometime later the police picked me up as I attempted to track the sex traffickers who took Cheyenne away. I was returned home and eventually graduated from High School, joining the United States Marine Corps.
I was able to see the pedophile ring that enslaved me begin to be dismantled with the help of individuals with whom I made contact while serving in the military, but that is, as they say, a story for another day.
I have never stopped looking for Cheyenne and I think of her often. I still bear the scar of the stab wound from the broken bottle, as I left before it could be properly stitched up, and it reminds me that the evil in this world must be fought with all our strength. As I stare at the faces of the missing, I see Cheyenne in each one of them.
In my dreams Cheyenne is still on that dairy farm in Wisconsin. I see her lying beside me on the warm grass as we watch the clouds drift by where, for first time in our lives we had found happiness.
I sincerely believe it is through God’s intervention that I am here today as a survivor of human trafficking and not a casualty. I stand here today not only as a survivor, but as a living testament that there is always hope and a light inside all of us that no one can extinguish. My prayer is that I will see Cheyenne again one day and that she will have found the peace and happiness I have and she will know that a part of her will always remain deep inside me, forever in my heart.
Human trafficking is a silent predator swallowing the innocence of our children as it profits from the pain and suffering of its countless victims. Lurking in the shadows of humanity the evil that is human trafficking knows no boundaries surpassing gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and race. The fragile nature of our reality is too often torn apart by the revelation of the horrific nature of human trafficking. Victims endure a lifetime of ravaged innocence and broken hopes and dreams even if they are able to escape alive, which seldom if ever happens. We must unite as a society before the next innocent victim vanishes into the world that is nothing more than rape for profit.
I hope you will join me in the search for missing and exploited children and help to rescue the next Cheyenne before the evil in this world extinguishes the light in their eyes. Although these children may be missing they will never be lost, as long as we keep them in our hearts and remember the hope that tomorrow will find them in our arms once again.
Learn the signs of human trafficking and call the human trafficking hotline at 1-888-3737-888 if you suspect someone is being trafficked. To learn more about the signs of human trafficking visit the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign http://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/indicators-human-trafficking.