Washington, August 22, 2012 – For many of us, the life that we lead falls short of our expectations but for many the dream of holding a loved one just one more time trumps all others. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in the United States 800,000 children are reported missing each year, an average of 2000 per day. Included in this number are 58,000 children taken by non-family members whose intent is sexual exploitation and ravaging the innocence of a child.
As a survivor of child sex abuse, child pornography and child sex trafficking I understand the hell these victims endure and the lifetime of pain forced upon them. I have seen the smiling faces of children lost in the world as their loved ones battle heartbreak in their relentless search for them. From the age of five to the age of twelve I was sold to the darkest depths of depravity by a pedophile ring. It all began when I was five and my mother met a man named Neale who seemed to be the answer to your prayers. He took me to sporting events, brought me presents and gave me the attention I desperately longed for. But after three months Neale began molesting me, using death threats against my mother to keep my silence.
I became his prisoner, trapped in a web of psychological blackmail. A few months later my life would be swallowed by a dark abyss as Neale introduced me to the pedophile ring he belonged to. I would become their “property” sold to every depraved soul who would pay to molest me. For seven years I was sold ten to twelve times a day, molested and tortured by both of men and women. During that time there were many who were trafficked alongside me but one person I encountered would change my life forever.
It was in the early morning hours of a Wednesday morning in 1977 that I decided to escape my toxic environment in search of something better. I was filled with a determination to leave behind the madness of my situation and find the happiness and love I longed for. 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. 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 green eyes met mine. She was fourteen at the time and she had fled South Dakota to escape an abusive stepfather 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 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 fourteen, 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 ten 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. She had been imprisoned and it was fate that would finally secure her freedom.
Cheyenne 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 then hitch hiked her away as far as she could from the nightmare she had endured ending up on the same dairy farm where we both found refuge.
Cheyenne cried as she told me her story and I held her in my arms as we both 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 in the same way. 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 frequently journeyed into the suburbs of Milwaukee to sell the vegetables they grew at a farmers market, as a means of extra 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 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 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 hit 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. After months of searching, exhausted and broken hearted I returned home. I eventually graduated from High School, joining the United States Marine Corps. 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. I hope that I can see her again one day and that she will have found the same peace that I have. 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 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 about how you can make a difference by visiting the Trafficking in America Task Force website https://www.traffickinginamericataskforce.org. Call the human trafficking hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888 if you suspect someone is being trafficked.