A resident of Latisha’s House was just 12 years old when she was first trafficked by a man more than twice her age.
It’s been more than two decades since then, and even though she’s worked through the trauma, fought to gain custody of her children and supported other women who’ve survived sex trafficking, each day she is still recovering.
“I was always scared,” she said. “Even as I got older, I always had paranoia that someone was trying to kill me. I always felt disgusted. And that doesn’t go away easily.”
When she first left her home, she said it was to escape a family dynamic that was both “inappropriate” and abusive. She stayed at her friend’s house for a few days but eventually found herself on the street, not knowing where to go next.
That’s when the man who would become her pimp, her first love and father of her first child, would find her and manipulate her into prostitution during her state of vulnerability.
And when she was just 13 years old, she started seeing her first “clients.”
“There’s a different type of trauma from people who are forced to do stuff and had their childhood taken from them,” she said.
At first, she said she didn’t realize what was happening until she was with the other women trafficked by the same man who took her under their wing and taught her how to survive.
Looking back on the relationships between the women and the man controlling them, she said it’s clear to see the emotional abuse that was happening. While the women took care of each other, they also fought for the attention of their pimp, hoping they’ll be the one to sleep with him at night or look after the money.
“All of the women want that, they want his attention,” she said. “But at the end of the day, he doesn’t love any of us, he just cares about the money. You can be replaced.”
She was trafficked across the country. She said she had to learn how to protect herself every moment. While working under her first pimp, she was beaten and manipulated but eventually found herself in the highest position among the women.
After having her first child, she was arrested in Virginia during a police sting and her baby was taken from her.
“It was like they ripped my heart out of my chest,” she said.
She went to jail for a time period after being arrested, but she said that she still hadn’t gotten out of the mindset of sex work. Shortly after leaving jail, she posted an ad online to attract clients and earn money for a plane ticket home.
However, her plan backfired and her pimp found her, beat her and forced her back into working for him.
“My eyes were still black and blue and [clients] would ask what was wrong,” she said. “They didn’t care though, as long as I was having sex.”
It wasn’t long after she was rediscovered by her pimp that the police arrested the pair again and she was taken to jail—but this time, it was different.
“I had to do what’s best for my [child],” she said. “I knew as long as I entertained someone who is still in that lifestyle, I [couldn’t] allow myself to grow.”
She said during that time in jail, she had a victim’s advocate who called multiple locations in search of an organization that would protect her and help her get back on her feet. But it was a struggle to find a location that would take a woman who had been involved in the sex trafficking industry for so long.
That’s when she said Elizabeth Ameling, executive director of Latisha’s House, came to her and said they would give her a home.
“I was done,” she said. “I was in pain, overworked and I was scared. And that’s when I was rescued.”
During her time at Latisha’s House, she said she had to work hard not only to overcome what she had been through but to learn how to forgive herself and other women in the program. Within five months, she moved through the program, got a job and eventually started to look at ways she could improve the program for other women.
While the program had trained managers, she said her life experience helped bring a new perspective and she suggested changes such as creating separate sections of the house for women going through different stages of the program.
Since escaping from her trafficker a few years ago, she has regained custody of her child and continues to work through her trauma.
But she has only just now started to think of a future for herself.
She said making goals for the future seems like a fairy tale still but one day she would like to open her own safe house to help women who have survived sex trafficking.
“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me,” she said. “I just want them to be happy that I’m still here and trying to make a difference.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: WYDaily did not use the woman’s name to protect her privacy.