CHICAGO — The victims of sex trafficking are from every race, religion, neighborhood and zip code. On Wednesday, we begin a multi-part series with the voice of one brave survivor from Chicago.
“My mom kicked me out when I was 17,” she said. “I’ve been living on the streets since then.”
Because the people who sold the teenager for sex are still at large and a threat to her safety, WGN News is not naming the teen. She’s a South Side native who’s found comfort at Selah Freedom, a safe house that protects and rehabilitates survivors of sex trafficking.
She recounted her story through tear-filled eyes.
“The day when my life changed,” she said, “I was walking. It was this girl, she asked me a question. She was beautiful. She just didn’t look like the monster she was.”
The woman offered the teen a night of fun and friendship. Like Cinderella, she was given a pretty dress.
“She gave me a little black dress,” the survivor recalled, “and I put it on, and she gave me some high stiletto heels.”
In the end, what the girl hoped was a fairy tale played out more like a Hollywood horror film.
“She was like, ‘I got somebody I want you to meet. He’s very nice. He’s the person I work with. We do business together.’ She was like, ‘Come on, baby girl, take your clothes off.’ And I was like, ‘Why?’ And she was like, ‘Oh you must not have done this before.’ And I was like, ’Done what? I don’t even know what you’re talking about.’ I was like, ‘Can I go?’ And they were like, ‘Oh, no. Ain’t no going back, baby girl. You’re our baby now.’ I took my clothes off one by one. I just looked at myself in the mirror. I just started crying because I never thought something like this would happen to me, and another woman would put me in it!”
For three months, the teen was held captive — her body sold repeatedly until she was abandoned, broke and back on the street, where she fell into the hands of another predator.
“I was just vulnerable at the time,” she said, “and I told him what happened. He was like, ‘You’re too beautiful to be going through all of that.’ He was like, ‘Look, I have my own apartment. It’s a three bedroom. You could sleep there if you want.’ There was no way out of the house. The windows were barred up, the doors were barred. Every door had a key, and he had a ring of keys, so I couldn’t even find out what key to open the door. No sunlight, no outside. Starvation.”
But one night, she planned a bold escape.
“I slept with him that night in his room. I got up and I grabbed his keys, and I was being really quiet. I didn’t know what key worked the door, so I had to go through every key. Can you imagine the anxiety? It was so many keys I had to try. I didn’t want him to wake up. So the final key, put it in the door and opened that door. And fresh air is all I felt. And I just ran so fast.”
With no money, no food and no place to stay, the teen began trafficking herself — spiraling downward until she felt the only escape was suicide. In the hospital, she met an outreach coordinator from Selah Freedom.
“It was this happy feeling that came over me,” the teen said. “She just felt like a mama bear. It kind of felt too good to be true.”
Even with fellow survivors assuring her things would get better, the experience carries scars that put trust almost out of reach.
“It’s a process.”
On Thursday night, WGN continues our journey of education into sex trafficking. We’ll meet a young girl whose trafficker tattooed his name on her body — and how she’s rewriting her story. Plus, a woman who came through Selah Freedom’s program with such gratitude, she went to work for the life-saving organization.
To learn more about Selah Freedom, click here.
This is Part 1 of a multi-part series. Click here to watch part 2: Woman sold for sex at 13 shares her story of survival