When I tell my story, my only goal is to help other survivors do the same.
That word carries so much pain, hurt, fear. That word makes me feel like I can’t trust people. Like I’m not worthy. Like I’m unlovable.
My family started trafficking me when I was 9 years old. My aunt was the only woman in my life that I trusted. She broke that trust when she sold me to my trafficker. It taught me people couldn’t be trusted. It taught me love hurts.
I believed her when she told me, “C, just one time. Nobody will know.” I believed her every night when she picked me up from my trafficker, took me home, and said, “I’m proud of how much you made.”
I wanted love. I wanted someone to tell me they were proud of me. My aunt told me she was proud, but my 9 year old self didn’t understand that “I’m proud of you” and “I’m proud of how much you made” were two very different things.
My mother was a hard person to love. She believed my behavior was because I didn’t love her. That couldn’t have been more far from the truth. I loved her so much. I wanted her to love me and to tell me it wasn’t my fault. Instead, I spent most of my time trying to understand what was happening to me and trying to convince her I loved her.
During my trafficking days, the girls being trafficked with me were my family. We were instructed to say we were “sisters.” Our pimp made us call him “daddy,” so we were a “family.” That made things even more complicated for me.
Then there was my survivor family, the ones I lived with after I left the life. The survivors I’m fighting for.
Then there’s a group of people that makes the word “family” mean love, kindness, grace, and freedom. They’re strangers who made me part of their family. They taught me it’s okay to love and be loved. They taught me love doesn’t have to hurt. They taught me what real family looks like and they give me hope in humanity. They love me. They tell me they’re proud of me.
The word “family” doesn’t seem so bad anymore.