Tanya - United States I grew up without being accountable to anyone. I never knew my father, and my mom was an alcoholic; she was around, but not there...all I know, I have learned from my own experiences. I wish there had been an adult in my life to just teach me what is right and tell me what to watch out for, or what could happen to me. I just didn't know. When I was 12 years old, a guy I thought was just a "dope boy" kept following me in his car when I walked to school. He was older and real cool, and he said I was really cute. He paid a lot of attention to me and eventually I got in the car with him. For a while we were girlfriend and boyfriend; we would go everywhere together. It didn't take long before I experienced the real treatment-being beaten, stomped on, manipulated and sold all day every day.
When I think about how it must have looked to people, a baby-looking girl like me with an older "boyfriend", it makes me wonder why nobody was ever there to stop it, or even ask any questions at all. I think in our society there is nobody that even wants to stop it. It's just normal. Everything is about sex everywhere you look in our culture, and sex with little girls is just another part of the picture. That's the way it seemed to me when I was 12, and when I realized that my boyfriend was a pimp, I thought, well, I guess that's just the way it is and I did what he told me. I thought I was making the choice, and that was pretty much what I would have to do to get along in life. Nobody ever told me--I didn't understand--what a choice really was.
People have asked me how I could have done what I did-sell my body on the street, in cars, in trucks, anywhere and everywhere and then deliver every last dollar to my pimp. Looking back on it from my vantage point today, I can't answer that question...I'm amazed myself, that I was so under the control of that man. He was the only person in my life that I felt connected to and I even felt like he was my only protection; therefore, I would have done anything to stay with him. The price was for me to sell the only thing I had, my body. He gave me a different name, a street name...it was Cookie. That was fine with me because Ty would never do the things Cookie did; I was a different person when I was tricking.
Sometimes the john would tell me they knew I was young and they wanted to help me get out; I always took it as a joke because they would go ahead and use me anyway. They acted like their pity or their money helped me. They never did anything to help me, and I stopped hoping that anyone ever would.
It's a very strange world when you are in it. In a really screwed up way, I had a family. It was a family of "wife in laws" that fought each other out of jealousy and competition for our pimp's attention. We were only allowed to talk to each other, never anyone outside the family. I was arrested 17 different times in all kinds of cities and every time I went to detention, they thought all they had to do is change where I was. So I ended up in group homes where people had serious drug and mental problems, but not my kind of problem...there was nothing to help me deal with the trauma of what happened to me. I wanted nothing to do with those places. Being with the "family" was at least something I was used to, so I ran away and back to my pimp every time. Each time I was transferred from out of state back to Ohio, it was in handcuffs and leg shackles and I was surrounded by policemen that I felt were my enemies. Despite my age, I spent 8 months in prison when my pimp caught a federal case. Yes, I'm the one that went to prison. I could never trust anyone.
Sitting in a facility with criminals didn't help, it only made me more bitter.
What did help was to finally meet someone who had walked in my shoes and survived. This lady, El, was real, not just in what she said, but because she had been where I was; I had a torn-soul to torn-soul relationship with her.*
So many others are out for the publicity, but girls like me can tell when someone is sincere, understands what it is like to be a slave, and really wants to help. I have a new life now, and I am going to study to become a doctor. The day that changed my life, I was walking to school. I was going to a special program because I was smart. A lot has happened to me and I'm wiser now, but I'm going to go back and pick up with that smart girl, and move ahead.
*El (Elesondral Deramono) is Founder and Director of Wake Up Youth [http://wakeupyouthinc.com] in Toledo, OH, a Shared Hope partner.