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Sarah’s Story

23 Feb 16
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JCAST Chicago was formed by NCJW Chicago North Shore Section in 2014 when we began to learn that sex trafficking is pervasive and a form of modern day slavery.  We know that sex trafficking knows no boundaries; women (and some men) of all ethnicities and socio-economic levels are victimized and men (and some women) of all ethnicities and socio-economic levels are perpetrators (johns, pimps and traffickers).    I share with you this “testimony” by a sex trafficking survivor that she shared at a conference in New York.  She’s a Jewish woman and was victimized in her home and in her synagogue; like virtually all victims of sex trafficking, she had been sexually abused as a child.  Our hearts reach out to all victims of trafficking.  Please help JCAST Chicago raise awareness of sex trafficking in the Jewish and non-Jewish communities so we can save young people from falling pretty to trafficking.

(The following testimony is excerpted from the ‘We Were Slaves: The Jewish Community Unites Against Sex Trafficking’ Conference which was held in April 2013.)

Sarah’s Story

Many of you may be wondering why there is an anti sex-trafficking conference directed at the Jewish community. You may believe that my experience is completely atypical, a fluke. It is easy to turn your head and pretend that slavery, especially in the streets of New York, does not happen today. I am asking you to open your ears to those who would speak out against the injustice in their life, if only they could. Open your eyes to the men who supported my pimp and continue to support other pimps, as they pay for our bodies to be used against our will.

Many of you here today, as doctors, social workers, business people, educators, religious leaders and even just as ordinary citizens, may come into contact with someone exploited in prostitution, if only you recognized the signs. You are also in a position where you can educate the men who pay for sex and who continue to make trafficking a lucrative endeavor.

My experience is not unique. It happened to me, but it could have happened to any other girl. What sets me apart, and the only reason I am able to be here today, is because of the people who refused to pass the responsibility to someone else. But even the help I received did not come until after many years of abuse.

No one is born a prostitute. I was lucky to be born into a close-knit family, with parents who did their best to provide my siblings and me with good support and an education. Sex was not talked about in my house, and so when I was little and a neighbor molested me, I was embarrassed to talk about it. I hated Hebrew school because I did not understand why I dressed modestly only to have my tights pulled down, as I tried not to cry.

When the man who later became my pimp, raped me, I did not tell anyone because I blamed myself for giving into his beatings and placing myself in the situation. Eventually the line blurred between being beaten, being threatened, and choosing to have sex out of my own will.

After so many times of being set up with strangers and not being able to say no, even when a man was repulsive or violent, I began to convince myself I enjoyed what we prostituted girls called “the life”, so that I could live. I tried to convince myself that it was a game. The times I broke the rules by not cooperating or trying to believe that I could get away, a beating by my pimp brought me back to reality.

I always blamed myself for not being able to get away. I believed I was weak and should have been able to walk away from the nightmare I was living. The self- blame and shame stopped me from telling my family and others around me.

I also thought it was obvious, but the people around me did not notice or chose not to care. I was kicked out of Hebrew school for hanging out with older men. My pediatrician commented on my injuries, but never identified me as a trafficking victim. I went to a free clinic almost weekly to make sure I did not have any STD’s, but no one there realized I was forced into prostitution, even though the staff noticed my injuries and I was honest about the number of men who had sex with me. I was beaten in several stores, but instead of reaching out to help me, both my pimp and I were told to leave. I was in and out of the hospital for injuries my pimps inflicted on me, several times. I was well known in the local precinct, as I was often robbed or assaulted. I also tried to go to the police for help, but I was turned away, because instead of seeing a crime victim, they only saw a prostitute. One store owner noticed the interchange of money between me and older men, and contacted my family. It was that small action that led to my family’s involvement.

When I was being trafficked, I could not seek help from the police or those around me. My pimps told me that if I did, my family would be attacked and my sister would be raped. I could not see outside my world, and to me, my pimp was the most powerful person in my life.

I also felt extremely conflicted about “snitching” on the man who forced me to have sex with other people. He isolated me from my family and friends. His friends became my friends. I felt really close to him. The more I stood by him, despite his violence, the more he seemed to respect me. When he hit me, I blamed myself for stepping out of line and believed that it was because he cared about me.

I was stopped by the police several times, but they ignored the signs that I was being abused. A few years ago, I was in a car that was stopped at around 3 am. I was with men over ten years older than me, and the police asked me if everything was okay. Surrounded by the same men who beat me, I said yes. No more questions were asked.

There is no singular physical description that can describe the men who pay for sex. Nor is there a religious, educational or occupational divide.  Some Jewish men, like men of many other religions, also pay for sex. Some of the men who paid to have sex with me wore a kippah, a few men were Muslim. Some men had multiple degrees; others never even graduated high-school. Some talked about their wives and one even showed me a picture of his kids.

One day I met someone, who refused to turn the other way. No matter how much I tried to justify my life on the street, he told me it was not okay. He helped me refocus on my goals and work on the practical obstacles that lay in the way of getting off the street, such as moving and dealing with law enforcement. He allowed me to see a bigger world, one in which I could live out of my pimp’s reach.

I was scared about leaving prostitution completely because I did not want my family to be harmed. It seemed impossible for my family to move, as my siblings were in local schools and my family could not afford to move. The staff at the social service agency that assisted me assured me that I could focus on getting out, instead of keeping my family safe. They helped my family move, and provided me with therapy and support that enabled me to move on from the life.

Now, I am out of prostitution and have the luxury of being able to set the boundaries for my body. I learned that the quick racing heart I have had for so long, was not normal, but rather anxiety. I no longer had an ever-increasing pile of ripped jeans with the buttons missing, or shirts, ripped from being beaten. I find myself sitting in class, appreciating the fact that I am sitting there without having to make up for lost time, later that night. I no longer have bruises, burns or cuts to hide. The condom I carry, in case I get raped, is still the same condom I have carried for months.

I had always thought I would be able to walk away, unscathed. But somehow, my life on the street has found ways to seep into the normal life I had wanted for so long. The same principles that kept me alive on the street, are the ones that are contrary to living a so called, normal life.  Nightmares jolt me up at night as I relive the same events that I had one time considered normal. I fend off every possibility of getting to know another guy, even as a simple study partner, for the fear of being raped again.

However, I now have the freedom that will enable to get past it. With the help and support of my professor, therapist, social workers, a prosecutor, a social service agency and my family, I was given the chance to get away from the person who forced me into prostitution.

I did not know I was a victim of sex trafficking, and it took me a long time to get help. You are here today, because any one of you could be in the position to help a sex trafficking victim get off the street, either directly or by putting her in touch with services that would help her. You are also in a position to educate others to recognize sex trafficking victims and to take a stand against paying for sex. What happened to me could have happened to you, your wife, your daughters, your nieces or your friends. It is time to take a stand against sex trafficking and show support to those who believe they are alone and cannot say no.