вторник, 10 июня 2008 г.

I was a 13-year-old prostitute

When Faye(*) ran away from home at 13, she met the wrong people at the wrong time--and found herself doing the unthinkable.

I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in New York City, in a big apartment with my grandparents and 10 uncles and aunts--all my mother's relatives. My mom moved back to her native Palestine when I was a baby, and I was told that my father was dead. My family was physically and mentally abusive to me. And as the only girl my age in the household, I felt totally alone.

In middle school, I was a tomboy and hung out mostly with guys. That seemed to annoy girls, and they didn't really like me. Since I didn't have any girlfriends, I was ecstatic when, in sixth grade, some girls asked me to go to a dance with them. But as I was leaving, two guys grabbed me and dragged me to a housing project where more guys were waiting. All seven of them raped me. It turned out that the girls hated me even more than I'd thought--they'd set the whole thing up. on the run

I was a virgin before that night, which made it even more devastating. And worse, when my family heard what had happened, they accused me of wanting to have sex with those guys. I tried to tell them the whole story, but they said I was a disgrace to them and beat me up. My grandmother even pulled me out of school so I wouldn't get into any more "trouble." That's when I started running away. For the next five months, I'd just take off and wander the streets for a couple of days at a time. But I always ended up going back home.

Things changed that summer, though. On July 5, 2001, I was walking around when I saw two girls in their early twenties stopped at a red light in a decked-out SUV. I told them they had a nice car, and they said they knew how I could make tons of money: They offered to drive me to an apartment where I could have sex with a college guy for money. I was so drained and numb from my life that I felt like I had nothing to lose--so I agreed to go with them.

When it was over, the girls told me they wanted to introduce me to this guy Joe(*), a pimp who they said could get me more "jobs." But more than that, they told me he'd buy me nice things and take care of me. I was still only 13, and I'd never had anyone take care of me before, so it sounded good. I didn't think of it as prostitution--to me it was about living life on my own. father figure

When I met Joe the next day, I was immediately drawn to him. He wasn't attractive (and he was older--like 27), but I felt safe with him. He bought me nice clothes. I didn't dress in stilettos or flashy miniskirts; I wore jeans and cute tops, like a normal girl. Then Joe got me an apartment of my own--that's where my customers, or "tricks," would visit me. The men I had sex with were between 30 and 60 years old, mostly professional businessmen. I trusted Joe, and the men used condoms so I felt safe. And I really liked living on my own and feeling independent. I gave Joe everything I made, and he paid my rent and gave me money for food and taxis. We had sex twice--but mostly I just did it so I'd feel like he cared about me. And whenever he'd get mad and hit me, I thought he was showing he cared then too. I'd even say things to make him angry on purpose just so I'd get more attention.

But about a month after I'd started, I realized that Joe cared more about money than he cared about me. One night in August 2001, a trick came to my apartment and raped me with a gun. I was bleeding, and I called Joe to tell him what had happened. He just said, "Don't call me until you have my money." I felt so scared--like I used to feel when I lived with my family. breaking point

I kept working for Joe, though--he was the only person I felt close to. My family had been trying to find me--they put up posters all around the city--but I knew if I moved back they'd continue abusing me. Still, after four months, I did sort of miss them--after all, they were my family. So in October, I called one of my aunts and arranged to meet her. Instead of my aunt, my uncle showed up and forced me home, then handcuffed my ankle to the couch so I wouldn't run away again. I begged to be let go, but my family kept a close eye on me for the next few days. Then a neighbor heard my aunt beating me up and called the police. My grandmother told them she didn't want me anymore because I was too much trouble. That's when a detective told me about Children of the Night, a shelter in California for child prostitutes. I wanted to go back to Joe, but the police wouldn't release me since I was a minor. So I decided to check out Children of the Night.

At first, being at the shelter was hard because the schedule we had to follow was so structured: classes, therapy workshops, sleep. Life on the streets was much easier, and I missed it. But the other girls--there were about 15 of us--quickly became like sisters to me. I also really liked the director. I'd never seen a woman with so much power--power she had earned. Watching her do so much good inspired me to want a better life for myself. new beginnings

For the past four years, I've worked hard to change my life. I went to therapy and earned my high school diploma. I also realized how much Joe had manipulated me, and I started working with the police to catch him (that's why I can't use my real name in this story). And I'm happy to say that they're close to making an arrest.

I'm now 17 and a freshman in college. I'm studying to be a lawyer so that eventually I can become president of Children of the Night and help other girls like me. I know I have a lot of work ahead of me, but if I've learned one thing from my experiences, it's this: Things that come quick and easy in life aren't always so good in the end.

(*) Name has been changed.

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