“I was the girl next door. I came from a loving home, was involved in church and went to a good school. I was elected class representative of my sixth-grade class and was responsible for keeping my classmates informed and on track. I was 12 years old and it was my first time to use social media, including Instagram and Snapchat. I didn’t pay much attention to the names on friend requests, I went down the line, hitting the ‘accept’ button.
I received a message from a basic profile that simply said, ‘How was your day?’ I thought it was a student from my school, and replied, ‘Good. How are you doing?’ The conversation went on for two weeks until all of a sudden, this person wanted more from me. He asked for a nude picture, and I realized it wasn’t someone from my school.
I posted his username into Google. The reply in the search engine was ‘the minute you report me, my people will find you and they will kill your family.’ I was 12 years old and didn’t know what to do. So I sent the picture and kept quiet. He used that picture against me and asked for more. After sending the first picture, I was putty in his hands. He hacked into my accounts, threatening to post the pictures or kill my family if I didn’t obey him.
He lived on the West Coast, two time zones behind me. We had a routine. He messaged about 12 or 1 a.m. I started shaking each minute closer to the time to talk with him. I knew what was coming, but I didn’t have a choice. I would have to go on Skype. It was like a webcam, and I could see myself on the screen. I could hear him but couldn’t see him. Most nights, I was up with him until 3 a.m., then waking up three hours later to get ready for school. I was exhausted, and my grades started dropping.
I thought it was love and that I was in a relationship with him. I couldn’t think of it any other way, During middle school, I was busy with volleyball, dance and cross country. I didn’t stop. That made me unavailable with times that he couldn’t reach me. Running was a way to relieve stress and something she could control. On the outside, I looked successful and involved, but inside I was running away and hiding. I didn’t spend much time with my family because I was always busy doing something else. It would have been hard for them to pick up on the red flags.
In 2014, I competed in a national dance competition in Las Vegas. A mother warned the girls in the changing room of a man pacing outside the door. Security escorted him away. Later that night, I received a text that said, ‘I want you to know that I was really close to you today. He had every intention of getting his hands on me and trafficking me in person. That was his chance.
A few nights later, my mother couldn’t sleep. She came in to check on me. It was about midnight and I had a full face of makeup on while I was on the phone with him. I flipped my phone over and put it down. She put out her hand and asked for the phone. I felt sick to my stomach as I handed her the phone. I said I’ll take my punishment now. I had been hiding this secret for three years. I didn’t know how my mother would react. It was also the moment I realized I may not have to go through this anymore. I had been too afraid to tell my parents because of the threats he made against my family, especially my sister.
My mom collected information about him and we went to a sheriff’s deputy. He wouldn’t look me in the eye as I told my story. He wrote the case up as ‘harassing communications,’ but, he said, ‘I will tell you right now that this isn’t going anywhere.’ He was right. The case didn’t go anywhere. We went to the Child Advocacy Center and they put us in touch with the FBI. They took the case and said my trafficker was a very dangerous man.
I knew what to do if I was at a party and a red solo cup was handed to me or if someone offered me drugs because those were the things taught during Red Ribbon week at school. No one ever taught me how to be safe online. I was trusting and didn’t know someone could reach out to you who is not who they say that they are. There was no talk about what to do if someone asks for a nude photo of you.
Attempts at contact from my trafficker eventually ended. He left the country in 2019, the day after he received a visit from the FBI, but he was never charged with a crime.
As contact with my trafficker ended, another man tried to contact me. He was a 48-year-old man from North Carolina, posing as a teenage girl interested in buying the formal dresses that my friends and I were selling online. The messages again turned strange, but this time we immediately turned the messages over to the FBI. My agent assumed my identity and kept communicating with him. He asked for specific poses in the dresses, then asked for voyeur-type photos, offering up to $700 for them. If I didn’t send them, he said he would contact my friends and family and destroy my good-girl status. He edited other pictures to make me appear topless and threatened to send those pictures to my friends and family. He also demanded that I respond only with ‘Yes, Master’ or ‘No, Master.’ He was arrested at his home several days later.
I got through that and realized I had to keep living my life. I became an Azalea Trail Maid and vice president of the National Honor Society at Mary G. Montgomery High School. I received millions of dollars in track scholarship offers from schools across the country and I now run for the University of Mobile.
I entered the Distinguished Young Women competition and that was the first time to say in public what happened to me. I was second runner-up, but the judges asked me to participate in the Miss Mobile Bay pageant. I first said no, then changed my mind. I was a runner, not a pageant girl, but I was injured during my cross country season and open that weekend. I went out on a limb and thought it could be a learning opportunity. I didn’t expect anything from it, but I went in true to myself.
I was crowned Miss Mobile Bay on October 5, 2019, then pageants were canceled due to COVID, including Miss Alabama 2020. That has given me another year to prepare for it. I was barely 18 last year and knew my chances for winning were slim to none. I am thankful for another year to grow and prepare and to focus on more of my goals.
One of those goals is starting a nonprofit, Stopping Traffick, to raise money for groups such as the Rose Center in Mobile, which works with girls who have been trafficked or who are at risk. I also want to raise enough money for scholarships for girls who are abused or trafficked. If girls get out of the situation, they don’t know what their skills are, and it is hard to get on their feet. I want to provide a way to help them get an education. I am also going to major in criminal justice with a minor in business to fight for them.
I am one of the lucky ones who was saved from sex trafficking and went on to a better life. I had strong support from my parents and community. I want to be that for other girls. My crown has opened doors and allowed me to share my story in ways I could have never done on my own.
Mobile is the number two hotspot for sex trafficking in Alabama. If I win Miss Alabama, I will stay for a year in Birmingham, the hub of sex trafficking in the state, preparing for Miss America. Wherever I am, if I save just one girl, then what I went through was worth it.”
If you are someone you know is being trafficked, or you need more information, contact the Rose Center in Mobile (251) 298-3671, The Child Advocacy Center (251) 432-1011 or the Human Trafficking Hotline (888) 373-7888.
Here is the link to the full story with Bre and her mom from Lagniappe this week. https://lagniappemobile.com/a-survivor-of-an-online-child-predator-speaks-out/