I was just one girl in a big ring

June 27, 2019
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I was just one girl in a big ring

I was just one girl in a big ring

“I still can’t believe that sex trafficking happened to me or that people enslave young girls in Mobile. I was 18 and had a baby after high school graduation. The father of my baby became abusive to both of us and I moved back home. I has always been an athlete and a good person and felt bad about myself and my postpartum body. I met a guy who opened a door for me at a gas station and ‘hello’ led to flirting. Things got serious real fast but he treated me nice and I felt not so gross with him. My dad thought he was dangerous and bad for me and drew the line to break up with him or leave home. My dad had to protect my younger brother and sister. I moved in with my boyfriend and his family and they isolated me from everyone I knew. A month later, they told me it was time to help financially and forced me into their escort service. They threatened my family, busted out the back windshield of my car, and broke me down. Eventually I gave in because they said being an escort was just dates. I thought I could make money and get away.

My first escort job was with a man who drove me to dinner in a Hummer and talked about hunting in Alaska and Africa. Returning to the motel room, he dropped the money on the table. I thought the date ended with my clothes on, just like the family said it would. He told me to take a shower and relax. He would tuck me in. I came out of the bathroom, and he told me to get undressed. I told him this was her first time as an escort and I was uncomfortable doing anything more. He said, ‘It is okay, I will be gentle.’ That man thought I was 16 and had no concerns about me.

I was raped twice since I became involved with the boyfriend and my body had already been defiled. I thought this couldn’t been be worse than what I had already been through. I closed my eyes and got it over as fast as possible. As soon as he left, the family appeared and took the money. I cried, but not from physical pain. They told me to go home and take a bath. It would be okay. They hooked me on drugs to cut down my anxiety and keep me under control.

I did this every day, three to six men a day, for over a year. That was nothing compared to the other girls who were even more strung out, didn’t cause the drama I did, and had been there much longer. The cost was $160 for 30 minutes, or $200 for an hour for basic services, plus expenses and hotel costs. The money was split 60-40. I got the smaller half. I learned to do whatever I had to do to make the men hurry up and get it over with. Just leave the money and go.

They told men I was 16. The men paying for sex with an underage girl weren’t just the weird ones. They were doctors, lawyers, a former judge, a missionary, and rich, well-educated, influential men who did big things in our community. Police officers who laid their money on the table and removed their clothes were not working a sting. One of my regulars was a local high school principal who had me wear pigtails. These men seeking to have sex with younger girls may appear to have it together on the outside, but they are dangerous and dark on the inside. We were hired to serve drinks at community and business parties, but were expected to do much more.

Mardi Gras was the busiest time of the year, with men coming to Mobile from across the country. The celebration brings out the best and worst in people. I didn’t sleep during those weeks. They told us Mardi Gras was big money, but I never saw it.

The two years of my enslavement in the mid-2000s, were days of daze with drama every day. I was robbed several times, beaten by motel coat hangers, burned by cigarettes and at risk of being killed at any time by the people over me.

I was just one girl in a big ring. My boyfriend and his family were at the bottom level. Higher levels controlled more families like ours. My ring was run by a woman who was always nice to me, but there were more levels above her. They were organized and smart, scattering the girls around motels in Mobile and Baldwin counties and moving us often so we wouldn’t get caught, There were feuds between the rings but they usually stayed out of each other’s territory. It was a big business in Mobile and the beach areas in Gulf Shores and Pensacola where people go as tourists.

I knew there were other girls like me in our ring, but those escort ads in the Mobile Press Register showed that there were more girls and rings in town. The ads promised pleasure and fun. Age and body type were negotiated when men called the number. They didn’t care about who we were or how we got there, they just wanted us to be young and beautiful. There were girls younger than me. One just turned 15. She was a gorgeous girl who looked older than 15 because she had been in this for so long, They told men she was younger and they were extra careful not to get caught with her. The younger girls were worth the risk because they got more money. I never heard of anyone in our ring getting arrested or caught in a sting.”

This is part of Michelle’s story from this week’s story “It Can Happen to Anyone” in Lagniappe. There is much more from her life as a victim of sex trafficking, including an ending that shows God appears in the darkest places. You can pick the story up in the Lagniappe boxes in Mobile and Baldwin Counties or read it online at www.Lagniappemobile.com. This is the fifth story in a six-part series “Sexual Slavery in South Alabama.”

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