It wasn’t until I was twenty-six years old that I was able to come to the point of finally telling someone the horrors I endured growing up. I carried around many of those secrets for over a decade. Fear and shame kept me from talking about things that happened to me when I was younger. It’s hard to tell on someone when you desperately want them to love you and want you. I never told my brothers what happened either because I didn’t want them to push our mother away and it be my fault. Neither of us have a relationship with her now, but I don’t know that I will ever be able to openly talk with them about what happened because it’s their mother too.
I’ve been speaking publicly about my experience to spread awareness of what’s happening. I’ve found that me being open and sharing my story helps others come forward who haven’t been able to tell anyone what has happened to them. Several people have shared things with me that they've never told anyone; including, a seventy-five-year old woman whose mother sold her too. Sharing my experiences also helps law enforcement, social workers, juvenile justice workers, etc., better understand the victims’ mindset from the trauma they endured. Speaking also helps me feel empowered and is a reminder of how far I’ve come.
Surprisingly I’ve become very open with my story and what’s happened to me. I haven’t publicly shared everything yet and I don’t know that I ever will, but I do share a lot. I never share everything at any one event, because sometimes even just a portion of my experience is a lot for the audience to handle.
When I speak at events I like to allow people to ask questions if time allows. I have been asked some very inappropriate questions and at one point I felt like I had to answer, but I over time I've become strong enough to decline to answer when I’m asked something I think is inappropriate.
For those who haven’t heard my story, but know I’m survivor, they all ask the same question and I hear it a lot, “How did you get out?”. That’s a hard question to answer, not only because my story is so complex, but because I often question if it’s fair to say survivors ever really “get out.” Yes, we may not physically be living in those horrors anymore, but once you’re “out” your mind doesn’t forget what happened. Nothing can take away what happened to you. No amount of jail time (if any) for the perpetrator is “justice.” Yes, it may help knowing they are doing time, but in my opinion, there’s never real “justice.”
I’m thankful the support I’ve had in my healing process. There were many times during the process I didn’t feel strong enough to live. I felt like I was made to be a victim and that was all I was ever going to be. My life became so dark... to the point where I didn’t know if there was hope for me. I had an amazing therapist who never gave up on me and I will forever be grateful for her. Therapy was hard, but I will say that it was definitely worth it. It was the best thing I could have done. I had to learn how to not be a victim anymore and become a survivor. Once I became a survivor I didn’t want to be just survive anymore… I wanted to thrive!
Unfortunately, many victims/survivors don’t make it the point where I am. Recovery/healing can be a lifelong journey and it’s often a journey that requires resources and support survivors don’t have. Sometimes survivors focus more on helping other victims and other survivors that they become so selfless and don’t stop to take care of themselves.
Earlier this month we lost a hero. Jennifer Kempton was a survivor of trafficking who started an organization, Survivors Ink, to help victims who were branded by their trafficker get their tattoos/marks removed or covered. She spoke about the lack of resources available for survivors. She was constantly helping others and that meant not always taking care of herself. Jennifer died of a suspected drug overdose. I don’t know her personally, but I’ve followed her organization and story for a couple of years. There have been many wonderful tributes written about her. If you would like read more about Jennifer’s story and the work she did you can find them online by searching Jennifer Kempton.
Please remember the recovery/healing process is a long difficult journey and is different for each survivor.