“I don’t think I’m actually a victim of human trafficking.” The girl looked at me earnestly from her chair across the table from me, in the library of the detention center. “I listened to all that you were teaching but I think this is my own fault.”
Finding that difficult to believe, I asked her to share her story.
*Aliyah was two years old when her parents, who were addicted to drugs, lost custody of her. They didn’t fight to get their daughter back. After a couple of years in foster care, Aliyah’s aunt was given custody of the girl. Aliyah’s aunt physically abused her and constantly reminded that she wasn’t wanted.
Aliyah’s mom came back into the picture after a few years and decided she wanted her daughter to live with her. She had two more kids at this point. It was a dark time for Aliyah, which led her to run away. She was homeless on the streets for a while, and got pregnant and gave birth to a child at age 14. Without a home or the ability to raise her child, the baby was placed into the foster care system.
Aliyah returned to live with her mom, and before long her mom decided she didn’t want to parent anymore. Aliyah and her elementary-aged siblings were abandoned.
When the landlord realized no one was paying the rent, he called the police. Aliyah assured them she wanted to go back to live with her aunt. Instead, she ran away, taking the children with her, afraid that they would end up in the system. Aliyah rented two side-by-side rooms in a seedy hotel and moved in with her siblings. Before long she realized she wouldn’t be able to support her siblings on the money she was earning from her job. She tried to get more hours but couldn’t. This is where her introduction to trafficking began.
Like many girls, Aliyah didn’t realize that she was recruited into trafficking. It was an older girl who told her she could “help her with her financial problems, and all she needed to do was work a little bit.”
At first it was going on dates. She thought it was weird that older men would want to spend time with her, but she felt good that she was able to provide company to lonely people. One night a man offered her $2,000 for sex. She hated the idea, but thinking about the struggle to support her siblings, she reluctantly consented. “I never let them go without a meal. They always had clothes and they never missed school,” she said.
Aliyah was eventually arrested and brought into juvenile detention, which is where we met her. Her aunt still had custody, but said she didn’t want her niece. Aliyah’s now a ward of the state. Thankfully, all charges have been dropped against her. Because she is a ward of the state and they can’t find a placement for her, she is spending her days in detention. She often cries in her room and thinks of her own child, who just had a birthday. She is a remarkable young lady and we are working to help her get back on her feet.
Her greatest desire is to be placed somewhere where she will be wanted and loved, and where she can work to gain custody of her child.
When asked what she would want to share with anyone hearing about children caught in sex trafficking, she simply said, “If you can help…..HELP!”
*Name and some details changed to protect privacy. Story has been shared with permission.