As I shared in part one and part two of my story, my sister and her boyfriend plotted to traffic me when I was twelve years old. They invited me to a “sleepover,” and the next thing I knew, I was being taken to hotel after hotel, where men lined up to pay for a virgin.
In that moment, my sister’s boyfriend became my pimp. He laid out what would be required of me, night after night, making it clear that he owned my body, and that he would kill me if I didn’t comply. Regular beatings instilled constant fear in me and I gave up all hope of escape. I attended middle school and played sports during the day—and I was raped every night.
Read Part 1 of Stephani’s Story: My Sister Sold My Virginity In Middle School
Read Part 2 of Stephani’s Story: A Police Officer Bought Me In Middle School
During the time I was being trafficked there was still a lot of dysfunction going on at home as well. Many times my family was too busy trying to find my brother who was heavily on drugs and running the streets, or dealing with my sister’s erratic behavior to even worry about what I was doing.
There were some nights where my pimp knew he couldn’t pick me up. He knew my family personally and closely, so he knew when we had dinners, events, parties, drama, fights. Many times he was present for these events.
It always fearfully surprised me when my pimp would be at our house.
It always fearfully surprised me when my pimp would be at our house. I was very quiet on the nights he ate dinner with us… Our parents would talk with him and I tried to just eat my food and stay silent.
I was very quiet on the nights he ate dinner with us. I would try to sit on the farthest side away from him, but there were times he would sit next to me. Our parents would talk with him and I tried to just eat my food and stay silent. I remember him elbowing my ribs once, where he’d beaten me, and commenting on how quiet I was. The alarms going off inside me from the fear of him being there, and the physical pain, made it very difficult to get through dinner.
Our parents were too busy hosting their parties and events to wonder what it was we were doing. He took this time to groom me and abuse me. My pimp would attend our family gatherings and holiday get togethers.
One particular Christmas Eve my parents were having their annual Christmas party at our house. They had invited their coworkers, neighbors, friends, etc. Our home was loud with chatter and music. It was such a large gathering that we tended to ourselves most of the night.
I had walked into my room to leave my sweater, and before I knew it he was in my bedroom with me, alone. He was excited and panting. He raped me in my own home while my parents were home and our house was filled with guests.
He raped me in my own home while my parents were home and our house was filled with guests.
I was terrified. What if someone walked in? What if my parents needed me? When he was in the act of taking advantage of me he would whisper in my ear how he would kill me if I made a sound. I believed him. Somehow I was silent. When he was done he’d dress and then leave as though nothing had taken place.
This wasn’t a one-time incident, but happened many times in my own home. Nothing in my life was predictable. Our home was ridden with abuse and now I was owned by this man. I thought I’d never get away.
It wasn’t until my family decided to move out of our home where we had been for so many years that I saw a glimmer of hope. My step mother became sick and began dealing with severe epilepsy. There were major amounts of mold within our family home, so moving was the only option while they gutted our house.
House hunting didn’t take long and we started the process of packing and moving. The town we were settling into was very small. They were known for their police department and the arrests and tickets they gave. The community was well-known.
Due to my step mother’s illness we were constantly back and forth between our new Louisiana home and her apartment in Dallas. Her well-educated team of doctors had specified that she get a small place there for her treatments.
Many times we were picked up from school and headed off to that Dallas apartment. Even though my family life was still very much chaotic, I was becoming difficult to locate. I no longer was being picked up during the night.
But I wasn’t yet hopeful I could get out of my pimp’s clutches. I thought every day would be the day he’d call. My cell phone would “ding” and I always was tense. Fear. It just felt like living in fear.
After moving to our new home my pimp changed his tactic.
I would be at a softball game and would see him sitting in the stands or standing by the dugout while I was playing—it was utterly terrifying, especially since I had gotten accustomed to him not calling. I’ll never forget the feeling of terror that shot through me in those moments. I never knew what was going to happen when I was with him, when he’d show up, or what his demands would be.
He’d pick me up and take me on “dates” with men. He would tell me to tell my parents I had practice or club meetings after school in order for me to fulfill my duties for him. Some days he would pick me up and take advantage of me simply because he was able to.
My dad and his wife never came to school functions or games by this time. I had rare supervision. Exhausting does not even begin to describe the way I felt. All areas of my life felt controlled by someone else.
I thought he had figured out a way to have me back in his game again. But my deliverance soon came in an unusual way.
My pimp mainly knew where I was because of my step sister. One day her mother decided she would attend school in Dallas so she could be with her. As our lives changed and became more unknown so did my whereabouts. I began traveling for sports and being more involved in school. During the summer I would sign myself up for summer ball or tennis camps in order to fill my schedule up.
One thing I loved about this was that in order to play I had to be at school and at my practices. If someone wasn’t in attendance the coach would call the parents. It formed a sense of safety for me.
Once my step mom and dad divorced I became an only child in our home, so my dad was constantly wanting to know where I was. In a sense he became a stricter parent. My dad still wasn’t involved in my life, and I had made my lifestyle so busy that really no one knew where I was.
I was in every sport I could join in and outside of school and every club I could be a part of during school. By the time I was in high school my pimp was no longer calling.
Even though I wasn’t suffering the torment of being raped every day, the healing was far from immediate. It took a long time for me to realize he was not calling me and wouldn’t call again. I was on edge for quite a long time. Then I began to have fear that I’d done something wrong.
Today I am a healthy and joyful person. I’m living proof that healing from extreme trauma is possible! It’s taken so much time and a lot of learning to get here. I now know that there are people who really care what happens to others.
Today I am a healthy and joyful person. I’m living proof that healing from extreme trauma is possible!
I cannot say that my life is now perfect, because no life is, but I can say that I got out of the game. That, to me, is a blessing. There are many who don’t. Now that I’m no longer being hunted I have become a voice for those who do not make it out. And I’ve got my own voice back, with confidence to finally speak the truth.
To my knowledge, my pimp was never caught—and neither was my step sister. However, justice is perhaps being served in a roundabout way as she’s currently serving 15 years in prison for vehicular manslaughter. She never apologized for what she did to me and, sadly, I believe she is a sociopath.
This may come as a shock, but after spending years processing my story in therapy, I have come to believe my parents knew what was going on back then. I don’t know how involved they were, but I do think my dad and step mom knew. My real mom was in prison at that time and she did not know.
My dad pretends not to know and just ignores my childhood. I don’t speak to my step mom. But when I confronted her about it she acted as though she had no clue about any of the dysfunction in our home even though she caused a lot of it.
I went to much therapy over the years. It wasn’t a good experience for me until I started meeting with three amazing women from Exodus Cry*: Kezia (my therapist), Helen Kim (my social worker), and Helen Taylor (my art teacher and Exodus Cry’s current Director of Outreach). I felt safe there, and that I could truly trust them. I could laugh with them. These were heartfelt relationships with personable, compassionate women—a stark contrast from the cold, analyzing and critique-laden therapy sessions I had experienced in the past. That’s when I began healing from all of this.
I believe there are many ways the Lord has brought redemption into my story. I don’t shrink back when in contact with every man I meet. I am confident, and that’s because of Jesus. I’m in awe of the joy I have because of the light of Christ within me. I can now clearly see that the Devil wanted me dead—but God still had a plan and brought me through it. In some ways it reminds me of the biblical story of Job.
The Lord has brought redemption into my story… I’m in awe of the joy I have because of the light of Christ within me.
Cliche as it may sound, the things I’ve been through have made me stronger. I used to think I was just a victim and I had a really bad victim mentality. But now I never think of myself as the victim. I know what I went through was seriously dangerous and evil, but I’m able to separate myself from the trauma and my childhood in a healthy way.
I will soon be attending school to become a social worker and I want to truly be a voice that the Lord uses for the voiceless. I don’t say that lightly or because it sounds good. I have a true passion to inform and educate. And I have a dream to foster children, which is a big need in this fight because kids in the foster care system are at high risk of being sexually exploited.
As I reflect on the darkest days of my childhood, I wish I would’ve known healthy individuals. When I moved into my dad’s home full time no one came to our house. No one asked how I felt or how I was. The need for good, trustworthy, compassionate social workers is crucial. Kids and young adults need safe people in their lives whom they can be open and honest with. If I had had this, perhaps I could’ve avoided years of exploitation and trauma.
I also want to offer a message to parents. Wake up and check on your children at night. Don’t allow them to know passcodes to alarm systems. Be a healthy parent by being attentive and aware. A pimp could be anyone who comes into your home. Just because the AC repair man is kind to your child doesn’t mean he is safe. Be sensitive to what your children hear, see, and are around. If there’s anything you’re uncomfortable with then your child is certainly uncomfortable. Talk to them about everything. When they mention sensitive topics, inquire about them. Don’t interrogate, but be alert.
My message to society as a whole is this: recognize that the kind of exploitation I experienced is happening somewhere near you. It’s happening in your town, general area, or even in your neighborhood. If you suspect something going on with any child not your own, consider calling Child Protective Services.
Not everyone has to do intervention or outreach work in order to help. You can share the truth about the commercial sex industry with one person who doesn’t know. You can talk to your pastor. Get your church involved. Do your own research to find ways to get involved and work with an organization near you. Volunteer at the local Boys and Girls Club. There are endless possibilities.
I gladly share my story because there’s no substitute for hearing it straight from the person who lived it. It ignites awareness in a way that facts and figures simply can’t do. May my story remind you that hope is not lost, that healing and freedom are possible. May it fan that inner flame of abolition that’s already in you and deepen your conviction to fight fearlessly against trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.
There are girls like me still out there who need you.
*Exodus Cry had the honor of serving sexually exploited women through therapy and social work services via our Restoration program, which concluded in 2017. Today, when needed, we provide referrals to partners who specialize in this crucial work of aftercare. We continue to actively serve and extend freedom to sexually exploited women, face to face, through our Intervention team.