“HOld That Thought”

It wasn’t until I met 107 girls as young as 6 years of age who had been victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia and teenage girls who were conned into prostitution in the Philippines, that I started to empathize with women “in the life”, strippers, prostitutes, and those pigeonholed as “hoes.” During the 10 days I volunteered at the three shelters, I got to spend time with these beautiful girls, ALL who had been victims of rape, who were incredibly loving and resilient. I also witnessed how hard life is for people in general in an impoverished country such as the Philippines where for grown women, prostitution is a viable option to stay afloat economically given the high demand for it. And it was on that 33-day journey through southeast Asia in 2014 that my entire perspective about “hoes” changed, an experience that would mark me for life.

Most of my adolescent life I, along with almost everyone I grew up with that went to Catholic school, was quick to point the finger at the other girls deemed as “hoes” who were sleeping around with boys they weren’t in relationships with or lost their virginity in middle school. We made fun of “hoes” and frowned upon them. The guys who seriously dated “hoes” were considered weak and dumb because it was common knowledge that “you can’t turn a hoe into a housewife.” Looking back, I feel ashamed that I perpetuated the mistreatment of girls who were most probably victims of child molestation or rape, didn’t have great role models, were neglected, or whose low self-esteem led them to make decisions that lost them the respect of their peers.

Coming from a place of compassion towards myself, I now understand that I can’t blame myself entirely for having grown up feeling this way about “hoes.”  In part, my Catholic school girl guilt got the best of me, it only took 30 years to shake it off and not believe I was a horrible human being for having pre-marital sex and sex with more than one person. Beyond my personal experience, this ignorant widespread belief about women who sleep around being “hoes” has very very deep roots.  Since the beginning of “man”kind the double standard rule, which overtly rewards men and punishes women for having multiple sex partners, has been at the forefront of societal values.  In fact, it is still very much alive and well today despite what the feminist movement accomplished in America in the 60s and 70s. It still stands in most corners of the globe that women who sleep around, strip, or prostitute themselves are worthless “hoes” and deplorable human beings. At the end of the day, does it matter how many sexual partners a woman has had? Does that really define a woman’s character? What about the women who have had no prior sexual trauma and feel liberated acting like their male counterparts and sleeping with who they choose whenever they want? Personally, I know women that have this attitude about sex who are exceptional, educated, and kind-hearted human beings. How sad is it that we as humans have forgotten how to empathize? How sad is it that we are quick to throw a stone at someone that causes no harm to others?

There’s a popular proverb that says, “you can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” And so I’m asking you to walk with me…walk with me through the life of a 14-year-old-girl who endured close to two years of being sex trafficked and raped by hundreds of grown men. Since October of 2015, I’ve been mentoring a 16-year-old girl who was previously trafficked by a pimp who recruited her through Facebook. The pimp, who was a 23-year-old gangbanger, told my mentee, who was 14 at the time, that he was 16. He courted her; she fell in love with him; he bought her all the things she never had, took her to places she had never been. Then one day, he told her the money had ran out and that she needed to help him make money. Initially when he proposed that she sell her body she refuted the idea but he took advantage of her love for him and manipulated her into doing this one favor for him, after all, he had done so much for her. Confusion and the fear of losing him set in. Reluctantly she agreed, marking the onset of what would be the worst moments of her adolescent life.

Her first day, she made her pimp $900. She came home that day and cried in the shower for hours as she scrubbed her body almost to the point of making her skin bleed. Little did she know this was not a one-time ordeal. He asked her to do it again and at first, out of the fear of losing him, she agreed. Her pimp sold her during the day when she was supposed to be in school; he sold her on Craigslist, Backpages, on Sunset and Hollywood Blvd, in Vegas, and out of different houses (brothels) all over Los Angeles. When she finally resisted, he kidnapped her for four months instilling fear in her and destroying her family. She was devastated, broken and alone in a world she could not escape. Her mother couldn’t find her anywhere because her pimp moved from house to house so she never knew exactly where she was nor did she have access to a phone. One day it was downtown and the next day it was the valley. Ironically, the best thing that ever happened to her was that she got arrested one night while she was on “the track” and taken to jail.  Shortly after, and thankfully, her pimp got arrested for doing a home invasion and currently, mind you, he’s still in jail for the home invasion but not for statutory rape, kidnapping, and prostituting a minor. And it was those two events, which occurred back to back, that eventually catapulted her on the “right track.”

My mentee is back in school and excelling with perfect attendance. She completed a court program called “Ending the Game”, is in a mentorship program with me and soon will be joining a job academy program to help her get ready to obtain a job. I see her twice a month and do a series of activities to empower her and take her to do things she’s never done before, both fun or outside her comfort zone. She recently got an ID card because she had never had one and we are working on getting her to pass her Driver’s Ed course so I can teach her how to drive. Step by step and through time it is my hope that I will be an integral part of her restoration. But unfortunately, there are a lot of things beyond my reach. And so I ask that you keep walking in her shoes…

I think about her going forward and how much shame she must feel at the very thought of being in a relationship with a young man in the future and having to tell him she got pimped for two years. Imagine how difficult it would be for her to confess to a potential love interest that she was forced to sleep, or better yet, raped by hundreds of men. Or would a better option be never telling him what happened to her, keeping that very dark past hidden? What about all the post-traumatic stress that comes with being raped, especially that many times? And all the psychological issues she has which she is not being treated for at the moment? I’m no psychologist but with a B.A. in Psychology and two decades of street smarts, I can already see some of these issues manifesting. Sit with this for a moment…because this is the case of about 100-300,000 children in the U.S.

Please continue to walk with them…

  • 1 in 5 girls is a victim of child sexual abuse
  • Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident
  • Children are most vulnerable to sexual abuse between the ages of 7 and 13.
  • Many women who become prostitutes have been victims of childhood sexual abuse. To cope with the trauma of sexual abuse and the stress of prostitution, many turn to drugs and alcohol, which further complicates their problems.
  • Sexual abuse can cause the following: sexual anxiety and disorders, including having too many or unsafe sexual partners, difficulty setting safe limits with others and relationship problems, poor body image and low self-esteem, and/or unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol, drugs, self-harm, or eating problems. These behaviors are often used to try to hide painful emotions related to the abuse.

Molestation or rape at a young age can lead a girl to make some pretty bad decisions in their adult life. Because there is so much shame and sometimes even threats to keep quiet when sexually abused, in many cases the victims do not receive adequate treatment when it actually happens. Instead, these issues start revealing themselves during adolescence and adulthood. Young women who choose to strip and prostitute themselves have a story…and most of the time it’s a story rooted in abuse, rape, neglect, low self-esteem, drugs, and/or violence. So before you call another woman a “ho”, HOld that thought, and imagine why she may possibly be acting that way and know that there’s a possibility she was a victim at some point in her life of some pretty horrible circumstances.

So I ask that you please don’t stop walking in her shoes until you reach that mile…