When Tonya was 13, she met Eddie (a pseudonym) at the apartment she lived in with her mother in the Dallas, Texas, area. His estranged wife was the property manager. Tonya was classmates with Eddie’s stepdaughter, so the two would often see each other at the apartment and in the local grocery store. It was there that the two first exchanged numbers.
“It was a casual relationship at first. You could see there was a mutual connection. I thought he was cute,” Tonya recalled. “I could tell he was really flirtatious with me. We would talk and flirt a lot, but it was not much more than that until we met again when I was 15.”
Things began to change one night when Tonya ran into Eddie at a bar. Tonya was a runaway, so she eventually moved in with Eddie, and the two began a relationship.
Tonya would cook, clean, and look after Eddie’s kids from time to time. However, when the two were at a party filled with alcohol and drugs relationship took a turn.
“He approached me and told me in so many words, ‘I want you to have sex with this guy for money,’” Tonya said. “I was very uncomfortable, and I kept saying no, I didn’t want to do it. He kept telling me, ‘If you love me, you’ll do this. It’s just one thing. Just try it.’”
After nearly 30 more minutes of constant pressure, Tonya agreed to have sex with the man. What she thought would be a one-time thing became an everyday routine for the next few weeks. Night after night and bar after bar, Tonya would go out with Eddie while he advertised her to potential “suitors.” Tonya thought she loved him. She felt she could deal with the physical toll the trafficking took on her body. It turned out that the hardest part to deal with was the emotional and psychological effects.
Human trafficking is a topic we don’t talk about at dinner, and maybe if we are parents or caregivers to children, we should. About 10,000 children a year suffer the horrors of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States. Each victim, on average, is forced to have sex more than five times a day. Yet, the buyers who fuel the child sex trade are seldom held accountable. Most blend back into their families, jobs, and neighborhoods.
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You are not your circumstances.
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