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Heather's Story - Renewal Forum
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Heather’s Story

On October 22, 2013, by Shayla Wakumoto

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At the age of thirty-six, Heather, a survivor of the sex trade, shares her story. By working with Selah Freedom, a nonprofit organization focus on working with sex trafficking victims, she is now working towards her future goals and dreams. Though free from the sex trade, she continues to struggle finding jobs because of her arrest records. What do we do with people like Heather? Do we hold her past against her? 

 Her story starts out at the age of three, when she was raped by her stepfather. Growing up, she witnessed her mother being beaten and raped as well as her sister being raped. When she was ten, she coped by indulging in alcohol, marijuana, and sniffing paint to escape reality. A year later she became a runaway where she met her “boyfriend”, Conan, who supplied her with shelter, food, drugs, and care. Conan groomed Heather for prostitution by making her believe sexual exploitation was a part of love. He allowed friends to receive free sexual services from Heather and if she did not comply she would be beaten or locked up. At one point, Conan had more than twelve girls in his house behind an elementary school. He would take the girls to migrant camps. Returning to Conan’s house, the girls would cope by getting high while watching cartoons.

 During middle school, Heather was continually prostituted. She was diagnosed with a learning disability and forced to participate in special education, then became pregnant and attempted suicide. At the hospital, she had an abortion and opened up about her stepfather raping her. The police conducted a lie detector test on the stepfather but he passed, so no one believed her about the rape. After the hospital, she was sent to live with her biological father and his wife. Instead of things getting better, things got worst. Heather was introduced to meth and encouraged by her father to continue prostitution. She became pregnant and her father fled due to owing drug dealers money. She was beaten and raped by the drug dealers, which caused her to have a miscarriage.

 By the age of eighteen, she had a sixth grade education and suffered serious physical and mental problems. Even though she moved back into her mother’s house, she continued being prostituted. She ended up being picked up by a pimp who took her to Miami, where she got branded with a tattoo of his name. Being the oldest, she was the “bottom girl”, and she cooked, cleaned, and recruited younger girls. Though Eugene beat and prostituted the girls, he would also take them shopping and out for dinner. In one incident he took Heather to Disney World for the day, but at night he prostituted her in order to pay back the expenses for the day.

 With arrests in various states and warrants out for her arrest, she was sent to a twenty-four month program at Teen Challenge. Within eight months, she fled from the program and was back on the streets. One of her customers ended up taking her back to his trailer, where he put a trash bag of nitrous oxide over her head, while she was high on crack. She woke up while she being put into a trash bag because he thought she was dead. This situation turned her life around and she started to seek help.

 At the age of thirty, she started to seek help at Selah Freedom, which gave her a second chance. Now at thirty-six, she recently graduated from beauty school and is searching for a full time job. With her arrest record, it is hard to find an employer who is willing to hire her. Heather is one of the many survivors who still have a criminal record even though they were victims. Throughout Heather’s childhood, she had minimal resources to help her get out of her situation. When she tried to seek help, people did not believe her. There was no point where she could leave, and when she tried, she ended back on the streets. Though it is great that Heather got treatment from Selah Freedom, it is sad it took this long for her to escape a life of exploitation.(see article)

Heather had no choice but to be a part of this lifestyle. When could she have left the prostituted lifestyle? She tried seeking help from authorities; no one believed nor helped her. Nor did she choose to live this way. Victims do not voluntary ask to be prostituted. Prostituted people should not be viewed and charged as a criminal, but instead looked at as victims. Though there are Safe Harbor laws in place in various states , there also needs to be training with police officers to help identify trafficking victims instead of arresting them. Survivors like Heather should not have their records held against them. Instead their records should be expunged so survivors are able to start with a clean slate. States should provide resources for these victims by creating resources for their needs and accountability programs so they do not go back into the prostituted lifestyle. There needs to be an easier way to leave the life of exploitation. We as society should continue supporting organizations like Selah Freedom and the resources they provide. The more resources available to victims, the more likely they are able to become survivors and contribute back to society.

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