In 1973 I was 22 years old and living in Boulder, Colorado after graduating from college in San Francisco, California. Finances were tight for a young woman just starting out and living on her own, so when an ad appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera seeking models looking to make extra income, I decided to respond. I had done some modeling in California for clothing stores and a hat manufacturer. I called the phone number in the ad and set up an appointment to interview, and I was given the date, time, and location to meet with this agency. The address turned out to be a motel and I hesitated as I approached. But the hotel was in a busy, visible location…so my hesitation lessened and I parked my car.
I knocked on the motel door and was greeted by a man in his early thirties. In the background I could see another young woman being interviewed by another man of a similar look and age. I was led to the hotel desk and asked to fill out a job application, which I did. Once my application was completed, one of the men asked me to come into the bedroom so that we could talk a bit more “in private” since the another applicant was filling out her paperwork. He had me sit on the edge of the bed and began asking me questions. Would I be comfortable being photographed in the nude? Was I interested in making lots of money? Did I like sex? The man said they would set me up with one other girl in a really nice apartment in Denver and clients who were doctors and lawyers would make appointments with us to “have catered lunches” and such. We would have an expense account. We would also be given really nice cars to drive so that our image aligned with our clientele. We would make lots of money.
He then sat beside me on the bed and began to stroke my hair and neck. Although not comfortable with this, I continued to sit on the edge of the bed, frozen, and not quite sure what to do. He asked if I would be comfortable taking my clothes off so that he could see my beautiful figure and proceeded to lock the bedroom door. It was then that I noticed a small handgun on the top of the dresser. He began kissing me and asked if he could “try me out.” When I showed reluctance, he got more persistent and aggressive. So, I let it happen. I was frightened and ashamed as I dressed and left the room. As we exited the bedroom, the other girl was led in. The man walked me to the hotel door, brushed my face with his hand and said they would be calling me soon to set up the details. I hadn’t told anybody where I was or what I was doing and in that moment I realized that “playing along” would be my salvation to walking out the door and back into the light.
I did receive a phone call a few days later, but I told them I accepted another job offer. I thought that would be the end of the experience, and I tried to put it out of my mind. I felt betrayed, distrustful, and unworthy.
I had been working as a receptionist for several attorneys in a small office prior to this experience. Six months after I “applied” for the modeling job, I received a surprise phone call at my office. It was the Denver Attorney General’s office telling me that they had raided a prostitute operation in Denver that was being run by the Canadian Mafia. They had found my “job” application among the files and asked if I would be willing to testify in court. I said, “Yes.” They said they found me because I had filled out a job application and had shared who my current employer was. Apparently a couple of the “working girls” were arrested in a “sting” operation.
A couple of weeks later I was working at my desk in the law firm when someone entered the office. I looked up to greet the man who had “interviewed” me for the modeling job at the motel. I felt panic, wondering if he recognized me, and then realized that he did. He told me he was there to make an appointment with one of the attorneys I worked for. I made an excuse that I needed to go back and check their calendars. I told one of the attorneys what was going on. He came back with me to the front desk, but the man was gone! I felt panicked because it was clear that this man had come to intimidate me. I called the number the Attorney General’s office had given me and was told the Canadian Mafia was trying to intimidate me and others who had said they would testify. But how did these men knew about that? I began looking behind me wherever I went.
I lived in fear for quite a few years after that. I was never called to testify and always wondered why I hadn’t been. Had it really been the Attorney General’s office? Had it been the number of the Canadian Mafia clan who had been raided? Was that why they showed up? I never spoke about what had happened to anyone.
This incident left a mark on me for life, especially when it comes to following your gut feelings. Now if I feel something isn’t quite right, I try to listen to my instincts and be more aware of my surroundings. It has taken me a lot of years to like myself again and to feel deserving of good things in life. I beat myself up for years because I felt like I had somehow allowed this abuse (rape) to happen, but I have learned that the circumstances and fear of my life made me a victim. I could have easily fallen into the clutches of this prostitution/sex trafficking ring. I feel that I was somehow spared, and for that I am forever grateful.
Ellen Johnson is the Development Director at Options for Southern Oregon, Josephine County’s Community Mental Health Provider. She has a BA in English and Writing and has spent most of her life involved in community service. She is the mother of three grown children and has three grandchildren (a fourth is on the way)!