Most people think that trafficking can only happen to children. I get it, they are young and impressionable and easily swayed by adults. But what about those of us that have just turned 18? With our brains not fully formed in cognitive reasoning until 25, and still so young and naive, how is it that we slip through the cracks? We slip through the cracks of your empathy and from social services and from law enforcement. Because of that, traffickers wait… they wait until our 18th birthdays to swoop in and be that net to catch those slipping through the cracks.
At 18, I was lured to Las Vegas by a man pretending to be my boyfriend. After I was secluded from my family and friends, the trafficking began. He took me to an escort service and slapped me across the face. He told me that this is how it worked here and that he had spent a lot of money to get me here and put me up.
I just wanted things to go back to the way they were: us in love, wanting to get married and start a family. I didn’t want it to end like this…
The first time I went from a “carpet ho” working the casinos to walking “the blade” was frightening. What if the man that picked me up in his car never brought me back? What if he strangled me or held me at gun point and raped me? I was so afraid walking the street in my mini dress and favorite gold shoes. They were the only high heels that didn’t hurt my feet after 8 hours. My trafficker would drive me to a strip club and have me walk back and forth in front of it, waiting for aroused men to come outside. He told me to try to stay in the parking lot so he could be there “to protect me.” I wanted to believe it was because he cared, not because he wanted to take my money after each trick.
But mainly I walked the carpet. I walked through the casinos looking for men alone on business, gambling and winning. I got to know what each chip’s colors were and who to approach. Most men who were up $5k could easily spend a couple hundred on a working girl and still go home with $3-4k, to a wife, happy that he didn’t lose.
The hardest part of being 18 in Vegas was getting paid by chips. You can’t cash chips in until you’re 21. That meant I definitely had to give every dollar to my trafficker. As if the fear he beat in me and the strip searches, were not enough. I was always afraid he’d find anything I’d “stack” to the side. Even if putting money to the side ever crossed my mind- stacking so I could run; it was impossible with chips. These $5 and $1 chips were the only ones he let me keep.
He bought this dress to take me to a concert for my birthday. I was so excited to get a night off with “my man.” I had never been to a concert before. The day before the concert, I did something that made him mad… anything could set him off. He took another girl I was trafficked with instead as punishment. I was so disappointed I cried. It was some sort of mind game he played- the mouse trying to get the cheese, but never quite reaching it. The “if you act right you will be rewarded” mind game.
Some have been shocked that I still had these items. I was too. I found the chips in the pocket of an old purse. The shoes and dress I had thrown in my suitcase the night I ran. It was hard to give them up. In a weird twisted way, it felt like letting them go meant that all of this would have been for nothing. You don’t know what I had to do for new shoes, for a new dress, for a night off. My blood, sweat, and tears literally paid the price for these possessions. Today I let them represent what trafficked women go through. Today I let them shine a light on the 18-21 year old forgotten young women. Today I let them go.
“And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan…He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always reverence the LORD your God.” Joshua 4:20, 24
Rebecca donated the shoes, chips, and mini-dress to a museum. This story was also featured at Trucker’s Against Trafficking.
Rebecca Bender is a nationally recognized and awarded expert on domestic sex trafficking. After escaping nearly six years of both labor and sex trafficking, she emerged as a Survivor Leader, providing consulting, training and speaking with some of the largest anti-trafficking groups and government agencies in the country, including FBI, Homeland Security , and former president Jimmy Carter. After writing her first book, Roadmap to Redemption, she founded the Rebecca Bender Initiative.