Surviving Life; More Than Trafficking

by Stephanie Anderson about a year ago in interview

Warning: This story describes details of crimes against children, and sex trafficking. This is the true story of Stephanie, a survivor.

Surviving Life; More Than Trafficking
Would the nightmare come true?

Chapter 1–Common Threads–Bad Dreams

My name could have been any number of beautiful girl names. My life could have been filled with ballet classes and dolls and tea parties. Many parents dream that this will be true for their children. But millions of children don't have the memories, and the safety of a tranquil lake of life. This is my story, but it could have been any of the 300,000 trafficked children in America today.

A small child woke from a nightmare she would soon live through. A six year old without the vocabulary to explain images of a doctor, a bathroom, or why she wakes up in tears, and can't breathe. There are no words as she cries while her daddy holds her hand with a look of concern.

A normal vacation came with innocent visits, parents sleeping in the next room, and threats from an older cousin. Who knew that the children would see, and hear, smell, and taste what no one should. When she woke with her eyes swollen shut, her throat hurt, but everyone went out to play. No one talked about what happens in the dark. More bad dreams of sleeping in a glass box, while faces peered in. Strange and evil smiles above the bed. Red lights, statues, and many glass boxes in a museum.

The time came to take a business trip with daddy to California. It was a trip to reward the best sales, and many other kids were there, standing in the lobby waiting to be checked in. Suddenly a man was at her side, taking her hand and walking. Now they are at a room with curtains, racks of books and magazines with pictures. Now he is showing pictures and smiling, as he turns the pages. Just like the faces in the dream. Now they are walking again, and he knows where daddy is, but she promises she won't tell, so he won't hurt her daddy.

In the dark a lady came, and asked who she was. She carried her out of the room, walks her to her daddy again who hugs her, and keeps her close. They go on lots of rides and go swimming. She is happy they didn't hurt daddy.

Home again. No one knows why she is crying all the time, hitting her brothers and throwing things. She often puts on her plaid, beige and brown coat and boots and packs a nine-year-old backpack. She doesn't want her hair combed or cut. Wants to run away again, but it is much too cold out here. She feels hungry, sleepy and it is getting dark. She thinks it is better to head back to home and mom, for now.

Sexual abuse is a common thread that runs through the lives of over 300,000 minors trafficked in the United States. Abuse usually comes through neighbors or family members that are already close to the victims, but stories continue to emerge of encounters with strangers that engage children in common places where parents are present, such as parks, theaters, grocery stores and libraries. Pornography is often used to groom the victim quickly, creating a visual and tactile imprint for the abuser to exploit with verbal cues or touching.

If the experiences occur before the child is eight years of age, the brain will not have developed judgment or decisive right and wrong. The underlying operating system, similar to a computer, has a written the sensory information without the congruent fear factors necessary to process and seek protection in the future. This puts the victim at risk of "running on automatic" if encountering a similar situation in the future.

Chapter 2–ACE's High

Around sixth grade she made "mock" friends who sat with her when they had no one else to talk to, then made fun of her at every opportunity. With homemade clothes, dark eyes, unkempt hair, and socially awkward manners, she was an easy target.

That was the year she met Natalie in history class. Beautiful, boisterous, and popular, they shared crazy stories about Halloween weekend. Natalie had been with friends at a local haunted house when she was separated from the group. After being pushed into a coffin, and locked in, she had started shouting, and was finally heard. Two police officers pulled her out, then they pulled her to a room and raped her. She said not to tell anyone because–it "happens all the time 'and' it will just make my boyfriend mad." There was an echo in the stunned silence. Don't tell anyone, meant don't say anything, or someone might get hurt. Not a word would be spoken.

A couple of weeks later at the local skating rink, Natalie and a few other girls were standing with a guy everyone assumed was her boyfriend. It seemed funny that they were posing, like they were getting their picture taken, but there was no camera.

That was the first year our anonymous girl smoked cigarettes, marijuana and drank alcohol. She had two boyfriends that year–Troy, who was her age, and Eric–who she met at that skating rink. He was much older than she was–like seventeen. Sneaking out all night, and running away was becoming an automatic response to avoid consequences.

At one of the parties, she woke up to find a very young child at the house had frozen to death after drinking too much, and passing out in the front yard. Upset, she ran home and went back through the window. She wasn't supposed to be at the party anyway, so she wouldn't tell anyone.

Another friend attempted suicide that year, but thankfully lived. No one knew if he overdosed on purpose or not, but his parents thought it was a good idea that he have a peer support him at the hospital treatment center–so they called and rounded up the neighborhood kids to attend the Friday night teen support meeting where he could see his friends.

The couple that ran the meeting shared that they had a history of using alcohol and a lot of cocaine. After they lost thousands of dollars, and their house in their addictions, they turned to God. That was the first time our anonymous girl heard the twelve steps. It was also time she heard about Chance, a thirteen-year-old, talking about his brothers abusing him, and shooting him up with heroin when he was nine. Now she knew she wasn't alone. That was the year she would spend many nights at shelter homes, and in the local runaway haven, and overdose for the first time.

It is over thirty years later that I write about my experiences. I realize ACE's (Adverse Childhood Experiences) had something to do with my behavior. I also know that the imprints of my experience had created neurological "blind spots," which prevented me from responding or taking appropriate action when Natalie told me about her event. My memories were interfering in my reactions, creating a destructive, and dangerous pattern that would put me in harm's way again and again.

If life was a card game, ACE's is like a wild card that creates a neurological and sensory deviation to fight, flight or freeze. Self-medication is always an option, and like autism, people, places, and resources became objects to that end.

After beginning a journey to sobriety I would re-experience the trauma through sensory associations, flashbacks, and nightmares, along with a number of other symptoms.

Chapter 3–Catalyst

An important episode took place in our girl's heart between seventh and tenth grade. It was time for the family to take a vacation. They intended to stay with family, and see the one who had abused her, and two siblings. She decided not to go on the vacation, but her mother couldn't understand and was angry. So she shared the details of who had done what. The result was a barrage of verbal insults, and contempt at making such accusations against their family. Her father concurred, and pronounced they were going on vacation just as planned. Our girl retreated into a forced and quiet calm, but she was holding back a dark squall of emotions.

Arriving at the destination, the perpetrator showed up only a day later in a brand new jeep, and she was asked to take a ride. As they drove around the block, her body felt like it wasn't attached anymore. By the end of the week the storm took its course. She refused to return home with her parents to Utah. Thankfully her aunt stepped in, and offered to keep her with family. She attempted attending school there in Texas. But she had a numbness growing inside, and cared nothing for attending small town ball games or social events. Her outlandish dress and manners didn't fit well in a small town school, and she was sent back to Utah by the end of the school year.

Going back to Utah meant returning to routine and school. But she began thinking there might be a curse on her. Numerous bizarre encounters–older men, married men from the neighborhood stopping to talk to her, taking rides from strangers. No hint of danger, no feeling at all.

Bizarre circumstances can be a change agent. Unplanned events, disasters, or simple conversations can be triggers. The catalyst conversation with my parents was a grenade waiting to go off. Caution parents–extreme behaviors often shout the reality better than words can't interpret. Parents, siblings, and the child's whole world become the targets of outbursts.

What I would say loudly to that girl to make her understand is that the worst seeming authority is better than no authority at all! When there is pollution in the air, does God remove the air? There is still life giving potential being released... and life is still possible.

When pushing away every adult, and discarding all those precious, caring people, I was trying to burn down the whole world without knowing there wouldn't be a safe place to stand without them.

Cahpter 4–Flesh and Blood

So many of her girlfriends were dating men. Not eighteen year olds, but men over twenty-five. It didn't seems strange when a friend's boyfriend said he had a great place to hide while running away. After an incident with police at school resulting in a visitation charge, she didn't want to deal with her parents at all.

The driveway through trees left very little open space to see the sky. It was dusk by the time they pulled in to a dusty open area with five or six old houses, shops; trucks and cars parked by a sign saying "Large or Small Engines Repaired." There were a few men talking and drinking by the cars. "G" owned the place, his dad was in a home or something.

She was shown to the back of an office where there was a mattress on the floor. She was given something to sleep. "No one will find you here," she was told.

It was dark when she woke up, and she was alone in the small, dark room. Hearing many voices outside, she got up, and quietly opened the office door to the outside. She saw a large group of 20-30 men taking the engine out of a fancy, dark, racing car. One man in particular with long brown hair kept mentioning this was how he would be paid. The engine was being transferred into his car as payment for money owed.

There were so many men, so much animosity, and so many threats. She went back and laid down, praying that no one would see her, or know she was there.

The next morning she met "Rose." Handsome, blond, and very much older than she was–maybe fifty. He was working with three young guys on a truck, and he invited her over to use her small frame to bend over the car–and wrench, saying over and over, "I could go to jail..."

For the next two weeks, everyone treated her like she was his property. He took her to parties every night, and there seemed to be no limits to what drugs were available. Within a week, she was having sex shows with him in front of everyone. She was entertainment, but no one else touched her while he was around.

Being turned out was a shock. One day he didn't show up, and she was left at the repair shop. No more parties, he was just gone. Now the men would start asking and touching. In a short time she stopped bathing, and started hiding in the backs of cars, hoping they would leave her alone.

One day a friend showed up, and saw that she was in trouble, driving her to his house where she showered. She was warned not to talk to anyone about who or what was seen. All she wanted to do was forget, but he wanted sex before he took her to a runaway shelter.

It was a few years later, while hiding out in Vegas, that I watched the movie 'Flesh and Blood with Rutger Hauer.' I remember the blond "Rose," and looking back, I really thought he was keeping me safe from all those men at the time. I had no idea what game I was playing. They knew how all the pieces moved on the table, and I was the object.

The "game" as many say it, involves many players with different backgrounds. It happens internationally and locally. More money is paid for a younger "asset," and there are over 300,000 known minors trafficked in the United States alone. The concept of supply and demand has somehow lost any point of reference, because the grooming process (or preparation needed before a child is sold), is happening much more rapidly within households, and neighborhoods swimming on the vast, uncharted waters of the internet.

My name was irrelevant in this game. The goal to surviving is to obey directions. "Come here, sit here, lay here," and no more questions.

Chapter 5–Who Is My Neighbor?

She decided not to go back to school. She wanted to work to make money for her own place. She had attempted babysitting, paper routes, and odd jobs, but it wasn't enough. She was able to get a job as a hostess at a restaurant where she met Matt. He was immediately attentive to her drama and complaints, and she was just thankful someone wanted to listen. He said he was twenty-two, and had a difficult background himself.

He reassured her he would help. He eventually approached her parents, told them he would make sure she had a roof over her head and food. He also told them she wouldn't run away again, he would make sure of it.

She had been a tornado through their home. They had spent a great deal of time crying, praying, and seeking after her safety. They had four other children to raise, and they reluctantly agreed.

They first took her things to an apartment. For two weeks she spent all her time away from work with him and partied every night. She saw a couple of other girls she suspected were his ex-girlfriends by the way he looked and talked to them. She noticed that there wasn't a phone at the apartment, but he took care of bills, food, and drove her anywhere she needed to go.

Then a night came when Matt said he wanted her to meet some friends. He would drop her off for a few hours while he ran errands. He wanted me to make a good impression. She was nervous when he gave her something to put under her tongue. He said it would help her relax. He drove her to a house, and walked her to the door.

He introduced her to a woman in her forties, and a very thin man who looked like a boyfriend. There was a baby on the couch–she thought she might be babysitting at first. But when Matt was gone, the couple went over to the bed, and before long they were having sex. Then they asked her to come join them. She was terrified, and sick as they took her hand and began touching. She couldn't stop crying, and it would be some time before they let her off the bed. She cried and held the baby on the couch until Matt came back. The look on his face told her he was not happy.

The next morning, she went snooping, and found an identification card that said Matt was actually twenty-eight years of age. She went to a neighbor and told them. The couple insisted that Matt loved her, and she shouldn't make a fuss. She couldn't believe what she was hearing and returned to the apartment. It was strangely quiet, so she desperately and quickly packed what she could gather, and did what she thought was best.

She ran to the streetm and hitchhiked to the shelter.

I would like to go back today and tell that young lady, "Wait–if it seems to be too good to be true, it is–I promise." I would also say, "all my best thinking can get me in trouble–talk to someone, anyone..."

The process of "turning out" a girl for trafficking is a process. There are stages where the trafficker has to gain the trust of the girl or boy. Then they are groomed for favors–but if it takes too long, patience may run out, because time is money. A minor child brings in one hour what it takes an older girl to make in an entire night. Drugs can be used to eliminate inhibitions, and the emotions, and trauma of each encounter leave deep scars.

Chapter 6–Friends?

She decided to move in with a friend to attend alternative school. This particular friend was from California, and had been around a lot of gangs because of her dad's family. The room was in an apartment shared with her mom, and mom's new boyfriend. He was a photographer with a studio somewhere in town.

The girls spent nights out shooting pool or pursuing dates, though not really boys–most were five to ten years older. There was amusement and parties every night until they met up with an offbeat crew. These were guys in a low-rider that drove them around for hours smoking dope. One boasted he had just been released from prison, and they talked about who they were going to find and shoot. Too much discomfort, and danger surrounded that scene. She sensed that being knocked around was probably their routine.

It was a few years later the mom's boyfriend was charged with over forty accusations of sexual misconduct. He had been inviting the girls to a photo shoot. They had been drugged, sexually assaulted, and videos were found. Our girl had been one of those women when mom wasn't home.

There are hundreds of thousands of women lured into trafficking through an offer of dancing and acting jobs.

Predators count on the ignorance of young, beautiful women wanting their shot. Their "photo shoots," or "audition sessions" may be sent to auctions for buyers to determine how much they can potentially make from them.

It seems strange that women involved in the pornography industry would defend a business where women, including minors, are drugged, raped, and beaten for entertainment. Some girls are bought for a night so producers can video beatings and gang-rape. The girl will never be compensated, and some will never recover after their big break, and chance at "making it big." It must be known that many of us did not give our consent.

Fight the New Drug.

Arousal demands release. Supply is the result of demand. Buyers navigate the highway, and money gives them access to anything they can imagine.

Chapter 7–Escape

Our girl went to Job Corps for six months, and was able to obtain a driver's license and GED, along with some clerk typist classes like ten-key, mailing, and typing. But soon she became restless, irritable, and discontent, and decided she had to escape on the weekends for excitement. She met and moved in with some friends just after her seventeenth birthday. Her friend "D" was almost eighteen, her sister "T" was fourteen, and they lived in a small house with her mom "H," in her late fifties, and her boyfriend, "K."

Never without drugs or dates, they spent every night out until one evening the man Rose reappeared at a party. He was with a girl and talked to "K," while keeping a sharp eye on our girl. He said he would be back later to "party" with her. "K" told everyone to pack quickly, because they were moving that night.

It wasn't just Rose, but a plethora of circumstances that were in the works for that transition; there was a lot of money involved. Sometime after midnight, a loaded car, trailer, and camper headed to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Weeks passed where they slept cramped in a small camper until "H" found a mobile home to rent, and a job at a local gym, cleaning at night after everyone went home.

The girls did start earning credits at night school, but were partying all night, sleeping, and trying to take classes. Soon they were told that from now on, they needed to get jobs, and go to school. Legit jobs were found at a pizza place, taking orders. It wasn't a first choice, but they had lasted only a few days as hotel housekeepers with all the drugs available.

There were both legitimate, and illegal escort service agencies in Vegas. The day "D" turned eighteen, she quit the pizza place, and went to work for one. The first day she was lined out with coke all night and learned that there wasn't any alcohol in the bottles of wine they were serving.

Soon there were a lot of guests–old friends started visiting, and new friends. Some had lost everything, including vehicles, and literally had no where to stay. The house was a regular lost and found. The girls eventually agreed to drive a couple of guys who had lost their car out to California.

Self-medicating through sex, drugs, and alcohol seems "normal," because the brain is holding in its pathways the hideous, terrifying details, and images that must not surface at any cost, if the identity is to be saved.

It is "shock" for saving the brain from the insanity assaulting the senses. Just like a car accident. And if we don't use something to help, the brain has a back up.

Unfortunately, without processing the truth, mistakes are bound to happen again, and again, and again.

Chapter 8–Gift of Desperation

The first week in California was a blast as they visited party after party, and slept on a few beaches. "D" scared them with her blackout drinking, and true stories of playing "rape." She wanted to keep partying, and moving on, but something felt wrong. It was known that there were dangerous people and places girls shouldn't go without security. Warnings included never, never crossing the border.

The day "D" drove off, our girl had found a telemarketing job, and was staying in an apartment in San Jose with a few other people. There were bars in the windows, food was scarce, but no one was ever alone. They spent their money on parties and dancing. Soon she met another free-spirited girl who was happy to have a close friend to share her love of dance, secrets, and men. She was blond, blue-eyed, seemed to always have money, just like so many of her friends that came along. Thankfully, this time, they were older teens, only four or five years older. There were a lot of drugs, but not a lot of drinking.

Then came the night she spent at the friend's parent's house in Palo Alto, with huge green trees, and a swimming pool in the back yard. Pictures of Ricky Schroeder at her five-year old birthday party, and signed original posters from the Rocky Horror Picture Show were hung all over the house.

When they talked about dreams for the future, it was revealed that next year she was leaving for overseas. Her daddy had set her up as a "companion" for wealthy ambassadors. She would never have to work, and everything her princess heart, and life would ever want was hers.

Something inside me shuddered. Her daddy had sold her.

Where was there to go? No money, and she didn't want to head back to San Jose. For safety, the local Alano club for recovery was a choice. She asked to be drove into town, and dropped off, too scared to spend any more time wondering if the "parents" might sell her too.

Marika was a welcome friend that took to her immediately at a meeting that day. A little older, she liked dating, singing, dancing, and Cocaine. She had a disease that would take her life by the next year, and she wasn't wasting any time. The next few weeks, they had lots of dates, drugs, places to eat and stay.

During those encounters one man stood out. After survival sex at every turn for so long, one of the men talked, hugged, and never tried to touch her sexually. He was at least twenty years older than she was, but didn't drink, or do any drugs. He hung out with her while Marika drank life in to the dregs with his best friend.

When it was discovered that our girl didn't have a place to live, there was a divorced woman architect who opened her home at night. Her living room was filled with homeless kids, sleeping bags, and cereal for breakfast. There must have been ten she kissed goodnight. Our girl found a job at a McDonald's within walking distance from her house. But the peace and quiet didn't last. A power greater than life itself was working, whether it was known or not.

There were areas and times unsafe to travel, but those rules are governed by self-will. Riding back alone on a bus, late at night, she ignored the warnings. An older man stumbled onto the bus, and looked over at her. He handed some bills to the bus driver, who turned off the lights, and exited.

As he walked back towards her, she smelled the alcohol, and prayed that he wouldn't hurt her. When he was close and standing tall, fidgeting with the button on his pants, she looked up at him, and asked, "Do you know Jesus?" Barely believing the words came from her mouth.

Completely self-serving, for the self-preservation of the moment, and yet... suddenly there was a presence–of quietness and peace. A look came over the man's face, an immediate contrast to the lustful drunken stupor from a moment before.

He began to weep, and took the seat. He began talking about his mom, and then broke down in sobs. Our girl looked out the window in disbelief, stunned that there really was protection as tangible as a name she had heard from the lips of street peddlers, and corner-preachers, even crazy friends. She felt, for the first time, gratefulness.

It was soon after this encounter that the faintest whisper of an idea surfaced. She should call her parents, and let them know she was alive. It may have been two years since they heard from her last.

The prodigal went home.

It is said that within twenty-four to forty-eight hours, a young person will be found by a trafficker. There are plenty of kids in the grooming stage of life, plenty of places to hide and pretend that life goes on without repercussions. Familial trafficking happens whenever a child is coerced into sexual acts with siblings, friends, aunts, uncles by anyone, for safety, money, food, security, and most go undiscovered and unreported.

Later, the pathways in the brain may determine a different survival solution. An automatic behavior that summarizes the experience of sex for security from the streets, money, food. A warm bed to sleep in. And there are plenty of predators, and traffickers waiting to assist.

The numbers alone point to an enormous and overwhelming situation happening live, and now in our country. Over a million children worldwide. The borders are so important right now–to keep children from the eyes, and hands of adults who only know children are a means to an incomprehensible end. Add to this the neurology of the brain changed by abuse, technology, a new class, and an assortment of drugs, and the crisis may seem unsolvable. But the shadows of children–scared, alone, and cold, never escape God's eye.

Chapter 9–Relapse Life

The word Utah brings images of mountain scenes, skiing, and snow-covered streets. She felt no need to talk about any adventures, and thankfully, no one asked. For a short time she was able to sleep, and gather hope for a new life. Finding a job, going to self-help classes. Meeting older, responsible people all sounded like part of the solution.

Without medicating the wild, reckless, damaged brain inside, her best intentions were of no use in the battle for control of life. Excitement quickly became another drug–spending nights out with friends, and at the gym took some of the edge off for a short time. But a suicide changed everything, and she was high within a few hours, dating a guy twenty years older. Her parents were concerned and upset.

They moved in together. Bobby was quadriplegic, and going through cancer treatments. This meant going back and forth to hospitals, doctors, stress, and waiting to see if the cancer was gone for good.

She stayed busy with care giving, and felt relieved not having to do anything sexual in exchange. She had never told anyone about the past, but it was luring just beneath the surface. There was a brush with "Rose" showing up at the apartment pool, and Bobby knew something was terrible, and wrong. By chance, that was the same week they discovered the cancer was back. Bobby decided no more chemotherapy. They would take their chances, change routines, and leave the hideous treatment behind as they packed up and left for Las Vegas.

With only had Bobby's disability of $546.00 they pulled in to Vegas at 1:30 am. They stayed at a motel until the money ran out. The morning they were about to check out, pack the car up, and hope for the best, their car was hit by a drunk driver after grocery shopping. The drunk didn't want anyone calling the cops, and threw $4000 in the front seat and drove off. That was the first time either one said the word Providence.

They did end up getting married for real, and in 1991 she turned twenty-one. That ended a long stretch of sanity–for she hadn't stopped drinking, or using drugs for more than a few hours, and didn't feel it was necessary. But Bobby gave his life to Jesus, and wanted her to change, to quit smoking. Too many restrictions felt like a trap, and she was gone.

In Utah she relapsed, met and married the father of her son. His name was John. He was a couple of years younger than she was, and they were matched on drinking, drugs, and destruction. But she was coming to the end of over twenty years of extremes, and was ready to stop. John was just beginning. That meant she would have to choose between abortion, or moving on as a single mom.

Life now meant possibility. It was a chance to find a new life.

Trafficked individuals are mistakenly sent to treatment for drugs and alcohol, because there are few options for aftercare, other than incarceration. Sexual sobriety was necessary for me–there were so many emotions and triggers happening that I felt disconnected from my body, and the person, whenever I had sex. Bobby was the first person I had connected with, and he wouldn't hear about my past until years later–2016.

Processing the images, memories, and abuses may take years, but there are churches, recovery programs, and sponsors willing to help talk through inventory that eventually has to be addressed.

My son, Christian, was very young when I was able to detach from drugs and alcohol. That was June 26, 1996, while listening to an episode of 'Unshackled' radio, and hearing exactly the details of my story through a similar life. I gave my life to Christ, and my sins were washed away. The power needed to stop me from myself had been found. I began the lengthy process of writing letters, and making amends.

Leaving the "Life" doesn't mean the "life" won't affect us. Inside is a roadmap that runs our brain to associations that hijack our emotions and thinking. We are dangerous to ourselves and others untilwe surrender, and that isn't something we do easily. It is said that statistically only one in a thousand trafficked persons will be rescued. But escape from the nightmares, trauma, and behaviors happens one day at a time, for a lifetime.

Chapter 10–One Year at a Time

Choosing to have a son brought relief, and separation from John, who was in the center of addictions and behaviors too numerous, and dangerous to mention.

In many ways, the little one was mirroring our girl's spiritual, and neurological state at eighteen months. His diagnosis began with Attachment Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Cognitive Delay, and eventually the list included Pervasive Developmental Delay–Autism.

All the hidden, unseen issues were surfacing through that little person. Anger, raging, grunting, helpless. He was not able to interpret the world unless she was with him. Life was a series of therapies that began at 6:30am. Part of the journey required that she put her hands on his hands, and do the exercises with him, working her brain, soul, and spirit into a healing process along the way.

Over the next eight years working with Christian through neurodevelopment, both of them began processing above toddler age in emotionality and communication. And all the while praying with an assortment of people, hugs, fasting, writing, and learning that faith moves as a process, not a destination.

In the process she became lost again through another difficult marriage–this time not relapsing through drugs and alcohol, but just as dangerous. She found that the knight that feigned protection, while focusing on her son, was living in sexual debauchery with too many excursions to address.

The men in their family had partaken of the same forbidden fruit that she was loathe too. When she wouldn't excuse or hide his addictions, he began threatening her, and said he would protect his reputation at the cost of hurting others. Once again she packed, and ended up in a different city moving into the unknown. A girl and a little one lost everything alongside. She had moved thirty times that she remembered, and wanted to be done starting over.

For a time, they lived in a hunter's shack without running water, learning to value what wasn't easy to come by. They had to use an outhouse, and boil water from the creek; there was not internet or cell phone service there, and the only neighbors were deer and critters.

Alongside, in the middle of hell, came a navy-man. They were married, and were as imperfect as people can be. He had his own story, and understood wreckage. One day at a time they both intend to keep going forward, and with God's help, they hope, no more wrecks.

The blind spots in visual perspective, the inability to see the heart, those are common to all. But after the streets, it feels somewhat like driving a vehicle that has been wrecked, and repaired too many times. The windshield keeps cracking in the same places, and it is hard to see.

Today my son and I are both survivors. Christian is twenty-four, composes music, works, pays bills, works with youth, and leads worship. That is who he is today, but this snapshot will change. Who he will be is yet to be discovered. I find advocacy for survivors all over the world keeps me from becoming emotionally nearsighted.

I know the neurology. There are millions of responses, memories, and a gallery of experiences that could still automatically take over. I have twenty-two years of sobriety from drugs and alcohol, and am learning every day how to choose hope and faith. I am not a slave to this world, or my past. There is escape, as well as rescue, from trafficking.

Stephanie Anderson
Stephanie Anderson
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Stephanie Anderson

Stephanie Anderson survived exploitation as a minor. Armed with personal experience and neurodevelopmental strategies, her mission is to provide awareness and tools to help men and women find life skills, aftercare and support.

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