Throughout the month of January, to recognize Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we have shared the stories of survivors of sex trafficking. Jenny, Laurie, and now Damita, were brave enough to tell us what the it was like before, during, and after being in the life. Each survivor finds their own path to breaking free, each survivor experiences their own setbacks and challenges. But meeting Damita today, you would not know about her struggles by speaking with her. Her confidence and determination are clear and it’s hard to imagine a time where she wasn’t exactly who she is today. We thank all of the survivors for sharing their stories with us and we challenge you to remember them throughout the year and not only during a specific month or on a particular day. Take a stand against sex trafficking every day.
Trigger warning: many events and descriptions in the following story are graphic and may be triggering for some readers.
This third and final story in our series belongs to Damita.
Before I got into the life of prostitution, my childhood was somewhat dysfunctional. I grew up in my grandparents home. I was raised in their home, there were six of us when my mom brought a man home, she stated "this is my husband.” When my grandparents passed away, they left their home to my mother so that we would always have a place to call home. My mom started hanging out at bars on her off days. Growing up as a child, I didn't want for much, my mom kept me and my younger sisters involved in some type of activities; sports, gymnastics, and cheerleading. I was 14 years of age, my sisters were 10 and 12 years old.
My oldest sister was involved in the "PIMP" game at a very young age of sixteen. My mom would send her out of town, away from her so-called “PIMP,” but she would always find her way back to him. I had to take on the running of the house while my mother and stepfather worked. I was 23 years of age before I got involved in the life. I was working for the Kankakee County Assessor's office, appraising farmland, and I also was in the Army Reserves. Being in the Army had no affect on my decision to enter the life of prostitution. While serving in the Army, I had the best time of my life, I traveled overseas to Korea twice. I seen the brothels where the women and children worked as prostitutes and said to myself “that's not the life for me.” My oldest sister chose the life of prostitution over her family. The other kids would tease us about our sister being a hoe. It would sadden me very much to see my sister beat beyond recognition. She would still want to be with her “PIMP” she called “Daddy”. She would always say “he loves me,” and “I want to do what I do, it brings in fast money.”
I would always say “if that is what the life has to offer, I didn't want any part of being in the life.” I had bigger and better things to do.
I think back on how I actually got into the life of prostitution. It all started when the father of my child started feeding me cocaine. He knew that my friends were using drugs and getting money, so he would give me the dope to go sit with them and smoke, while he took care of other business. My daughter's father was a big time drug dealer. When I found out that he was tricking off with other women, I started to smoke for real. The next thing I know is that I was hooked on the coke, trying to cover up the pain. I quit my job working for the County Assessor, and became inactive with the Army Reserves, although I did receive an honorable discharge from the Army. I knew then, my life was no longer mine.
All I wanted to do was stay high, didn't have any feelings for anyone or anything. I was trapped in my own body. The father of my child cut me off from money, drugs, shopping, everything. He then moved in with another woman. I was LOST. My girlfriends were involved in the life; sleeping with different men for money and drugs, telling me “it's just sex, why not get paid? Nothing’s wrong with it. Its quick money fast.” I didn't know what to do, I wasn't about that. I quickly learned I needed the money.
While in the life I suffered numerous hardships, including losing my children to the system. I was going in and out of jail for prostitution, as well as treatment programs and mental health facilities. I have been in so many programs, the county refuses to fund me anymore.
While in the life I was shot twice in my right thigh and once in my left thigh. By the grace of God, the bullets passed straight thru me. However, I still remained in the streets. I believed the reason for me staying in the life is that I was truly lost within.
I became very depressed, starting by having thoughts of harming myself or others. I was in my late 30's by now, I have been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. I became tired of using my bipolar disorder as a reason to continue being in the life doing what I was doing.
I was in the life of prostitution, drugs, and alcohol for 26 years. In 2012, I came to the terms that I was tired of being sick, and sick and tired of being in the life. I was ready for a change. I struggled at first with getting out of the lifestyle. It wasn't easy at first, I wanted to be there for my grandchildren with a renewed mind. This was not how I wanted to live the rest of my life, being in the streets, jumping in and out of strangers’ cars. I wanted better...
I turned my life over to God. Started going to church and praying, I told my church family that I could NOT do this by myself. I was delivered from prostitution, drugs and alcohol thru the power of prayer back in October of 2012.
How you can help
Damita survived 26 years in the life, battling bipolar disorder and addiction. Breaking Free and and other organizations who fight for survivors and provide aftercare, have played a big role in Damita’s life. Damita is a fighter and she is succeeding!
- If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline to find assistance close to you.
- Get involved in the passage of SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) by contacting your legislators and encouraging others to do the same.
- Donate to Breaking Free so they can provide services to hundreds of women every year.
Image Credit: A special thank you to Brandon Werth for capturing the images for this survivor series.