To the men who sexually exploited me,
You are the men who silenced me. You made me feel like I did something wrong. You made me think I was the little dirty whore in the community. I really thought I did this to myself. But in reality, it was all of you who did this to me.
When I was six years old I moved from Norfolk, Virginia to Bainbridge, Georgia. My childhood had no love and no compassion. It was a dark and ugly place. My father died when I was two years old. My mother was too weak to take care of herself to be able to nourish me with the nutrients I needed.
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I lived with my mother and my six younger siblings. All of you knew we had some deficiencies in our home, including a lack of food, electricity and clothing. Deprivation became my pimp, as you all used my circumstances to lure me into having sex for money.
I encountered the first of the hundreds of you out there when I was 11 years old. You know exactly who you are. You were an alcoholic, in your late 30’s at the time. You lived across the street from me. One evening right before the sun went down, you came to the fence in my yard, crumpled up 20 dollars and gave it to me, using money as a mechanism to sleep with me.
I didn’t even know what sex was at the time, but I knew what we were doing was wrong because of how you made me hide it.
There started to become more of you right when I turned 12 years old.
Sex with you all at 12 years old was scary. It made me very numb. It made me feel dirty. It made me feel unloved and drained all of my self-esteem and confidence.
Many of you had daughters. You had wives. You had girlfriends. You treated your wives and your daughters with respect and love. You showed me no compassion and no kindness. Instead, you treated me like I was garbage.
I really don’t understand. If you knew that I was hungry, why didn’t you just try to help me, instead of sleeping with a desperate and scared child? Why did you see the need to take advantage of my innocence for your own pleasure?
At 18 years old I finally stopped having sex with all of you.
This family took me in and encouraged me to move to Atlanta when I graduated from high school. I originally planned to go for job corps but I didn’t like the setting. So I applied to Morris Brown College. For six straight days they denied me because I had a low high school GPA.
I began to study the guy who worked at the desk, taking notice of when he went to lunch. While he was gone, I came back and I spoke to another person. That person called my high school guidance counselor, who persuaded the school to give me an opportunity.
Once I got into college I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity because this was my one shot at being successful. It was my one shot at gaining my life back. It was my one shot of being who God said I was, which is a powerful woman, a powerful, strong black woman.
Now, I have a B.A. in criminal justice.I am an author. I have been on the radio over 300 times. I have been on CNN. I have been on BET. I am an advocate for children who have been abused or who are at risk of being exploited. I am a game changer.
In the midst of getting my education and achieving my goals, I even found love. Real love.
When I came to Atlanta I wasn’t trying to date because I always felt like I wasn’t pretty enough. I felt like somebody would find out what I did in my past with all of you and it would to ruin any relationship.
That was always in the back of mind.
During college on a beautiful summer day, I was walking in the yard when I bumped into this guy. I just complimented his tie. From there we started conversing. He saw me a couple of days later and asked me out. Of course I said no because I felt like I had already messed my life up. He pursued me for one entire year, every single day for an entire year. Finally, I gave in and we went on a date. We have been together ever since.
At first, I didn’t tell him about any of you. One day we went to Bainbridge to visit. When we got there my sister was getting ready to tell him. We were driving back to Atlanta in a thunderstorm when I asked him to pull over on the side of the road. He pulled over and right then and there I told him. He turned the radio down. He grabbed my hand. He looked at me and he told me that I did it to survive. He said he still loved me and that it was OK. And at that moment I became OK.
Together we have four children: two in college, one in high school and my youngest is ten years old. Our house is a house full of love. It’s amazing. I think all the things that were missing from my childhood taught me what I needed to bring into my home. For example, my mom never told me that she loved me. I know how that made me feel. So, I know my children need to know and hear that I love them. I don’t care how many times I talk to them in a day, we always end our conversations with, “I love you.”
I also have a full-time job. I am a case manager, an advocate-survivor leader with youthSpark, which is a non-profit organization in Atlanta. We help children who have been exploited or who are at risk of being exploited. When they come through the doors with no hope and just a little bit of light, I talk to them and disclose my past. Within minutes they open up to me, whereas sometimes it takes them months to share their stories with other staff members.
I always tell them they are my inspiration. They are my inspiration because so many times the girls that come through the center remind me of what I used to look like. They remind me of who I used to be. They remind me even down to the smell. And that smell I remember is sadly the smell of your semen.
I give these children hope. I give them power, by letting them know they, too, can become someone who is powerful, strong, educated and unafraid to speak up.
In my new adult life I have interacted with a few of you. Some of you have even told me that you are proud of me. I really don’t even have a word to tell you how that makes me feel. I am still trying to figure out what would even give you the audacity to come to me and tell me you are so proud when you caused so much pain.
But you know what? It’s not even about any of you anymore. A lot of people really couldn’t have gone through half of what you all put me through. They would have died when just one of you climbed on top of them. But I didn’t.
I forgive all of you for what you did to me but I am not a victim anymore. I am victorious. When I look in the mirror, I see a powerhouse. I see wonder woman. I see black girl magic.
When I was little, I didn’t have a voice because you had taken my voice. Now, I have my voice back. I have my strength back. I am in control of my life.
More than anything else, I am so proud of the fact that I am screaming really loud for the children and the women who are too afraid to shout, to yell, in order to bring attention to this epidemic of sex trafficking. I am able to open my mouth and tell the world about all of you abusers. But interestingly enough, you are all so insignificant to me now, I don’t even care if you hear me.
With A Very Strong Voice,