My name is Tasha and I’m 14 years old. This is my story…you may not want to hear it, and you won’t like it. But there are plenty more girls out there with a story like mine. I had a friend; my mom didn’t really like her. Her name is Carrie. She’s 18. But she’s really the only friend I ever had; “Because she asks about things I care about!” I told my mom one time. We used to go hang out at the mall together, or have slumber parties or just hang out. One time…three years ago her friend Jay showed up. I kinda had a weird feeling whenever he came around, but Carrie always said, “Don’t worry about it,” or, “Just chill out, you wish you had a boy like Jay too, don’t ya?” Yeah, I mean, it was kinda true. Every once in a while he’d bring her new clothes or take her out to dinner or something. One time, he even bought her a brand new phone! But then, he told her she couldn’t use it to talk to anyone else – only Jay. So anyway, there was this time Jay showed up at Carrie’s place – she lived in an apartment with her grandma (or at least that was her address). Her grandma was out of town for the evening and told Carrie she wasn’t allowed to have anyone over. But, poor lady, she didn’t have a clue. To make matters worse, Jay brought a few of his friends too, plus some girls who weren’t wearing very many clothes. As soon as I saw them come in, I shot a hard glance at Carrie. “You said we were just gonna hang out and watch movies and eat ice cream!” Before Carrie could even say a word, I heard the most evil laugh ever come from over my shoulder.
“Don’t worry Tish Tash, we’re going to have lots of fun together tonight!”
“Carrie, I’m going home, see you later!” I said and headed for the door. I didn’t know what kind of fun they were gonna have, but I didn’t want no part of it. I almost made it to the door. But just when I was about there, a strong arm slammed hard on it.
“You’re not going anywhere tonight pretty girl!” Jay’s friend laughed.
“Let me outta here! I’m leaving!” I screamed. And a hot slap hit my face. I was dizzy and so confused. “What’s happening?” I thought, “This must be a really bad dream.” When I gathered my senses, confusion pounded me. I looked around. Carrie had disappeared with one of Jay’s friends into a bedroom. Music was blasting. The girls Jay brought were smoking and ignoring everything around them. Jay and another guy were setting up video cameras. I stayed on the floor, and a sense of terror crept up in me. An hour or so went by, then another. Smoke clouded the room and a weird smell I never smelled before. I was crouched up in a corner when the biggest guy of the bunch stomped the floor next to me and demanded me to get up. He looked like he could hit me hard any moment. Before I was even on my feet, he grabbed my arm and jerked me to the bathroom. Throwing me inside, he yelled,
“Put this on and come out.” He shoved a tiny skirt and a see-through shirt in my face and slammed the door. I was horrified. Frantically I searched the bathroom for a mode of escape: a window, a cell phone (Carrie was always leaving hers around), anything! But no hope anywhere.
“Quit stalling and get out here!” a voice barked. I felt panic rising up in me. I began to cry. “This can’t be happening!” my thoughts shouted. There were hard blows to the door. “All this noise!” I thought, “Surely the neighbors downstairs will hear and call the police!” As if he heard me thinking, the big guy outside said slowly,
“Nobody’s comin’ for you tonight. Nobody’s comin’ ever.” Then I remembered something I once heard some adults saying, something about minding your own business when it comes to neighbors, something about steering clear of getting involved in someone else’s junk. Suddenly, the door burst open with a bang and the big guy was yelling at me to hurry up. He made me undress and dress in the new terrible clothes while he stood there. Then he pushed me back into the main room. The other girls were there, they were dancing in front of the cameras. The strong mean arm shoved me into the middle of them and I heard the shouts,
“Dance, you whores!”
“Dance like you like it or you’ll pay. Hard!”
“What’s the matter little Tish Tash, you need another hand across the face for convincing?”
I HAD NO CHOICE.
The guys shot video for an hour or so. Carrie reappeared. She avoided eye contact with me. Then they made us pose in really gross positions while they took our pictures, and posted them right away on the internet. I tried not to puke. They got so angry with me when they had to wait because there were tears streaming down my cheeks. They threatened to make me take drugs if I didn’t act like I was enjoying all this. The night wore on. I was exhausted and disgusted and kept hoping the police would come barging through door. But instead, some ugly old men and some younger guys came through the door. Then they’d disappear with one of the girls for while. A few looked at me and talked to Jay, but he kept shaking his head no…until one man. He was old enough to be my dad and wearing a business suit. I saw him hand Jay a big bunch of bills and then they forced me into a bedroom with him. But first, Jay grabbed my arm hard and whispered in my ear,
“You do anything this man wants and you smile. Do you hear me?” He squeezed my arm harder. “I know where your mom lives and I can make life hell for both of you if I want.” He shoved me back towards the man in the suit. “You already are,” I thought.
Before I left for Carrie’s that day, I had told my mom that I wouldn’t be home until dinner the next day. So she wasn’t expecting me any earlier. No one would look for me. No one would think anything unusual was going on. Carrie and I had had a hundred sleepovers before. But this was no joke. It began to hit me that night, “I am nobody to these people.” And many nights after it, “All I am is a way to make Jay A LOT of money.” Carrie had made Jay a huge amount of money – she told me that night that Jay had been selling her to other guys for a few years. I kept wondering how all that went on and her grandma didn’t know about it. And then the thought hit me like a ton of bricks, “This is happening to me right now and my mom doesn’t know a thing about it.”
I know some other girls who got sent home after a night like that with threats over their life and their families if they peeped even a word to anyone. Some of the girls I know now lived in that hell every weekend for a long time before they finally escaped or told someone or were rescued. I understand, when someone threatens to kill your family (or you) and you’ve seen the rage and felt the uncontrollable violence behind it – you’ll do whatever you’re told, even if it’s the unthinkable. So there they were going to school like everybody else, looking all ‘normal’ on the outside, but their life was hell. But that’s not how it happened for me. I mean, yeah I was threatened with my life and all, and my mom’s, but I didn’t get to go home that day or the next or any other day. Jay rounded up the crew before the sun even came up and we hit the road. Like I said, my mom wasn’t expecting me home for hours, so when I saw my city disappear behind me, my heart sank lower than low. I never imagined what fear and terror someone could feel. We passed by my street and it was gone, but I didn’t dare cry out – the bruises I had all over me were reminders not to. I felt like the size of a pea. Nobody. Scared. Alone. Powerless. But it only got worse after that.
Today I live at a Home for girls who have similar stories to mine. I’ve been here for a year now, and it’s been almost three years since that awful night I told you about. I like it here at the Home. I get to see my mom pretty often. The food’s okay and I‘ve met a lot of nice people. Well, more than nice…I think they love me. They’ve seen me at my worst at least, and they didn’t run away. See, because when I first got here…after some guy called this hotline number or something – I guess he thought something didn’t look right at a rest stop onetime when Jay was taking us to work another city (for some big football game or something – you know, a lot of guys at a big sporting event – yeah.) Well anyway I’m glad the guy was paying attention at that rest stop or gas station or whatever it was – cuz that’s how I get to be here now. So yeah, when I first arrived here, it was ugly. I was messed up after those years of being a ‘nobody,’ of being abused. I thought I deserved what was dealt me in life – would you believe Jay had me so brainwashed I even stuck up for him at first!? I can’t even believe it now, but I was stuck there in that pit of thinking for a while. He gave me clothes, he gave me food, right? He deserved something in return, right? You add some drugs to the mix and a few slaps in the face (or worse) and your thinking becomes a real mess. That doesn’t go away overnight you know. These people here at the Home though, they stuck right with me. Didn’t get mad when I yelled, didn’t give up when they had to explain something for the hundredth time, didn’t quit on me at all. Nope, they didn’t run away when I had withdrawals, when I had a bad attitude about getting my G.E.D., when I threatened to run away and go back to the streets. This is a long road, you know? This path to freedom. Not just being physically freed from Jay, I mean REALLY FREE. I mean knowing that I’m worth something and that I have a say about it all. I mean knowing that I am loved – by God. I mean forgiving all those men who hurt me (some of them don’t even know it – thinking that looking at porn is no big deal.) Yeah this business of healing is no small task. But I’m moving in the right direction with the help of these wonderful people at the Home, AND all the people who help make the Home possible, AND all the people I don’t even know who are praying for me! I thank God for all of them.
by Laura Straniero