Being homeless means being vulnerable.
Children learn what they see. I was born when my mother was 18, two years after my sister. We moved from trailer park to trailer park all over the country. I never went to the same school for more than a year. We weren't allowed to bother my mother. She kicked us out in the morning so she could do drugs, and let us back in for dinner.
I felt like I was worth nothing. I was 5 the first time I was molested by my step-dad. After my mother found out, she didn't leave him for two years.
Sexual abuse seemed normal to me. Hypersexuality was my adolescent rebellion. I graduated high school a year and a half early, but I had only a ninth grade education. The school gave me a diploma but failed me in life. Two days after I turned 17, I married my first husband. I didn’t want to marry him, I only wanted to be free of my parents.
My second husband was my first trafficker. He was a cocaine dealer and used my addiction to control me. I was 20 years old and loved him even though he abused me. He made me have sex with escorts, then he called me a whore. Cocaine made him paranoid, and he’d turn off the lights, lock the doors, and walk around with a loaded shotgun and the safety off. My reality was so unbearable.
Being homeless meant being vulnerable. When I escaped my trafficker I was homeless and addicted to drugs. My dealer became my next pimp. Then I left him and started “renegading” on my own.
Anyone who says prostitution is a victimless crime needs to take a closer look. It’s impossible to count how many times I was raped, assaulted, held hostage, almost died. You never know when you get into somebody's car if you're going to get out.
Losing my son was the most painful experience of my life. When I got pregnant I stopped using drugs. I breastfed my son for nearly two years, then I was back on methamphetamines. I was arrested when he was two and he was taken from me. He was autistic and non-verbal, and had never been away from me. I lay in bed and imagined him crying, not knowing where I was. I had grown up watching my mom do drugs.
I wasn’t going to do the same thing to him that was done to me. The 14 months it took to get my son back changed my life. I went to therapy. I volunteered for drug court. I went to an intensive outpatient program and never missed a day. I started to feel like I could do something. I was 35, and had no job skills and no experience, when I enrolled for my first semester of college.
I used to run up a tall, steep hill. It took me a year to get to the top of that hill without stopping. When I finally made it, I was crying, and I wondered what else I’d been telling myself I couldn’t have? Five years after I started college, I became the first recipient of the Beauty For Ashes scholarship for victims of human trafficking.
Imparting hope is why I am here. I want to be a social worker. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty to bring people hope because hope is the antidote to distress. I am one of a handful of victims who has survived to lead a different life, and I’m determined to help those in need.
Crystal Isle is a social work student at Point Loma Nazarene University, an IHS worker, and Director of Educational Services for Freedom From Exploitation.