It’s impossible to describe the feeling of being owned by someone else.
This was not supposed to be my story. I went to a Catholic school in Queens. My parents were Kenyan, middle class, and educated. Their standards were high. Maybe they weren’t high enough.
Early on I realized that my two brothers were treated differently. That my father treated me differently. It was clear that as a girl I didn’t matter as much. I remember my Mom telling me, “You’re not that special.” There was a lot of emotional neglect.
When it all started, I didn’t realize it was starting. I had a fight with my parents and my dad threw all of my clothes in the incinerator. I called my boyfriend crying and said I couldn’t take it anymore. And he showed up at the laundromat when I was washing and folding all of my clothes. He told me not to worry, promised he’d find me a place to stay and put me up in a hotel.
He was the first person who saw that I was special. He knew I had something people would want. When you’re that young, it’s so easy for them. They make you feel like they are the only thing standing between you and the world.
After a month or so he told me I had to get out there to help pay for things. He took me to Manhattan to show me some of the girls. I remember saying, “Why are you showing me this? I’ll never do this.” I was hard to break, stubborn. I didn’t want to do it. I told him I didn’t want to wear stripper clothes. He just waited and knew when to push.
He did beat me. But being out there breaks you down even if they don’t beat you.
Candy, Luscious, Star. He gave me these names and in a weird way it made it easier to do it. I had to keep my real self, Linda, away from all that. If you stay the person you are when they start buying and selling you, you’ll die. I had to create some distance.
I finally got out of it when I was 28. I had been arrested so many times, but over and over again my pimp would bail me out and put me back on the street. I had lost everything by then: I had no credit, no apartment, no car. All I had was shame. My family treated me like I had a scarlet “S” on my forehead or chest.
The power of one. Karen Nelson was my counselor at Sanctuary for Families (a social services agency that offers comprehensive support for survivors of prostitution and trafficking). She was the first person who really helped me.
When I met her I was like, No way am I talking to you! Black people don’t sit in some dark office and tell white people their problems.
But she helped me see it could be OK to trust people. If they were the right people. It took two or three years, but I got there. If I can do for some other girl what she did for me, that’s why I want to go to law school someday.
Sometimes I try to travel back there and watch the movie of my life. I know that I had a wall up. But from all the bad I learned a lot about myself. That I can read people. That being vulnerable comes from being strong. That I have a magic that can’t be bought or sold by any man.
I consider myself a woman in transition. I’m moving from the person I was to the person I will become. The way I put it is that “Star” and Linda have come to coexist. They are both a part of who I am.
It’s impossible to describe the feeling of being owned by someone else. But I will work for the rest of my life to stop other people from having to experience what I did.
Linda is a survivor, speaker, and advocate who has lobbied for the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act.