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Telling his truth

Tom Jones

Tom Jones

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Every time I speak, it sets me free a little bit more.

To understand the present, you’ve got to look at the past.  I was 6 when my dad molested me for the very first time. I was born and raised in Central Missouri, that’s where my abuse took place. I can’t really remember much abuse before that, but that definitely happened at age six.

So many prostituted or trafficked people have a story that started the same way.

You want your parents to love you. The last thing I wanted my dad to do was think that I was a bad person. It wasn’t hard to convince me to comply with everything he had me do. It wasn’t very long at all where another man came to the house and he was allowed to molest me as well.

I get asked a lot, “Why didn’t anybody say anything?” Why didn’t anybody do anything? Didn’t anybody know? You have to understand, this is Midwest African-American — within family turmoil of the most extreme kind. I think if anyone did know, no one wanted to deal with it.  No one knew how to deal with it.

I went off and joined the Navy. I created something that resembled safety in my mind. I joined the Navy, did four years. That brought me out here to San Diego. In the following years after that I found myself in the world of prostitution.

Nobody really wants to be out there on the streets. Every time that someone would pick me up, I would always ask them, “Do you know anyone that’s hiring? I need a job. I’ve got some skills.” I was networking, I actually was networking. I didn’t want to be out there.

You’ve got to detach your body from your soul just to survive this. To have sex with somebody that you really don’t want to have sex with, that takes a lot. You’ve got to go somewhere else. You don’t know what that person is going to do to you and if that person who’s picking you up is going to kill you.

Good people make bad choices. Not every customer is evil, looking to enslave every prostitute. Some of the people that pick you up think that they’re your lover or your hero or Captain Save-a-Ho. They’re actually decent — making a bad choice, but they’re not horrible people. You’ve got to be real about it.

This doesn’t happen a lot. But it does happen. One of the guys that picked me up ended up being literally my best friend in the universe. I’m like, “If you want to be anything to me, I desperately need a friend.” After that point Dave didn’t try anything. He never tried. In times where I had such deep self-loathing, throughout the times where I tried to commit suicide and everything, he never judged, he never preached. He never lectured. He was just always there.

My second suicide attempt should have worked. I never went and found any treatment or any help for my depression. I was heading toward my third attempt when I met my wife. She helped me recognize in myself that I didn’t want to die.

I had to get over a lot of personal ego and a lot of personal self-loathing. I had to say, “I deserve to get counseling.  I deserve to have somebody care for me when I need it.” It took a lot of working with those ideas to get me to that place of consistency where I just kept going back.

Something that’s always been a part of my character, thank God almighty, is that I’ve always had this wish to help people, not hurt people. I’m the founder and director of the H.O.P.E. Project. It stands for the Healing Outreach Peer Empowerment. I am also a proud leader of the Survivor Leader Network of San Diego.

I will tell you this. The freedom and the healing that come from the work that I’ve been doing for male survivors and in the anti- human trafficking movement is so rewarding, so enriching. I get so much from the interactions and the people that I get to work along with — it’s just amazing.

We should make public policies based on rules, not exceptions. Here’s the problem with advocating formal rights for those who choose “sex work.” The persons advocating for that are a tiny population, really, of the overall population of people that are in prostitution. And they seem to think that people that buy willing sex workers never dip into any of the other pools of sexual exploitation. That is just not reality.  

People see only what they want to see. When it comes to the idea of “choice,” there’s a very strong sense of tunnel vision because those who are choosing this work can’t see this other part — the people that sell themselves under duress; the human trafficking. They think that it has absolutely nothing to do with what they’re doing, but it does.

Should a person be treated like a product? To remove all penalties for purchasing someone who’s enslaving other human beings for any reason, sexual or not, is a dangerous thing to do.  

If I can impart one thing to another male survivor out there, it’s “Speak up.” Take that leap because it’s good for you. It’s going to be good for other people. That’s the main thing — it’s going to be good for other people that are trapped in this.

Every time I speak, it sets me free a little bit more.

Tom Jones is the founder and director of The H.O.P.E. Project, which works to assist men and boys in their journey of recovery from human trafficking and molestation. He is also engaged in the effort to reduce the demand for prostitution and the sexual exploitation of men, women, and children.