What Sex Means To Those Who Have Been Sexually Exploited

Sex. To someone who hasn’t been chained in an attic, beaten, strangled, and raped, sex can mean love. Sex can mean pleasure. Sex can mean adventure. Sex can mean children, and family, and more love. Love and pleasure are not what victims of human trafficking equate to the performance of any sexual act.Young girls and women alike are sold by their pimps so that men can do whatever they please to their limp, weakened bodies. This is what twenty first century slavery looks like. Women and girls are physically chained and used as commodities, being sold off to man after man. Most of these victims don’t live to ever see freedom again, let alone their sexual liberation. In my interview with Niki Cross, a survivor, she details her horrific experiences and evolving relationship with sex, before, during, and after her days as a victim of human trafficking.

 

Me: How did you become a victim of human trafficking?

Niki: Initially, by becoming a victim of molestation at nine years old. When I didn’t share this with anyone, including my parents, the pain continued to grow, and I was looking for ways to anesthetize that pain. I fell into a group of teenagers who were using alcohol, and drugs and I felt that with them I had found my nirvana. It doesn’t take long to become quickly addicted. Because of this, I had multiple arguments with my family. They were trying to get me clean, trying to break the ties with some of the “friends” that had no best interest at heart for me. In turn, I ran away several times, only to be brought back so that I could run away again. The last time I ran, I made it as far as Columbus, Georgia, and thought I was home free. I had gone into a club that had an open mic night and went on stage to sing. Now, think of every blonde hair blue eyed actor that you’d give your right arm to spend a day with. Well that’s what he looked like, and he wanted me. This was my perpetrator, although I didn’t know it yet. He was very appealing to a fifteen year old girl who felt invalidated and unloved. As time went on he began the “grooming process,” a process girls go through before they are sold into the sex trade. I was unaware that this involved buying me nice clothes, expensive jewelry, nice dinners and all the perks that come with it. Thanksgiving of that year (1975), he began to talk more and more about how much money I could make if someone in the music industry could only hear my voice. So I was hooked. I now know it was all a sham, and he was building me up for the punchline, which was: “if you come home with me for Thanksgiving, my mother knows music producers, and would gladly oversee the cost of having you record an album.” This is everything a fifteen year old girl with no self esteem wants to hear. That trip did not include a recording studio. I found myself chained in an attack by the ankle with two other victims. After almost a year, an escape was carefully planned. There was no doubt if I had been there much longer, he would have killed me.

 

Me: What did sex mean to you when you were 15 years old?

Niki: Attention. Sex was the thing that my friends and I giggled about, we fell in and out of love. We were like all fifteen year old girls, curious, interested, excited, loved the attention, but had no idea how that attention could turn negative so quickly. I was not a promiscuous fifteen year old; however, he [the perpetrator] offered all the time, attention, and love that I had searched for. I now know the attention was only because I was a commodity and he was protecting his merchandise. Until I met him, I believed I had had sex. He would later show me, that heavy petting had only been the jist of it.

 

Me: How did your pimp first appeal to you?

Niki: Told me he was in love with me. The typical romeo pimp.

Me:Do you think if you were educated on the signs of human trafficking, this would have been preventable?

Niki: There will always be a percentage who refuse to listen. There will always be a percentage who think they know better. But if we only reach a small percentage and prevent them from going through the despicable shame and atrocities that many have faced, including myself, then it is very much worth it [introducing human trafficking curriculum into public schools]. If someone had tried to talk to me about human trafficking in high school I would have probably rolled my eyes. If it comes from a personal level, from a victim, I would have listened. You couldn’t have taken my eyes off of her. It takes someone who has walked that walk to grab the attention of our youth.

 

Me: What was life like while you were being sexually exploited? How did your pimp appeal to you then?

Niki: We were all three chained to the floor with a chain long enough so that we could make it to the bucket. We had very thin sheets hung between us so that you could practically see through and watch the other girls being raped. We had mattresses that were less than half an inch thick. I don’t think we even had pillows. If we decided that we were going to fight back against the men that came to use us, we were injected with drugs. We had about 15-40 men a day. I actually never knew that I was being sold because I never saw money pass hands until the day I escaped. The day I escaped was the day my perpetrator had intended to murder me because I had stopped cooperating. There were times I would go numb and just lay there and there were times it would all come back and I would fight and immediately after I knew that the beatings were coming. But it was worth it, just to be able to lash out at these filthy men who thought so little of me as a human being. In one incident, there was a client who always liked to strangle me with a yellow scarf to the point that I would almost pass out. He would stop when it got to the point where my eyes would roll back in my head and I would stop breathing. All the while, he’s having sex with me. How morbid do you have to be? One night, I felt like I could not tolerate it anymore. I scratched his face and fought his hands to keep the scarf away from my neck. He finally gave up and went downstairs. I later found that he had complained that he did not receive his moneys worth out of me. So my pimp came up the stairs and wanted to know why I had not given his friend service. I said “because he hurts me.” My pimp responded, “Bitch, you don’t know the beginning of hurt, but you’re about to find out.” He began beating me with a wooden shoe. It was daylight when I passed out. When I woke up, I asked the other girl who was chained with me how many hours I was out for. She replied, “hours, girl you’ve been out for days, but business went on as usual.” I felt more disgusted than I have ever felt.

 

 

Me: Did you lose your virginity while being trafficked?

Niki: I didn’t but I did- I had boyfriends and I thought I was no longer a virgin when I was touching hands down pants. Most women who are snatched off the street, are put in a house with 4-8 men and go through a seasoning process. My pimp was my only seasoning process- I thought he was my first one, my first love. I noticed he liked sex a lot. What I didn’t realize was that I was going through a much less painful seasoning process than all of the other girls.

 

Me: How does the word virginity change when you have been trafficked?

Niki: Before, it meant the same to me as every other teenage girl. We couldn’t wait to do it with the man we loved. And then we believed we were going to live happily every after. Fifteen is a far cry from being smart enough to know what love is. Virginity to me now is something that women should fight to hold onto. Make sure it’s given to the one who deserves it.

 

Me: Did you ever feel any attachment to your pimp while being sexually exploited?

Niki: Yes. In the beginning. That’s why I had such a hard time with Stockholm syndrome and moral regret after I was rescued. The first time I saw him come up in the attack, I thought that there had been a terrible mistake and he was coming to get me out. But when he stood over me smoking his cigarette, and said, “you’re gonna make me a whole lotta money, bitch,” everything inside of me turned to hatred. I hated him.

 

Me: What did sex mean to you while you were being exploited?

Niki: I had to make myself numb to get through it. There were times that it was so painful that I couldn’t endure it. Sex meant drugs. I got into drugs very heavily to numb the pain.

 

Me: You used your faith as guidance and strength through your experiences. What is your stance on abortions? How did you feel when you were forced to receive an abortion?

Niki: I don’t believe in abortions. I was damaged so badly from them that by the age of twenty-three I had to have a full hysterectomy. I felt extreme guilt for having an abortion even though it wasn’t my guilt to have. I felt guilt because they took my babies away from me. I could not find forgiveness for myself because I thought I could have fought harder to keep them. To make peace with it, I took four little shoe boxes and named them and put a flower and piece of paper with their name in each box and I gave those babies funerals. I buried my babies. I told them that I loved them and that mommy was sorry but that I would see them again one day.  

 

Me: When you escaped, did you ever think that you would have sex again?

Niki: No. Sex was the last thing on my mind. It took me a long time to think about even wanting a man’s hand on me.

 

Me: How long after you were rescued did it take for you to have sex again?

Niki: It took years before I let another man get intimate with me. Sex didn’t mean anything to me after getting rescued. Once I did start doing it again, it was just get drunk, get in the bed, get out. I didn’t enjoy it, there was no pleasure for me. I did it because I was hoping that one of those times would be different. And that’s when I turned to abstinence. I gave up on sex. I thought that it was overrated. But then I did fall in love with someone. Someone who was in the military. That was my first true love. That’s when I first felt something. He got sent to Panama, as a paratrooper. They were right over enemy territory and just before he hit the ground, one of the Panama soldiers shot and killed him. I’ve never loved anyone like him since. After that, I’ve never allowed myself to truly trust again because men either hurt you, leave you, or die on you.

 

 

Me: You’re married now. How did your husband find out that you were a victim of human trafficking? What was his reaction?

Niki: The first year we were dating, we were watching something on TV and it had went to a commercial and he started playfully tickling me and I told him to stop. He said “I got you now” and he held my wrists down. When he did that something snapped inside of me and I lost all sense of time and reality. I didn’t know who he was or where I was. He let me go, I got up, I slung chairs across the room, I pulled a knife out of the cabinet and yelled at him not to touch me. He kept repeating, “Niki it’s me. What is going on.”  After he said this a few times everything started to become clear again. I dropped the knife and started to ask “What have I done?” After that, he asked me if he could put his arms around me. I said yes and then he asked, “What in the world did someone do to you?” I layed there on the sofa and told him everything. I said “I’ll understand if you don’t want me anymore.” He said. “I couldn’t live without you if I tried.”

 

Me: What is your opinion about sex at this very moment?

Niki: I could take it or leave it. Every woman wants to be loved, but life gets in the way. My life got in the way. My mistakes got in the way. If we’re lucky, we eventually have kids, we have jobs, it’s not always snow white and prince charming.

 

Forty years ago, Niki was abducted. Today, she devotes herself to rescuing women who have suffered the same abuse she found herself a victim of. With passion and anger, she fights the lawmakers, who allow websites such as Craigslist and Backpage to keep ads up that sell young girls for sex acts, pimps, who kill their girls if they don’t “cooperate,” and the general public, who does not understand the extent to which women and girls are victimized of human trafficking in the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave. Well in this great nation, women are not free, and even fewer men stand brave.

Words: Caroline Anderson, Illustrations: Blakey Bessire