AUGUSTA, Ga.--The scars are still too deep for her to show her face, but she's ready to tell you her story. With sex trafficking becoming a growing problem here in the CSRA, she decided it was a story she should share. She's hoping it will let others know this is real, and it can happen right next door.
She's called Augusta home for the past 20 years, but a dark and shadowy past followed her here. For two years, from age 14 to 16 she lived as a sex slave. She says it all started with an unstable life at home.
"My stepfather had held a loaded gun to my head, to my siblings head. There was a lot going on, and it was kind of like we were just made to clean up their messes all of the time," she told News 12's Laura Warren.
Her rocky family life came to a head one night in a fight with her mom. It was a night that would change the course of her life forever.
She says, "I was 14 when she asked me to get out of the house, but she didn't ask me, she told me, you know, you just need to get out."
She left home with the clothes on her back, staying at friend's houses until she ran out of excuses for not going home. She says, "I was just so scared of going back there. I didn't want to go back there. It was a bad life, and I didn't want to do it."
So, she lived on the streets, doing what she had to to survive.
"In Tampa, their bathrooms in their gas stations are outside, you don't have to ask anybody for a key, so I just stayed in the bathroom," she says.
Bathrooms, park benches, the streets, wherever she could find a place to sleep, she would. It was a frightening life for a 14 year old girl who was scared, hungry, and alone.
She says, "When I came across him, it was kind of like a familiar face, someone willing to help, or I saw it as help. I just went back to his house and was willing to stay there."
Lured by promises of protection and the father figure that had been missing in her life, she felt she had a new home.
"You know, you have someone who is buying you meals and providing for extremely basic needs. And,I don't have anything to give, I don't have a job, so it's like I felt obligated," she says.
So, she paid her debt with the only thing she felt she had to offer: her body.
"At a certain point it wasn't like I felt obligated. I felt like I didn't have a choice whether I wanted to or not," she says.
Eventually, she was told to have sex with others. She was passed around to different houses. "I would kind of hear them talking about money being exchanged," she recalls.
For two years, she lived as a sex slave. She was passed around like an object at the age of 14.
"It was probably about anywhere from 100 to 130, 140 people," she admitted, with tears coming to her eyes as she said, "That's like the first time I ever told anybody that."
She realized they weren't locking her in their homes for her protection, but to keep her from leaving. And for two years, she was too afraid to try, because she was too afraid to fail.
"Sometimes the hell you're in is better than the hell you don't know," she says. But, she did know, the life she was in was no life at all. Some 20 years later, every detail is clear of the day she'd had enough.
"I had been beaten, like really, really bad, and I just remember sitting on the bathroom floor and just thinking, I can't believe this, how much longer can this go on?" she remembered.
For weeks, she would search and save any forgotten pennies she could find. Until one day, finally, she had enough to make a phone call to her biological father who lived in Augusta.
She says, "I didn't tell him what was going on. I think he felt obligated to come and get me because he had not been a part of my life."
She remembers the horror of that day, and says until she was in another state with her dad, she was terrified of who may come after her. She was also scared of having to go back home, and more than anything, scared for the unknown.
Now , she has a family of her own. She has two kids who are both too young still to hear about their mother's dark past. But one day, she believes she'll tell them.
She says, "As an adult, I feel grateful that God kept his hand on me and I didn't get AIDS or something. I think of how the outcome could have been, and it could have been so much worse."
She' found the strength to speak out, to tell her story for the first time, to let you know this is real, and it can happen to the pretty 13 year old girl down the street.
"It's not always like the movies. It's not what people think, it's not always like there's a pimp, you're standing on the street corner, that's not always what the face of it looks like."
To put this problem in perspective, there are four risk factors that indicate a city has a problem with sex trafficking.
1. A major thoroughfare
2. Hosting a major sporting event
3. A migrant community
4. Population over 200,000
Out of those four indicators, our area has all four. If you need help or know someone who is a victim of sex trafficking, call this number for help: 1-888-373-7888