I Was Human Trafficked for 10 Years. We Can Do More to Stop It: Barbara Amaya at TEDxMidAtlantic (Transcript)

A 15-year-old-girl, alone, confused, sad, addicted, and trafficked on the streets of New York City. She hears sirens in the background, and she knows what that means. It means “Run!” So she and all the other young women out on the track run, but they’re not fast enough. The police come, and they chain them all together, and take them down to the police station. And she’s kind of worried, because she’s addicted to heroin, and she knows she can’t spend that many minutes in the police station. She goes to the police station, and she goes to court, and they sentence her to Rikers Island Prison. And she’s thinking, “I have to get out of here. I’ve heard horror stories, and I don’t want to be in Rikers Island Prison.”

So she breaks the programming that the trafficker has drilled into her head, and she says, “I’m Barbara Amaya. I’m not 21. I’m 15-years old, and I’m from Fairfax, Virginia. Please help me. Please find my family. I just want to go back home.” And they do. They say, “We found your family, they’re coming to pick you up.” She feels a sense of relief. They’re coming, they’re coming to pick me up.

At the same time, I felt so many other emotions. I was scared, I didn’t know what I was going to say. I’d been gone for three years. They take me to the room where my parents are going to be waiting. I open the door, and I step inside. And it’s my trafficker in the room not my parents. And to this day, I don’t know how that happened. I’m not sure. Do you all remember the feeling that you had when you were in middle school, when you were 12 or 13 years old, in 6th, 7th grade? That feeling of excitement, wanting to belong, but yet being very, very, very vulnerable? That’s what traffickers prey upon, vulnerability. Whether it’s a 12-year-old runaway, or a 35-year-old man trying to find money to feed his family.

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The vulnerable population is being preyed upon. That’s what it’s about. It’s not complicated. They know how to keep that vicious cycle going. Supply and demand, it’s about supply and demand. That’s a photo of me, 12-year-old me. The summer I turned 12, I ran away from my Fairfax, Virginia home. And I want to repeat that. The summer I turned 12, I ran away from home, and I went to nearby Washington, DC. I’d been abused and nobody would listen to me, so I ran away from home.

In Dupont Circle, a young woman approached me, and she said she wanted to help me. And she understood how I felt. And I went back with her to her apartment. And sadly, her trafficker was there. She had been out recruiting other young, other runaways. Maybe she’d been one herself one day. One day, they took me to the corner of 14th and I Streets, not that far from here, in our nation’s capital, and they  sold me to a trafficker from New York. And I can remember that day like it was yesterday.

My memory’s pretty messed up from some of the stuff I’ve been through, but I can remember that day. I remember the money exchanging hands. And I remember him driving me up to New York. And I remember him taking things up a notch. You know, really, he programmed me, and I use that word on purpose. He programmed my young mind. He knew exactly how to create a commodity out of a human being. He knew how to create a trauma bond. I always get asked, “Why didn’t you just leave? How could that be possible?” I bonded with the trafficker. He knew how to create that bond. I never had my first dance. I never had my first innocent kiss. I never went to high school, because I was 12-years-old when I left home.

But I did have an 85-year-old man die on top of me when I was 16 years old, being trafficked in New York. I became heavily addicted to heroin. And heroin saved my life. It numbed me to the existence that I was surviving. I don’t want to say I was living, because I was merely surviving all those years, over a decade, from 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 19, 20, 21, 22, over a decade.

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And then one day, I escaped New York. I wish I could say it was really that easy, but it wasn’t. It was a lot longer than that, but I don’t have a lot of time out here. So, one day I escaped New York. In 2013, I returned to vacate the criminal records I’d gotten, even though I was a victim. Those are my real criminal records, with all my aliases and docket numbers. They don’t just go away, they’re still there.

One point I really want to get across here is that in every state in the United States, there are laws that say you can’t have sex with a child, and if you do, you’re going to jail. But if money is involved, if there’s money on the table, that child is criminalized, not the person that tried to rape her. I don’t understand that. I never told anybody what happened to me in New York. I had the deep shame.

My dog, Scooby, was my best, best friend. I really can’t say that I like the human race too much. I kept everything inside until 2012. I had an epiphany as I watched a newscast in my living room, about trafficked teens in my neighborhood of northern Virginia. And I thought, “That’s what happened to me. That’s the same thing that happened to me, and it’s still happening today.” Today, I’ve taken my life back.

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