I didn’t recognize the email address but I could tell it wasn’t spam. Several paragraphs quickly explained the unusual request. She’d gotten my contact info from a friend of a friend. Isn’t that how it works? Just enough of a connection that I was compelled to respond. But her words had already shattered my shallow world.
At 14, Tina ran away from home. She had to. Her mom was a druggie and Tina was pretty much on her own anyway. She hated life at home. When her mom combined booze and drugs she’d pass out but the men she brought home didn’t. To those deadbeats, Tina was always the next in line. So she split.
Tina’s face never made it to a missing child poster, because her mom never bothered to report her missing. For Tina, life’s realities hit quickly without a place to go and food to eat. She hitchhiked to the city thinking it would get easier. Little did she know she’d walked into a prison that she wouldn’t escape for ten years.
A seemingly nice man picked her up off the street, offered dinner and a room in a rather shabby apartment. With nowhere else to go, Tina gladly accepted. Soon her nightmare began. The details Tina provided are not ones anyone should have to read, much less ever be forced to live out. She’d become a sex slave.
On two occasions Tina attempted to run away. Both times she was so badly beaten that she couldn’t walk. Her only income came from the abusive men who came at all hours. She wasn’t allowed to keep any money nor would anyone help her escape. Tina’s innocence had been lost years ago, but what was left of her hope simply died.
Tina and I share many things even though I’m a quarter-century older than she. For one, we grew up in the same hometown. We even attended the same high school. The home she ran away from was close to my old junior high. The city she ran to was Seattle—so close, yet a world apart from the places I visit there. When I turned 24 I was married and had my first child, when Tina turned 24 she ran away for the last time.
Which brings me back to Tina’s email. This wasn’t a shantytown in Singapore; this was Seattle. How could the illicit, lucrative market of selling children happen here? I knew where this email was heading. Tough problems always seem to come down to money. But it wasn’t about money.
Tina knew the only way to win this slavery war was to let people know it was happening in their backyard. Awareness is an interesting phenomenon—once you’re aware of a problem, you can no longer say you never knew. Tina mentioned that between 100,000 to 300,000 American children are currently in bondage in the sex industry. Drugged, raped, beaten and kept in a “prison with chains we can’t see” as one policeman has said.
Tina knows that money alone won’t solve this, but awareness can help. Safely on the outside, she’s doing all she can to help. Her mission is to save children from the chains we cannot see.
The unspeakable injustice in Tina’s life is being used to help those like her and those who might be its next victim. For this amazing young woman it begins with awareness. Tina thought I’d care enough to write about it. She was right. Slavery now has a face and it’s one I won’t forget as I do what I can to help.