Thursday December 15, 2011 5:32 PM
UPDATED: Friday December 16, 2011 7:06 AM
CLEVELAND – In the first part of ‘Life On The Streets’, ONN-TV reported on Pauline Stevens, an ex-prostitute who turned her life around through Project Red Cord.
The program is designed to pull women out of a lifestyle they feel trapped in.
Recently, ONN’s Cristin Severance sad down with a human trafficking survivor who said that her story could happen to any woman in any neighborhood in the U.S.
“Sarah” looks like the girl next door. She has a Masters degree, but talking about her past makes her voice start to quiver, reported ONN’s Cristin Severance.
“I mean my family still doesn’t know that’s what happened when I was a teenager,” said “Sarah.”
Her father died when she was a teen and she started acting out. “Sarah” became close with an older guy who bought her gifts, gained her trust, and made her feel special.
He took her on a trip to Chicago, out to dinner and to a hotel.
“Then there were three guys that were there and I was told to have sex with them,” “Sarah” said. The next night, there were five guys.
The man she had trusted was advertising her in the back of newspapers and selling her to men. He was a human trafficker and she was his product.
“It shakes you to your core of thinking that a human being can be sold for just a one time use kind of thing,” she said.
This became a cycle for the next year. If things were bad at home with her mother, she’d run off with him. The man took her all over the country and forced her to have sex with men in each city.
In Cleveland, he’d take her to sex parties in the suburbs where she’d have to have sex with the men there.
If “Sarah” refused to do it, the man would threaten her.
“I was raped as well,” said “Sarah.”
When “Sarah” tried to get away, he broke her arm after she refused to go to one of the sex parties. It was an injury she couldn’t explain to her mother.
“Sarah” tried to go on with her life, going to college and getting her Masters, but her past was never far from her mind.
Now in her early 30’s, she lost her job last year and owed thousands in back taxes. She found herself answering an ad for a massage parlor in Cleveland.
“That’s why it can be very difficult for a woman to leave sex work. You think, I’m not good enough to get any other job anyway,” said “Sarah”.
The massage parlor paid $50 an hour. She would get more money for additional sex acts and she had to be naked the whole time.
“Sarah” thought getting paid would mean she was in control this time.
“It was a blessing because then I wouldn’t have to sell myself,” she said.
“Sarah” quickly found out that the money didn’t make things any better.
“Every girl has been raped there, including myself,” “Sarah” said.
Through word of mouth and what “Sarah” calls fate, she met Renee Jones, Severance reported.
“I didn’t even know coming here that Project Red Cord helps women get out of sex work,” said “Sarah”.
Project Red Cord Phase Two is all about helping girls and women like “Sarah” figure out there are other options out there. They can figure them out at the Renee Jones Empowerment Center.
“This can happen to anyone. Trafficking doesn’t discriminate,” said Jones. “Anyone can fall back into that life if they don’t get help.”
“We get a lot of women, they may be out there now, ‘renegading’ which is now selling themselves, not working for anybody because most of them feel like because they’ve been in that lifestyle so long. They feel like there is no other option out there for life,” said Jones.
Project Red Cord is a program Jones created to pull women out of the commercial sex industry.
Phase Two focuses on human trafficking victims.
“We provide unlimited support to help build their self-esteem, because it takes a long time to get these women back on their feet and learning that they have value,” said Jones.
Meeting Jones, gave “Sarah” the strength she needed to quit the massage parlor and get the help she’s needed for so long.
“Sarah” admits she has a long way to go, but she won’t let her past define her anymore.
“I’m not that. I’m more than that,” she said.