Monica took her first sip of alcohol at around ten years old. As time went on, her life started revolving around substance abuse, and to feed the addiction, she began selling herself. When she started dating one of her "clients," she thought salvation was at hand, and she could finally be free of that lifestyle. But things only got worse when her new boyfriend forced her into the world of sex trafficking.
This week on Overcome With Auntie Anne, I'm talking with Monica Charles about her experience of being sexually trafficked. This is an important conversation because it brings to light the dark world of sex trafficking, a world of despair and destruction. We talk about how she was forced into it, how it paralyzed her, and how she eventually got out.
Some of the themes of today's conversation are very mature, so please take note before listening to the podcast or reading the summary. If you'd like to hear my entire conversation with Monica, listen to the podcast. Or keep reading below to catch the highlights.
How the trafficking began
Monica is a former substance abuse addict who is now in recovery. That addiction plays a big part in her story. The first substance she recalls taking was alcohol at around ten years old.
As she says, "For an addict to survive we use people, places, and things. We lie, cheat, and steal, and sometimes sell ourselves." As an addict "caught in the grip of active addiction," Monica says she sold herself to support the addiction.
As ironic as it sounds, the first time she did this, she met a man who took an interest in her. As "someone who always grew up feeling less than and not worthy of anything or anyone," Monica felt that this man could essentially be her savior.
She grew up having no father and a single mother that had her at 16. "So," she says, "I spent my entire life just looking for a man to rescue me and to ultimately just make me feel okay."
When she started dating the man who took an interest in her, Monica thought she wouldn't have to sell herself anymore to feed her substance abuse. Even though they "met through the exchange of money for sex," Monica felt and believed this man to be her rescuer. So she moved in with him.
But when she did, she realized that he didn't want to rescue her from her lifestyle. Instead, he just wanted to profit from it for his benefit. So he took charge of her and began selling her off to other men out of his home.
Often, if we hear about sex trafficking, the notion is that it's happening to young women and young children, which is true. But Monica was 40 years old when she moved in with this man. So that just goes to show that it can happen to anyone at any age, and age limit isn't a thing when it comes to something like this.
During this time, Monica was still a substance abuse user and addict. So when her boyfriend started selling her out to others, she says, "I thought it was part of the addiction process, and I didn't know any better."
Part of living in her boyfriend's house meant doing what he said. "My belief was that when a man becomes your significant other, you know, you obey what they say, you do what they say, you honor them, you don't say 'no.'" Monica doesn't feel like she ever had the option to say "no."
Monica was stuck with having no one else, nothing else to run to, and being an addict. To remain in the house, her boyfriend said she must be with at least five men a day. And on top of that, she had to "take care of him and the things he wanted sexually as well."
It looked like any other home
The house Monica moved into, the house she was trafficked out of, was a normal house in East Austin. As she says, "children played down the street, people went to work, we had neighbors that were families, kids, and we were right on the corner. And to look at it, you would never know what was going on."
But while on the outside everything looked normal, on the inside, Monica was isolated and basically in captivity, a prisoner in her own house. She almost never left. But men were in and out of the house all day long.
And they looked like normal, everyday men, which is probably why no one ever thought anything of it. "They were white collar lawyers, doctors, teachers, you name it. They didn't look like what society, what the media portrays a trafficker to be."
If her boyfriend ever came home and found out she hadn't made any money that day, the abuse would start -- physical abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse, and even sexual abuse. "Many times I was backed into a corner with [my boyfriend] screaming in my face, then thrown on the bed and told, 'Well, if you're not gonna perform, then you're gonna perform for me.'"
Because of all of this, Monica had to go even harder into substance abuse just to escape the reality of her everyday life and the pain it caused. She didn't even feel like a human being anymore.
And she was scared of the outside world, afraid she was being followed or would be attacked. So she almost never left the house.
Her entire world was wrapped up in fear, and she felt there was nothing she could do about it. She was too afraid to speak up to the police; she prayed for death and cursed God for bringing her into this world; she tried to kill herself many times, and her boyfriend fed the lie by telling her she could never be anything else, and that who she was is all she would ever be.
This went on for three years.
From one abuser to the next
Eventually, her boyfriend decided that he was finished with her and had her evicted. Believing the lies that this life she was leading was all she'd ever amount to, she got involved with another man, again thinking he'd be her savior. He was a married man who said he'd rescue her.
"He told me that he would never leave me, told me that he would take care of me always, that one day we would be together." And he took care of her in a way -- he supported her, but he used her addiction to keep her tied to him. He paid for her apartment, paid for other things, and gave her money to support her substance abuse.
And although he didn't sell her out to other men for sex as her last boyfriend did, he came over "as he needed and wanted, and [she] lived in utter isolation."
Eventually, this man's wife found out what was happening, and he left. When he did, Monica had no way to support herself. She felt her only choices were to end her life or go back to selling herself.
Crying out to God
Out of desperation, Monica cried out to God. "I got on my knees and said, 'God, if you exist, if you are real, please help me to not live this way of life anymore.'"
Even though she didn't know if God existed, Monica committed to praying every night. But she didn't know how, so she started journaling prayers to God, writing to him, asking him to show her if he was real, and asking to feel his love. "And," she says, "God showed up for me in a big, huge, way. My life has been transformed. It has been redeemed."
Monica started going to 12-step Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Through those, Monica met a sponsor who she says "literally spoke love and life into me and told me that, you know, it didn't matter what I had done, that I was still worthy of love."
Finally beginning to know and understand that she was loved and accepted, Monica developed the courage to look for a job. She found a janitorial job on Craigslist, and when she went for the interview, she was honest about being a recovering addict. The woman interviewing her said, "We do God's work here. I think that we can help you." And Monica got the job.
Since then, Monica hasn't looked back, and she's nearly three years clean from substance abuse. She desires to help other women, so she works in facilities helping other addicts. And she's pursuing a social work degree as well.
She also helps out with an organization called The Key2Free (key2free.org). They offer things like therapy and transitional housing for survivors of sex trafficking.
And she's using her experience and her situation to help inform the police and others on what it looks like for someone to be trafficked, including the signs of, and how to spot, sex traffickers.
The post Surviving Addiction and Sex Trafficking with Monica Charles appeared first on Auntie Anne Beiler.