I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, in a lower-middle-class neighborhood. When friends would visit they would tell me about the drug deals they saw at the local corner store, or the pimp standing outside the barbershop. I say this not to relate, but to make a point: I saw poverty, but never experienced it; same neighborhood, but two different worlds. I came from a home with four walls, a roof, a bed with comfortable sheet and my favorite pillow, the smell of fried food reminiscing in the kitchen, Nora Jones coming from my mother’s stereo, the sound of paws running down the hallway and me complaining about my brother constantly being in my room.
Fast forward 15 years, I am standing in a dirty motel room with paper thin walls off Route 45 in Libertyville, Illinois. A teenager name Hope (her real name is not used to protect her privacy) pulls up her shirt to show me the boot imprints left along her rib cage. Yellow, green, dark purple colors covered her side, screaming pain. It was a story she experienced countless times before. This time her pimp beat her because he feared she was hiding money from her last Backpage* client. As I held back tears, she did not harbor anger or blame but rather spoke with acceptance, “this is life”.
I was a Home Visitor/Case Manager, helping teen mothers navigate raising a child. It was my first job out of college, where I learned more from the mothers I served than I could have ever taught them. I followed Hope as she moved from various couches, motels, parks, trailer, and shelters throughout Lake County. Places she and her baby called home. Hope was born to a mother with mental illness and substance abuse issues, and her father left before she could crawl. Hope only completed seventh grade before falling through the cracks of the system. Her mother’s boyfriends came and went, but the abuse stayed the same. A little girl at the age of nine was forced to become accustomed with older men preying n her. Sex became survival, sex became a day without being hit, sex became routine, sex became home.
Hope was a teen mom trying to provide a better life fore her child with little education or people to support and love her. She is a product of the foster care system herself. Her mother had issues with DCFS, but Hope remained in the home; victim to a system and cycle continually repeated with no real solution.
One detail I will never forget was about her clientele: it was rich, white, married men that often paid for sex. It haunted me that these men paid $60 to sleep with a teen girl, in a dirty motel room, so she could pay for a temporary place to sleep; and they could go back to their homes, wives, and children. This is only one story of many other victims suffering in silence. Sex trafficking is here, it happens from Highland Park to Zion, over to Antioch.
Author: Courtney Combs