When I was 17 years old, I moved to NYC from Mississippi with bright eyes, $50 in my pocket and a dream to pursue. There were good days, and bad days, days filled with hope and hunger, nights filled with pretty lights and absolute loneliness. I would spend all of my energy imagining the life that I was chasing, staying positive even when I didn’t have a place to sleep or a shoulder to cry on, finding everything in absolutely nothing. I must admit, it’s hard to frame the rest of this story from a positive perspective. There is no beautiful way to explain hostages, sex slavery, or the desperation that comes with these experiences.
Roughly (pun not intended) a year and a half after being in NYC and finally having a roof over my head, I started allowing myself to be more explorative and opening myself up to the idea of being involved in social circles. I was tired of being alone and feeling like the world was out to my demise, which was likely my intuition trying to prevent what was to come. I ended up in a swanky, elitist circle who would invite me to outings and dinners and things of the like, very established people, well known figures for better or for worst. One night, the main person that would invite me out told me to meet him at a private event, to not share the address with anybody because it was so exclusive and was a privilege for me to be invited.
I showed up to the venue and waited outside for the supposed host I was attending the party with while they decided to stop answering my calls. The more that I process and unravel the story with time, I realize at some point I might have even been blocked once they realized I had arrived at the soon to be crime scene. I was starting to feel like I was stood up, getting antsy and nearly leaving, until two guys came up to me and asked if I was waiting for *insert predator’s name here* and proceeded to tell me that something came up for him and he would meet us there later.
Fast forwarding through almost 2 years or so to me being led out of the venue with guns to my back and being thrown in the back of a truck, taken and locked away in some fancy Wall Street penthouse with guards making sure I don’t leave, being forced to call my parents every day and pretend nothing is wrong, taken to hotels around the city where I was raped and beaten every day, 10-15 times a day, for a year and a half straight. Eventually, I was allowed to go to castings, and take meetings and get a job, under the circumstance that I comply to what they want and if I ever told anybody that I would be killed.
I still can’t even exactly understand how I ended up being the free person I am now. They sort of just… disappeared, once they were done with me, and I obviously moved away as soon as possible. A part of me thinks it was because I started booking work and they wanted to keep their operation under wraps, the other part of me can’t spend any energy on trying to understand any of the situation that happened to me. The reason I am making an active choice to underplay the pain and agony of my experience is because I am not here to torture porn you. My intention is to educate and hopefully inspire others to come forward about their experiences to create a world and an industry where there is accountability and safety in the ability to be vulnerable.
The consequences of the situation at one point controlled my entire life. I like to pretend that I’ve moved past it, and even though I have evolved and learned and processed as much as I can after 4 years of being free, what it comes down to is that something was taken from me during this time of my life that I will never be able to have back. Now I have the freedom to fight every single day for my own healing and also am now coming into a space where I can fight for others too.
As these taboo topics around mental health and sexual assault become more mainstream, it is crucial to highlight the conversation around human trafficking, considering it is one of the least spoken about topics in the entire system. There are currently no existing statistics around the correlation between human trafficking and the fashion industry, leaving myself and many other people in our industry feeling like a statistic ourselves.
Gaining the courage to have a voice as a model is a muscle not commonly built in the day to day of our fast-paced industry. I myself have only very recently become comfortable in my approach to collective activism in this matter, inadvertently from personal experience which has led me to my purpose of advocating for proper rights, education, and resources for models around the world.
My hopes are to normalize the conversation regarding human trafficking, provide resources for individuals who have experienced sexual assault, and continue to advocate for and align myself with organizations who are currently leading the world with their research, policy initiatives and campaigns to create equal opportunity and a safe, accessible complaint process for individuals around the world.