Six years ago I read Tina's story. It shattered my illusions about my hometown. Here's what happened:
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 10 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 little Shelton, Washington. We 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—close enough, but with an evil underworld neither of us knew about. When I turned 24, I was married and had my first child, when Tina turned 24 she ran away for the last time—to freedom.
Safely on the outside, Tina's mission is to save children in bondage. It's a lucrative market to sell kids, and beating slavery will take more money and power than she will ever have. But she shares her story with those who will listen and works for Seattle Against Slavery.
Between 100,000 to 300,000 American children are currently in bondage in the sex industry. They are drugged, raped, beaten and kept in a "prison with chains we can't see" as one policeman has said.
The world has more people in slavery than ever before. Slave traders make 32 billion each year. We know about the war refugees, so how can we miss seeing 29 million slaves? Tina will tell you, "It's happening in plain sight, we just need to focus our eyes. Once you see it, you recognize the signs. We just need more people looking."
Hospitals and clinics are on the lookout for abuse victims. Tina will tell you that's how she escaped...a clinic worker whispered in her ear and when she squeezed the nurse's hand, it was the signal needed that brought her deliverance.
See something suspicious? Speak up.