Photo of a woman with dark skin, mostly hidden in shadow, covering her face with her hands.
Photo courtesy of Melanie Wasser / Unsplash.com

CONTENT WARNING: This personal essay includes multiple forms of trauma, including physical abuse and sexual assault.


I have come a long way, thank God I’m still here. Well, most of me is. People always say, “God don’t put anything in your way that you can’t handle.” I guess I just love pain, because I can take anything God puts in my way, anything. 

I was brought up in what you might call a blue-collar home. My mom was rich to the people in our hood. I remember she always had a hustle and was on many moves. We would go to the farm and pick watermelons, vegetables, and peanuts — then sell them back in D.C. 

My great cousin, Brooks, used to be a madam. She had a house full of women dedicated to making her money. She died and left my mom everything: about eight houses and a lot of money. My mom loves to gamble and go to bingo, too. She was good at it: We had everything from go-karts to Sega Genesis. Even though my mother spoiled us, she also beat us everyday. Most days, she would lock us in the house and we had to tie sheets up together to the bunk bed and climb out the window.

You might call that crazy but when you get whooped every day of your life, you wouldn’t let being locked in the house stop you from getting away. My mother used to make us jump in the shower, then line us up laying on the floor with her foot in our back and whoop us. Me and my adopted brothers then started to run away. I was finally brought into a group home because I cried out for someone to help me, to get me away from this crazy lady. The same lady that said I was a mistake; the same lady that can’t even look at me without whacking me in my face with her hand full of gold rings. 

As I laid in my group home bed on the first night, one of the adults came to my room and instructed me to go to sleep. I then replied, “the only way I go to sleep is when I rest in peace.” 

She took me to her office when I said that. I guess it was because of my history. Cutting myself, overdosing off my mother’s meds, jumping out the window at my school, laying in the streets waiting to get hit by a car, and writing a letter addressed to GOD or THE DEVIL praying for them to take my life — I was in a lot of pain.

When I got to her office, she asked me a lot of questions. The one question that got me sent away was, “If you wanted to hurt me, what would you do?” 

I then replied, “I would pick up this stapler and hit you in the head until you start bleeding, then I would take the knife off that cutting board and keep hitting you with it.” That’s all it took. Within the next couple of hours, I was at St. Elizabeths. I spent like 18 months there before they let me out and sent me to another group home. Now they had me on depression and bipolar medication. 

At the group I was at now we would go on rides in the van. A lady that was driving the van left us unattended and the boys in the van raped me. That wasn’t the first time I got raped and it definitely wasn’t the last. My mom then found out and tried to take me out of the group home. The next day I left out the group home window to get away. I was walking down the street and a boy pulled me over and asked me if I wanted to smoke. He was light-skinned with long hair. I was 15 but told him I was 16. We smoked and then he asked me if I wanted to go to his hotel room to smoke more. I said yes, of course, and went with him.

After we finished smoking, him, me, and these other girls that were waiting at the hotel then got in the car and left. As we was driving close to my mom’s house I dozed off and when I woke up I was on a big long bridge with bright lights. I panicked but didn’t say anything. I didn’t know where I was. We then arrived at an apartment building. I thought to myself, “Where am I?!”

Phot of neon lights in the form of a question mark in a dark room

Photo courtesy of Emily Morter / Unsplash.com

The boy that took me then wanted me to work for him. He wanted me to have sex with people and give him the money. He said this is my new family now. I was so scared. Then he finally let me use the phone after three weeks. 

I didn’t want to call my mother because I knew I was going to be in trouble. If I called my father then he would tell my mother. So I called my grandmother, Grandma Elle.

“Grandma,” I said in excitement, “this Reneece. I’m in New York.” Then my phone call was over. 

Then he took me to get my hair and nails done and said, “You going out tonight.” 

“Cool,” I thought, “I am finally going to get away.” 

So later that night he let me and this girl out on a corner. As soon as I took a couple of steps this car pulled up. The man in the car instructed me to get in his car. I then felt like I was finally rescued and was about to go back home. 

“Please help me,” I asked. 

He then replied, “Shut up, you pimp arrested.”

“Pimp arrested” — I wasn’t really sure what that was. But he then asked me for my pimp number. I took the paper out my pocket the first man gave to me and gave it to him. 

When he called him he said, “I got your girl, if you want her back you got to give me $1500.”

The first man said, “She didn’t make me no money, you can keep her.” 

Right there, I just felt so low, I felt like nobody could hear me cry out for help. I got what I always wanted, I was finally about to die. 

The second man took me to Connecticut. He pulled up to a storage room where he had a bed and I spent two and a half weeks there. Every day, I remember him raping me, telling me I was his and I was never going to leave. 

We finally left the storage room and drove to this hotel. Across the parking lot was a big grocery store. We went to the room and I turned the TV on and flipped through the channels. 

“The TV is not working,” I told the man. 

He said, “Call downstairs and tell them.” 

I picked up the phone and lied. “The phone is not working either.” The man got mad and left out to tell them to fix the TV and the phone. As soon as I heard the elevator ding, I then ran out and ran down the stairs. 

I ran out the hotel, across the parking lot and into the big store. 

“Help me please, help me!” I cried. “I want to go back home.” 

The people in the store called the police, the police called the FBI, and the FBI flew me back to D.C. My mom finally won her case now and got me back from the system and I was back home with my sister and two adopted brothers. 

One week later my mom left us. Now it was just us four kids surviving alone. Lights started to get turned off. We was hungry. So I found a skirt and started walking the streets to make money. Now that is the first time I went on a date.


The National Human Trafficking Hotline recorded 75 human-trafficking cases reported in the District of Columbia in 2019.  Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocates are available 24/7 to take reports of potential human trafficking: 1-888-373-7888. You can also text the hotline at 233733. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.