“As far back as I can remember my life was filled with fear, pain, and trauma.
Later on, sexual exploitation joined my list of terror.
Growing up, my family was dysfunctional. My mother worked three jobs just to take care of us. With three children, it took a lot to provide all our needs. I vividly remember the many times my alcoholic father viciously beat my mother. I was only a child. I couldn’t do much more than hold my siblings, trying to shield them from the brutality. And I would cry, feeling helpless to do anything.
At school, I faced a different kind of abuse. Because of the color of my skin and texture of my hair, I encountered intense discrimination. They called me names. Attacked me verbally, physically, emotionally. I was an outsider looking in because I looked different. Racial identity was never clear cut for me. Being a blending of African American, Caucasian, Native American, and Puerto Rican cultures, finding a place to belong was very difficult. And, so, the bullying and abuse continued. Eventually, my mom encouraged me to fight back. Again, I was only a child. What else could I have done?
My 30-year-old cousin moved in with us when I was 8 years old. I thought, with him in our house, everything would be alright. He played dolls with me. Took me to the store. Listened to me. He made me feel special and loved. Everything I thought I needed at the time, he was to me.
But then, he molested me.
He would tell me, “ If you say anything to anyone your father is going to kill your mom”. I believed him. And I was terrified of him. As a child, I was under his control.
The sexual abuse continued for some time until my father found me bleeding in the bathroom. He asked me what happened. Terrified, I said nothing. Somehow, my father knew. I heard a gunshot. Looking out the window, I watched my cousin run away from the house. My mother never found out. In fact, I kept the sexual abuse a secret for many years.
As I grew into a teen, I didn’t know how the horrors of my childhood would change my life. I ran away from home and rebelled against my mother. I was rebelling against any and everyone in my life due to the emotional pain that I held inside. I didn’t know how to express my agony in any other way. I needed help. I just could not figure out how to ask for it. I was only a child.
One day I met a man. He told me that I was beautiful. He made me feel special. No one had ever told me that I was pretty before. No one had ever treated me like that before. All I could do was smile at him. Soon, he began buying me beautiful cloths, expensive jewelry, taking me out to clubs introducing me as his lady. With him, I felt safe and secure.
I had no idea about the nightmare that was coming.
We went to one of his friends homes one night. We drank and laughed. We were having a good time. In an instant, everything went blank. I woke to find his friend on top of me having his way with me.
I looked to one side. The man who said he loved me sat watching. He looked at me with disgust.
“Bitch, get my money,” he said. He made it clear that I owed him now for all the things that he did for me. That day, I learned that nothing is free.
That day, my life as a prostituted child began. I was a terrified fifteen year old child standing on the corner of Logan and Division in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Pimped out and sold to the highest bidder. I was called a prostitute, a whore, and so many other hateful names that a child should never be called. No one seemed to see me as a fifteen year old. No one looked at me to see that I was being used, abused, sold. It was like the whole world just saw me as trash.
My pimp told me that if I ever left, I would be killed. That my family would be killed. Terrified, I did exactly as I was told. My mother never understanding why I was doing the things that I was doing. She didn’t know that my running away from home was my attempt at keeping them safe.
I was trafficked from city to city, state to state. If I did not bring in a certain amount of money, I was beaten. The brutality of the beatings included wire hangers, power cords, among other things.
After twenty years of this lifestyle, I became accustomed to living in fear and pain, darkness of the unknown. In order to stop feeling and thinking, I turned to drugs and alcohol.
I heard people talk about GOD all the time. In my mind, though, I thought that if there was a GOD, why did he allow all these horrible things to happen to me? It made no sense to me. All I wanted was to give up.
July 4, 2000 I tried to commit suicide. I was tired of living. I was sick and tired being afraid and alone. As I felt my heart beat slowing down, I knew it would soon be over. I screamed out to GOD, “If there’s a GOD, you better help me, Man. If you’re real, help me!”
I can’t explain what I felt at that time. I can, however, tell you this; it was the most warm and powerful hug. I felt as if a lifetime of pain was lifted I could see and feel the sun for the first time in years. I called home, hearing on the other end the sweetest voice I’d ever heard. The voice of my mom.”
After her powerful encounter with God, Leslie escaped from her pimp and got clean. She is currently working toward her Masters of Social Work from Grand Valley State University. In 2005, Leslie established the nonprofit residential program, Sacred Beginnings, to help victims of sexual exploitation in West Michigan.
Really, I am not that different from any other woman who suffers and battles with the disease of addiction and prostitution. But, my real story begins when my life was about to end.
When I walked through the doors of the Sacred Beginnings, the doctors had only given me a short time left to live—at least by man’s calculations—based on the way I was living.
I can remember sitting at the dope house getting high and looking over my whole life. (You tend to do that when you know that you are at the end of the road.) What I saw was a life filled with all kinds of abuse (physical, mental, sexual), neglect and pain. Everyone that was supposed to love and protect me did nothing but hurt me—they used me and tried to destroy me. These acts came from my mother, my siblings, my relatives, my husband and yes, even my own children.
It started from the very beginning of my life—even my conception was tainted. I am the product of my father’s adulterous affair with another woman, but taken and raised by his wife. I was always set apart from the family. I never fit in and I never was accepted. My first real memories of sexual and physical abuse go back to the age of four years old—and it just became a way of life. I never talked about anything because of the threat of being beat if I told. I got beat either way, really. I just learned to live with it.
Drugs were just an acceptable way of life. In my family—even though they were business owners, clergy, political activists, and some of the most socially prominent people in our society—they were also gamblers, bootleggers, pimps, prostitutes and crime lords. With this alone the line of morality was very thin, if there ever really was one.
As I grew older, the abuse became so overwhelming that I had became an alcoholic at the age of twelve years old, and I tried to commit suicide for the first time at the age of thirteen. You know, no one even noticed at the time or even to this day.
I was first prostituted when I was forced into a marriage at the age of sixteen. I had to do whatever I was told if I wanted to eat, live, and not get beaten. As the abuse became worse, I found more ways to cope. I went from alcohol to smoking weed to popping pills to smoking opium to tooting cocaine to doing heroine, and then ultimately, crack cocaine. I experienced domestic abuse, rape—not just from outsiders as well as family members and friends—regular beatings, and even kidnappings. And in the midst of this turmoil, I found out that I was dying. I had contacted AIDS—Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. No amount of drugs or alcohol that could make me forget that or take it away.
This was my bottom. The label of “AIDS” said to me that I was the epitome of everything that was nasty, filthy and wrong with the world. I was truly alone. Fear, loneliness, and the longing for love and life dominated my every thought. The only time that I ever felt any resemblance of affection was when I was buying dope, using dope or turning a trick—and of course, that wasn’t truly love. I had never known any different. But I didn’t want to die that way! Oh, how the emptiness filled my whole being.
I remember crying out to God, asking Him “Why?” Why was I born into a life that was nothing but pain? Wasn’t I a child of His and not a mistake? Was it that the only good thing about my conception, birth and my life run down my mother’s leg get on the sheet and get washed out in the laundry? I was so alone and so scared and I feared that this was the way I was going to die. But let me tell you something. God works through people, places and situations. I was then blessed to meet a woman by the name of Mrs. Leslie King. I remember when she came to get me, and she helped me into her home, I asked her to do one thing for me. “Please don’t let me die with a crack pipe in my mouth,” I pleaded.
For the first time in my life there was someone who just accepted me (warts and all). For the first time in my life I was safe; I was loved. The road has not been easy. It has been long, hard and there have been some pitfalls, but I was not alone. Because of her guidance and the support of Sacred Beginnings, I am alive today. The woman that used to pray to die now thanks God for everyday that she is alive. I can now look in the mirror and see my own reflection, and not be repulsed to the point of self-hatred. I no longer feel as though I am unworthy to breathe the air that the good Lord has given.
Now, please don’t think that my battle is over. It is far from that. I battle with my addiction and my illness every day, but I am clean. I don’t drink. And, I don’t need a man to make me feel alive and at the end of the day, I go to bed, and I am at peace. I still have problems, but I get through them sober. How I wish that other people that I have known that have succumbed to the depths of this illness could have found this before the end, and not have died in their active addiction feeling all alone.
I walked through the doors of the Sacred Beginnings a woman who had less than six months to live—alone and scared. That was six years ago. I am clean. I am sober. I am alive. My disease is now undetectable, and I will always be thankful and grateful to my Heavenly Father and to Mrs. Leslie King for loving me when I didn’t and couldn’t love myself. I LOVE YOU ‘MOM’! God put you in my life and blessed me. Thank you for your dream and your program.