Amy came from a quiet, middle-class neighbourhood, and she did well in school and gymnastics. But her parents fought constantly and they were both very critical of her. When she didn’t feel ignored in the chaos, she felt there was nothing she could do to please them.
Because of the pain she felt at home, Amy struggled with self-esteem. She drank and partied excessively to find some belonging and escape. She had started dating boys when she was 13, relying on their validation to fill her emptiness. By 18, her boyfriends were much older than her. It was only with these men that she felt relief from the relentless voices of self-loathing inside her. Perhaps she was looking for a hero to sweep her off her feet and make everything alright. Instead, she met Ryan.
Ryan was charming, confident and smart. “He just had this way about him,” Amy says. “As soon as I met him, he just made me feel so good about myself.” For two weeks, he told her he just wanted to get to know her. He was a perfect gentleman. He called her beautiful and listened to her speak about her ex-boyfriend, her childhood, and her thoughts on the future. He opened up about his own vulnerabilities and troubled past—a mirror of her own. When they began dating, he introduced her with pride to his friends. He lavished her with gifts and nights out. Amy fell madly in love.
Through her teen years, Amy began cutting her skin, a way that many troubled youth discover to transfer the pain they are feeling on the inside out. She was disgusted by her own body and developed an eating disorder. She was spiralling out of control. Wounded and vulnerable, Amy was the ideal prey for a skilled predator.
After two months together, Ryan complained to Amy that he was in terrible debt, so she lent him some money. He explained that his friend’s girlfriend worked as an escort in a massage parlour and made a good living. He asked Amy to work for a short time and they would have enough money to build a life together. She agreed. “He told me we would make enough money to buy a house together,” she remembers. “I would have done anything for him.”
Amy did not know that this was always Ryan’s plan. He was a drug dealer and a petty criminal who was looking to expand his enterprise. His friend was mentoring him on how to target, seduce, groom and traffic a young woman. The first step in a pimp’s playbook is to find a girl with low self-worth and romance her. The next step is to exploit her for maximum profit as quickly as possible.
When Amy began to work at the massage parlour, she was expected to work 12-hour days. She would have sex with about eight men a day until her body ached. She made over $2,000 daily that she would dutifully surrender. But she began to feel a deep melancholy setting in. “I felt really sad and I felt kind of like I am not really sure I could do this,” she says. “I just felt that my body was not mine anymore and I felt really disconnected.”
Amy had planned to only work for the summer. After four months, she came home and told Ryan that she did not think she could keep going. She pleaded with him, “Letting these guys be all over me. I feel disgusting after and I just feel really wrong.” He told her that she had to “figure out how you will deal with it, because I am not going to be with a girl who isn’t giving me money.”
Amy feared that Ryan was becoming more violent and drunk. One night, he held her by the neck against a wall while he screamed at her. He was demanding that she go out with him or one of his friends at all times. He was selling crack and spending time with friends who seemed more dangerous. He showed her his gun that he kept under his bed. Then he started threatening her. Her growing resentment turned to terror as she realized that she could not run away. “He said he was going to kill me, he is going to kill our dog, he is going to kill my parents,” Amy recalls.
Amy started drinking at work and telling her clients about her situation. He decided that she was becoming a liability. He began to lock her up for days at a time and he got his friends to supervise her 24/7. Then one evening, she overheard conversations about them killing her. “We could just bury her somewhere up north and no one will ever find her.”
In the middle of the night, when Ryan and his friend were both asleep, Amy finally summoned her courage, grabbed her things, stuffed them into a cab, and fled her tormentor.
Thankfully, Amy was able to get the help she needed, recover from her addictions and work towards a brighter future.
Today, she speaks with clarity about her experience. “There was so much shame and guilt. I felt like I did this to myself and I didn’t deserve help,” Amy explains. “When I left, I still did not understand that I had been pimped out.” She connected with a social service agency that gave her a pamphlet about being trafficked. It was not until that moment that she realized she was his victim from the very beginning of their relationship.
At Covenant House, we have seen too many girls just like Amy. We have served young trafficked women for the past three decades and we have two dedicated crisis beds for trafficked girls in our shelter. We have learned through our experience that they need specialized care in a safe, non-judgmental, dedicated space alongside other girls with shared experiences. Although we will continue to serve girls in crisis at our main residence, we have identified the need for a separate residential program that offers longer-term support. This fall, we are proud to open The Rogers Home, a residence with wraparound care designed to offer life skills, educational and vocational assistance and trauma and addiction counselling for trafficked girls to build a life free from exploitation.