On the fourteenth episode of the Red X Podcast, Nicole welcomes child trafficking survivor, Allison who shares her story of exploitation and restoration. In the news, an Ohio sting recovers 12 men including an elementary teacher.
Lance’s air conditioning broke and he explains how he fixed it. Nicole comments on her favorite place to work, a noisy coffee shop where she gets the most work done.
Ohio’s Task Force recently staged a 3 day undercover operation into child exploitation and sex trafficking through the internet that resulted in the arrest of 12 men. Although the actual sting was over the course of 3 days, the involved agencies planned the operation over more than a month and a half. Law enforcement did not want to disclose their strategy, but did say the average age of children they thought buyers were purchasing were between 14 and 15 years and were both male and female.
The 12 men ran the ages of 21 to 50. Perhaps most disturbingly, one of the men was an elementary school Physical Education teacher. All suspects were accused of having sexually-explicit conversations with whom they believed to be children but were in reality undercover officers. Suspects met at a vacant home with the intent to engage in a sexual encounter with a child and were then arrested.Suspects face charges of importuning, unlawful sexual conduct with minors, possession of criminal tools and providing material that could be harmful to a minor.
Guest, Allison, participates in an icebreaker about cartoons. Which cartoon was about a milk shake, fries and a meatball? Bob’s Burgers, Fast Food Fury, or Aqua Teen Hunger Force? Allison knows her cartoons. She also about the Fairly Odd Parents, Invader Zim and the Power Puff Girls (Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup, Cameo by Mojo Jojo).
Allison is a newlywed in TN. She loves her job working for an audio-visual company, going to church and enjoying family and friends. Her wedding was batman themed and included Gotham city and comic book pictures, corsages were made from batman slap bands. Comic book flowers mixed in with the real ones. Invitations had gold comic strips on the side. For Allison, life keeps getting better and better. She couldn’t have imagined that she could have the life she enjoys today.
Allison was trafficked by her birth mother for drug money. Her stepfather couldn’t keep up with her mother’s habit so Allison was sold to help support her addiction. Men came and went throughout the week at all hours of the day. Her earliest memory of being sold for sex was when she was 5 years old and it lasted until she was 14 or 15. Allison’s mother passed away from drug overdose when Allison was 16.
Now Allison has been adopted and has younger siblings. Seeing interactions with her adoptive mom makes her pause and reflect on how her upbringing was so very different. It’s still every day a learning process of what’s normal and how things should have been.
For a long time, Allison didn’t trust men but a male mentor at church taught her how to do media. Then he and his wife started taking care of her and eventually adopted her. Allison’s adoptive mother would tell her what was normal and what was not. For Allison, having sex with strangers was her chore. She never knew that having sex with a child was wrong. Rather, she perceived it as a way that she could help her mother and a way to get affection from her mom.
Allison wasn’t sure how her mom found men to sell her to. Her mother’s brother was a drug addict as well and eventually moved in with them. There was a point when he got involved in selling her as well or raping her himself. Once her uncle moved in, she was trafficked all the time. She had to be made available for whenever he wanted to have sex.
In many ways, her family was like many other families. Allison went to school and participated in family events like Thanksgiving or Christmas; they had a trampoline in the yard. Either no one noticed or no one cared enough to step in, she says.
Although there were a couple times when the state did get involved. When she came to school with a couple of bruises, her mom explained it away as her being a tom boy and rougher than the other girls. In middle school the state got involved again because she had lost so much weight and her mother explained as her being a picky eater with a fast metabolism. Her mom convinced the doctor to write a note to that effect.
In 9thgrade, Allison took a sex ed class that her mom couldn’t opt her out of. Afterward, one of her friends was bragging about something sexual that she had done with another boy. Allison disclosed how many men she had been with in an effort to look “cool”. Her friend told and adult and Allison was put into foster care. They took her straight from school
So many things that we learn as a kid that determines how we act as adults. Allison says that there’s so much that she’s having to unlearn as an adult because of her mother’s abuse. It makes it hard to forgive. As a child she still wanted her affection.
Her mother was never charged with anything. Allison was put into foster care before an investigation started and then her mother died shortly thereafter. There were years that Allsion would deny her abuse happened if she was asked. She had been constantly warned by her mother that disclosing would mean that she would be taken away and Allison was terrified of leaving her family.
Allison moved around a lot in foster care. She wasn’t allowed to live with a family member that she knew. Some of the foster families that she lived with were great. Others abused her. On more than one occasion she ran away from the homes to go back to her mother.
The men who purchased sex from her did not fit the stereotype. She said it’s hardly ever the case that it’s a shady looking person. Growing up in a small town, she would sometimes run into some of the men who had raped her at the grocery store and acted like it was normal. Fortunately, when she entered foster care she was moved out of town.
Her uncle did spend some time in jail for 5 years for a molestation charge. Now he’s married and has 3 other kids. It’s hard for Allison to think of what could have happened to his own children. The legal system didn’t do justice in this case.
For a long time she wondered what it was about her that made her mom put her needs before hers or made a man think that she deserved this abuse. She knows there was a family history of abuse so she always concluded that her mom didn’t know it was wrong and that she hoped her own daughter would fare better than she had.
Pornography also influenced a lot of what her rapists wanted her to do. Allison firmly believes that pornography addiction had a lot to do with men wanting to purchase sex. She says that there’s no way they could have come up with some of the things they asked her to do on her own. She doesn’t know how many men raped her throughout the years but she knows 12-15 who were repeat customers.
Her restoration has been similar to grief. At first refused to believe that her childhood wasn’t normal. Then she had intense anger. She tried to cope with her abuse multiple unhealthy ways until she finally got into counseling. She saw a counselor every week for a year and a half before her counselor felt comfortable moving sessions to every other week. She still talks to her counselor on a pretty regular basis. Nightmares, flashbacks, eating disorders, self-harm were all part of the after-math of her trafficking. She has consistently been doing handbooks, leaning on a support system and being treated by a counselor. She constantly reads books to retrain her mind. Her husband is very open to listening to anything she has to say.
The first time she ever really spoke out was at a women’s conference for another nonprofit organization. That moment was really freeing. There were about 1000 women in attendance.
Allison encourages anyone who is being abused or trafficked to speak out. She knows that being removed from their home can be terrifying but she never realized that it would be safer. Even if means telling another friend who can tell an adult, speak out. We are living in different times than when Allison was first trafficked. The police are well informed on what trafficking is now and they are someone to go to. Trafficking wasn’t something that was ever mentioned when she was a child. Now there are organizations and Christine Caine, End it Movement campaign and more general awareness. It’s not as taboo. Allison hopes that her encouragement for others to speak out can save them at least a little bit of time from being trafficked.
And there are signs to look out for. A first grader shouldn’t be missing multiple days of school and then coming in with bruises. Being withdrawn or seeking a lot of attention could also be an indicator that a child is being abused. Allison got in trouble a lot in school because she wanted attention. Instead of anyone considering a deeper reason to her behavior, she was passed along to the next person. If a child is falling asleep throughout the day, don’t ask what’s wrong with them. Dig a little deeper to find out why.
Now in middle school are required to take sex ed. Her mom would never sign off on allowing Allison to attend the classes when she was in school. She would stay in another classroom and do the homework that she couldn’t do at home because she was being trafficked that night.
Allison wishes she had told someone what was happening at home. As a little girl, her grandmother would pay Allison’s mom so that she would be allowed to take Allison with her on the weekends. Her grandmother would make sure she had clothes and something to eat. She tried several times to get custody of her. But her trafficking wasn’t something that they ever talked about and her grandmother never asked.
As a child, she didn’t see other kids coming to school complaining about their parents because they made them do chores and so she never complained about her mother trafficking her. She saw her trafficking as a family responsibility. Things that we are considering normal for one person might be completely different than their normal.
As an adult she is somewhat conflicted about having her own children. Doctors told it would be harder for her to conceive and carry to term because of the trauma and abuse that she has experienced. Already she has suffered several miscarriages. Both she and her husband want children but don’t know if they would do foster care or adopt.
The real hero in this story is Allison and her courage to speak out to help others. And her adoptive parents are also heroic in their commitment to walk with Allison to restoration.
Allison wants to teach the kids now that it’s ok to speak up. She now talks to schools about recognizing the signs of sex trafficked children.
Allison’s end goal is to not have her past affect her present. She is constantly growing and ultimately wants to be growing into her purpose rather than growing out of her past abuse. She wants buyers and pornography addicts to know the damage they are inflicting on children.
Nicole took away that for children who are being trafficked, they might not say something because they believe it’s a responsibility to their family. Lance says that Allison is a good example of someone who is learning that their trafficking wasn’t something that they caused. We could be a game changer for a victim by walking with them, being trustworthy, and helping them understand what is normal and what is not.