A young woman's life is often full of pain and confusion when she is being controlled by a pimp. In part four of NY1's Sex Trafficking series, NY1's Dean Meminger speaks to several women who found the strength and support to change their lives.
Images of women who broke than chains of sex traffickers and pimps are powerful. Their stories horrifying to hear.
"About nearly being killed, about rape, having a gun to their head, a knife to their throat," says Rachel Lloyd, founder of Girls Educational & Mentoring Services.
For Shamere McKenzie, it was a man's promise to help pay for college that tricked her into being exploited.
"I thought my life would end while I was being trafficked, because I faced several near-death experiences while trafficked. Some, I never thought I would make it out of alive," McKenzie says.
She did, though. Now, she's a part of the photo exhibition "More Than a Survivor," which features successful women. The pictures were taken for GEMS, which rescues victims from prostitution and sex trafficking.
"I'm empowered just walking into a room to share a space with so many other wonderful ladies who are doing amazing things that have the same mission as I do, which is to change lives," Mckenzie says.
It's not always easy, however—rescuing vulnerable victims.
"Last year we served 365 girls and young women who had all been commercially exploited. The overwhelming majority, like 99 percent, had been under the control of a pimp," Lloyd says.
"All of us—we're all putting our face out there to show, to be the living example for many of girls who don't have it—they can't see it—to give them that hope," says survivor coordinator Sheila White.
"I needed this event this week, like I needed this event today," says survivor Ashante.
For Ashante, it's not always easy being a survivor, but she has come a long way from a terrible experience.
"I graduated college. I am 22 and I graduated college. I am the first one to graduate, and I tried to kill myself five times and a man trafficked me when I was five until I was seven. So don't give up,"
"Being commercially, sexually exploited, being trafficked is an incredibly hard thing to experience, but that doesn't have to be your entire life. That isn't who you are. That isn't who you were born to be," Lloyd says.
FOR HELP AND INFORMATION ON SEX TRAFFICKING AND PROSTITUTION
Sanctuary for Families: 212-349-6009
Safe Horizon 24-hour Hotline: 800-621-4673
Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS): 212-926- 8089 / firstname.lastname@example.org