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Chellis House Invites Speaker to Tell Personal Story of Human Trafficking

By KAYLA LICHTMAN

A black and white picture of a young blonde girl at the beach faced the audience throughout Barbara Amaya’s presentation about human trafficking in Dana Auditorium on Nov. 29. The girl in the picture is a younger version of Amaya, whose lecture was co-hosted by Stop Traffick and the Chellis House to shed light on the issue of human trafficking.

To put her own experience into perspective, Amaya began her presentation by informing audience members that there is no “stereotypical victim of human trafficking”— rather, it occurs across ages, genders, and locations. She also noted that there are roughly 300,000 child sex-trafficking victims in the US and that the average pimp makes $200,000 per year per victim. Trafficking, she emphasized, boils down to “vulnerabilities being preyed upon” and “supply and demand.”

With that, she began to tell her story. Amaya ran away from an abusive home at age twelve.

“I fell through the cracks,” she said. “No one had the time to listen to me.” In D.C., she met a woman who sold Amaya to a pimp who took her to New York. Trafficking, she told the crowd, means “turning a human being into a commodity.”

Once in New York, the pimp had another girl show her the rules of “the life.” Each night, no matter the circumstances, Amaya had to bring in a certain amount of money or else her pimp, “Moses,” became violent, at one point beating her with a wire coat hanger.

“They think they can do whatever they want with you because they bought you,” she said. Amaya was taught to follow certain rules, such as to always give the police a fake name, address, and age any time she was arrested.

“I was told to tell the police I was twenty-one, but to tell people who had sought my body I was younger,” she said. “No one ever asked for an older person.”

A few years later into her young life, Amaya became addicted to heroin. By the time she was around the age of 15, she had been arrested so many times that she was eventually sent to Rikers Island Prison. Unlike the other times she was arrested, Amaya came clean to the police about her real age and situation. Horrified, the police promised to reunite her with her parents. Her parents came all the way from Virginia, only to miss her by five or ten minutes when her trafficker came to pick her up instead.

Amaya said that when she eventually left New York, she didn’t really know how old she was. She checked into a rehabilitation center, where the intake person “treated me like a human being… I didn’t remember the last time anybody treated me like a human being.” There, she discovered her sister was living in Philadelphia and the people at the center helped her reconnect with her family.

“I didn’t tell anybody what happened to me,” she said. “Nobody even asked me.”

Years later, sitting at home listening to the TV, Amaya heard a news story about gang members trafficking young women. The reporters began talking about recruitment techniques that the traffickers used, and Amaya recognized those techniques as the same ones that had been used on her when she was twelve. It was a moment of self-identification.

“[Until then] I never thought I was a victim,” she said.

Amaya said that moment changed everything, and she began to share her story. She built a website and started speaking in front of audiences. She is now the author of a book called “Nobody’s Girl: A Memoir of Lost Innocence, Modern Day Slavery & Transformation”, as well as the 2014 winner of the James B. Hunter Human Rights Award. Amaya currently works actively with legislators to push for anti-trafficking legislation such as the D.C. Safe Harbor Bill, as well as with law enforcement, developing a five-module training program meant to help police officers view victims of trafficking as victims, not criminals.

Amaya said that her current work was about “awareness, education and then legislation,” and that she hoped by putting a face to the issue, her audiences would stop thinking that trafficking only happened in a “far off land somewhere” and confront the realities of the human trafficking trade here in the United States.

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