Nicole was 17 when she met the man who changed her life.
“I met a guy. He put the charms on me, and I fell for it,” she said.
Soon, Nicole found herself on the streets of Seattle and Tacoma, earning money for that same man as a sex worker.
Speaking to a room full of journalists gathered by the Child Exploitation Task Force on Tuesday, Nicole went on to recount her years of victimhood and the hardship she has faced since. She hoped her story would give others a better understanding of the challenges a sex worker faces, even after she is rescued.
When she first met her abuser, Nicole, who had just turned 17, “had no cares” about the dangers of the sex trade.
“On the day that he put me out on the streets, I made $750 in the first three hours. I felt like the richest person in the world. And then he immediately took me shopping, and I thought it was the greatest thing in the world,” she said. “When you’re young, and you kind of come from a broken home, you look for the next person that gives you those feelings that you never got at home.”
But it didn’t take long for the charm to wear off. He began taking her to California, Arizona, and Nevada to work the streets.
And the once-charming man began beating her up, sometimes to the point of unconsciousness. He’d pepper-spray her, and force her to withstand ice-cold showers for hours.
Sometimes the beatings came after Nicole objected to her abuser bringing home underage girls as young as 14 years old. Other times, even something as mundane as her making him a sandwich would set him off, she said.
During what she calls “the worst week of my life,” Nicole was held in a house for a week and beaten until she looked “10 times worse” than Quasimoto, she said.
“I had blood caked in my hair. My eyes were to the point where one was swollen completely shut. I couldn’t wince it open even a tiny bit. My other eye was barely open to where I could see where I was walking,” she said. “The left side of my face was broken, and I had to have reconstructive surgery. I had three broken ribs. My wrist and my thumb were broken. I had to have surgery on my wrist and have a screw put in. I probably have more metal than Iron Man.”
Nicole now has to wear glasses, and not because of poor vision. A broken eye socket left her with permanent double-vision in her left eye.
Nowhere to Run
Nicole thought of running from her abuser numerous times, but his threats of harming her mother often held her back.
"I had a choice. Either I stayed, and my mom was protected, or I left and I kept getting threats of my abuser bombing my mom’s house,” she said. “And there were reasons why I believed him. He had this gruesome side to him that you would never see unless you were behind closed doors.”
There was also his watchful eye to consider. Nicole’s abuser had “pimp partners,” a network of abusers that acted as his associates, not to mention the girls who worked for them.
Nicole did manage to run from her abuser three different times.
“And every time I ran away, I had nothing to run to,” she said. “When I left him, I left with nothing. I left with no house. I had to depend on other people.”
Each time she got away, the struggles she faced often seemed insurmountable. She had built up a criminal record while working for her abuser, and it wasn’t easy to explain her past to potential employers.
“They have this judgment look on this face like I was this nasty girl they don’t want to hire,” she said.
The only person who tried to help Nicole was soon trying to pimp her out himself. Out of options, Nicole found herself going back to her abuser time and again.
“My abuser was really, really manipulative to the fact that he actually had me believe that it was almost a real relationship,” she said.
Starting a New Life
It wasn’t until she landed in the hospital with gruesome bruises from the worst week of her life that she found help. Her doctor contacted the police, and Nicole was soon put in touch with a victim advocate.
“If it wasn’t for my victim advocate, I would’ve fallen right back,” she said.
With her abuser now behind bars, Nicole is now studying to become a paralegal. She is no longer as afraid of her abuser as she once was. But she is still haunted by vivid memories of her past life.
“For as many concussions as I had, I can tell you … exact dates my flights were, every time I got arrested, what I was wearing. I can remember every beating like it was yesterday. It’s so embedded in me that even to this day, it is hard to hold down a regular relationship. It’s even hard with family,” she said.
“When you don’t know how severe everything was, it’s hard to look at someone and (not) think, ‘Well, you had a choice.’”
And there are times when she’s overwhelmed with a feeling of unfairness.
“I have this hatred that builds on itself,” she said. “There’s still a lot of things that come with the past that I have that make it overwhelming sometimes, that make it so that I just want to give up.”
As she focuses on healing, she hopes to help others at least try to understand what life is like for sex-trafficking victims like herself.
“It’s important to me to at least reach out to one (person), if not five, to let them know that it’s not that we chose to commit those crimes because it was the fun and everything. Most of these girls end up in these situations because they have nowhere else to go,” she said. “I have come a long way since then, and I’m still dealing with my trials and tribulations. I’m just trying now to overcome them and let others know the girls aren’t as bad as everyone thinks they are.”