My Story My childhood was not a childhood. In my family, men had sex with little girls. It was our normal. It was our culture and it was generational. My parents grew up with it. Their parents grew up with it. Most of the victims in our family didn’t even remember it because the trauma caused memory loss. We were a family of traumatized individuals who were doing whatever it took to survive … usually at the expense of the others.
The extreme abuse in our family might seem easily discernible to outsiders. In our case, it wasn’t. We were a typical suburban family. We lived in a four-bedroom house as a middle-class family with a mother, father and two children. We had plenty of social circles. The parents worked. The children attended school and after-school activities. We didn’t move around all the time. We did not request government or social services that may have shined a light on our family dysfunction. Nobody suspected anything.
We just seemed like a “normal” family. My parents, uncles and grandparents started sexually abusing me when I was 2 years old. This was necessary to break me. I was indoctrinated in to a way of life. I was brainwashed. But there was a problem. As I got older, they realized I was a talker. They had not successfully broken me. I was actually telling people. The good news for them … nobody believed me. Or if they did, they didn’t do enough to help me. I was visited by social services a few times.
My father even had to threaten a few people to shut them up. But in the end, my family maintained the secrecy … and control. My talking (and fighting back) led to some additional abuse. My father became physically abusive with me. I was suffocated, physically assaulted, abandoned, strangled, starved and hit many times in the head. I went to the hospital on multiple occasions. I am not sure how my father talked his way through those visits. But he did. My mother handled the emotional abuse. She could manipulate a child better than anyone. Actually, she could manipulate anyone. She could get me to trust her just long enough to tell her what she wanted to know. She ensured that I knew how worthless I was. She told me all the time … in many ways.
My father didn’t stop with the incest. He realized that there was money to be made. And he never passed up an opportunity to make money. So he sold me to his friends. He traded me for his friends’ daughters. He sold me to groups of men who were having bachelor parties. He sold me to gangs. And he sold me to a pimp. I would spend my Saturdays working for a pimp right outside the Quantico marine base. Most of my customers were men in uniform. By the age of 9, I was fully indoctrinated. I had given up. I remember the moment when I realized there was no hope of being saved from this terrible life. In that moment, I made a conscious choice to forget. Not only did I forget my abusive past, but I forgot every abusive event in the coming years. I could forget almost instantaneously. It is a powerful defense mechanism.
It is a common reaction to trauma. My parents divorced and my stepfather became my next abuser. He used financial control to keep me quiet by threatening to leave us homeless if I did not comply with his wishes. In high school, I acted from a dissociated state most of the time. I was bullied all the time because I did not know how to stand up for myself with my peers. But at home, I was no longer interested in keeping the peace. I acted like many teenagers do when they are trying to push limits. I fought back intensely which finally started to have an impact on my stepfather. I think he decided it wasn’t worth it anymore. But when I was with my father, it was a different story. He raised the bar of physical abuse. There were many times I was sure I would die but somehow, I stayed alive.
Although my abuse and trafficking stopped at adulthood, the affects did not. I was severely traumatized, and it manifested as intense anxiety. I was constantly having panic attacks. I suffered from chronic pain and inflammation in most of my joints. My fertility was highly questionable. I had severe problems with vaginal scarring and my ovaries were not going to function. I had been prescribed countless anti-anxiety medications, but generally, the side-effects were too much to handle. So I just dealt with the anxiety. My self-esteem was so low that intimate relationships and friendships were difficult. I was the subject of bullying on a regular basis. I could not trust anyone. I usually dated men with substance-abuse problems. I was married twice for very short periods of time.
In my second marriage, I was able to conceive my beautiful twins with the help of fertility treatments. And the twins changed everything. The triggers and painful flashbacks started almost instantaneously. My children were reminding me of my past. They would cry and I would feel my own suffocation. They would express anger and I would feel threatened. They needed my constant attention and I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t know how to practice self care and I started to fall apart. The twins were three months old when I started my recovery process with a therapist. Of course, I didn’t know why I was there. I didn’t remember anything. But I knew something was very, very wrong.
For the next several years, I employed several intense therapeutic remedies. I saw a therapist individually. I participated in groups. I did several forms of body and energy work. I read countless books. I wrote hundreds of pages. I experienced intense emotions. Now, I am in my sixth year of recovery. I have recovered hundreds of memories. I am no longer a prisoner to my family and have severed all ties with them. I can parent my children without intense triggers on most days. I have a much better understanding of who I am and what I want from life. And I have found my voice again.
So now I speak. I tell my story because there is nobody stopping me anymore. I tell my story so I can heal. I tell my story so other survivors can heal. I tell my story so everyone can understand that child sex trafficking is real. I tell my story so children will be heard … so that someone will believe them. I tell my story so that children can have hope. I tell my story because enough is enough.
Elisabeth is a survivor of family-controlled child sex trafficking and sex abuse. Her education in social work and her personal experiences as a survivor inform her intimate discussion about the biological, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of trauma recovery, which she discusses on her blog at www.BeatingTrauma.com. She writes about breaking the cycle of abuse through conscious parenting, navigating intimate relationships as a survivor, balancing the memory recovery process with daily life, coping with self-doubt, and overcoming the physical symptoms of a traumatic childhood. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.