Emily is in her early 20s but has lived a life most people could not imagine. She was raised in California by alcoholic parents who abused her. When she was 3 years old, she went into foster care.
Emily was shuffled to one group home after another. Emily was often bullied by other girls and became suicidal. Her last group home was in Hollywood, Calif. At the age of 12, Emily had enough pain and decided to run away. She wound up on the Hollywood Strip.
Child Sex Trafficking
Soon, Emily was picked up by two men and forced into a car. There was already another young girl in the car. The girls didn’t know it, but they were being forced into sex trafficking.
Emily and the other girl worked day and night without sleep. If they made a certain amount of money, they were allowed to get a little rest. If they didn’t make enough money, there were violent consequences. Of course, the work was violent as well.
“You never know who you get in the car with and what would happen. I’ve been raped, held at gun point … I’ve been through hell and back,” says Emily. At age 14, Emily's trafficker brought her to Arizona.
Normally, a teenager would be excited to see a new place, but Emily wouldn’t get to sight see or make new friends. She was forced to walk the streets to sell her body. At 15, she got caught by police. She was afraid of what would happen. She had always heard that the police would hurt her, and that they couldn’t be trusted.
Instead, she found a compassionate ally and was taken to StreetLight, a shelter for girls who were survivors of sex trafficking. She found a safe place and felt love for the first time. Emily loved her time there but had to leave when she was 18.
Struggling to Start Over
After leaving Streetlight, she became pregnant. She felt lost and had nowhere to go until she found Catholic Charities. Our staff helped her through her pregnancy and to become stable.
Over the next couple of years, Emily would give birth to two more healthy children. Without work experience or a GED, she had a hard time making a fresh start. Emily stayed with friends and went from one bad relationship to another.
Emily struggled to take care of her family and relied on others for help. To pay her bills, she returned to the streets. She was arrested and was sent to the Catholic Charites program for sex trafficking survivors called the Dignity Diversion program. The Dignity Diversion Program is a positive alternative to mandatory jail time for prostitution-related offenses in Phoenix. The Diversion program provides case management, a 36-hour intensive educational class and weekly trauma–centered groups, life skills, addiction and support groups.
A Future with Hope
At Dignity, Emily is getting tools to make a fresh start. She is also in a stable, healthy relationship and plans to get her GED soon. Staff at Dignity taught Emily key points to good job interviewing, and she is hopeful she will have a new job soon.
Emily is grateful for where she is now and the role Catholic Charities played in it. “I love my life now and plan on keeping it. We go through rough patches in our life, but we all have the strength to change them.”