Voices of Freedom

LGBTQIA+ and Sex Trafficking

June 01, 2022 Freedom a la Cart Season 2 Episode 10
Voices of Freedom
LGBTQIA+ and Sex Trafficking
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Voices of Freedom, Jess shares what it's like being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community while sex trafficked. She explains how important it is to have a community of support around you and how even though you may be sober, you will still face daily life challenges.


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We'd like to thank MGF Sourcing and the MGF Touch Foundation for their sponsorship of Eat Up Columbus- Freedom a la Cart's annual fundraiser, taking place Saturday, July 30th at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in downtown Columbus. Making Great Fashion Sourcing has historically been a passionate advocate of Freedom a la Cart and our mission to empower survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation to lead new lives of freedom, and we are truly grateful for their partnership. Visit MGF Sourcing's website today at https://www.mgfsourcing.com/, and purchase tickets to attend this year's Eat Up at www.eatupcolumbus.org.


Welcome to the voices of freedom podcast by Freedom a la Cart we're your co-hosts Devin and Mandie each week. You'll hear mind-blowing interviews from survivors and professionals, as well as actual tips that you can implement in your life to become a better advocate for human trafficking survivors. Thanks for spending time with us today. Now, let's jump into the next episode of Voices of Freedom. 

Today, I'm really excited. Our guest is really special to me. Her name is Jess. First she's my cousin, and she's also a survivor of many things. She's a graduate of CATCH Court. She is alive and thriving today. So without any more for me, I give you. Hello welcome Jess. 

This past weekend, Jess and I participated mandate, sorry, Mandy. We all participated in a volleyball tournament and, uh, we learned that we all have some volleyball skills that were in hiding very hidden. Um, very hidden mine. Weren't just saying, but

Jess got fried, did you get burned? Yeah, I didn't either, but, um, there are some people who are lobsters. 

Yes. Yeah. And just, and I realized that we don't coordinate well next to each other on a volleyball court, you always want to run into each other.

I also learned that I'm not a server, but I can play front row.

It was going to say you were spiking that ball pretty well. I'm actually thinking about joining the volleyball league. That's by my house.

I think I should. I think you were pre, I thought you were. Yeah, we'll see, we'll see. Fun times. That was also, um, it was a charity, a volleyball tournament for those that were wondering that they, they have those locally here in Columbus.

And the, some of the proceeds are getting donated to Freedom, which is awesome. Okay. Jumping in Jess, can you start us off and share a little bit of your journey with us? Um, like talk a little bit about your childhood and take us through. 

First of all, both my, both my birth parents were, were both drug addicts. Um, I was adopted by my, what would be my aunt and my uncle, but then through my life, they were the ones that raised me. So, you know, those are the people that are my mom and my dad. Right. So, um, you know, it's crazy because. I always knew, you know, something was wrong with, you know, my parents, my, my original parents.

And I didn't really understand this whole, uh, addiction because I thought, because I was raised by somebody else that I couldn't be addicted to anything. You know what I mean? So, um, my aunt used to tell me. You know, I, I needed to be careful and I needed to not drink and I needed to do this because I have, I have that gene and I never listened to her.

You know what I mean? So I didn't listen. And obviously my life has panned out the way it has, you know, so, but in school because, um, my mom was on drugs. When she had me, I had a lot of learning problems and things. So, you know, I couldn't read. Well, or right, or anything like that until really like fourth grade or no fifth grade.

But, um, I had a lot of learning problems in school, so, um, I didn't have a lot of confidence growing up. I got picked on a lot, things like that. Um, You know, from my perspective, growing up with you, um, from the outside, looking in, it seemed like you had this picture perfect childhood. Um, when I got to come over and spend the weekends with you at your house, like I just wished I was you, like, I wish I lived with you.

I wished I was, you, you know, it's different when you're living in it. And then when you're just seeing it from the outside, so. For those of you that don't know, uh, justice gay, she's very openly gay. How did you come out? Uh, growing up? Well, it's the first time I attempted to come out. I came out to my mom when I was like 21.

And at the time it felt safer for me to come out as a bisexual. And so, but growing up, my mom's always been very, um, loving and accepting. My dad, not so much. He's kinda, I'm kind of a harder guy and he's not real emotional and he's not real easy to have a conversation with, you know? Um, but that was so for me, it felt safer to come out as bisexual because I was really unsure at the time.

Like why. If I wasn't sure if I even liked men. Right. So as my addiction progressed, um, I figured out that obviously I could use men. Yeah. And it just progressed my addiction even more because it made it easier to get high, like using men. Yeah. Yeah. So. In my addiction when I was actively, you know, prostituting in my mind, it was very easy for me to keep everything like, this is what it is, is what it is.

You know, I'm going out here to do this, just to get this and, you know, cut everything off, like emotionally, like I referring to your sexuality. Yes. And, you know, I necessarily don't like men, I love drugs more. And, um, they came before anything before my morals, before nothing mattered. Yeah. Um, Now I wouldn't do that today.

Like I, I honestly think if I, I sometimes struggle with. Um, doing dates are, or if I come up, if I come into a point in my life where I don't have enough money for something it's triggering because, you know, I think, oh, I could go, you know, walk down main street or whatever. I make this money and, and I'd have money and I could pay for this.

It's really hard to turn that thinking off. I think. Most of us, who've experienced that in our lifetime. Have those thoughts. Like, I think that, um, I mean, it's not normal in the sense of what people think is normal, but to us, it's like a very normal thought. Like if I lost my job today, I know I have this like backup plan and it really sucks that we think like that.

But I, but I think it's pretty normal in our realm. Experiences. 

Can you tell us about how you were first trafficked, like how that came about? 

Well, I eventually couldn't hold a job and, um, I guess, you know, really I was sleeping with, I really had been sleeping with men for a very long time for drugs. I just never really looked at it like that. It wasn't for money. It was for drugs, you know? So I didn't really look at it as like prostitution, you know what I mean? So like, when I really decided that I was going to like, make the plunge and, and, uh, you know, start prostituting myself with, I guess it wasn't like.

Conscious really conscious, really decision. It was more of like, I needed the money and I did it, you know? So, um, the very first date I ever did, um, I was outside of a bar I went to, and this guy picked me up and it was like three or four o'clock in the morning. I had nowhere to go and, um, He drove me behind the bar where I came from and I was doing what I was supposed to do or whatever.

Well supposed to do, but you know, you're doing the date doing the date and I puked all over him. I did. And I took his $20 and ran off. That's not a first experience.

Yeah. So it just, it kind of progressed from there. And then I slowly but surely walked up the street and met this guy named June bug. Who, um, took me on like my first real roll date. Um, it was with a guy at a motel. 

When you say took you on your first real, real date, what do you mean by that? I mean, I felt like like your first time being trafficked by somebody else or like a real date, like a no romantic date?

No, I mean, like he, uh, set the data. And we worked something out. I was going to give him part of the money and, you know, like I felt like it was like, yeah. So I guess that was the first time I was trafficked. What did you feel like? What were you getting ready to say? Well, I mean, I felt at the time I felt like he was helping me out.

You know what I mean? So I felt like we were helping each other out. So to me, it was okay.

I think, um, that's important to note because oftentimes you hear about how traffickers become this romantic partner, um, how they like boyfriend you, but a lot of times, and even in some of my experience, people, um, you know, it becomes like this quote unquote partnership, like you're like, you're helping me out.

I'm helping you out, we're in this together. And that's kinda how they lure you in to. You know what your life is about to become, you know? 

So I'm glad that you shared that, Jess. Thank you. 

You're welcome.

Can I ask you another question off of that?

Yeah.

So you share about this and, um, when you first started sharing about this story and this experience, you said, like, I didn't know, at the time, how long in your recovery did it take you to realize that you are a survivor of human trafficking?

It took me years actually, because I remember graduating catch court, like three years later, three and a half years later. And still wondering if I was really human trafficked, like it wasn't really all just me.

It wasn't my fault. You know, like, did I deserve everything that had happened to me? So, yeah. It's, um, it's taken me a really long time too, because like, when for me, when I worked the streets, I thought I was in control. Right. I thought it was. People I was that important. Uh, people needed me and, and, you know, everything stopped when I was in jail, you know, like, you know, the world could not function without just dune, you know?

And, uh, the truth is I wasn't, there was always somebody to take my place and it got really comfortable and safe to me living the life that I lived, because. I don't think I was right from the beginning. 

Yeah. I get that. 

So like w you know, feeling like I, growing up, I had, um, I still do, I have really bad social anxiety and anxiety in general.

So when I started getting high, it was because it was to get rid of that feeling, you know, and. Vanessa . My sponsor always says like in her lead, she always says, you know, I got high because you know, I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin. And that's exactly.  I really, every time she says it, I really relate to that because in order for me to go into a crowd of people, I had to have a drink, a beer, align, something, anything to even function.

I remember going to school and, and, and the whole idea of walking through the, the front door terrified me, you know, like it was so consuming. 

Yeah. 

So like, when I worked out on the street, it felt like people really loved me. 

Yeah. I totally get that because I didn't have social anxiety, but, um, I struggled with like, not fitting in and not belonging. And when I was the new girl on the block, everybody loved me. And so it's not the. The love people think, you know, this normal, typical love, but it's like, I was adored. People wanted me and, and it filled that void. And then of course drugs come right along with it. So I totally relate to that. 

I have a question. So you guys are cousins, as you mentioned earlier, and you both ended up in this similar lifestyle. Um, did you guys ever cross each other's paths on the streets? Did you guys ever like, like. What was it like, I guess, 

Yes, we did cross paths and, um, I'll never forget the day I was with the drug dealer I was running with at the time I was in a car and he pulled up on her on main street and I was like, Oh, my goodness. That's my cousin. And she was like, oh my gosh. Like, we were just totally shocked. 

Did it ever cross your mind, like seeing the other person, like if you saw Mandy or if you saw Jess, did it click in your mind? Like, oh my gosh, like, what is she doing out here? She shouldn't be out here or was it just normal that you all know?

It was kind of like. Hey, what's up. We were both at that point in our addiction and that lifestyle, we were both like so deep in it that it was very normal for me and very normal for her. So it was kind of like, it was sort of like for me anyways, it felt like, okay, I have this ally. So to speak, like I know somebody out here because I was new to the east side at this time.

And then, um, those drug dealers that I was without there ended up going to jail. And so I was just like, by myself and Jess was out there and she's like, you know, come with me and kind of pulled me in and, and showed me like safe places to go. And, um, and then I made it, there was a lot of drama in the streets out there.

No, I, I think when I first saw Mandy, I was so relieved. Uh, I think to see somebody that really knew me, you know what I mean? Like at that time, like I was alone, you know what I mean? And, and I had nobody, my, I mean, my family and stuff, like my sister tried to get me to come home and, and all this stuff, but I wasn't ready to, and I felt really alone.

So when I saw Mandy, I was like, Thank God. Yeah. You know, like thank God. Um, it was, it was nice. Yeah. It was like having an ally because nobody is your ally out there. Um, you might think it for a hot second, but yeah, it's like a familiar face. Like I know I can trust her. She's not going to lead me into something bad and yeah.

I don't know, you know, like, Um, I think it's crazy because, you know, addiction doesn't discriminate. I mean, if you really kind of look at it, we both had grew up different ways. You know what I mean? And we both still ended up in the same spot, the exact same spot, literally. So like, yeah. You know, we both had, you know, our issues growing up, but.

It just, it just doesn't discriminate. That's really powerful. And I gave me goosebumps when you said that, like, it really doesn't like substance use addiction. However you want to say it, it doesn't discriminate. It can hit the wealthiest. It could hit the poorest, it could hit you white, black, whatever you are or whoever you are.

Um, you know, it can find you and it creeps up like nothing else. Like it just creeps up on you. And then before, you know, Too, too far. What's crazy. When you realize, like, you know, that you've been how sick you were looking back. Yeah. Like how you used to think and, and the difference between the way you think now.

To when you thought the way you thought, then, you know what I mean? It's like your mental health greatly. You're like you listened to, 'em like, you know, we have newcomers that come in to AA and stuff and you listened to some of the things they say and you're like, wow, that used to be me. Yeah. Like, but yeah.

I'm sure it makes you feel grateful for,

okay. I'm sorry. Go ahead. 

So. I was just going to say, I'm sure it makes you feel grateful for where you're at now. It does. And that was going to lead me into my next question is like, how did you get out? How were you connected to freedom? 

Got into CATCH Court. Judge Jody was my lawyer. I say that because now she's the judge at catch court. So it was just like, it's crazy to me. So, um, but yeah, she was my lawyer and she is the one that first got me into catch court and, um, I ran all bunch of times. Yeah, you did. Yeah. Yeah. They, um, I remember that the last time before. Um, the last time before I decided to get clean, like really decided to get clean and they accidentally let me out of jail. Yeah. I remember listening. I prayed to God and I was like, please God, get me out of jail. Right. Then the next day they're like Pack, it up. And I'm like, God's real. Yeah. This is the sign I needed to believe. But really God God's for me. God is my higher power. I don't. You know, I believe in what you believe in, that's what I'm saying, but for me, it's God.

And I'm like, I needed that four months to run to really am really, it was a really rough four months. Like I had a lot of really bad things happen to me, but I needed all those really bad things to happen to me, for me to get clean. And I think my higher power really knew that. 

We've heard similar stories where they were in. And then they got out, like they went back to the lifestyle and then they went back to catch court and got clean and like it, 

well, almost nobody goes through once. 

Like I left and I left and came back.

If somebody goes to once, I'm like, what's wrong with you? You're going to relapse the first time. Cause we all, we all run at least once. No. Uh, but. Initially, no matter how, like, I think everybody starts out with, with some sort of sobriety time, whether it be to whether it be, and it's like honest sobriety time where it be three weeks, whether it be a week, whether it be a month. But I think once you realize what you're doing is wrong for her, it's really hard to go back and digest all those things.

So it's like, it's. They ruin it for us. Yeah. But it's really good. They did, you know what I mean? 

Yeah. It's so speaking of sobriety time, what is your sobriety date or how long have you been sober now? 

I've been sober six years. 

Woo. That's a big deal. So over these six years, can you share a little bit of what it's been like overcoming, um, some obstacles you face due to your traumas? Um, maybe due to being gay, um, The addiction piece. Um, you've really overcome a lot, just 

so well, the whole being gay thing, I've always, I've always really known I was gay. Um, um, but being able to find out what that meant, that that means for me was hard because you know, there's a lot. Things like, okay, what kind of gay person you want to be? You want to be a feminine one. Do you want to be, do you want to be a guy one you want to make, you know, there's all these different levels, you know, like, 

so your sobriety is truly. Your first time in your life to truly like embrace being a gay woman. 

Yes and I truly love it. I do. I, 100% love being me and I am okay with being the I'm okay. With my short hair. I'm okay with wearing my, my, uh, my basketball shorts and my t-shirts and, and having, you know, just being me and, and yeah. Now finding somebody that loves me for being me is, is hard, you know? And I think it's hard for anybody. Um, but what I've definitely learned is you can't.

So I was in a relationship and this relationship took over my life. It became the most important thing to me. And that person's needs became more important than mine. So I kind of, for, for two, two years of my life, lost myself, I lost part of my recovery and I lost, I didn't lose it necessarily, but in a way I did, because I feel like even now that my recovery, isn't what it used to be.

And it took me getting out of this relationship and really cutting myself off from this person to, uh, to realize how much I lost, you know, um, self care is really important and, and, you know, I forgot to love myself and I forgot what that meant and looked like. So. That's one thing that I've really learned over my six years of sobriety is to, to, um, you know, I needed to be aware of the relationships I pick and the people I put in my life, because at the end of the day, you know, We become who we're around.

Yeah. Preach. And that's everybody, that's anybody, you know, birds of a feather, feather flock together.

Like I, I'm one of those people that believe in community. And I believe in, I believe that whether in recovery you need to have one or two communities because at the end of the day, that's what keeps you sober.

Right? 

I I've noticed a lot with people when they fade away from are from, from AA, N a Freedom a la Cart whatever you do, church, whatever you choose to pick as your community. Um, a lot of people relapse. 

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So speaking of community, what does freedom on a cart in the butterfly program mean?

It means everything because at the end of the day, the butterfly program keeps me connected with people, with women who have, who are me, who, who is me? You know what I mean? Like they're God go. I, you know what I mean? So, and it's a reminder that I'm not alone. Like I, you know, sometimes our art, we are the best manipulators of ourselves.

Oh yes. You know? 

Yeah. I can talk myself in or out of anything. 

I can take a situation, make it a thousand times worse than what it really is and justify it in my head.

So I, um, when you're around people that have gone through some of the same things as you, your like, It's like a mirrored image because you're like, I'm, I went through that last week and you're like, maybe, maybe that's wrong, you know?

Or maybe I need to talk to somebody about that, which is, you know, sometimes it's it's okay to ask for help. Yes, it is just, and not feel bad about. Yeah, which can be crying, but sometimes it's hard because I feel like I need help all the time. And, uh, it's, it's annoying to me because I'm like, God, can't you just do this.

And that's you just preached how important community is it is. So you got to remember to remind yourself of that in those moments to me too, I'm not like pointing fingers because well, w another thing though, that's really great about our butterfly program is we get to know a lot of amazing people, people that write books, women that do all these crazy.

Awesome things and you know, like who doesn't want to be like that person. Right. You know what I mean? So, yeah. You know, and, and just these P just the women in this office, there's been a million times I've wanted to relapse or didn't know what to do. And you know, when we don't know what to do and we're just out driving around, like, it's, that's the worst thing for me to be out driving around and have no worries.

It's it's a trigger. So a lot of times I've just come here and I've just sat on the couch, but it stopped me from going anywhere else that I didn't need to be. And every time I come in here, somebody always talks. You know, they always come over to the couch. I'm like, what's wrong because 90% of the time, if I just show up at freedom, something's wrong, you know, like there's no appointment. I'm just here, you know? 

Yeah. But that's what this space is for is you're allowed to come, just hang out. You don't have to come here. It doesn't have to be something wrong. We have a couple of butterflies that just pop up and actually spend time. And I'm so used to helping people that. Hey, what can I help you with? And they're like, we're just here to hang out. So you've shared a lot of, a lot of things that you you've overcome and done really well. What is, if you could name one accomplishment through your life that you are most proud of? What is that? 

See that I was just talking to Devin about this. And this is, this is probably the hardest question I thought was on that paper, because I've just feel like I have. Done more than I could've ever imagined with my life. And I, I kind of struggle with that because I remember when I had four years sobriety, I was like, okay, I got it. I got it. I got a place to live a car. I could pay my bills. What else is there? Yeah, I had never really imagined living this long. Like, that's crazy.

Like subconsciously I thought to myself that I would be. Hmm. So like it's, it's sometimes it's really hard to push forward and, and do things because you never imagined, like you could even make it this far. Right. So, but really I, this is gonna sound stupid, but, um, well might sound stupid to other people, but I think it's being able to, um, be responsible and take care of things.

Yeah. It's like being able to make those hard phone calls because you know, what's going to be bad news. You're like, oh, I'm going to have to pay this or I'm going to have to deal with this. You know what I mean? But sometimes I have trouble doing that. I come to freedom and I just sit here and I make phone calls because I just need somebody to be there.

Yeah. Yeah. That's a huge accomplishment because there are adults that we call normies, who don't have a history of trauma and addiction necessary. That aren't responsible and don't pay their bills. And, you know, so like that is a big deal. And I want to give you a kudos for going back to college. You know, you shared how you struggled with learning throughout school and like you're a Columbus state student.

Like, do you give yourself some credit girl? I'm going back in the fall to attempt this math class again, you can do it. And, 

uh, I'm terrified. 

We have great tutors. I know I learned that myself, Vincent. 

Yes. He's an amazing math tutor. I let him in his outfits. 

Yeah. So the last question that we have for you to wrap this up is what is one thing you want to tell our listeners about human trafficking, mental health, LGBTQ community, or substance use?

That

it's a big question. 

If there's just a lot in there, uh, 

you can pick one thing to just, if there's something that you think. Really passionate about sharing. 

I totally think that mental health and recovery go hand in hand because right now I'm struggling. I took myself, well, they changed my medicine and I took myself off my medicine because I thought, you know, why am I going to get on these meds?

If I worked so hard to be off drugs, right? Why would I want to be on meds the rest of my life? But what I've come to realize is I'm, I kind of need this. Yeah. You know, so I have to go back and get on my meds. 

It's nothing to be ashamed of having to be on mental health medication. 

Well, it's, it's not, but I just, they're not the same either.

It's not, but you know, what I was told one time is when you think about mental health meds, think about a diabetic without their insulin. Would we judge them because they need that insulin to live? Would we make them feel bad? Would we. Look at them any differently. Right. So we have to look at our mental health meds to the same way we look at people who have life-threatening illnesses or diseases that take meds every day to live.

Like we have to take mental health meds sometimes just to live. 

You have to help in the stigma. 

Yeah. 

Right. Well, yeah, one step, right. Progress, not perfection. 

Yeah. I totally agree with you though. Just mental health and in recovery, go hand in hand. And when one is off the other is often it's like this balancing act and it, you know, it can, it can get really hard, but then it can get really great to, 

yeah, well also I kinda came to this.  I had a revelation that sometime. Sometimes, I think when people first get sober, they think, oh, because I'm sober, everything's going to be perfect all the time. You know? And in a sense it is better because we're sober, you know what I mean? That part is better, but I think what people need, some people need to realize.

And, and I had to realize that just because I'm six years, so. Uh, gear, sober, whatever sober, however many days, we just, when they, it sounds corny when they say we just have today, it's the truth, because we're going to make bad decisions, bad decisions don't go away because we're sober. We're still going to make bad decisions.

But I think it's all about who you have in your corner to help you either make better decisions or fix the decisions you make when you make bad ones. Yeah. You know, you don't always have to just give up and get high. Right. You fix it and you move on and you get better and you make a better decision next time.

Right. That's good advice. So, I mean, everything is not going to be perfect because you you're sober. You take away the drugs and alcohol. You still have life. Life doesn't stop.

Yeah. So that wraps up today's episode. Just, I just want to tell you I'm publicly, personally, all over the place that I am so proud of you for joining us today. Um, like you said, you have social anxiety and I know things like this make you nervous and I'm like super proud of you for stepping out of your comfort zone and being willing to share all the things that you've experienced. So kudos to you. Thank you.

We also get to put in our very first ad on the podcast. , so I'm going to read that now, and then we will, uh, sign off with you guys. So we would like to thank MGF sourcing and the MTF touch foundation for their sponsorship of Edup Columbus freedom all occurs in real fundraiser, taking place Saturday, July 30th at the national veterans Memorial and museum in downtown.

Making great fashion sourcing has historically been a passionate advocate of freedom while the cart and I mission to empower survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation to lead new lines of freedom. And we are truly grateful for their partnership visit MGF sourcing website today@wwwdotmgfsourcing.com and purchase tickets to attend this year's eat up Columbus event at www dot, eat up columbus.work things, guys.