Rebecca describes life before 18 as a hectic whirlwind. Rebecca has several positive memories of growing up, but these memories are overshadowed by the uncertainty and isolation formed by childhood sexual abuse and being raised by drug addicts. Rebecca’s older sister introduced her to marijuana at the young age 12. At the age of 14, Rebecca’s father and step-mother kicked her out of their home. She lived with other family members for short periods of time where she was exposed to meth and started using. Family support was always short-lived, and Rebecca would be out on the street again. She struggled to survive by developing relationships or having sex with men who could provide food or a place to sleep.
Outside of the handful of teachers that encouraged Rebecca’s potential during these tumultuous times, she recalls that no one believed in her dreams of creating a new life by going to college. Rebecca persevered to receive her GED at age 17 and enrolled in community college courses. She desperately wanted to see her dreams fulfilled, but her hope for that life grew dimmer each day.
Rebecca’s hope was extinguished when she was taken out of town by a man under the guise of attending a concert. “I got in a car with this guy that I thought I knew. Come to find out, he was a pimp and he took me to a little town in a different state. When we got there, he raped me and told me I was now his property, and that I was going to sell my body to make money for him.” She was in a state of disbelief as the pimp trained her in these transactions and forced her to prostitute.
As soon as he left her alone, Rebecca ran away. Rebecca’s view of herself had been worn down by the years of surviving by having sex with men and being trafficked. Rebecca says, “Something broke in me then. I thought if that’s what he [the trafficker] saw in me, then maybe that’s what others saw too.”
Even though she escaped this pimp, Rebecca had pimps and traffickers approach her repeatedly to engage in prostitution. Like many women who work in the commercial sex industry and who are victims of childhood sexual abuse, Rebecca felt a strange sense of control in demanding payment for what had been taken from her before. Over the next ten years, she also felt secure in knowing she could provide for herself and wouldn’t be homeless like she had been so often. Yet “inside I was dying,” she said. As Rebecca felt the destruction of this life, she knew she had children who needed her.
In 2009, Rebecca came to New Friends New Life. “I was real nervous,” she said. “I wasn’t ready to open up and trust them [NFNL staff]. I had a brand new baby, and I wasn’t making a lot of money at my job, so I went back to fast cash like I knew it.” Three years later, after realizing the weight of the destruction of escorting, Rebecca emailed her previous advocate at New Friends New Life saying, “ I know I can’t do this anymore. I need help. I need change. I need true understanding and support… I have nowhere else to turn.”
In May of 2011, she worked up the courage to return to the New Friends New Life support group. In an attempt to turn her life around, Rebecca earned a certification in the medical field. She also engaged in the NFNL program and developed a trusting relationship with her advocate. Rebecca sought healing through an intensive sexual abuse recovery group offered at the NFNL Resource Center. She realized that she was not an independent woman choosing to prostitute as an 18-year-old, but that years of neglect, sexual abuse, and being trafficked shaped her belief that her sexuality was the most valued aspect of herself.
As Rebecca healed and developed compassion for herself, she began dreaming of employment at a hospital. Rebecca connected with the New Friends New Life Resource Center and worked with a CareerWorks volunteer to perfect her resume. Soon Rebecca was offered a job interview at a hospital. To prepare, she practiced interviewing skills with her volunteer. Rebecca secured a full-time position, and for the first time, with paid benefits. Rebecca is excelling in her position and is planning to further her education in nursing. At times, it still feels like a dream for Rebecca, knowing that years ago she couldn’t believe her future would be so bright.
“Learning to accept that help and take that gas card, learning how to ask for help, it’s not easy. There is a way out though- I want other girls to understand they are not alone in what they’ve experienced. At New Friends New Life, they don’t just give us rent and give us groceries and tell us how to make our lives better,” Rebecca said. “They actually provide us tools. They give us counseling. We work hard, and they’re right there to support us.”
New Friends New Life has also become an important part of life for Rebecca’s children. “Even though I sheltered them, I think they always had that sense that [their] mom was different than the other ones. Now, how they act has changed because we have a support system.” In addition to participating in the NFNL children’s Bible Study on Wednesday nights, Rebecca’s children have benefited from one-on-one counseling sessions with a volunteer counselor.
Now, with the support of the New Friends New Life community, Rebecca is confident that she will continue to move forward. “The circle of people there, they help lift you up. That support is really what has kept me away [from the sex industry] for so long. And I refuse to go back.”
Rebecca has been able to see dreams become workable goals as she recently enrolled in college. She now feels empowered that she is not stuck in the life of degradation and is capable and worthy of pursuing higher education. In the next year, she hopes to engage in the healing process and to continue to parent her children by providing the support that builds self-esteem and purpose.