My name is Holly Austin Smith, and I am a survivor of Human Trafficking.
When I was fourteen years old, I ran away from home with a man I had met at a shopping mall in Ocean County, New Jersey. After exchanging numbers, this man called at night while my unknowing parents watched television in the living room.
We talked more than once.
Convincing me to runaway with him was not an overnight accomplishment. He took his time. He got to know me. He analyzed my troubles, and he asked me my dreams. I wanted to be a s songwriter. I wanted to meet Julia Roberts. I wanted to see Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris, France.
The year was 1992.
I was on summer break from eighth grade middle school, and my freshman year of high school loomed in the distance like an angry bull.
I was severely depressed.
And as the pressures of my fourteen-year-old-world boiled to the surface, I fled. I laced up my size-five sneakers, and I ran toward opportunity, toward possibility, and toward freedom.
In reality, I ran right in the inexorable clutches of a sex trafficking ring. Within hours of running away with what turned out to be a manipulative and menacing pimp, I was coerced into working Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City, NJ until dawn the next day.
The following night an officer on the street recognized me as being underage and arrested me. Although I was soon recognized to be a victim, the specialized aftercare needed for a trafficking victim did not yet exist. The journey toward healing was a long and bumpy road, indeed.
Twenty years ago, there were no anti-trafficking laws in place. This pimp, who raped and lured a child into prostitution, served only 365 days in jail. Two additional traffickers were arrested; however, one (a woman) posted bail and fled. She is still considered a fugitive in the state of New Jersey.
Today, I advocate for stronger anti-trafficking laws and greater protection for survivors of all forms of human trafficking.
To learn more about Holly, and to read an excerpt of her memoir, please visit her blog and website at www.HollyAustinSmith.com.