Amber Motzer has a painting on the wall of her home in Batavia that depicts five silhouettes of women with the words “Not For Sale.”
It wasn’t that long ago that Motzer, 25, was for sale.
“I was with a man who was very abusive, a guy I met right after he got out of prison,” she said. “He committed domestic violence against me. I got involved with heroin and crack and one day I just snapped. I took my kids to my mother’s and ended up on the street.”
Alone, hooked on drugs and owing dealers money, she feared not only for her life but that of her family’s, in particular, her grandparents.
“They threatened my family if I didn’t sign up,” she said. “That’s how it works. That’s how you get out of debt. It was a mix of wanting more drugs and concern for my family, especially my grandparents. They were completely innocent.”
And that’s when Motzer began selling herself, placing an ad on backpage.com and her “captors” driving her from place-to-place to service men.
Motzer grew up in Rochester in an abusive family situation, not caring about much but she did care at one time about art.
She loved to draw and paint. Eventually, that outlet would help her become who she is today.
But before that was hell. Pure and simple.
After graduating from Ben Franklin High School in Rochester, she met a 31-year-old convict, had two children with him and struggled with the abusive relationship.
The year before she found herself on the street, she did have somewhat of a life. She was earning upwards of $30,000 as a debt collector.
That all disappeared in a haze of heroin and crack and the next year Motzer was on the street, prostituting.
Though that isn’t exactly the right term, Motzer said.
Human trafficking. She was preyed upon by insidious drug dealers who used her fear, her debts and her dependency on drugs as chains.
Do it or else.
So she did. Over and over and over.
“It really is a matter of stealing the innocence of these young people,” U.S. Attorney William Hochul said during a press conference on human trafficking in Buffalo last year. “To be repeatedly raped, to be repeatedly beaten, to be forced to do these degrading acts as such a young age really just ruins a person’s psyche.”
Which is exactly what it did to Motzer.
Eventually she escaped and went on her own, hoping the dealers didn’t come back to harm her or her family. She believes they were later arrested and are in federal prison.
“I just took off,” she recalls. “If they were gonna kill me, I didn’t care. It would be a favor.”
Free, sort of, she continued to sell sex for money, money she would use to buy drugs.
“I didn’t sleep for four or five days at a time,” she said. “One time I didn’t sleep for nine days and then your body just shuts down.”
She slept in heated bus stations, rancid hotels, alleys.
She met people from every walk of life: Young, old, white, black, Hispanic, all homeless or drugged out or just lost.
“Some were good people,” she said. “People who would give you the shirts off their backs or their last sandwich.”
She did that for nearly eight months, getting repeatedly beaten by johns, robbed, mentally abused and sinking lower and lower until she felt invisible.
But not alone.
“It’s weird but sometimes I felt free,” she said. “There’s no pressure. No responsibilities. I was completely alone with God. I felt a presence with me all the time and I think it helped me through it.”
Motzer hit her breaking point and began reaching out for help, calling drug rehab centers and hospitals.
None could take her. No beds were available. One center had but 15 beds. All were taken.
She tried Erie County and had no luck there, either.
She committed herself to psychiatric wards not because she thought she was crazy but “just to eat and sleep.”
Eventually, she was put in contact with an agency in Livingston County.
“I lied and said I was homeless and living in Livingston County,” Motzer said. “I was in Hope Haven in Batavia in 30 minutes.”
She spent three weeks at Hope Haven and three months at Atwater House, relapsed and returned to Hope Haven.
She relapsed again, which is nothing new to any recovering alcoholic or drug addict.
Eventually she went to Walter Hoving Home, a Christian-based center in Garrison, NY. Hoving bought Tiffany’s and was its CEO until 1980.
Her trip was paid for by City Church and since then Motzer has been clean for 17 months.
She met a man, now her fiancé’, and enrolled in Genesee Community College.
Motzer, like many recovering addicts, wanted to help people and majored in counseling.
“I took an art course as an elective,” she said. “I was always into art but with the drugs, I stopped. I hadn’t drawn anything in 10 years.”
She was hooked, this time on art, and changed her major to fine arts.
She recently completed her first year and was honored with the Virginia Carr-Mumford Scholarship, a $300 award. Carr-Mumford was a member of Batavia Society of Artists.
“I think it was more for my story than my art,” Motzer said.
Her art does not reflect her story, other than a few pieces here and there.
Instead, it’s a mix of vibrant paintings of whatever catches her eye.
“Mostly, I’m trying not to think about my past,” she said. “I don’t enjoy talking about it but I do want to try and help the next person who has to go through this.”
So talk she does. In the past two years, Motzer has shared her story many times. She became involved with People Against Trafficking Humans (PATH), a faith-based non-profit that brings awareness to sex slavery.
The group is active in Erie County, where Hochul spoke and where advocates are pushing for a federal court strictly for cases of human trafficking.
“We need a courtroom for prostituted women here in the Western District,” retired Erie County Deputy Elizabeth Files told The Buffalo News during a 2013 forum on human trafficking. “One of the women I interviewed had 144 arrests. I listened to more than 450 victims in this community and I learned from those victims.”
Including Motzer, who to this day said she is amazed, and appalled, by the number of men wanting to pay for sex.
“It’s morning, noon and night,” she said. “It’s lucrative. That’s why some women, even the ones not on drugs, do it.”
Motzer got out and, she said, others can, too. She has a job at Darien Lake and is focusing her attention on her art, mainly as a tattoo artist. She hopes to someday open a business.
And she will continue to talk about her life if it helps people.
“I’m not embarrassed by what I did,” she said. “That’s the path that was laid out for me. But I’m doing well for myself. I’m paying my rent. I have a job. It feels good. I A lot of people suffer from addiction and they think they are too far gone. It’s not the truth. You’re never too far gone.”