A Day in the Life of a Survivor

Guest Blog by Monique Calderon, Survivor, Advocate for Commercially Sexually Exploited Children

These streets are unforgiving. If you’re lucky, they’ll eat you up and spit you out. If not, you are memorialized where you took your last breath. I’ll say it again: These streets are unforgiving. Motherless and fatherless children existing in poverty, systematic racism and generational trauma. People walking around looking and acting tough when it’s really a guise for loss of hope, feeling unwanted and unloved. Impenetrable walls around their hearts resulting from broken trust, abuse and neglect. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Babies having babies, children being ripped away from their families just to end up in a revolving door for a home. Families caught up in the system generation after generation after generation. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Human trafficking has been at the forefront of the media for years now. Yet, there are still people who don’t believe it exists in our country. As a survivor and overcomer of sexual exploitation, I am here to tell you, IT IS REAL and it is all around you. It isn’t just happening to those people in those neighborhoods over there. It is happening in the quaint small towns, the wealthy beach communities, rural areas and in conservative cities. How do I know this? I was exploited in these types of towns. To those who may be thinking my experiences were one offs or isolated incidents, think again. In my work as an Advocate for Commercially Sexually Exploited Children, these kids have told me where they were being purchased and guess what? It’s everywhere…including Disneyland. Yes, you heard me correctly, children are being bought and sold down the street from the Magic Kingdom.

The One Thing You Should Know

If there’s one thing I’d want you to know about domestic sex trafficking, it’s this: It doesn’t always look like children being chained up, locked in a basement or having duct tape over their mouths. It is far more subtle than that. There are chains involved; but they around the mind. These victims are locked into something called “the life,” or as many survivors call it, “the lie.” A lifestyle that promises protection, housing, food, shopping sprees, freedom and the most important, LOVE from someone they call “daddy.” The exploiters are trained to spot a girl with vulnerabilities. It’s their bread and butter. The more insecure a girl is, the one who is desperate for love and attention, these predators can spot her miles away and they know exactly how to bait her. “Hey, Beautiful.” I have worked with countless youth who have been fed this exact line and ended up with a “boyfriend” who was selling her on the streets and online.

If we are going to have a fighting chance at beating this atrocious assault on humanity, it is going to take ALL of us. This isn’t a “them” issue, it’s an US issue. What I’m about to say is going to sound controversial but my years of experience in this work has exposed a key fact: When we get down to the root of child sex trafficking, we are talking about hurting people. The children who are being purchased are hurting, the buyers are hurting and even those who are doing the selling are hurting.

Everyone Can Help Fight Sex Trafficking

So, what am I proposing? What I am about to share is simple, but not necessarily easy. Love the person in front of you. What would happen if we smiled at the person walking past us? If we were kind to the cashier even though we’re in a hurry? If we took the time to encourage and get to know our family members instead of scrolling through social media while they sit in the same room? If we embraced vulnerable conversations instead of shallow ones? If we took the time to know each other on a heart level? I’ll tell you what would happen: We would all be taking part in fighting sex trafficking, one person at a time.

Editor’s note: Monique Calderon is a Survivor, Advocate and Speaker. She is a Survivor Advocate with ZOE International where she works with Children who have been Commercially Sexually Exploited in Los Angeles County. She is a Professional Trainer where she equips providers with engagement skills in working with commercially sexually exploited children and transitional aged youth; and conducts trainings on trauma, the Stages of Change and domestic sex trafficking. She has done Mission work in the Red Light Districts of the Philippines and Vietnam. Monique is a speaker and active leader in Treasures Ministries, a unique, faith-based outreach and source of support for women in the sex industry. Her TEDx Talk is about finding self worth and value.