I was trapped in the sex trafficking industry from age 14-17. Trafficking in persons is not like any regulated industry.  It is unmitigated anarchy. There are no rules. 

I was conceived during a brutal rape and learned of it when I was very young. That knowledge and child sexual abuse by my own father and later by a maternal uncle had me feeling worth less than others and vulnerable. I was 12 when my mother got her second divorce. By thirteen, I’d been dabbling in drugs and alcohol, wandering the neighborhood and hanging out with a bodybuilder in a black Cadillac. He was patient as he courted me and manipulated me into his bed.

I wasn’t held in sex trafficking with locks, bars or handcuffs, but by fear, threats and hopelessness. I had no hope in the authorities helping me. One apartment I stayed in was leased to the candidate for sheriff of that small city. Some of the buyers were businessmen, a city councilman, professionals, as well as derelicts who thrived on violence and pain.

He sold me for the first time on my fourteenth birthday. I stood in three inches of slush, my sneakers full of icy water, shivering in front of a local drug store at the end of the street where we lived waiting for Ace to pick me up. The buyer was thrilled to know I was so young, awkward and afraid.

Ace sold me for sex hundreds of times. He then sold me to another man who sold me for sex too. It was a quagmire of abuses, gang rape, attempted suicide, sleeplessness, huddling in doorways and church steps, drugs, drinking, arrests and foster care, and running away again. At seventeen, I was sold to a man as a “house pet.” I thought I’d be safer — at least I would only have to serve him. He dressed me up and took me to nice dinners. I got a job. Finally, I felt kind of stable, kind of normal.

He’d told me that if I got pregnant, I would have to have an abortion. It scared me, but I didn’t feel I had any choice.

After four months, I did get pregnant. As he slammed his fist on the wooden arm of the couch, he shouted, “I want NO life!” It was terrifying — his voice shot right through me. The man was a small-time organized crime boss. He said that I would have an abortion or he’d kill me, and I knew this was true. One of his enforcers had been my trafficker and beaten and raped me numerous times. I made the appointment in his presence.

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That evening, I literally threw my hands in the air as I cried and prayed, “God, if you’re real, please help me!” Somehow, I fell asleep and I had a dream of an abortion in living color from the perspective of inside of the womb. I had no knowledge of abortion at the time, but I now know that it was accurate for the level of development in great detail. Those little hands and feet, that tiny face, the ribs and blood — it was horrifying! I had wanted to be a mom for as long as I could remember. 

When I awoke, I called everyone I could think of, going through old business cards people had once handed me. I reached a social worker who had tried to help me as a runaway. She found a maternity home that would take me. Some friends would take my things to storage. But how would I get away? My captor insisted that we would go out to dinner after the abortion appointment.

So, the day came. I left and made arrangements with the social worker, but I returned and got ready for dinner. I’d been so scared that I was crying and near hysterical all day. With my face swollen, eyes bloodshot, trembling and shallow breaths, I got into the car. I fidgeted — my breaths uneven. I stuttered, as I told him that I wanted to go live with a cousin who would give me a job.

“Something happened to me on that table,” I said, “I don’t want to be here anymore.” I thought he would understand because he had told me of other girls who he’d forced to have abortions and they were let go. The whole evening, I couldn’t sit still at all because I was so afraid he’d find out. I went to the bathroom frequently and cried through the meal, pretending to be nauseous and in pain. On the way home, he said I could go, but if I came back to town, I would have to find him.

I moved quickly the next day. I promised God that I would bring my children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, if my baby was okay. She was, and I did. People who know me today, cannot fathom that I had lived such a life. I explain to them — saving my baby saved my life.

Darlene Pawlik is a wife of 24 years and mother of five.  She's also an author, a practicing nurse, the Chair of the Educational Trust for New Hampshire Right to Life, an Executive Board Member of Personhood Alliance, the Vice-President of Save The 1, and a pro-life speaker and blogger for Save The 1.