Sex sells. We’ve all heard this saying. And it’s a very true statement. But there’s a dark truth there, one that most people choose to ignore. If sex sells, then that ultimately means that people can be sold.
Sex trafficking is a problem of global proportions. Annually, over 20 million women, children, and yes – men, are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor. That’s the equivalent of taking every soul that lives in the New York Metropolitan Area and forcing them into sex work. Then doing the same thing the next year. And the next year. And the next.
Sex trafficking and slavery has been described as a worldwide epidemic. Many times when we hear about sex slavery it conjures images of females from developing countries who are snatched off the street of their homeland and shipped around the world. And yes, that’s a very, very common story. However, there are thousands of individuals right here in the united states who are living, or previously lived, in sexual slavery.
Sexual slavery isn’t just Russian and Chinese girls kept in the back of a massage parlor and forced to perform sexual acts for food. It takes on many faces and one is the world of forced prostitution. There are countless stories of women who are forced to sex themselves right here in the good old U S of A.
That brings us to Emily Cheree. Emily lived the life of a sex slave. Traveling the country against her will, placed in situations that no one would wish upon their mother, sister or daughter. And yet, it happens everyday to someone’s mother, sister and daughter. Several thousand someones, in fact. But I digress.
Emily, who is a remarkably brilliant open book, was wonderful enough to share her story with me. With us. Her story is fascinating, engaging and intriguing. We’ll be serving the interview to you in several parts.
TJ Smalls: Ok. So the first question is the basic one about your story. How did you get started in the business?
Emily Cheree: I was 18, I had just graduated high school and was job searching. I was approached by a man who saw me filling out applications. I was told his brother owned a company that did traveling sales of magazines and books
TJ: So he approached you under the guise of a legitimate job?
TJ: What was that conversation like?
EC: I was walking down the street in Clearwater , Minnesota. He was young. About my age. He first asked if I had a cigarette. And I said no. He then said he had seen me walking from place to place and was curious as to what I was doing. I told him I was looking for a new job and was currently working at Target and DSW but recently moved there and my car broke down and I did not have the money to fix it or the capability to continue getting back and forth (it was over an hour drive to work). He told me his brother owned a company and he could easily get me hired and they would train me in sales. He said it was a commission based job but they provided hotels and food. He wrote down his number in case I was interested.
TJ: Minnesota? Literally middle America. I think there’s a misconception that all of this is only taking place in back alleys in New York, LA and Miami. So you call, obviously and then you’re initiated into the world of a sex worker?
EC: I waited about a week to call. I spoke to the same guy on the phone, but did not have a way of getting there to meet them so he offered to pick me up. [He] said it would have to be that night and they had plans of leaving in the morning so if his brother thought I could do a good job I was able to start the following day.
I had him pick me up and was brought to a hotel maybe 45 mins away. I filled out an application he took a copy of my ID and SSN, just like a normal job. He gave me a run down of how it would work and that he would have one of the other girls train me on how to sell to businesses. Everyone talked about how much fun it was et cetera so I agreed to take the job.
It didn’t start until we were out of the state. I believe Idaho. A girl, Megan, trained me on how to sell. We were dropped off in a busy area and she broke into an apt building and we just sat there for hours and she said not to tell on her but she didn’t feel like working and that I was still new so they would feed me regardless
I wasn’t aware it was sex trafficking, I just thought she was lazy. When we were driving around one day one of the guys made a joke as we drove by a truck stop and talked about a girl who used to work the truck stops and would go down one by one having sex with all of the drivers. And that’s when I figured out what it really was.
TJ: And at this point you’re out of state. With strangers. Limited funds. So very few options. Right?
“Every morning they held meetings and would talk down on us and belittle us for maybe an hour or so.”
EC: Also, no cell phone. I was told someone must have broken into the hotel room and stolen it, and my ID was gone as well. It didn’t click for awhile: All of the men had cell phones but none of the girls did.
TJ: From what I’ve been reading and learning, it seems like there’s a sex trafficking (pimping) handbook. Many of the stories start out the same. Keep you helpless and dependent on them. But at 18, that’s not the first pace your mind goes. Right?
TJ: Did it ever get violent? Also, just because I’m curious. What were the races of the guys?
EC: They were white. The main man in charge was Hispanic. I am mixed. My dad is black and Israeli my mother is Irish and Native American. For me, I was never beaten. I was forced to have sex on days I refused to work. Different girls were abused differently. Some were beaten. If we did not make the amount of money they wanted they would force us to sleep outside or wouldn’t allow us to eat.
TJ: A lot of people don’t realize that the abuse isn’t always physical. Or that even the threat of physical violence can be a powerful motivator.
EC: People don’t understand the power of the voice either. Every morning they held meetings and would talk down on us and belittle us for maybe an hour or so.
TJ: Especially for females. Society, for a long time, made women out as second class citizens meant to serve men. Media images, parents, and schools all have, to some extent, reinforced this for years. To the point where some females still feel like their existence is tied to that of a man’s. In my opinion, this creates targets and victims.
TJ: While you’re traveling and being forced to have sex for money, what is your family thinking you’re doing?
EC: I moved out when I was 16. I hadn’t spoken to my mom in over a year. I told my dad I was staying at a Friends for the summer – I had only intended to make it a summer job and then come back and go to college. I knew if I told him he’d tell me not to so I lied to him.
TJ: Essentially, you were the perfect victim. How long were you…
EC: About 7 months
TJ: How did you eventually get away?
EC: Here’s where it gets complicated
TJ: Sounds like it’s about to get real interesting…
Stay tuned for the next part of our conversation. And if you, or someone you know, is being forced into sex work, please Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.