Every year, tens of thousands of young Black girls are sold for sex on city streets by pimps who seduced them with promises of love. ESSENCE.com shares the true-life story of Nisa*, a girl who finally got off the streets and now helps others do the same.
I was in eighth grade when I met the pimp. Everything in my life was perfect back then. I did well in school; I didn't give my parents any trouble. I came home, did my homework, when to bed. I was a geek, almost. But when I met him, it was like everything in my head seemed to destruct.
My mother was very strict, but she did let me have a little after-school job working at a community garden. I worked twice a week and made five dollars an hour. That's where he saw me. I didn't know he was a pimp. I just thought he was a boy who liked me. The boys at my school were always teasing me about being smart, being the teacher's pet, or about having dark skin. But he would always tell me I was pretty and that he appreciated my maturity. We exchanged numbers and started hanging out. I was 14 and I thought he was about 17, later I learned he was 25.
I was so excited after I met him. I thought he was my first boyfriend and I wanted to tell the whole world. But I couldn't tell my family, not even my sister, because I wasn't allowed to date. My family was super-religious. I know my mother was only trying to protect me. But it made me feel like I couldn't tell her anything or she'd beat the crap out of me.
After we were together a month he wanted me to have sex with him. I was scared to death. I thought God was going to strike me down and my whole family was going to hate me. But I did it anyway, because I was scared of losing him. I wanted to leave him alone, but I just couldn't. Whatever games he was playing with my mind, it was working. I'd come home late and my mother would whip my ass and it was never enough to make me stop seeing him. I had never experienced anything like the hold he had on me.
About two weeks after he had sex with me, he told me I needed to have sex with other people. I told him I didn't want to and he said, "I don't have time for this. I can't have a relationship with a little girl." That only made me cling to him more.
I remember the first time he put me out on the street. I was scared as hell and crying. I just blocked everything out of my mind and just did it. I just remembered him saying, "This is all you gotta do to make me happy. If you don't do this, then we don't need to see each other anymore." I didn't even think of what I was doing as prostitution.
Two months after I met the pimp, I got arrested and sent to juvenile detention for four months. When I came back home I was so depressed, and fighting a lot with my mother. One night we got in a big fight and she told me to get out of her house. I remember not wanting to leave, and just hesitating at the door. But then she yelled "Get out!" So I left. I had nothing with me but the clothes on my back. I stayed at a friend's house for the first night, but then I had to leave. I was just walking around at three in the morning. That's when I was approached by another pimp.
This pimp took me to underground parties. We would get there at midnight and leave when there was no more money left to be made. I would have sex with five or six different guys in a night. I felt so low about what I was doing. I knew it was an abomination and that I was going to burn in hell. But I was scared out of my mind. If I didn't make enough money he'd beat me. I remember thinking, If I don't leave he's gonna kill me. But it wasn't the pimp who ended up putting me in a hospital--it was a trick.
All I remember was getting in a car. I woke up in the hospital with a broken nose and missing teeth. My gums had collapsed and my lip had been split in half. After that, I came to GEMS [Girls Educational and Mentoring Services], a center in Harlem that helps girls who've been trafficked for sex get their lives back.
I'm 19 now, and I've been with the program for three years. GEMS is the only place where I can talk about what happened without feeling judged. It was totally different than anything I'd ever experienced before. Being able to talk freely makes all the difference in the world. Through GEMS' leadership program I came to understand how pimps manipulate the girls, that it's not just that I was stupid, but that I was exploited. And I do outreach work, helping girls at risk understand how vulnerable they are and teaching them about the benefits of staying in school. Right now I'm in my second year of college, studying to be a history teacher. When I was on the street, none of this seemed possible. Now, I have my life back.
I know a lot of mothers think this could never happen to their daughter, but it can happen to any child. The one piece of advice I would give mothers is to try to be involved in your children's lives. Let them know that even if they make mistakes, you'll still be there for them. You can't just be prepared for when your child tells you about the good things, you have to be able to listen when your child tells you they are doing something you don't approve of as well. That's the only way you are going to be able to help them.
For more information on GEMS and how you can help other sexually exploited girls, visit gems-girls.org. To read more about young girls sold for sex, see Essence Senior Writer Jeaninne Amber's riveting story, "Lost Girl," in the November 2009 issue of Essence on newsstands now.
*NISA is not her real name. Photo used for illustrative purposes only.