NOTE: This survivor’s story is featured in a 2011 TBI research study, detailing the nature of human trafficking in Tennessee. The stories are frank and may feature descriptions and language some may find offensive. Still, they’re included in the research studies to describe scenarios occurring across our state. Read more about this research project.
Rachel was born in a rural Middle Tennessee community and lived with both biological parents as well as a younger brother. At a very young age, Rachel recalls watching as her parents fought continuously over prescription drugs. Her father was familiar to local law enforcement because he was always in and out of jail. Rachel would beg her parents to take her to the doctor when she became ill but they refused. Her only refuge was her maternal grandmother, who she remembers being the only one to actually agree to take her to a doctor’s appointment. Rachel’s early childhood was very chaotic and unstable. She was the main caretaker of her younger brother and they never knew what to expect at home. Rachel recalls one incident where her mother left the home and did not return for over a week. She worried that her mother might be dead. Eventually, her mom returned with a boyfriend and kicked her father out for three months until the relationship ended and he was allowed to return.
At age 11, Rachel was sexually abused by a neighbor who had befriended her. Her parents reported the abuse to the police. By the time law enforcement went to his house to question him he had moved all his belongings and was never seen again. At 13, Rachel’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Rachel worried endlessly about her younger brother and what would happen when her mother died. Shortly after receiving the devastating news that her mother was dying, her father contacted the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) and relinquished custody of her. Rachel recalled that her case worker took her to the hospital to visit her mother on her deathbed.
After Rachel’s mother died, she was bounced around different foster homes. At 15 while at a foster home, she began calling a Nashville talk/date line. Rachel was communicating with an older male for several months. Once he gained her trust he told her he was in prison and calling from a cell phone, but he said all the things she wanted to hear; that he understood her and loved her. He listened to Rachel talk about her mother and how much she missed her and how she was tired of going from place to place. He told Rachel that he knew some people on the outside that would come and get her and take care of her.
That same night, Rachel snuck out of her foster home and met a car down a nearby street and climbed in. A male in his 40’s and two younger females were in the car. They drove Rachel to a hotel, gave her drugs and began taking pictures for online escort service ads. The older male gave her a pre-paid cell phone and taught her the “rules” about not getting caught by the police. He said if Rachel was going to stay with them she would have to work. That night, 15 year-old Rachel had her first “date” with another older male two doors down from where they were staying in the hotel.
Over the next three months, Rachel had numerous encounters with “Johns.” Because Rachel was often high, she does not exactly remember how many “Johns” she had to have sex with. Rachel developed a bond with the 40 year old pimp. He gave her attention that she so desperately wanted and they began having a sexual relationship. The pimp’s “bottom bitch” (essentially the top girl) became increasingly jealous of Rachel. She would often pick on Rachel and try to start fights with her. Rachel noted that the third female was often her rescuer and would defend her. The pimp had semi-professional pictures of the girls made by a local photographer. He also had plans in the works with a local information technology professional who was a frequent customer to produce pornographic videos of Rachel and the other girls to stream over the internet. After nearly three months on the run, Rachel was eventually picked up during a police sting.
Initially, Rachel lied to investigators. She denied knowing the pimp or being involved with him. The DCS placed her in another foster home that same night. Several hours later, Rachel was on the run again. She was found hiding at a relative’s home and the police charged her with prostitution. That was the investigator’s only avenue to keep Rachel safe from herself and the pimp who had her. Rachel was locked up in a juvenile detention center until her court date. During that time, Rachel began disclosing what happened to her and admitted she was still “in love” with the pimp. Eventually, Rachel was placed in a DCS group home in another part of the state.
During her stay at the group home, Rachel was allowed to volunteer at the local hospital. It was during this time she met another older man. She said there was lax supervision at the hospital and so eventually she would leave the hospital with the male during her volunteer hours and they would go to a nearby friend’s house and have sex. Shortly after Rachel turned 16, she took a pregnancy test and it was positive. Additionally, her court date was approaching to determine where she would be placed next. Rachel just wanted to return to her grandmother. A week prior to her scheduled court date, she was told by her caseworker that it was unlikely the judge would allow her to go home to her grandmother. Rachel was devastated. With the knowledge of her pregnancy and the fear of what would happen to her next; she borrowed a friend’s cell phone and called the man by whom she was pregnant and he picked her up that day.
That began several months again on the run. The new boyfriend was also older than Rachel and she described him as crazy. He would beat her in the face and kick her in the ribs until she could not move. He would hold her down and tell her that he loved her so much and was only doing this because of his love for her. He threatened to kill her more times than she could count. Rachel indicated that he was insanely jealous. After a couple of months, he kicked and beat her so badly that she had a miscarriage. Rachel was not allowed to go to the doctor. She said she was bleeding so badly that he became frightened and drove her to a Knoxville homeless shelter and dropped her off.
At the shelter, Rachel lied about her age so that no one would report her to the police. Eventually, she met an older man who was visiting his nephew. She told him that she was older and her boyfriend had beaten her so badly that she had a miscarriage. The man offered her a place to sleep on his couch. Rachel conveyed that this male never expected anything out of her and that he showed her nothing but kindness. He had a girlfriend and they invited Rachel to spend Thanksgiving with his family. She said it was not until a few weeks later that she saw him and his girlfriend smoking crack. She decided to leave and called a friend to send a bus ticket to her.
Eventually, she made her way to Nashville and met two women. One was underage and the other in her late 20’s. They had a man with them and they wanted Rachel to travel to Arkansas with them. Rachel indicated that the older female seemed to be “in charge.” While in Arkansas, she provided Rachel with marijuana and took pictures of her and the younger female for online advertisements for prostitution. Rachel said the male that accompanied them had a legitimate job and was very afraid of getting in trouble because he was on parole. While working in Arkansas, Rachel developed a medical issue that needed immediate attention. The man dropped her off at a local hospital.
Shortly after the hospital visit, law enforcement identified Rachel’s whereabouts and initiated an undercover sting to recover her. Rachel was transported back to a Middle Tennessee detention center. After several months at the center she was placed in a secure facility for juveniles and has been in a new program until her next court date.