- Chloe Quimby
Interview with a Human Trafficking Survivor
As part of our mission to educate the Rochester community regarding human trafficking happening here, we are honored to publish the first of what we hope will be an ongoing series of survivor interviews. We greatly value their willingness to share perspectives and individual stories as we try to deepen both our own and our audience's understanding of the challenges facing these courageous people.
This particular collaborator is currently enrolled in a program for survivors, and is on track to graduate early next year. We are excited to see her beautiful future continue to unfold!
How old were you when you were first trafficked and how long did that go on?
Ok, I was I guess…I was 21 years old when I was first trafficked. I got into the sex trafficking mainly because I had lost everything due to my drug use. And I only had my job left. I was waitressing at a bar. So, you know, I was using and I was drinking really heavily. And I was sleeping at random men’s house. And they were all my age, and so at the time I was telling myself it was okay. But I was sleeping with them…I was so numb at the time it didn’t even occur to me what I was doing.
I can remember meeting the guy that introduced me to the first woman that actually trafficked me. And you know he made me feel safe…made me feel like everything was gonna be okay. He told me that he would help me out. He would get me a hotel room and help me out with some money so I didn’t have to struggle. That I could be honest with him. But you know everything good eventually comes to an end.
That didn’t last very long and so he hooked me up with his son’s mother. And I had known her in high school and she had always kinda been like that. She slept around a lot in high school. I believe even now to this day she still you know strips and stuff like that. But she had been exploited as a young girl, and this big scandal. It only makes sense to me that her trauma would be you know placed on other people.
She started trafficking me and would take half of my money and I thought I was doing great things. You know, I thought I was surviving. That’s just what I thought I was doing and that lasted for a few years. And then I met the girls that she would do it with and she wasn’t taking their money. They were just coming along and making their own money and I started asking questions like “why can’t I just do it for myself? Why can’t I keep my own money?”
And that’s when things started to get ugly in our relationship and you know she started doing really nasty things to me. And you know I can remember she took pictures of me naked and just really nasty things and you know it just led me down a really bad path. And she wasn’t the only one that trafficked me. So that lasted for years before I finally ended up on the streets.
So you said that went on for a few years. How did you eventually find the courage to get out of that situation?
So the girls that were coming along they eventually convinced me to move in with them. And they said I could make my own money and all I had to do was just pay rent. So I moved in with them, and it caused this huge—I mean huge—quarrel between all of us because they took me in. So during that time of me living with them, I struggled a lot with my addiction then. I definitely… they definitely took advantage of me using. But I still felt safe because you know I was so oblivious to what was going on, you know what I mean. At the end of the day, I always felt like I was doing what was right, you know, to have my bills paid. Felt like I had a safe place to lay my head. I felt like I was doing what an adult does.
You felt like you’d gained more independence at that point?
Yeah, I felt like I was a grown ass woman. And I had no idea. You know. I had absolutely no idea what that was. So that didn’t last very long, me living there. Eventually, I had to go. We got into a big fight – girls’ fight. And so we ended up all – they ended up kicking me out. I ended up going home for a little while to my aunt’s house. At the time, my family didn’t – I felt like they had no idea. They didn’t – didn’t try to understand me. My aunt locked me inside. She said, “If you leave, you can’t come back.” So I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere. I felt like I was locked inside. That’s how I ended up finding the second person that trafficked me. And it just got me in a whole ‘nother situation, you know. And at first it was great, and then it went downhill real fast. And that was probably another – I don’t know maybe...4 – 6 months of my life that I was there. And that’s when I finally ended up on the streets, and really lived out on the streets, and became what I consider like a “prostitute” prostitute, out walking the streets.
After you got on the streets, what happened then? At what point did you start your journey to recovery?
I guess it was a really long road to get to here. I don’t honestly – I don’t – I guess like I said, a really long road. I mean, I was out there I think six more years after that. So… I just turned 28 on my birthday, and I probably was 22 at that time…I headed out on the street. I mean, it was a long time before I really grasped it. And you know I had got clean many times while I was out there. And I had even gone as far as leaving the state to try to get sober, and I succeeded for a while. But it was like I never did it for myself before, like I’m doing now.
Who do you feel you were doing it for previous to doing it for yourself?
I think before I was doing it for my family. My mom. My daughter. You know. I feel like I did it a lot because of the shame I carried around with me. And I did it because of my health. I had gotten endocarditis.
It started off small it started off with just an infection and they told me, “You need to stay here and take IV antibiotics and that will clear up and be fine. But if you leave, and we can’t help you…and it will get worse.” And I didn’t listen, and I left, and it got worse. It went to my heart, it went to my organs, and to my brain. I was walking around for probably about six weeks like that. And I ended up needing to get replacement valve in my heart because of it. That last time before this time, that I had gotten sober. And I was probably sober maybe six or seven months.
In the hospital, I had to be sober obviously. It was something that I should do. It was something that needed to happen or I could die. You know, God was giving me a second chance at life and how dare I even think about wanting to go out and use again. How selfish could I be? You know so it was all these aspects of life, [but] all I could think about was what my old friends were doing out on the streets. And what I could be doing. And you know that right there made me feel more shameful than anything. And all I wanted to do was go, run run run. I could never sit with myself and really enjoy my own company.
Was it difficult find help as you were going through the recovery process?
I think that – I think it was hard for me because I was never open to anything. I think that when I did try to do things, I never did it 100%. You know. But I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and I was put on this path for a reason and that I’m supposed to be here at Brightstar. Like I’ve never even heard of a program like this and I feel like I’m just thriving here and I’m able to really do and be myself here. And you know choose the different things that I want in my life but really have all this support and you know just people backing me up.
I feel like there was always help. You know what I mean. I feel like I just wasn’t able to receive it then. Now I feel like I’m a different person. I think on the way, years ago, there’s little seeds planted in me for every time that I got sober. There’s something put in me for this time. I’ve learned stuff along the way and that’s what they talk about when they say we share our experience, strength, and hope with each other. And I can help the next person that comes in here. And the next girl, and the next girl. And that’s really what I want to do ultimately.
How did you connect with Brightstar and what’s made a difference for you in that program?
I met Sue when I was out on the streets. I was a mess. And Sue had seen me at this place we call “the outreach.” It’s a building where the sisters they make soup, and they have donations there and all that good stuff. You know if you need to go sit down and take a break, they let you sit on their front porch. They’re just very kind you know. And you don’t see a lot of that out there. People are really mean, you know.
Sue had walked up to me one day and offered me a bag of food and other things that I needed. And I just remember just looking up—and I was crying and just a total wreck—and just seeing such a friendly face. She just was one in a million.
It wasn’t too long after that, it was right when COVID hit, I started getting really sick and I started to get really scared. And so I went to the hospital on one of my black outs. I got taken to the hospital. I never went back out after that. I just got sober after that.
And Sue ended up finding me on Facebook and she invited me out for coffee. And she told me all about her vision and what she wanted for women like me in recovery and how she wanted to help. You know all these women you know what I mean. And how she wanted me and another resident that’s no longer here to be the first women in the house you know. I was with my ex-boyfriend still at the time, and at first I just I wasn’t ready to—like I said—receive this information. And I told her no at first. You know this is how I was – this is scary you know. It was a lot of change all at once. But I had been praying for a way – a way out. A way to really…really change my life, [to] really get the respect and really get a way back into my daughter’s life, into my family’s life and [to] really do it for real this time.
That night I went home, and me and my ex got into a huge fight and it got physical, and it got really bad. And I called Sue and I told her I changed my mind and that I would love to come if there was a bed still open. And ever since then, I started going and hanging out with her and the other resident and helping put this house together. We would come over a few times a week and talk about all the dreams we had for this house, and slowly but surely it started coming together and I never looked back. Once I said I was coming I meant it. And here I am, you know.
And there’s no way that I’m leaving until I graduate. It’s just something that I was gonna do. It’s just completely changed my life in such a good way. I’m just such a different person now. And I really owe a lot of it to my hard work, but a lot of it to Brightstar as well.
What more do you think can be done in the Rochester community to help support those who are currently stuck in, and those trying to get out of trafficking situations?
I feel like there’s a lot of good things that are starting. But I feel like there’s such a stigma on women. And you know they’re out there because they want to be, or whatever. I can remember when me and Julie did the radio show and there was that woman on there, she had been homeless and she had talked about how for job interviews, it was really hard for her to go to them because she would have no clean clothes, or nowhere to shower...and you know, that’s real. Women are out there right now, and they have no hope. They think they believe in this lie—and we talk about this lie a lot in groups that we do—[the lie] that this is the life that I’m meant for, and that this is the life that I deserve. And that’s a lot of your addiction speaking to you, because you’ve told it to yourself for so long. I used to tell myself the same thing, and it kept me out there for so many years. You know and you tell yourself that nobody loves you or nobody wants to see you. And with the way people treat you out there it starts to become believable.
I think it’s really important that we start to reach out and do more outreach. And we start
to really show these women that they are human beings, and that we care what happens to them. You know, and we do more, as much as we can. That’s why I love the vision of this beauty school and what Sue’s doing and what you’re doing. Because it really goes to show what people are trying to do for this community. I just think that people really need to know that there’s so much going on that people don’t know. Don’t want to know maybe. I think just being kind to one another, thinking about what they’re going through before they judge.
So you’re talking just as basic as recognizing human value in other people?
When are you set to graduate from Brightstar? That’s a two-year program, right?
Yeah, so I will be here for two years November 22. But we’ve decided my graduation will be in January of next year. To give me time.
And do you know at that point what you’re looking to accomplish next?
I just today signed up for my GED classes… so I’m really excited about those. I’m working more. I want to look into going to school you know really trying to find what my purpose is. I know it’s not going to be you know this big you know… I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do. And maybe it’s not going to be this big ah-ha moment, but maybe it is. Just trying to figure out who I really am and what I’m meant to do you know while I can. And just being prepared for when I leave. And that’s why
I’m having those extra few months here before I graduate, [to] have my apartment lined up. I’m [very] close to getting my license back—I just have one more court date to go to. So it’s like everything’s really coming together, and I really couldn’t be happier.
What would you want others to know about human trafficking, if you could tell them one thing about it?
That it’s happening, right here in our city. It’s happening right here in our neighborhoods. To be aware. To watch you know your children on social media. To just be really aware…because unless you open your eyes, you can’t see it. And I think that’s been one of the biggest things—so many people are not aware of it, so they’re not able to see what’s going on. And when they are aware they’re wanting to help and wanting to say, “What can I do [to help]?” So I guess just really be aware of what’s going on around you.
Thank you so much for making time to give your insight and share your experience – we really appreciate it.