"It was a mind control thing. He called it free will. But it wasn't free will...He made you think you wanted to stay."
Homelessness and trafficking ensnare countless young people every day — and with COVID-19, even more are at risk.
Some say these kids just need to make better choices.
But what if you don't have any good options? Could you escape trafficking AND stay off the streets?
What would you do?
Mom is addicted to drugs. Dad is abusive. COVID-19 has closed schools. At 18 years old, you need to get away from home — but you've got nowhere to go.
You stay in your abusive house.
You decide to leave and spend the night on the streets.
It's just one night outside.
It won't be so bad. Right?
After days on the streets, your stomach hurts from the hunger. The soup kitchen you know of is closed because someone there contracted COVID-19. A man you've gotten to know offers you a meal from the fast-food place — but he asks for sex in return.
You say no — you'd rather go hungry.
You're so, so hungry. And he seems nicer than most people you meet on the streets. You say yes.
Finally, my stomach isn't growling. But why is he being so nice to me?
Delirious and in pain from lack of nutrition, you head to a nearby emergency room.
The man you met keeps coming back, always bringing a treat — a sandwich, a soda. One cold, rainy night, he invites you to stay at his house.
You turn him down, even though you'll be sleeping on the streets again.
You decide to stay over. You haven't had a hot shower in weeks — and he really seems to care.
The house is dark. Maybe I didn't think this through.
Three days straight of sleet and snow have drenched and frozen your small street encampment. Your coat is thin, you don't have gloves and your only pair of socks are soaked through. On top of it all, your chest hurts more every time you cough. You’re paranoid that you’ve caught COVID-19. You're not sure how you'll make it through another night.
You move in with the man. In a matter of days, he demands that you have sex with others for money. He wants to take some pictures of you, to post online and bring in more business.
You say no and leave — which means you'll be sleeping in the park tonight.
You say yes — you can't go back to the streets. Besides, he says he loves you.
He loves me, so he'd never hurt me. I hope.
Months go by. The trafficker grows more violent each day, forcing you to do things that make you feel ashamed. One night, you make a break for it.
But back on the streets, no one will give you a job — COVID-19 has shut down the whole city. Desperate, you have a choice: Go back to your trafficker, or go hungry and homeless.
You stay homeless on the streets.
You go back to your trafficker.
There's no right answer here, because it wasn't really a choice to begin with. Every option is a bad one.
Each day, kids across the United States are forced to make the same impossible decisions. Homelessness leaves kids especially vulnerable to traffickers. LGBTQ kids are an even greater target.
In fact, one in five kids who calls a Covenant House shelter home has been a victim of human trafficking. And with COVID-19 forcing more people into homelessness we’re afraid that number may rise.