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20.09.2018

Ex-sex slaves reveal how NYC pimps prey on the young and vulnerable.

They sit next to you on the subway and attend school with your children. Some come from money; others were born into poverty. There is no cookie-cutter mold for the city’s sex-trafficking victims, a hidden — and burgeoning — part of its population. “It’s that confluence of a super-young, vulnerable person meeting a predatory individual...
Time: 21:59     Date: 16.04.2018
Metro News: Ex-sex slaves reveal how NYC pimps prey on the young and vulnerable. NY Post 24 - US News

Some come from money; others were born into poverty.

There is no cookie-cutter mold for the city’s sex-trafficking victims, a hidden — and burgeoning — part of its population.

“It’s that confluence of a super-young, vulnerable person meeting a predatory individual who is ultimately part of a billion-dollar sex industry,” said Rachel Lloyd, founder of the anti-sex trafficking group Girls Educational & Mentoring Services and a survivor herself.

“They don’t really stand a chance.”

Their stories reveal how choice and consent get blurred in the face of desperation — and the lasting effects of the psychological warfare carried out by their ruthless pimps.

‘Alexis” was a freshman in high school when she was lured into “the life.”

The Bronx resident, who asked that her real name not be used, bounced in and out of foster care from age 2 and was molested by her biological father starting around age 8. Soon, it was rape.

Her mom, meanwhile, would sell herself in the family’s apartment while the kids were home.

Alexis at The Children’s VillageRichard Harbus

When Alexis was 14, she had a kitten but couldn’t care for it and asked a stranger on the street to take it. He was a neighborhood pimp.

“He managed to get in a conversation with me about a party that he was going to do, and that a famous celebrity, Meek Mill, was going to be there . . . So he asked me if I’d like to go,” Alexis, now 22, said in an interview at The Children’s Village, an organization that assisted in her rescue.

The pimp told Alexis to come back that night in heels and sexy clothes. He said he also needed racy pictures of her — for the party’s “VIP list.”

He gave her a cup of sparkling wine in the car on the way to the party, and suddenly, “I felt my jaw was like locked. I started getting, like, hot,” Alexis said.

The hustler brought her to a Yonkers motel room, where men were waiting to pay to rape her — having seen ads he had made with her photos on Backpage.com.

The pimp encouraged Alexis to “slide into the loop” — his euphemism for prostitution — and she reluctantly agreed.

“At that moment, my mom and I and my sister, we were struggling to pay rent, we were struggling to pay for food. Prior to that, all the apartments we had, we used to get evicted for not being able to pay rent on time,” Alexis said.

She spent two years being trafficked, escaping only when a friend told her of The Sanctuary, a Westchester shelter run by The Children’s Village.

The Children’s VillageRichard Harbus

Six years later, Alexis has a full-time job at a Bronx counseling center and a 2-year-old daughter.

Alexis shares a common thread with domestic sex-trafficking victims in New York and around the country.

As many as 90 percent of kids who are sexually trafficked were already victims of sexual abuse, according to the National Institute of Justice.

And 50 percent to more than 90 percent of victims have spent time in the child-welfare system, federal data show.

Shanifa Bennett was a junior at John Adams HS in Ozone Park, Queens, when a pimp she met on social media promised her the money she desperately needed to survive.

Bennett, then 17, was reeling from an “unstable childhood” and didn’t have money for basic necessities — from school supplies to even underwear. Then her struggling mom left, and Bennett became homeless.

“What am I supposed to do?” Bennett said during a recent interview at the Covenant House, a youth homeless shelter. “I have no clothes, I need books, I need pencils, I need just certain basic things for me to go to school.

“So, unfortunately, I got into the life.”

Shanifa BennettAnnie Wermiel/NY Post

Bennett’s pimp promised her protection and a “family,” but he was soon denying her food, showers and contact with the outside world — and beating her if she got out of line. She described it as a form of brainwashing.

“I’m getting beat, but I have a place to stay. I’m not always eating, but I have underwear,” she said, explaining why she stayed.

Such a combination of abuse and “care-taking” creates a bond between a victim and captor, a psychological effect called Stockholm syndrome. That loyalty makes cases hard to prosecute.

“Normal and average” people just don’t understand this phenomenon, said Queens Assistant District Attorney Jessica Melton, chief of her office’s Human Trafficking Unit.

“‘Well, why didn’t you just run? Why didn’t you scream?’ It’s hard to get into the mind of somebody who’s been inundated and brainwashed,” she said.

One of Bennett’s friends from high school who would see her on “the track” — a desolate area where men prowl for paid sex — persuaded her to get help. Now 21, Bennett is steadily employed and pursuing a career in social work.

Jennifer’s route into forced prostitution is a shockingly common one: Her abusive husband made her do it.

‘Well, why didn’t you just run? Why didn’t you scream?’ It’s hard to get into the mind of somebody who’s been inundated and brainwashed.

 - Jessica Melton

She was an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, and the couple had a daughter when he coerced her into the life by threatening to have her deported.

His friend would drive Jennifer to private apartments and hotels in The Bronx and other areas. The money she earned would be split between him and her husband — typically $25 for 15 minutes.

It was an experience that the 37-year-old Jennifer now likens to a food-delivery service, where “I’m the delivery.”

“It’s disgusting. People that you don’t know touch you like you are a piece of bread,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of things outside that you can compare to something like this.”

Jennifer said she regularly contemplated suicide and survived multiple attempts.

What saved her was her arrest.

After being busted, she was put in touch with the support network at the nonprofit Sanctuary for Families. She’s now a livery driver.

Nat Paul was beaten and abused by a mother “who never wanted” her while growing up near Buffalo.

When she was 19, she was mistaken for being gay, kicked out of her home and excommunicated from her church.

She said her handlers were beyond abusive to her and her coworkers, but she didn’t feel like she had an alternative.

“They were . . . saying we’re no better than an inflatable doll anyway and reaffirming you were never worth anything. ‘You have nothing, so go out and do the only thing you’re good at,’ ” she said.

For months, she was on the streets of New York City, sleeping over subway grates on 42nd Street.

Paul said she quit selling herself after an HIV scare. She was told she had the disease but doesn’t. The scare was enough to persuade her to get out of the life.

She is now part of the National Survivor Network with CAST, an LA-based anti-trafficking group.

‘Jonesie” didn’t even know what sex-trafficking was when her developmentally delayed daughter vanished from their Harlem home in late 2016.

The 51-year-old mom, who also asked that her real name not be used, would learn her 17-year-old had been advertised by a pimp on Backpage.com and trafficked out of different locations in Manhattan.

Four days after her daughter’s disappearance, Jonesie got a phone call from a number she didn’t recognize. It was her daughter.

“Immediately, the first thing she says is, ‘Mom, I’m OK. I’m safe,’ ” Jonesie recalled.

The mother said she replied, “Yeah, right you’re OK. I haven’t seen you in three or four days. Where are you?”

“It’s confidential,” her daughter answered.

After some prying, the girl mumbled an address, and Jonesie made a beeline for the building, which would have been just a blocks from their home — only it didn’t exist.

The next day, a neighbor who used to attend school with her daughter called Jonesie to say she had seen the teen with an older man outside on a cold day without a coat and not looking well.

Using the description of what the missing girl was wearing, the police tracked her down two days later with an accomplice of the trafficker, who was arrested.

Most of the city’s sex-traffickers are “Romeo pimps” — hustlers who prey on young victims desperate for attention and love, wooing them as a protective “boyfriend” might, even while making the girls have sex with multiple men every night, law enforcement say.

“Not every victim is being held against their will in an apartment or a cellar or something like that. They’re controlled in different ways,” said Inspector James Klein, commander of the NYPD’s Vice Enforcement Unit.

“They don’t even know what love is, but they’re in love with this guy, and they’ll have sex because, ‘Hey, baby, we need money. You gotta do this for me.’ ” Lloyd, of Girls Educational & Mentoring Services, said pimps “engender loyalty” with this cycle of “love” and abuse.

“One minute, he loves you, the next minute, he’s beating you,” she said.

“One minute, he’s taking you to dinner and leaving all the girls home. The next, he’s forcing you to strip naked in the shower and beating you with a coat hanger.”

Additional reporting by Ruth Brown

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