Sex trafficking is a form of modern slavery that exists globally.
It’s one of the most alarming crimes infiltrating the world, but operates in plain sight – which forms an invisible prison for the victim.
Generally, sex traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debts or other forms of manipulation to force adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will.
The situations that sex trafficking victims face vary dramatically. Many victims become romantically involved with someone who then forces or manipulates them into prostitution. Others are lured in with false promises of a job, such as modelling or dancing. Some are forced to sell sex by their parents or other family members. They may be involved in a trafficking situation for a few days or weeks, or may remain in the same trafficking situation for years.
Wendy’s story is one that sadly isn’t a particularly uncommon one. At 15 years old, Wendy ran away from home due to continual sexual assault from a family member, which led to Wendy meeting Greg, her soon to be boyfriend and father of her children. However, instead of Greg leading Wendy to a better life, he led her down a dangerous and disruptive path which was quite frankly the stuff of nightmares.
Here is Wendy’s story…
The early years
Wendy was born and raised in a small town outside of Seattle, Washington, she says: “During my childhood, I, like so many other young girls was bullied by both my older brother and by children at school. My parents divorced when I was 8 years old, leaving my mom to work two jobs to make ends meet.”
“I had a hole in my heart, and Greg had all the right words and moves to make me feel special”
Wendy discussed how she felt very lonely as a child, she says: “Not only did I lack my father’s presence, I was also lonely for my mother. Although she slept in the same house, she was rarely able to spend time with me, to have fun together.”
Wendy recalls that when she was 11, her mother remarried and they moved in with her new husband; soon, her step father became sexually abusive to her. These were all factors that contributed to Wendy feeling unloved, with absolutely no self-esteem, leaving her incredibly vulnerable.
Wendy decided to leave home, she was 15½ when she met Greg. He was a year older, and they went to the same high school.
The family’s first impression of Greg was one of charm, and politeness. Wendy remembers: “When he noticed our grass getting long, he offered to cut it for us, which my mother very much appreciated. Over time, my mom did start to pick up on some of the other cues about him, and eventually she saw clearly that he was not the person he originally seemed to be.”
It must be a bizarre situation to find yourself in, having gone from abusive home to what you feel are loving and reliable arms but to then realise you’ve gone from terrible to bleak.
Wendy speaks about when she had her first child with Greg, she opening says at the beginning it was wonderful, she recalls: “He made me feel special and loved. That’s something I had never felt before, even by my own mother and father.
“My parents did love me in their own ways, but my dad was raised with the motto children are to be seen and not heard and, as I mentioned before, my mother was rarely around after they divorced because she had to work two jobs to make ends meet. I had a hole in my heart, and Greg had all the right words and moves to make me feel special. I got pregnant with his baby when I was 16 and gave birth to our daughter a month after I turned 17.”
When I asked Wendy about changes emerging in Greg’s behaviour and the relationship itself, she explained that she noticed early on, and while she was pregnant. Greg would stay away for longer periods of time, and when he did come around Wendy said that he would constantly be talking to girls on the telephone.
Wendy tells me, “He would blame his interest in other girls on me, telling me that I wasn’t being a good woman. Because I had had no meaningful experience with being treated well by the males in my life, it was very easy for me to accept the negative things he would say. I agreed with him… and felt that if I were only a better person, he would love me again.”
The very first time…
For Wendy, a woman who had been manipulated her entire life by those around her who were meant to love her she had been through some pretty horrific experiences, but Wendy tells me that the first time she had sex for money was one of the most horrible feelings imaginable.
Wendy discusses the lead up, she says: “He told me that if I was a good person, and a good mother, I would do anything for my child; and it didn’t take long for him to convince me that if I loved my daughter, this is what I would do to get the money we needed for her clothes and food.”
“I didn’t want to have sex with anyone else besides Greg, but I didn’t feel that I had a choice. When I completed the task that he set me out to do, I threw-up so violently that it felt like I had thrown up my soul. I no longer felt human; I felt empty and disgusting.” Wendy explains.
Wendy Barnes speaks with Tyra Banks about her sex trafficking ordeal
I asked Wendy at what stage did it become apparent that she had become a prostitute, and not through her own choice? She explained that throughout their relationship she remained surprisingly naïve about what she was being required to do.
“I don’t know that I ever truly saw that he was turning me into a prostitute—to this day, it startles me when someone refers to me as a former prostitute”
“I don’t know that I ever truly saw that he was turning me into a prostitute—to this day, it startles me when someone refers to me as a former prostitute. The conditioning that he put me through made me believe that I would only have to have sex with other men for a short time, that once I made enough money, I wouldn’t have to do this anymore and he/we would put this life behind us and never discuss it again.”
“Occasionally, I would see glimpses of the reality of my life, but that picture was too hard to accept.” Wendy says.
Threats, control and brainwashing
“There were times that I hated him so much I wanted him to die” Wendy shares, but also she talks about how she knew that she could never leave him. Greg would threaten Wendy and her family as a means of control, it was these threats that Wendy so vulnerable.
“He had also convinced me that I was worthless and that no one else would want me; so I would still yearn for the rare moments of love and kindness he would show me. Perhaps you could say he had brainwashed me; it was the thoughts he had put in my head that kept me from being able to live without him.” Wendy says.
Being one of the many girls
The first time Greg brought around another girl, Wendy was only 17 years old. He would lie, telling stories that would explain why the other one was there. He told Wendy that this girl had run away from home because her mother beat her and that he was helping her. Wendy later found out that he told the other girl that he was only staying with Wendy because she had had his baby. He told this other girl that once she had made enough money prostituting to support them both, he was going to take the baby, leave Wendy and they would go start a family of their own.
Wendy talks about the times when she lived with the other girls that Greg was pimping out, she recalls: “There were many times over the years that we all lived under the same roof. Honestly, I enjoyed the companionship of the other girls. I had friends to talk to who understood what my life was like, and they would help me with the kids.
“We had no thoughts of our own, no goals of our own, no dreams or hopes of our own”
“We all became very close with each other. As I have been known to say, the bond of torture and pain is even stronger than the bond of love. We suffered together, we experienced Greg’s torture together, we had to turn tricks together, we watched out for each other. We loved each other because we were the only ones who could ever understand us.”
“My prison sentence turned out to be my first step in my journey to freedom”
Over time, Wendy explains that he beat each one of them down with physical violence and drugs to the point where nothing was their own. “We had no thoughts of our own, no goals of our own, no dreams or hopes of our own. We didn’t even “own” our own anger. And then through his words and actions, he built us back up to be what he wanted us to be. Sometimes, I felt like a robot, created by him, to do whatever he told me to do.” She says.
I asked Wendy what would be a typical day for her, she replied… “I don’t think there was ever a typical day. It depended on where we were staying (hotel, apartment, someone else’s home). It depended how many girls he controlled at any given time, and whether we were working escort services or the streets or doing only regulars. It depended how much money we had made the night before, or how much he decided to spend on drugs or luxuries for himself.”
The beginning of the end
It all started to unravel for Greg. One of the girls left him, went back to her mother, and told the police what was happening. Greg and Wendy were both arrested the same day.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Wendy was charged with 2 years in prison, because she hadn’t done anything to stop him and had even driven underage girls to perform sexual acts.
“My prison sentence turned out to be my first step in my journey to freedom.” Wendy affirms.
I asked Wendy what her advice would be to other woman who find themselves trapped in this cruel reality, she replied: “I learned over time the value of self-affirmations, losing our hopes and dreams can be detrimental and I didn’t see that until after I was free. Finding the courage to hope, to dream and then take the steps to achieve those dreams is scary and so fulfilling once on that journey. Fortunately, our society and the laws are evolving to acknowledge that trafficked people are victims, not criminals. These views are relatively new, so it is still risky; but I would encourage women to seek assistance from anyone who reaches out in kindness.”
“I have sad days, scared days, happy days, joyful days. It’s wonderful to feel authentically. I embrace each feeling, knowing that it is real and not what Greg has beaten or manipulated me to feel.”
Wendy has written a book detailing her ordeal, and hopefully help others through similar circumstances, click here to buy “And Life Continues”