Runaways Aren’t Throwaways

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as seen at http://www.deviantart.com/art/ALONE-100234128

From The Richmond Justice Initiative

Barbara Amaya’s Story (edited edition)

My name is Barbara Amaya and I am a survivor of trafficking.

I spent the first 12 years of my life in Northern Virginia. When I was only 10 years old, family members abused me. Before the abuse I was a pretty normal little girl: I loved to read, collect stamps, draw and I was a member of the Barbie fan club. Unfortunately, after I was abused, I became a different little girl. No one helped me or validated the abuse I had suffered, so part of me went into hiding and I became depressed. I didn’t want to be around anyone, no longer went to school, and eventually ran away when I was 12.

When I ran away, I was a walking target for traffickers and predators who look for damaged children: I had been abused, I was depressed and was in desperate need of help. It didn’t take long for traffickers to find me. Surprisingly it was a couple – a man and a woman – who found me on the streets of Washington D.C. They took me off of the streets where I was hungry and alone and brought me into their home where they fed me and seemed to care for me. That is, until they initiated me into the world of trafficking. They used me for a few months until they no longer needed me and then sold me to another trafficker. Right in our nation’s capitol, I was sold into trafficking to a man named Moses. Soon after buying me, Moses took me to New York City where he trafficked me for 8 years.

During my time on the streets of New York I was abused, shot, stabbed, raped, kidnapped, trafficked, beaten, addicted to drugs, jailed, and more all before I was 18 years old.

To ease my pain, I became addicted to drugs. This habit became very expensive and I was no longer a valuable commodity to my trafficker, so he released me into New York. It was terrible; I was addicted and alone in the city. Thankfully, at a methadone clinic where I had sought treatment, I met a woman named Anita who helped me to find my sister who had apparently been living in the nearby city of Philadelphia and that Christmas, she helped me reunite with my family.

After a very difficult time detoxing off of methadone I started to slowly get my life back. I lived in Washington State, Mississippi and eventually came back to Virginia where I got married and tried to have a baby. Soon after I starting trying to have a baby, I found out that because of all the trauma I had endured on the streets, I was infertile. Somehow, I think it was a miracle; I was able to have treatments and can happily say that I was able to have a daughter.

In all of that moving around and having my daughter, I kept my past a secret. No one knew about the years I had been trafficked or abused but me. Then one night, when my daughter was 15, she decided to run away. My past came rushing back to me and I was so afraid that the same things that happened to me would happen to my daughter. I couldn’t just sit around, so I spent the whole night making phone calls and looking for her. Thankfully, I found her the next morning and, shortly after, told her about my story. After that, she never ran away again and she is doing well today. I have a wonderful grandson and I live a content and quiet life.

NCSL states that…

Studies Have Shown That:
  • One in seven young people between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away>
  • Youth age 12 to 17 are more at risk of homelessness than adults
  • 75 percent of runaways are female
  • Estimates of the number of pregnant homeless girls are between 6 and 22 percent
  • Between 20 and 40 percent of homeless youth identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning (GLBTQ)
  • 46 percent of runaway and homeless youth reported being physically abused, 38 percent reported being emotionally abused , and 17 percent reported being forced into unwanted sexual activity by a family or household member
  • 75 percent percent of homeless or runaway youth have dropped out or will drop out of school

Common Reasons Why Youth Become Homeless or Runaways:

  • Family problems: Many youth run away, and in turn become homeless, due to problems in the home, including physical and sexual abuse, mental health disorders of a family member, substance abuse and addiction of a family member, and parental neglect. In some cases, youth are asked to leave the home because the family is unable to provide for their specific mental health or disability needs. Still some youth are pushed out of their homes because their parents cannot afford to care for them.
  • Transitions from foster care and other public systems: Youth who have been involved in the foster care system are more likely to become homeless at an earlier age and remain homeless for a longer period of time. Youth aging out of the foster care system often have little or no income support and limited housing options and are at higher risk to end up on the streets. Youth that live in residential or institutional facilities often become homeless upon discharge. In addition, very few homeless youth are able to seek housing in emergency shelters due to the lack of shelter beds for young people and shelter admission policies.
  • Economic problems: Some youth become homeless when their families fall into difficult financial situations resulting from lack of affordable housing, difficulty obtaining or maintaining a job, or lack of medical insurance or other benefits. These youth become homeless with their families, but later can find themselves separated from them and/or living on the streets alone, often due to shelter or child welfare policies.[i]

Consequences of Life on the Street for Homeless and Runaway Youth:

  • Increased likelihood of high-risk behaviors, including engaging in unprotected sex, having multiple sex partners and participating in intravenous drug use.  Youth who engage in these high-risk behaviors are more likely to remain homeless and be more resistant to change.

  • Greater risk of severe anxiety and depression, suicide, poor health and nutrition, and low self-esteem.

  • Increased likelihood of exchanging sex for food, clothing and shelter ( also known as “survival sex”) or dealing drugs to meet basic needs. Forty percent of African American youth and 36 percent of Caucasian youth who experienced homelessness or life on the street sold drugs, primarily marijuana, for money.

Remember if you are a homeless youth or in any way in danger every QuikTrip location is a safe place. Staff there are trained to keep you safe until help can arrive.

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