Tattoo on arm reading Survivor
The courage to leave

It’s difficult to leave the life in the commercial sex industry. Many girls are afraid of their pimp, that he’ll kill them or hurt their families. But they’re also afraid of the unknown. Rachel encourages the girls.
“Give it time, and your life will be so much better.”

The life I deserve
“Leaving the life, leaving him, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But as difficult as it was, it was the best thing I could have ever done for myself, because it was only then that I could finally live the life that I deserved all along.”
Yeseni

Don’t run from the future
“Sometimes you need to run away from things or situations when they are not good, but then if you get used to running, then you will run away from all the good things too. When I can find a good person to keep me focused with a reason to keep going and believing in myself, then I will not keep running away.”
Jordan

Force of nature
“One of my favourite things to do is taking long walks in the park and clearing my mind. Tell myself over and over, it’s going to get better, staying positive, staying away from negativity and from negative people.”
Sondrah

Like a different planet
“The square life was like another planet to me, so it was like how am I gonna do this? ... I was scared because it felt like there was no escape. My pimp knew where my family lived, where my little brother went to school and where all my close friends lived. Every time I ran away he would know exactly where to find me ... It took me 5 attempts to finally leave the life but I went to a shelter and they referred me to a program [GEMS] ... I’m not scared anymore. And now I have the strength and wisdom to do bigger and better things.”
Kristina

GEMS-illu

Think positive
“I am grateful for all the people in my life that saw the good in me, and loved me through the times that I didn’t love myself. Keep going and keep trying, because you have already survived, you will survive and you are a survivor.”
Sheila

Starting over
“Spending most of my life in foster care ... I dreaded starting all over again. In youth leadership class I began to understand that I wasn’t alone in my experience ... Once I got into a program [GEMS] where other girls had similar experiences and were in leadership roles, I realized that starting over was just the beginning and it was possible. I was still young and I had a lot to look forward to.”
Cynthia

Not worth dying for
“It was hard to leave my pimp, in my mind he gave me love, affection and security. This was all I knew... After getting locked up numerous times, raped and abused by tricks, I wondered was he REALLY protecting me ... I ask myself, is this love worth dying for ... I wanted change... from the abuse and from all the false promises... I just knew that if I can survive all of that, I can survive leaving him too.”
Lakisha

Leave it behind you
“Leaving the life is difficult ... especially if it’s all you know… I’m 18 and I been in the life since I was 14 years old... Being square and living life regularly... It’s overwhelming, it’s confusing, it hurts and at the same time, it doesn’t. You just gotta leave it ... just suck it up and keep it pushin.”
Yvonne

Missed stuffed animal
“Leaving was thinking too far ahead for me, because sometimes I felt like lucky to get to the next day. So when I finally left I felt so vulnerable, without anything to comfort me, like my old clothes or a stuffed animal I really loved ... Looking back now, I have pride in my actions. Remember everyone has a past and it’s not where you came from, it’s where you’re going.”
Leslie

Photo: JOSEPH RODRIGUEZ
Text: Excerpts from GEMS Survivor’s Guide to Leaving

 
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