Many of the girls at GEMS have tattoos all over their bodies. Faith is one of them. The worst thing anyone can say is that they look nice, because they weren’t her choice. Her various pimps marked her with their street name or symbols to claim that she belonged to them.
I got into the life when I was 12,” says Faith, who was sexually abused by her stepdad from the age of four.
“I didn’t tell anyone, I felt no one would believe me. I ran away instead.”
A pimp did Faith’s first tattoo when she was 15.
“Since then, I was branded by different pimps who wanted to prove that they owned me. I hate the tattoos because they remind me of everything I’ve been through: had guns pulled on me, raped and taken across state lines.”
Left the life
“I decided to leave the life when I found out I was pregnant. But what really stopped me from going back was I found God. Girls leave for lots of different reasons. For me, when God found me, I found hope.
“I’m not in the life anymore, but the tattoos will be there forever. But they are not me; I’m a different person now. I’m tired of being judged and looked at. Without the tattoos I’d have more opportunities. Now, people think I’m a gang member. I want to get rid of them but it’s very expensive.”
Looks like a victim
“Many programs [that campaign against the sex trade] revictimize you. They don’t want you to remove your tattoos, they like it, and think you look tough and like a victim. So they can put you on stage and get publicity. Use you to raise money, just like the pimps did. But Rachel and GEMS are different. I have never met a social worker or therapist who could understand what I have gone through. But Rachel knows how it is. She can understand and relate. She would never ask ‘Why? How could you do all that bad stuff?’ GEMS is limited in what they can do, but at least here, they accept you for who you are. There really isn’t any other program like GEMS.”
For my children
“I struggle every day with feelings of loneliness and abandonment. It’s pain on top of pain, and the tattoos bring back memories. But for me the most important thing is to raise my children as well as I can, with love,” says Faith.
Text: Carmilla FloydPhoto: Joseph Rodriguez