When I was in grade 12, I was approached by a guy at the mall who seemed really nice. Things had been tough at home and we didn’t have much money. People picked on me at school for having an old iPhone and not wearing brand name clothes.
Over the next few months, I got to know him. He told me I was special, he showered me with flowers and gifts. I liked him and came to trust him. He was my person.
I had planned to take the next year off, after graduating high school, so I could save up money and go to college. But he told me that wouldn’t be necessary. He invited me to live with him and told me he could financially support me while I was going to university. He said money was not a problem for him.
I was so excited to be living with my boyfriend and starting college.
A few weeks after he paid my tuition, things started to change. One day, he told me he had hit hard times and he didn’t have enough money to keep supporting us. I needed to help out with the rent and save up for school next year. The best way to do this, he said, was to take up a job as a dancer. He said money was really good and I only had to do it for just a little while.
I wasn’t sure about this idea, but when I shared my concerns with him, he threatened to break up with me. Things got worse. I told him I wanted to leave, but he said if I did, I’d have to pay him back for my tuition or else he’d come after me and my family.
I wanted to keep him happy, so I ended up working in the strip club for a few months and then it became longer and longer. He took all of the money and barely gave me enough for food. He was sometimes nice though and I did everything I could to make him happy. I was walking on eggshells, not knowing when his mood was going to change. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t see a way out.
Then, one day at my school, I saw an information session about Victim Services Toronto. It was about sex trafficking. I realized that’s what was happening to me.
I called Victim Services Toronto that day and spoke with a counsellor. She was non-judgemental and listened to me. She explained exactly what sex trafficking was and what I could do next. For the next several months, she supported me by helping me with housing and connecting me to services.
I realized that what had happened was not my fault. I was finally able to leave without feeling any more judgment and shame towards myself.