By Holly Smith — From her column in the Huffington Post
Ele is a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation/sex trafficking and the founder of Standing Together Against Real Slavery (STARS), a victim services organization based in Toledo, Ohio. Ele has lived an extraordinary life overcoming many obstacles. When she was very young, Ele’s father had prostituted her mother, along with other women and girls, through an organized network of gang and pimp-controlled prostitution in Detroit, Michigan. In response to a sign of disrespect from a pair of alleged drug dealers, Ele’s father shot and killed the two men. Ele was then placed in foster care at the age of four. Within the foster care system, Ele experienced years of physical and sexual abuse. She says this taught her “how to take a beating and how to tolerate sexual molestation.” Ele was later returned to her mother, but she continued to endure physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend. Tired of the abuse, Ele says she “hit the streets.” By age 11, she had graduated to a world of gangs, drugs, street violence, and forced prostitution (i.e. sex trafficking). By age 13, Ele had been sentenced to prison where she says she was known as “Hustler No. 34257.”
At age 17, Ele was released from juvenile detention and placed with a Christian foster family in Toledo, Ohio. She says she initially rejected the family’s attempts at love, guidance, and supervision. Ele returned to the streets (this time in Toledo), where she was introduced to crack cocaine and again forced into a life of prostitution. After several years, Ele had finally had enough. While working for the House of Emmanuel, Ele says she realized she needed to do something to move forward from her past.