By Holly Smith — From her column in the Huffington Post
When I was 14 years old, I was lured away from home by a man I met at a New Jersey shopping mall. This man told me that I was pretty enough to be a model and that I was too mature for high school. It was the summer after my eighth grade middle school graduation, and I feared high school. I was afraid of getting beat up in the hallways, and I was afraid of losing my friends. This man pretended to be my friend, a romantic interest even. He said he could help me find a glamorous job in Los Angeles, California. Within hours of running away, however, this man forced and coerced me into prostitution in Atlantic City, NJ.
It didn’t take long for law enforcement to spot me – I was a young girl on Pacific Avenue wearing a red dress and oversized high heel shoes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t immediately seen as a victim of a crime. I was seen as a criminal, a juvenile delinquent, and I was arrested for prostitution. The most painful part of this experience wasn’t what happened to me in Atlantic City, it was the way I was treated after Atlantic City – by law enforcement and even hospital staff. Today, I’m passionate about sharing my story and working with front-line professionals. By understanding my mindset and needs as a young victim of sex trafficking, professionals will be better equipped to recognize and respond to this victim population.