My name is Holly Austin Smith, and I am a survivor of child trafficking.
When I was fourteen years old, I was lured into running away from home with a man I had met at a shopping mall in Atlantic County, New Jersey. After exchanging numbers, this man called at night while my unknowing parents watched television in the living room.
We talked more than once.
Convincing me to run away with him was not an overnight accomplishment. He took his time. He got to know me. He analyzed my troubles, and he asked me my dreams. I wanted to be a songwriter. I wanted to meet Julia Roberts. I wanted to see Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris, France.
The year was 1992.
I was on summer break from eighth grade middle school, and my freshmen year of high school loomed in the distance.
I was severely depressed.
And as the pressures of my fourteen-year-old-world boiled to the surface, I fled. I laced up my size-five sneakers, and I ran toward opportunity, toward possibility, and toward freedom.
In reality, I ran right into the inexorable clutches of a sex trafficking ring. Within hours of running away with a man who turned out to be a manipulative and menacing pimp, I was forced and coerced into working in Atlantic City, NJ until dawn the next day.
The following night an officer on the street recognized me as being underage and arrested me. Although I was soon recognized to be a victim, the specialized aftercare needed for a trafficking victim did not yet exist. The journey toward healing was a long and bumpy road, indeed.
Twenty years ago, there were no anti-trafficking laws in place. This pimp, who raped and lured a child into prostitution, served only 365 days in jail. Two additional traffickers were arrested; however, one (a woman) posted bail and fled. She is still considered a fugitive in the state of New Jersey.
I am now breaking my silence.
Today, I advocate for stronger anti-trafficking laws and greater protection for survivors of all forms of human trafficking.