Andrea was in a desperate situation. She was manipulated by an older man into running away with him. This Runaway Reality story comes from NRS’ crisis services center and illustrates how NRS helped a youth escape from sex trafficking.
When Andrea dialed 1-800-RUNAWAY, she was out of breath, gasping for air, panicking. She had just run, barefoot and pajama-clad, out of a motel room in an unfamiliar town in an unfamiliar state. It was a minute before she caught her breath enough to get any words out.
Ben, NRS’ frontline team member, answered Andrea’s call. He asked her if there was somewhere safe enough to talk on the phone. Once Andrea caught her breath, her story came out in quick, jumbled phrases. “I ran away two months ago after a fight with my dad.” They had argued over her report card. She stayed on a friend’s couch at first. It was at a friend’s house party where she met her “boyfriend,” a 35-year-old man, who told her she was beautiful and gave her drinks and cigarettes. Andrea was 16.
“We just met last week but he told me we could go on a road trip to visit some of his friends, so I went with him.” After they traveled across state lines, Andrea admitted that “my boyfriend tried to make me be a prostitute,” choking on her words. The day before, her boyfriend had forced her to have sex with a stranger in a motel room.
When her boyfriend left her alone in the room for a minute, she left and ran down the street to a truck stop and called 1-800-RUNAWAY on a payphone. She was scared to call her parents, and she did not want to report the crime to the police. She kept repeating “I’m so embarrassed,” and, “I don’t want anyone to know.” Her mind was racing through every worst-case scenario. She said she knew she was going to be pregnant, she knew he was going to find her, she knew her parents would judge her, and she knew the police would treat her badly and not believe her.
Ben reassured her that she was really brave for reaching out for help and that no one should have to experience what she had gone through. Ben let her know what happened was not her fault. He gently emphasized to Andrea the importance of finding somewhere safe to go and of putting some more distance between herself and the motel.
They discussed calling the police, but the idea overwhelmed Andrea. Ben volunteered to call some shelters in the area. He let Andrea know that if she went to a shelter, the staff would get in touch with her dad and might have to report the crime. Realizing that she had nowhere to go and that she needed help, Andrea gave consent to call shelters on her behalf.
Ben called five shelters before contacting a shelter that agreed to pick Andrea up from the truck stop. Ben held a conference call with Andrea and the shelter and gave the shelter staff her location and a description of her appearance. Ben stayed on the line and talked to her until the shelter staff showed up. Andrea took breaks to breathe deeply. Together, they made a plan.
Ben was able to refer her to a local pharmacy to secure emergency contraception. Andrea didn’t know that was an option and was very grateful that there was something she could do to avoid a pregnancy. Ben let her know if she wanted help to get home, she can call NRS back when she was ready. The conversation continued for another fifteen minutes until a voice of the shelter staff was heard in the background. “Andrea? Are you ready to come with us? Here, we brought you some clothes.”
“Thank you, thank God you came.”
Names have been changed to respect anonymity.