Ours isn’t your typical love story. I was a victim of human sex trafficking and he’s an FBI agent. My name is Mia and I’m 28 years old. I was 18 when I ran away from home. I was having problems with my mother who always made me feel like I was no good and that she was sorry that she had me. And my father who was hardly around and when he was, he fought with my mother and ignored me.
Life at home was hell and sometimes I just wished it was a nightmare and that I would wake up in a different house and with different parents–people who loved and cared about me. It got to the point that I knew that if I didn’t leave, I would kill myself. One night after my parents had gone to bed, I grabbed my knapsack and sneaked out of the house. I had some money which I took from my mother’s purse and my father’s wallet. I didn’t have time to count the amount but it looked like it would last me for a while.
It lasted for a couple of weeks and then I was broke. I had no idea of what to do. I had no where to go. I refused to go back home. I called other family members but they hung up when they knew that it was me. I was too ashamed to call my friends. So, I decided that may be I should find a job at McDonald’s or some other fast food place. It was better than staying on the streets or going to a homeless shelter.
I stood there trying to figure out where the nearest MacDonald’s was when a really cute guy came up to me. He had the most incredible blue eyes and an amazing smile. “Hi,” he said. “Are you lost?”
“I’m trying to find a McDonald’s,” I explained. “I’m looking for a job.”
“I see. It just so happens that I work at a restaurant just around the corner and the manager is looking to hire a cashier. Are you interested?”
My expression brightened. “Of course! I’ve worked as a cashier before.”
“Good. I’m heading there now so I can introduce you to the manager.”
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Joe.” He held out his hand.
She smiled and shook it. “Nice to meet you, Joe.”
We headed in the direction of the Space Needle. I promised myself that one day I would visit it. As we walked we talked. He was so charming and easygoing. I found myself hoping that he didn’t have a girlfriend. About ten minutes later, we stopped in front of a restaurant. It was packed. He pushed the door open for me to enter. The smell of fried food assailed me and reminded me that I was hungry.
As if he read my mind, he asked, “Are you hungry?”
I nodded. “I haven’t eaten all day.”
He took me by the elbow and led me down a long corridor and into a room. “Sit here while I go and get something for you to eat.”
I sat down, grateful for his kindness and to be able to sit down after being on my feet for so long. Fading light streamed through the windows. The sun would be setting soon. I hoped that Joe was right about his manager and that he would hire me. It would be so cool working there with Joe. I was feeling a little hot so I removed my jacket. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail. I was about to get up and walk over to the window and look out when Joe came in carrying a tray with a burger, fries and a soft drink. He set them down on the table. My mouth was watering. “Thanks, Joe.”
He smiled. “No problem. When you’re finished just come to the front where the cashier is and I’ll be there.”
“Thanks.” I waited until he left before I wolfed down the burger and fries. They were sooo good. I drank the Ginger-ale. It was nice and cold. I was half-way through it when I started to feel dizzy. The room started to spin and I squeezed my eyes shut. When I opened them again, I was in another room and there was a strange man standing over me. Was this the manager? Had I passed out or something? Did I eat too fast? All sorts of questions whirled around in my mind. My head was pounding but at least the room wasn’t spinning and the dizziness was gone. I tried to sit up but the man pushed me down. Panicking, I cried out but he put something over my nose and mouth and everything went black.res
When I regained consciousness I was alone and I realized that I was lying on a bed. I managed to sit up and I screamed when I saw that I was wearing red lingerie. How did I end up here? Who removed my clothes? Where are my clothes? I looked wildly about the room for my clothes. I tried to get out of the bed but the door opened and Joe came in. He grabbed me and tried to force me to lie back down. I struggled wildly and he struck me. I was so shocked that I fell back against the pillows. Joe looked like a different person. His eyes were cold and his expression impassive. “You’re not going anywhere,” he muttered. “You’re going to be here for a long time.”
“Where am I?” I asked, tears streaming down my face. “Who are you and why are you doing this to me?”
“I don’t have time to answer your questions.”
“What is this place? Why have you brought me here?”
“You wanted a job, remember? Well, here you are.”
I struggled to get up. “You told me that it was a cashier’s job at your restaurant.”
“You’re far too pretty to be a cashier. You will make more money on your back.”
Then, it hit me. He was forcing me into prostitution. I felt sick. I clawed at him until he clamped his hand over my nose and mouth. Everything went black again. I don’t know how long I was out but when I came to, I heard Joe say to someone, “She’s all yours. I broke her in for you and she’s nicely cleaned up. Remember to wear a rubber. We practice safe sex here. She’s no use to me if she gets pregnant and I’m not to spend my hard earned money on an abortion.”
I heard the door open and close. Then silence. I opened my eyes and I saw a man leaning over me. I felt his hot breath on my face. I struggled to get up but I couldn’t move. Then, I realize that he was on top of me. I pushed at him but it was no use. I lay there helpless while he raped me.
When it was over, he got off me and I heard him moving about the room as he got dressed. Then, I heard the door open and close. I lay there for a long time, too terrified to move or make a sound. Then, I pushed myself up and got up from the bed. I put on the lingerie bottom which was lying on the floor and stumbled towards the closed door. It was a washroom. I felt for the switch and flicked it on. I went over to the mirror and stared at my reflection. I didn’t recognize myself. My eyes were puffy, my jaw was bruised from where Joe struck me and my left shoulder had a bruise as well. I turned on the tap and splashed water on my face. I had to get out of there. I went to the window and opened it. I pushed my head out. Outside was a fire escape. I raised the window higher and climbed onto the ledge. I reached out and pulled myself onto the fire escape. I made my way down to the street below and ran as fast as I could.
When I was as far away from that place as possible, I flagged a cab down and when it stopped, I begged the driver to take me to the nearest hospital. When I got there I went straight to Emergency and told the triage person what happened to me. I was ushered into a room where I was told to wait. Minutes later a nurse came in and asked me “Did anyone you worked for or lived with trick or force you into doing anything you did not want to do?” and other questions. Then, she left and returned. She asked me to get undressed so that I could be examined and left. After the examination, I was given a gown. I sat at the edge of the bed and waited.
The nurse who examined me came in and told me that I was a victim of sex trafficking. There was evidence of forced penetration and bruising on my wrists as if I were restrained. She asked if there was anyone I needed to call or somewhere to stay. I shook my head. I was in a daze. I still couldn’t believe what had happened to me. I had fallen for a pair of blue eyes and a charming smile. The nurse told me that the hospital would help me with housing, transportation and any necessities I may need. That was a real load off my shoulders. I spent the night in the hospital. I had trouble falling asleep because every time I closed my eyes I saw either Joe’s or that strange man’s face. And I was afraid that I would wake up and find myself back in that room.
The next day, I was visited by two FBI agents who wanted to question me. One was an older man with sandy colored hair, sharp eyes and a portly gait. The other was tall, dark and very handsome. The older one asked most of the questions and was very quick and direct. Then, the other one said, “You were lucky to get out of there alive. You did the right thing coming here.”
“I hope you catch Joe,” I said. “I wish I knew the other man’s name.”
“It would be very helpful if you can give their descriptions to our artist,” he replied.
“I can,” I assured them tightly. “I will never forget their faces.”
“Thank you, Miss Bautista,” the older one said. “We will be in touch. Good-day.” He left the room.
The other one lingered for a moment. “Good-day, Miss Bautista.”
“Good-day, Agent Fowler.” I watched him leave.
I left the hospital that afternoon and was placed in Catalyst at Straley House where I can stay for 18 months while I work with my case manager to get connected to school and employment, and transition into permanent housing. It turned out to be a really nice place. I met a lot of great people. My case manager, Rita was a tremendous help and support for me. Before leaving home, I had graduated from high-school with honors but I hadn’t applied to any university. After my ordeal in Seattle, I decided that I would move to another city in Washington. I googled the best cities there and chose Spokane. I applied to Gonzaga University and was accepted.
Before I left to go to live on campus, I received a visit from Agent Fowler who informed me that thanks to my descriptions Joe Cartwright and his cohorts were arrested. The man who raped me was a prominent businessman who was a regular client. Joe was a pimp and his victims included under-aged girls. It turned out that Mr. Murphy had no clue about Joe’s nefarious business dealings. Joe had used Mr. Murphy’s job posting to gain my trust. I was very grateful to Agents Fowler and Benson for investigating and catching those monsters. I hope that they will spend the rest of their lives behind bars. I told Agent Fowler that I was moving to Spokane. He smiled and shook my hand. “I wish you all the best, Miss Bautista.”
As I watched him leave, I found myself hoping that I would see him again. Years later, I did. I had graduated from Gonzaga University and was working as a Youth Program Assistant which I loved. I was on my way to lunch when I saw someone walking in front of me. From the back he looked very familiar and then I realized who it was. I quickened my pace until I was right behind him and I called out, “Agent Fowler.”
He stopped and turned to face me. I could see that he recognized me. Smiling, he held out his hand. “Miss Bautista. It’s good to see you.”
“I didn’t think I would run into you. What are you doing in Spokane?”
“I’m here for my nephew’s wedding which is tomorrow.”
“Did you fly or drive?”
“I flew. I didn’t feel like spending over four hours behind the wheel. Are you heading somewhere?”
“I was on my way to lunch.”
“Do you mind if I tag along?”
“I could do with the company. There’s a bistro right up the road. They serve the best comfort food.”
We walked to the bistro. Over local beef and regional fresh fish, we talked. When it was time for me to head back to the office, he came with me. As we stood outside the building, he asked me to have dinner with him. I gladly accepted. After that first dinner, we made arrangements to see each other again. He spent the week in Spokane before he flew back. We had a long distance relationship and saw each other in the summer, at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Then, one day when we were Riverfront Park, he told me that he was moving to the FBI office in Spokane.
I stared up at him. “Why?” I asked. I was thrilled, of course but taken aback.
He reached for my hands, his expression serious as his eyes met mine. “I want to be where you are, Mia,” he said quietly.
I swallowed hard, my heart was racing now. “Why?”
“Simple, I love you.”
“I love you too, Nathan. And I’m happy that you’re moving to Spokane.”
He leaned over and kissed me. I felt my head explode. We drew apart several minutes later and holding hands, we continued our walk. The following spring, he moved to Spokane and following a very short engagement, we got married in September. The attendees were Rita, my case manager, my friends from Catalyst, my co-workers and his FBI friends and family. My parents weren’t there because I didn’t invite them. They are a painful part of my past which I want to forget.
Ten years have passed since my ordeal and what thing that I have learned from it is that “Our pain can be turned into purpose” This March, I started a support group for former sex and human trafficking victims.
While Mia’s story is fiction, it is real for many. Trafficking of any kind is an evil that must be wiped out and those responsible for it must be brought to justice. Check out this video for a grim glimpse into the world of child sex trafficking and what is being done to save victims.
Here is a list of non-profit organizations fighting against Human Trafficking:
Let’s work together to stop trafficking and exploitation. Let’s fight for freedom.
Sources: FBI Video; Nurse.com; Nurse.org; FBI; YouthCare; Yelp