Stories of Survival

A Story from OPS

This story is a little different, one without a happy ending yet. Recently, StolenYouth grantee and OPS Director of Survivor Services, Noel Gomez, received a call from the Seattle Police Department. They had just received a 17 year old who was flown to Seattle from Nevada by Children’s Services and asked: “Would Noel please come talk to her?”  

Lisa* was from Seattle but had moved many times in order to stay with her family. She missed a lot of school and was never sure where she would end up or who would take care of her. She has endured a lifetime of neglect and abuse from family members and her mother’s boyfriends. Lisa’s mother is severely mentally ill and would throw Lisa out of the house or simply abandon her. At the age of 13 Lisa found herself on the streets of a Californian city with nowhere to turn and not even sure where her mother was. She was pimped by many men, each telling her she was the star, the moneymaker, the bottom woman. Lisa had to believe this was true, how else would she survive? She didn’t see any other options.

She was eventually placed in Foster Care, but felt unsafe and ran only to be arrested and charged with prostitution again and again. As it became closer to Lisa’s 18th birthday, she was told she would have to leave the state; Foster Care would no longer provide her with services. She was put on a plane and sent to Seattle because her mother was here.

Noel, a survivor herself and StolenYouth funded advocate, says she has seldom seen a young woman so deeply entrenched in “the life”. It has become Lisa’s identity and all that she has known. It is the one place where Lisa feels she has some value and some control over her circumstances and future. Understanding her thinking and the effects of enduring repeated trauma, Noel began by listening to her story, not judging, just listening.

Lisa just turned 18 years old. She is trying to make living with her mother work but it can be challenging as she still suffers from mental illness and is often aggressive and abusive to her daughter. Lisa continues to rely on the trust and support that she has with Noel and calls regularly to talk.

Slowly she is beginning to see there is another way to live. As an advocate, Noel is there with her every step of the way: she accompanies Lisa to the DMV to get an ID card, to Starbucks to talk about what to do when her mother will not let her back in the house, to DSHS to get food stamps because her mother will not let her eat the food in the house, and to speak with a former teacher about how she can finish school.

StolenYouth and OPS have given Lisa a lifeline through Noel and the OPS community. This is not a success story yet, but it is a story of hope. Lisa recently she told Noel, “I would like to have a job, a real job to see if I could do it, to see if I could learn to take care of myself.” These are the words of a survivor who can finally see a different life for herself.

* Name changed

A Story from YouthCare

When a 13-year-old girl found herself in crisis with nowhere to go and no one to turn to, she went to her local community center, a place she’d been to a few times before. The young girl disclosed to a staff person that she did not feel safe returning home but did not know anywhere else to go. Luckily, the staff person knew about Safe Place, and called the 1-800 number, hoping to find assistance for the girl. Less than an hour later she was meeting the Safe Place Coordinator.

It quickly became clear that the girl needed immediate medical attention, and was taken to the hospital. Over the next few hours, as they sat together in the ER, the girl opened up to her coordinator, sharing pieces of her devastating reality: among them she was forced to smoke meth as part of her sexual exploitation. Unfortunately, her parents did not consent her staying in emergency shelter that night – and she was therefore released to their care, but the next time she needed somewhere to run, she knew to call Safe Place. And this time, she spent a few nights in the Bridge Continuum’s Adolescent Shelter, which allowed her some time of peace, away from the chaos of home.

As she began to trust in her StolenYouth provided community advocate, she continued to disclose more about her situation. Because of the trust she built with her advocate, she shared more of the awful circumstances and nightmare of the commercial sexual exploitation she endured. She even agreed to cooperate in the investigation of her traffickers/exploiters, an extremely courageous act. Her advocate supported her throughout the process – attending court dates and assisting her in navigating the complex legal system. The support of an advocate like this is critical to the healing of a prostituted youth. Without someone to listen, to encourage, and to guide, far too many youth end up back in a life of sexual exploitation. Her advocate also worked with the girl’s family to ensure that they supported the girl’s recovery. Of particular concern was the amount of school the girl had missed; her advocate helped her re-enroll in a supportive school and she began attending classes. Additionally, she started meeting regularly with a chemical dependency counselor.

Now, nearly a year later, we are happy to report that she is attending school, has enrolled in a number of healthy community activities, and continues to work with the community advocate provided by StolenYouth on a regular basis.

This young girl’s story demonstrates how the Bridge Continuum of Care functions in a comprehensive yet individualized way. Thanks to the range of wrap-around services offered through the Bridge Continuum – from the Safe Place hotline to shelter to family support and everything in between – this young person was able to get exactly what she needed to be safe in the short term, while also working towards long-term stability. StolenYouth knows that these services were crucial to this young girl’s extraordinary recover and we hope to continue to support our coalition in their efforts to provide more of these services to more youth in need.