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