Indy Star on 5/13/2016 by Kelly Wilkinson
Aubrey Lloyd is a survivor of sex trafficking. Two decades later, she helps counsel girls who have been caught up in human trafficking.
The grooming of Aubrey Lloyd, the manipulation that pushed her down the path to forced prostitution, began with a new friendship.
The older girl who befriended Aubrey showered her with all of the attention, praise and understanding that a 16-year-old with a father in prison and a mother on drugs so deeply craved. Long-festering emotional gaps were finally filled.
And so Aubrey didn’t notice when more and more of her life began to revolve around the new friend, or when she increasingly became isolated from anyone besides that older girl.
Then came the invitation, at an especially low point in Aubrey’s relationship with her mother: “Come live with my family.”
“I didn’t think of myself as a runaway, even though I left home by crawling out a window in the middle of the night,” Aubrey told me recently. “I was simply going to live with a friend and her mom, and her mom’s boyfriend.”
Except nothing was as it seemed.
The mother’s boyfriend was a pimp who ran an escort service. Aubrey’s new friend had herself been lured into prostitution. Aubrey was their latest target, the most recent girl recruited to join “the family” and its growing role in the sex trade.
Initially, the idea of Aubrey selling herself to strangers for sex was broached gingerly. And Aubrey emphatically said no.
But she did agree to attend a house party with her friend after an assurance that she wouldn’t be expected to do anything that made her uncomfortable. It was a promise built on another lie.
Aubrey still doesn’t know for certain everything that happened to her that night — she apparently was drugged and lost consciousness — but the brutal moments after she awoke have been seared into her memory: A man was on top of her. Trapped beneath him, she was raped for the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.
After the assault ended and the man left, Aubrey’s new pimp — the man introduced to her by the special friend she had trusted so thoroughly — stepped into the room with a warning: “This is the last time you’ll ever tell me no.”
The next six months were a jumble of parties and sex, with college boys and businessmen; arranged dates with men who could have been her father; a lingering shame and guilt; and a growing indoctrination into a warped view of right and wrong.
“The men knew we were younger, and they liked that fact,” Aubrey said. “I seemed to be the only person who thought there was a problem with what we were doing.”
Then everything changed again. One night a drug dealer who was friends with her pimp warned Aubrey that she was suspected of talking to the police. Lured into a life she never wanted, Aubrey was strangely crushed to hear that she had lost trust and was being pushed out of “the family.” She also couldn’t imagine where she would go.
“There was no way I could go back to being normal again,” she said.
But there was a way. Sobbing uncontrollably, she convinced her next date, a regular customer, to drop her off near her grandmother’s house.
Aubrey’s journey as a victim of sex trafficking ended that night in Colorado. Her path to becoming a survivor was just beginning.
Two decades later, Aubrey and I met in the offices of Ascent 121, a Central Indiana organization that provides counseling and other services for teen-age victims of sex trafficking. We discussed her ordeal as a lost and wounded child, but we also talked about her work as an adult to find healing and wholeness for herself and others.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of Aubrey’s story — at least the victim period of her life — is that it’s not at all unusual.
Each year, dozens of girls and boys in Central Indiana, hundreds in the state and thousands across the country are lured along similar paths into the sex trade. By law, a child under the age of 18 is a victim, not a willing participant in prostitution. By legal definition, these victims are forced into sex — in other words raped — every time they are bought and sold.
That ugly reality, frequently obscured in a popular culture that glosses over the sex industry, often leaves victims with deep and lasting wounds.
In the years after Aubrey’s escape, she earned a high school diploma, a college degree and then a master’s. She launched a career in counseling. In time, she married and has now jumped into raising a family.
So much of her life is good. But even now, moments of pain emerge. An occasional nightmare about what was done to her as a girl interrupts her sleep. A reluctance to watch television because of the frequent and easy portrayals of sexual exploitation imposes on her free time.
Aubrey, now living in Central Indiana, speaks to groups around the country about her journey and about the prevalence of sex trafficking in the United States. It’s an issue that often elicits a passionate response from people who vow to do all they can to fight back against human trafficking.
But along with the passion — the gut level reaction of outrage and disgust to the fact that children and adults are forced into the sex trade here and across the globe — needs to come sensitivity for and patience with the long, hard walk that awaits victims. The slog toward becoming a survivor is, as Aubrey described it, a marathon and not a sprint.
And it’s a marathon that can come with heartbreaking setbacks. For every person who emerges and finds healing, other victims never make it out — victims like Aubrey’s younger sister.
From the same dysfunctional home and with the same vulnerabilities as Aubrey, she also was recruited into the sex trade. Unlike Aubrey, she couldn’t move past the pain and took her own life at age 16.
“People need to understand how hard it is to heal,” Aubrey said. “It’s dirty, it’s messy. It’s so hard to relearn how to trust.”
Learning to trust again hasn’t been easy for Aubrey Lloyd — she knew her husband for 13 years before they finally married. It truly has been a marathon.
But it’s also clear that the victim is gone. The survivor remains.
Contact Swarens at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @tswarens