Journalism

Claira’s story: A ‘broken, normal’ woman preyed upon by ‘Life’

This article was originally published by Montgomery Advertiser, in partnership with The Fuller Project, on February 26th, 2019, by Fuller Project Correspondent Rikha Sharma Rani.

A human trafficking victim is shown near her home in Alabama on Wednesday February 6, 2019. (Photo: Mickey Welsh / Advertiser)

Each Trafficking Survivor’s Story is Unique. But What Happened to Claira is Also a Classic Example of How Human Trafficking Happens in America.

A worn-out Pocahontas doll and some clothes are what Claira remembers bringing with her.

She was 5 years old. Her parents were drug addicted. Social services picked her up from her parents’ South Carolina home. For the next two years, she guesses she stayed in four foster homes.

Claira, who now lives in Alabama and requested that her last name not be used to protect her privacy, was adopted by a couple who knew her mother. Her adoptive father called her “Little Melody,” after her birth mother, and would taunt, “You’re going to end up just like her.”

By age 14, her adoptive parents had divorced, and she lived with her adoptive dad. He cussed at her, drank heavily and once spit food in her face. Soon after, her birth mother died of a drug overdose. Then her birth dad did, too.

After a childhood riddled with sexual and physical abuse, Claira was looking for a way out. Though every situation is unique, her story is a classic example of how human trafficking can happen in the U.S.

Survivors of domestic sex trafficking are most often American-born with a history of abuse. They’re usually young women and girls, but men and boys are victimized too. LGBTQ and foster youth are especially at risk of exploitation, which commonly happens in private homes, at truck stops, in adult night clubs, at motels and at massage parlors.

Claira and her friends met a group of men at a mall. They started hanging out, drinking and playing dominoes. Claira dated one of the men, though she wouldn’t use that term today to describe their relationship.

“Things got rough at home and that opened the door for him to be my hero,” Claira said. She ran away to go live with the man she thought was her boyfriend, who was 23.  That same night, she found out he was a pimp who called himself “Life.”

Claira was still a minor and dreaded the thought of going back into foster care, where she knew she would be shuffled from house to house like a piece of used furniture. “Basically, I felt stuck,” Claira said. “Like this is my life now. I have no other option. This is my way out of this hellhole at home.”

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