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Escaping Forced Prostitution And Leaving The Shame Behind

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It hasn't been easy for Barbara Amaya to talk about her past. She was abused at home as a child, and when she was 12 she ran away to Washington, D.C. — where she was picked up by sex traffickers and forced into prostitution.

"I fell into the hands of a woman. I was sitting in the park and she just started talking to me," Barbara tells her daughter, Bianca Belteton, on a visit to StoryCorps in Arlington, Va.

"I was hungry and cold and young, and she took me to an apartment. Before I knew it, they put a wig on me, took me to the corner of 14th and I [streets], and they sold me to a trafficker."

He took her to New York, Barbara says, where she had to do a set amount of business each night for the next nine years.

"Traffickers drill into your head, 'Look what you've been doing. How would you ever think you could have a family? Nobody's ever going to love you but me,' " Barbara says.

By the time she was 20, Barbara was addicted to heroin and weighed 90 pounds. "I probably wouldn't have lasted very much longer, but something inside me wanted to live," she says. "And I left New York. I had a sixth-grade education. I had to go back to school carrying all this shame."

For decades Barbara told no one about her past, including her daughter — until Bianca ran away. "All I could think about was what happened to me when I ran away," Barbara tells her. "Once you heard the whole story for the first time, how did you feel?"

"I was proud of you at that point, to know that you're OK with talking about it," says Bianca, now 24. "Whenever you're in a bad situation ... and you've been in a lot of bad situations — you always find a way to fix it. So I think that you're really strong for that."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.

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