It's unfortunate that when a teenage girl goes missing, it's usually believed that she's a runaway. However, deadly expectations can come along with that false assumption...
Fifteen-year-old Hailey Jones wants nothing more than to feel safe and secure, but being raised by a strict mother makes her self-confidence worse. In a desperate attempt to escape the problems she’s hidden from her mother, she runs away from home. When the police learn that she’s a runaway, they assume she’s not in danger, and that alone leads to deadly consequences.
Veronica, Hailey’s mother, believes she is doing her best to raise her daughter. Although Hailey starts to do a few rebellious things, she chunks it up to her being a typical teenager. She’s so consumed with her bakery and speed dating to find the right man, she doesn’t notice her daughter’s cry for attention. She faces a mother’s worst nightmare once Hailey goes missing. While looking for her daughter, she begins to discover some of Hailey’s deepest, darkest secrets that shakes her to a core.
Tatiana, a therapist for human trafficking victims and their families, has always taken her job to heart. Hailey’s story catches her attention and when she learns of her own personal connection to her, she reaches out to Veronica. She joins this mother on a quest to find her daughter, all while drawing the connections between some of her other clients. As her eyes begin to open even more, she realizes that if Hailey isn’t found soon enough, she’ll be upheld to some deadly expectations.
Chapter 2 Tatiana
I hit the locks on my car as I stepped out into my father’s driveway. I smiled at my step-mother Unique, who held the door open for me, as I made my way up to the porch. We hugged and she kissed my cheek after I walked in. I sighed, inhaling the delicious smelling aroma of the meal she prepared for the evening. I recognized the Italian seasonings that danced in my nostrils, telling me she had prepared her famous Lemon Chicken Ricotta Pasta with Parmesan cheese. She hadn’t made that in a while, so my mouth watered in anticipation of popping the first forkful into my mouth. I headed straight the kitchen and saw she prepared broccoli and garlic bread to go with it.
“Where’s my dad?” I asked, noticing he hadn’t come greet me yet.
“He’s in the man cave with T-Streets, Damu, and Frost shooting pool. I’m sure they’ll be running up here in a minute to eat dinner. Frost asked me if dinner was ready about ten minutes ago,” Unique chuckled.
“Yeah, we both know Frost ain’t passing up no meals,” I laughed right along with her.
“What’s that mess y’all talking about my boy?” my daddy said, coming up from the basement.
He came right over to hug and kiss me on the top the head. A huge smile spread across my face because even at twenty-six-years old, I was still a daddy’s girl. Besides my best friend Essence and Unique, my daddy was all I had. Of course his boys, who I called my uncles, were family to me as well, but that still weren’t very many people in this world I could depend on. I was grateful for who I had though.
My father, MB, used to be a big time drug dealer and had the streets of St. Louis on lock. T-Streets, Damu, and Frost used to work for him, but they all left the street life behind. My father now owned a landscaping business and my uncles also did honest work for a living by working for his company. My father’s involvement in the streets had me caught up in some mess because one of his enemies was on some revenge type stuff. That enemy turned out to be my mother’s fiance, Dyson, who kidnapped me and was going to traffic me. That’s how I met my best friend Essence. She was one of Dyson’s many human trafficking victims. My mother and I had no idea Dyson was off into that and my father didn’t recognize Dyson because he did a good job of changing his appearance. Long story short, I’m alive today to tell my story and I work as a therapist, counseling victims of human and sex trafficking. Many people clump them together and say they’re one in the same, but they’re not.
“You been by the cemetery yet Lil’ Bit?” my father asked as he helped Unique set the table.
Lil’ Bit was the nickname my parents gave me as a child because I was so short and skinny compared to other kids my age. Years later, even when I caught up with my peers, the name still stuck.
“Not yet. I was planning to this week though,” I told him.
We were coming upon the anniversary of both my mother’s and boyfriend Jeremy’s death. Since their death dates were only two weeks apart, although they died within a year of each other, it was easier for me to make one trip around that time than to torture myself and go twice back-to-back. My mother died of ovarian cancer and Jeremy died in a car accident right in front of my mother’s house. My life hasn’t been the same without either of them, but I’ve made it this far and I knew both of them were looking down on me and feeling proud.
“Let me know when you decide to go. I want to go with you,” he said.
I nodded in response. My uncles came out the basement, each giving me a hug before they took a seat at the table. I watched as Unique and my dad fixed everyone’s plates together and stole a couple of kisses. I loved how they worked in unison as a team and some day I wanted that with someone special. For now I still didn’t trust anyone and I wasn’t ready to date yet. I’ve been asked on several dates throughout the years, but I always turned them down. Unique told me I didn’t need to rush, but I would know when I was ready. I was a twenty-six-year-old virgin, but deep down I was proud of that.
We enjoyed dinner, sharing many laughs and catching up on things. I came around my family as much as possible, but with work consuming most of my time, I saw them once every couple of weeks. I wanted to do better and I promised myself I would, but for now I would continue to cherish these moments. Unique fixed me a plate to go, as well as a slice of grape Crush cake she made. I had to admit, hers tasted way better than the store bought kind. My daddy walked me to my car and I promised to call him after work tomorrow.
As much as I’ve traveled the world and stood before crowds telling my story, I still felt nervous each time. My hands were sweating, my heart was racing, and I was shaking a little. The only thing that helped calm my nerves every time was that Essence was always with me, sharing her story as well, so that kept all the attention from being on me the entire time.
Our audience usually involved other human trafficking victims or teenage girls we wanted to do everything we could to save. Essence was also therapist like me and we worked for an organization called Follow My Footprints. We worked closely with trafficking victims and their families, but also launched a prevention campaign. We both received our master degree’s from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and were hired right out of graduate school. I enjoy my job, and although the mission behind it is sad, I wouldn’t give it up for anything up in the world. I am a firm believer that we go through things for a reason and God wanted to use my experience to help others. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but the reality is, our world is full of some sick individuals. Meanwhile, I’ll keep doing my part to make a difference any way that I can.
Today Essence and I were at Carnahan High School sharing our stories with both the young men and women at that school. It was rare our audience included males, but both Essence and I believed it was necessary for them to be present. Many people always assumed it was only females being trafficked, when indeed it happens to people of any gender, race, age, and economic background. Predators prey on the weak and vulnerable and they don’t discriminate when choosing their next victim. While it’s true some may have preferences from time-to-time, nowadays they’re going for whoever they can get.
Essence went first and I noticed both teachers and students drying their eyes when she finished. This epidemic was real and Essence was being raw with them. She talked about both the sexual and physical abuse and although it made people cringe, they needed to hear this. When it was my turn to share my story, the tears began falling again. Mine was slightly different because I was fortunate and never had to do a sexual act with anyone, but I was still kidnapped and came close. There was still a lot of psychological damage behind what was done to me, especially since I was being taken advantage of by someone I loved and trusted. I could tell today was a real eye-opener for the audience and we served our purpose today.
When we got back to the office, I was told my one o’clock client had arrived for our counseling session. I met Jasmine last week for our initial session, but that was mostly for an intake and brief introductions. She couldn’t stay long so we didn’t get far and she promised she’d be back this week. I was glad she kept her word because there was something about this girl that I could tell she needed help processing what was on her mind. Like so many of the girls I saw, she had this innocence about her and I hate that she had been violated in such a way. She was a survivor and I am grateful yet another person made it out alive.
“Good afternoon, Jasmine,” I said when I came to meet her in the waiting room.
“Hi, Tatiana,” she smiled softly as she stood up to walk back to my office with me.
“How are you feeling today?” I asked her, as she took a seat.
“I’m okay, I guess,” she replied.
“Tell me what makes you feel like you guess you’re okay as opposed to knowing you’re okay,” I prompted her.
“There’s a lot on my mind. I almost didn’t come today because I don’t want to revisit everything, but I know deep down I need to get these things off my chest to help me move forward and feel better,” she shrugged.
“I tell you what, Jasmine. We will not talk about anything you don’t want to talk about. I’m opening the floor to you, and share whatever you feel like sharing. If something makes you uncomfortable, you can stop. We can even sit in silence whenever you feel the need to. Is that alright with you?”
“I’d like that, Tatiana. Thank you.”
“No problem. Begin whenever you’re ready.”
“I’m still angry this happened to me. Sometimes I feel like it’s my fault for not being more careful and watching my surroundings more.”
“First, I want to say that none of this is your fault. I do agree there are certain precautionary steps everyone can take regarding many different things in their lives. However, someone trafficking you is their fault, not yours.”
“I could have fought back or tried to get away sooner. Instead I was weak and let those who violated me do such vile things. Sometimes I hate myself for that.”
“Do you think you would feel differently if you fought back?”
“What do you mean?”
“Would you still hate yourself?”
“I don’t know.”
“Would fighting back have saved you from going through what you did?”
“I really don’t know, Tatiana.”
“If anything, it was your instinct to survive not to fight back. You don’t know what the people you encountered were capable of. It’s easy to say you should have fought and of course people who have never been in your shoes will give their input and say what they would have done, but the reality is, no one knows what they’ll do until they’re faced with that problem head-on.”
“You have a point. Fighting may have caused me to get hurt or killed.”
“Besides being angry at yourself, how else do you feel now that you’re free?”
“I’m happy to be alive and I’m proud of myself for doing what I could to escape,” Jasmine said, sounding hopeful.
“So let’s focus on those two things, being happy and proud. I agree it took a lot of courage of break free and I’m also proud of you that you did. I am also happy that you’re hear today and that you’re a survivor. When you begin to feel angry, what are some ways you can retract that feeling and get back to a happy or proud state of mind?” I asked her, using a technique called motivational interviewing.
Jasmine and I continued to converse back and forth throughout the remainder of the counseling session. She shared with me how it all started for her and that she ended up in a different city. She had many opportunities to break free, but she knew the perpetrator was brainwashing her. One day she snapped back to reality and ran away from him. Her story was deep and unfortunately many people’s story don’t end the way hers did. After almost an hour, we ended our session and scheduled her next appointment. Before leaving, I noticed something I wanted to ask her about.
“I noticed you shared a few things with me about your family, but you failed to mention the name Frank. I see that name is tattooed right over your breast,” I told her.
She wore a low-cut shirt where anyone who looked her way would notice it. She looked down and once she saw it was visible, she adjusted her blouse. She didn’t say anything, but just grabbed her things and walked out the door. Maybe it was too soon, but I figured one day she’d be open and tell me who Frank was and the significance of her tattoo.