Lexie’s Story: Build Trust to Protect Children
Trigger Warning: This article contains information about sexual abuse which may be triggering to survivors.
My trafficker became my friend when I was nine. He was 15 or 16 and my family was letting him come over for meals. They never fathomed that the kindness of feeding and loving a neglected teenager could result in so much trauma and pain, or that he was also part of a crime syndicate that was trafficking children in quiet neighborhoods.
My family’s ignorance and relative socioeconomic privilege blinded them to the fact that bad things don’t just happen to “bad families” or to “poor families.” This was my greatest vulnerability. When they thought I was out riding my bike around the neighborhood, I was often being raped, filmed, and brutally traumatized—all thanks to the influence of porn on social behavior and sexual expression.
For the longest time, I could only remember flashes of horrific moments of what happened to me. To this day, there are still new parts of my story leaking out into the forefront of my consciousness. The brain blocks what is too much to process, and sexual exploitation and trafficking as a preteen honestly still is too much to process even now, in my late twenties.
In the early 2000s, there was a real sex tape being sold on the streets of Chicago which showed the award-winning R&B artist, R-Kelley raping a 14-year-old girl for 40 minutes. I grew up in the suburbs of that city, and the tape must have inspired my trafficker because he had me sneak over to his house with the intention to re-create it with one of his friends. At the time, I had the impression that he cared about me and in my mind counted him as a boyfriend. Although, I often reasoned that he likely had a real girlfriend in his high school.
This isn’t an isolated occurrence in the suburbs. Child sex abuse material is running rampant on the internet and porn’s wide acceptability among teenagers is only increasing that problem. Tube sites, similar to YouTube, have made it more common than ever for young people to experience sexual exploitation at numbers far beyond what we have yet been able to gather. Some call it Child Abuse Material while others call it revenge porn, sextortion, or sexual exploitation. It is all the same: children under the age of 18 being digitally pimped out.
What’s additionally alarming is the specific categorization of “young,” “middle school,” “petite,” and other depictions of children and the tolerance to create such content as if it will not have ramifications on human behavior offline. The rate at which those terms are sought out is horrifying, and the demand for more content involving children or actors that look as young as possible is larger than most realize. Our current laws around this material do not take into account research and new data that do reveal the connection between rape, aggressive behavior, and domestic violence to porn.
That recording of my gang rape inspired by child abuse material from a celebrity was used to advertise me in the community to the highest bidder. Before each man would take off his suit jacket on his lunch break to rape a 10-year-old, I was forced to watch porn of women depicted to be young children to know what was going to be expected of me. These women would be in pigtails, dressed like children, and speak in a childlike manner. I think that was one of the worst parts. The dreadful anticipation of knowing that what I saw was going to happen to me next, in real life. To ensure my compliance, I was often drugged with what I can only assume were roofies.
Every time I was raped, I always cried in silence so I wouldn’t get in trouble. Buyers didn’t like it when I cried—well, most of them. Some were extra violent. If a buyer was into hitting, suffocation, or anything that would obviously harm me my traffickers would enable them to simulate it by hitting the bed, wall, or floor directly next to me. This type of behavior is exactly what you will find as common practice in the majority of porn. One guy who wanted to re-enact a bathroom rape porn scene hit the wall so hard it made a hole and he repeatedly pretended like he was going to kick me. I was always hoping one of them would kill me so it could be over. By age 11, I was completely suicidal and would struggle with that desire for the rest of my life.
Even when I wasn’t in their presence I was haunted with night terrors, body sensations, anxiety, and depression which lead to full-blown disorders later on—but most of all the threat that kept me compliant. At age 10, when all of this began, I was told that if I said anything to anyone they would do the same thing to my little sister. I was, and still am, willing to die for her and take whatever abuse necessary if it would keep her out of it. I was reminded of this threat often.
I was never given the opportunity to escape. Law enforcement never found out. Instead, I was rejected. At age 13, my body changed and the fantasy was broken. These men wanted to rape a little girl. They resented my developing breasts and one by one they violently reacted as a final goodbye. During that time I was spat on, cussed out, attempted to be murdered via suffocation, and purposefully given an STD by a, particularly evil buyer. As if the trauma of being commoditized wasn’t enough, having my womanhood rejected so violently added an additional layer of trauma that manifested in deep self-hatred.
Even those who spend minimal time on the internet can observe the rampant objectification of women, especially young girls. The 20-year progression from my experience to what is going on now with no legislative reform or accountability has produced a pandemic of more child abuse material and sex trafficking cases than we have specialized agents. The sex industry in all of its forms is predatorial by nature using glamor, seduction, and false empathy to lure children. It’s all a facade and parents must prepare their children for the inevitable approach of a predator.
In my story, you may have noticed that my trafficker was more-so the age of a peer. This is very common and we must not miseducate children and teens about who is and isn’t dangerous based on age, socio-economic status, race, religion, job title, or gender. Anyone could have an ulterior motive, so it’s important to teach them boundaries and to trust their instincts. Even children have primal protective instincts.
The first time I was raped by my trafficker, he lured me over to his house with the promise of batteries for a game. I had a sinking feeling upon arriving that something was off but excused it away to maintain connection. Too often, we tell children how to feel and interpret their senses for them. A gaslighting style of parenting might make things easier in the moment, but this habit of thinking we know them fully is false. We do not live in their bodies with their nervous systems, even if we are very connected and intuitive.
Children must be empowered to trust their own intuition and offered opportunities to practice asserting their boundaries as an expression of their developing autonomy.
I grew up only being told when I was hungry or full. Whether I liked a food or activity. When I had to work or play. Who is and isn’t safe to talk to or befriend, usually based on demographics. I was never taught how to respond if someone touched me in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. I never had clarifying conversations on what is and isn’t appropriate interactions. No one told me about sexual expectations in “romantic” relationships or how to determine what I was and wasn’t ready for. The potential consequences of taking and sending nude photos weren’t explained to me. Though I never experienced revenge porn in the sense of having any images uploaded to a porn tube site, that I know of, I did have boyfriends share private images with their friends. Most of all, I was never invited to share if anything hurtful happened to me.
It seems like common sense that all kids and teens should just know that they can come to their parents, but it really does need to be spelled out for them. Relationships based on assumptions lack intimacy which is essential for vulnerable conversations to occur. Most of the time, kids are more concerned with getting in trouble with their parents because they care so deeply about their parents’ perception of them, so they will conceal their struggles. Make sure the kids in your life, whether yours personally or ones around you, know that you can be a trusted adult especially when they are afraid of getting in trouble or have ended up in a situation that’s hurting them.
Our children and teens must also be prepared for the bombardment of a highly sexualized culture or they will continually fall victim to it. Whether it be early exposure to porn, a predatorial peer, or what seems like a kind person on their favorite app or game who expresses care and interest in them. We must walk them through the new normal scenarios so they won’t freeze and have a roadmap on how to respond.
Protecting children is an active part of parenting that involves so much more than monitoring apps and filters. It involves building a mutual relationship built on trust, intimacy, and vulnerability. That is the most important thing my family and community could have done for me. If they had, maybe my abusers would be in jail or it wouldn’t have happened at all.
Lexie is a human rights activist committed to making our world a safer and more empowering place for the next generation. She received her degree in psychology and currently utilizes her expertise as the communications manager for NPO Exodus Cry. She is a safe and welcoming place for allies and survivors. You may reach her on Instagram: @lextheadvocate
If you have been affected by sexual violence and need help, we urge you to reach out to RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE or hotline.rainn.org/online.