One day, I decided to take a leap of faith and walk away from the industry that I thought I knew so well due to an unplanned pregnancy. It’s the industry where it’s all been done before, it’s all predictable, it’s all I knew, or so I thought.
You see, I am learning, now, just how deep the struggle has been trying to survive through this thinly disguised misogynistic life.
Surviving a traumatic childhood tainted with sexual exploitation left me at a loss of life skills. I can testify to how long and hard the unveiling process can take for someone who was once a seemingly “troubled” child. How long it will take for a runaway to find a place to call home in the world and in her own heart. How long it will take to get the death grip of false security and desperation to release from the commercial sex business. How long it will take to find one’s worth after a lifetime of trauma and never-ending hurdles.
I’m living it. I have invited the world to watch it unfold.
I had dreams of being a performer as a little girl. That was my number one dream. I knew I’d be a dancer of some sort or an actress. My most prized and watched home video as a child was of my whole family producing “Circus Kids.” My dad played the music, my mom was a bear, my little brother was the trick rider, and I, of course, was the elegant tight rope walker/dancer wearing a red bikini.
I was the star in my mind. In this moment, there was no pain, no fighting, and way before thoughts of suicide. I was free still.
This is one of the few happy memories I can remember as a child. I trained hard as a dancer. I was a natural, they would always say, but year after year I died a little more inside. Until one day, I quit. I’ve tried to go back, but felt so bad about myself, and I carried that heavy baggage with me.
Throughout my time as a runaway child, escaping the horror of my home, I was exploited in more ways than one. Finding myself institutionalized multiple times a year, I got used to the system meanwhile missing out on normal activities like school and socialization. By the time I found the adult industry as an 18 year-old child still, I thought so low of myself from all the years of abuse.
Blaming myself above all else, I let the self-hatred sink deep. I thought the adult business was all I was good for and it was the only way I could have a tiny piece of that dream I once had. Of course the manipulation and exploitation I experienced during my life had gravely contributed to this involvement, but I never told anyone about this being my cop-out deal with myself. I needed to justify my “choices.” I was making the choices now right? Or was I?
The journey through the child welfare system was just the beginning of my recovery back then. It has taken years of hard personal work, exhaustion of resources, and one helping hand at a time to allow me to keep trudging forward.
There is hope, but our work as child welfare advocates is far from over. Stories like mine give insight into the resilience factors we might be able to cultivate in youth, the actual time it takes for successful outcomes, and not to mention the prevalence of violent sexual exploitation in suburban America.
Robin Rivera serves as the in-house researcher and trainer for Runaway Girl, FPC., where they are currently invested in sustainable community-based responses to the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC).