GAYLORD — For most people, a nightmare lasts for mere seconds, but for one Gaylord woman and another Detroit woman, it took up most of their childhoods.
Mary,* 31, a stay-at-home mom, is a survivor of child sex trafficking. (*The names used in this story are false to protect their identities) The nightmare encompassed 13 years of her childhood. She was forced into it by her own grandfather, while the rest of the family ignored the signs of what was happening.
Her family lived in Belleville, Mich. at the time. Mary’s parents both had to work to make a living for them and their family. They also started abusing drugs and alcohol to deal with stress. So, her grandfather offered to help raise her. He was an executive at a large automotive corporation and knew a lot of people. To most, he was a pillar of the community.
“I was three when it started,” explains Mary. “Some memories are cloudy, but unfortunately I still remember a lot at three. It started with playing a game of tag. There were many men, and a few girls. I didn’t realize this wasn’t a normal game. A group of men would tag the girls they wanted.
Some men picked me and another girl [Sarah]. We were the youngest two.”
“Yes. All the girls would run around and guys caught us. It was like freeze tag or whatever that is called. I guess it was a a way to relax new girls,” says Sarah, who is now struggling to break away from a life of prostitution, the only “job” she has ever known.
“They blindfolded us and took us to a location I am not sure of still to this day,” says Mary. “These men took turns breaking us in. I remember it lasting what seemed like forever. I believe I may have blacked out at one point. I remember the screams the most. I don’t know if they were coming from the other girl, or myself.”
There were around 15 children involved in this particular sex trafficking ring, but many were in and out of the ring quickly. Mary estimates the houses were run by about three men, but because she was blindfolded until led to her work room, she can only guess. There were some women around who tried to console the girls, tell them to just relax and would help clean the girls up.
“[Sarah] and I were kept together when we first started because the men gave us lessons. After a few weeks, we were separated. Some men asked for a couple girls, so we did work together off and on.
“[Forcing us to have sex with strangers] was a daily occurrence. We did it for hours at a time. I would lose track of time. Eventually I lost track of the number of men a day. They would come in, often one after another. I had little time in between. Sometimes I would be cleaned up in between. It depended on what the man wanted and paid for.”
“During the school year, I went to school and ‘worked’ after. My grandfather would offer to watch me. He would take me from school to these locations,” Mary said. Her grandfather’s sex ring kept their moving locations so as not to be caught. Usually they used abandoned houses, but sometimes motels.
The men used fear to keep the girls in line. The men told them their families would hate them and not believe them.
“Often I was told my family would be killed if I said anything. My grandfather once killed a cat in front of us to show us an example of what would happen to our family.”
Sarah remembers the incident well, “We threatened to tell because [Mary] had been raped all day non-stop and was bleeding really bad. He took the cat and cut its neck off and said he would do the same to our family if we
In Mary’s case, however, the word did eventually get out. When she was 8 years-old, she told a cousin, who later told the school. Terrified of what might happen, Mary denied everything and it was dropped.
Somehow, five years later a social worker came across the report. It took many months to build a case because Mary’s grandfather was still very
much a part of her life.
“My parents were very convinced I was making up stuff because he was found not guilty, and he would never do that. He just got better at covering it up. I started believing them and backtracked on a lot of what happened.”
The prosecution lacked proof and Mary’s grandfather was well liked by residents there. Since the girls were blindfolded, they couldn’t identify exact buildings which were used. Mary’s grandfather had no connection to any of the buildings.
“My grandfather was a great manipulator. He always was one step a head of everyone. He sweet-talked his way out of everything. He was very well liked.”
In the end, the jury found her grandfather not guilty, but he did lose his job with the automotive corporation. Still, he continued his child sex trafficking ring and kept Mary involved.
“Courts are getting better at prosecuting sexual abuse cases,” says Gaylord counselor Kathryn Holmes, L.P.C., who has had training in helping survivors of human sex trafficking. “But it’s a very traumatic for the child when they are facing their abuser in court. Some states allow the children to be accompanied by a companion dog. They can talk to the dog instead of