At the ripe old age of 19, Ms. Renegade found herself selling her body to survive. Now age 22, Ms. Renegade, who prefers not to use her real name, has left “the life.” Her cautionary tale is an insider’s view of what happens to vulnerable teens.
Ms. Renegade, a high school dropout at the time, was forced from her home in a neighboring state. Her mom has severe medical, emotional and social issues, and was unable to provide a healthy home environment. Ms. Renegade made her way to a friend’s apartment in East New York with $10 in her pocket and no form of identification. After two weeks in Brooklyn, her friend began pressuring her to find a job. “I couldn’t find a job without ID,” she said. “If I got a paycheck, I would not have been able to cash it with no ID.”
With nowhere to turn, Ms. Renegade decided to sell her body for money. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” she said. “I thought I could control the situation.” Ms. Renegade began communicating with an escort service on Craig’s List. Her friend found out and did not approve. After living with her friend for three weeks, Ms. Renegade found herself with no place to stay.
Ms. Renegade began riding the trains at night. “I ended up at the 77th Precinct on Utica Ave. I told them I don’t have anywhere to go. I’m tired. I’m hungry.” She was told to walk to a women’s shelter down the street. The woman’s shelter wouldn’t accept her because she was not 21.
The shelter referred Ms. Renegade to Covenant House on 42nd Street “which is the worst area to shelter teens. You can’t be in the shelter during the day. Covenant House doesn’t have suggestions of where to go during the day. Just, ‘Get out. Come back at 7pm.’ Once you leave the shelter, Port Authority is right there. Pimps know young girls run away to NYC and come out right there.” Ms. Renegade said the pimps approach the girls asking, “Do you have anywhere to stay? Are you hungry?” According to Ms. Renegade, a lot of young girls get trafficked that way – out of Covenant House and out of Port Authority.
“I was at Covenant House for one night. This is dead end,” she said, assessing the situation for herself. “I linked back up with the escort agency. They gave me a place to stay at the in-call house. There wasn’t a split on the cash. I just had to give them $150 a day. That’s three grand a month. I would pay them to drive me and provide security.”
Ms. Renegade said through the escort service, she sold herself to “all types of guys. Businessmen, young guys, Jewish men. The orthodox are some of the best payers
“I was in that situation for about two months,” she said. She didn’t accumulate a large amount of money because “fast money goes fast. I think some of the reason you spent the money so fast is because subconsciously you’re not comfortable with how it came into your hands, so you want it to leave your hands. I was just using the money to survive.”
Ms. Renegade is grateful to a couple of next door neighbors who intervened, and through a series of steps, got her out of the situation. They took her to the 73rd Precinct on East New York Ave. seeking assistance. Renegade got emotional as she described how she felt she was being ridiculed by NYPD personnel after disclosing she was being trafficked, harassed by a pimp, and in fear of her life. She feels they did not help her because she was a prostitute. She was told she could not get an “order of protection” against Lucky because she did not know his real name. As she was leaving the precinct in tears, another officer coming on-duty escorted her back inside and referred her to Safe Horizon which began her sojourn out of “the life.”
She ultimately ended up at Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), a program that assists girls ages 13-21 leave commercial sex exploitation. Ms. Renegade took advantage of every service GEMS offered. She earned her GED and is looking forward to attending college. She obtained a job referral and has been working in human resources for the past two years. She also moved into a stable, safe environment, and is in a committed, supportive relationship.
While at GEMS, Ms. Renegade observed girls who were as young as age 13. She says those girls have a difficult time finding their way because they were trafficked before they developed a sense of self. Since GEMS has begun to work with young ladies over the age of 21, Ms. Renegade is optimistic those girls will have the opportunity to grow into confident women without worrying about aging out of the program.
The entire experience has turned Ms. Renegade into a staunch feminist. She is an activist for a variety of women’s issues. Ms. Renegade has zero tolerance for street sexual harassment and being treated like an object by stray men. “We need to take a stand against it,” she said. “We need to speak up when we see there women being harassed.”