Updated: Jan 10
Clara wished that she was braver. She was the quiet girl in school. She was the one constantly overlooked and the invisible girl walking the halls. She was the girl who spent her time listening, not laughing. The one who reserved her words and hid inside her mind all hours of the day.
It was a Friday night. For most middle schoolers, they were all planning fun things to do for the weekend. Calling each other and giggling over crushes that they prank called. Clara was different. Her family unit was broken, and her time was spent between two households every week. And friends weren't genuine. However, snapchat was her savior.
With a cute avatar depicting her young self, she had added many people into her friend list. She didn't know half of them, but the thing was... they were people she chatted with. They cared about her and she enjoyed having her phone having constant notifications. In real life, her friends couldn't care less about what was going on in Clara's life. But these friends on social media actually asked her questions about herself. They talked to her and checked up on her wellbeing. Ironically, they were more involved than her own parents. And she had two sets of them.
So, Friday nights were mostly spent on her little phone. The smile on Clara's face, lit up by the bright screen, was enough to melt even the hardest heart. After all, with the heartbreak she had experienced in her life, wasn't the happiness in her eyes worth it?
Clara thought so. She didn't realize how dependent she was on her phone and the connections it brought. Two in particular. One was a girl her age, Tabitha. Or Tabby.... just like the cat that Clara wished she owned. It was perfect. *purrrfect* The other was a cute boy, but Ryan was in high school and a baseball player. She treasured every single chat they ever had. But, obviously being the quiet one, she knew that he was way out of her league.
It was a typical night. Clara was sprawled on her bed, excitedly gripping her treasured phone. Her fingers moving to the speed of lightening, she quickly responded to her two best friends; granted she only knew them online but it was more of a connection then any friendship she had ever experienced.
Giggling over a joke that Tabby just snapped, she leaned on the edge of her mattress and responded. Surprised, she looked in awe as Ryan started typing on their chat. He started sending hearts and going on and on about how cute she was! Shrieking, like really SHRIEKING, she ran around the room. What? How could this be?? Ryan, the popular kid in a pristine school across the state, was interested in her?!
Covering her mouth after hearing her mom yell at her through the closed door, she just smiled and her eyes teared up. Maybe she wasn't a lost cause like everybody said. Maybe her hopes and dreams of being accepted by someone, anyone really, wasn't impossible. Maybe someone out there found her worthy? Could that be?
Typing a thanks to Ryan, Clara just closed her eyes and held the phone tight to her chest. She didn't even know what to think. Literally on cloud-nine, she pulled her phone out again and stared at the blinding screen. A new snap popped up. Tabby. She wanted to meet up with her! For the first time since they started a 'relationship' a year ago, she wanted to meet! Tabby lived a whole state away, but was visiting family next month and had time to meet her!
Okay, was this really happening? Clara had been pouring out her emotions to Tabby for a year, and now she got to meet up with this sweetheart? Thinking that her little heart would burst with happiness, she said yes.
They set up a meeting. In a month, Clara would meet up with her bestie. And Ryan was snapping the cutest compliments to her. Slowly, he started asking for pictures of her in a swimsuit. After all, she had a gorgeous body that she hid in a sweatshirt, so he said. Giving in because it was Ryan, she embarrassingly sent him a picture. Granted, she didn't pose in a sexual way or anything. But she was scared of what he would say.
She didn't need to worry about that though. He loved it! He screenshot it and asked for another. Giddy, she was like, "What the heck, for him I'll do anything!" After posing in all the swimsuits she owned, he stopped asking for those type of pictures. Saddened and thinking that he no longer found her attractive, her already damaged self-confidence sloped to an all-time low.
And then, out of the blue, he typed into their private chat, "Cutieeeeee, I miss not seeing your beautiful face through the screen! Can you send me a picture of you in a swimsuit? It's hot out here and sitting by the pool, I'm trying to imagine you here with me." Ecstatic, Clara got undressed and put on her outfit that he loved the most.
Poor Ryan! Clara's heart went out to him. He obviously liked her, and wanted her virtually with him at all times! Who knew that she was that special? She had no idea before Ryan. Popular, handsome Ryan. Sighing at the thought of this hottie, Clara just imagined his delight at seeing her trim figure in the tiny outfit.
Without realizing it, Clara started compromising her modesty. Ryan stopped asking for swimsuit pics and transitioned to asking for her to pose in her bra and underwear. Shocked, Clara didn't want to. But quite brilliantly, Ryan pointed out that it wasn't that different from a swimsuit, it actually covered more! Agreeing and feeling like a fool for not giving in right away, she bravely sent him the pics he asked for. Drooling at her pictures, Ryan gave her such compliments that her blushing cheeks were rosy for the whole day. Feeling loved and treasured, Clara knew that somehow Ryan loved her for her. Nobody, aside from Tabby, loved her for herself.
Ryan blew up her phone with teasing compliments and flattering words. Eventually, to seal in the deal for his affection, they started swapping nudes. Sexting was the only way that he would respond so fast. Plus, he absolutely loved her petite body, long hair, and child-like features. Knowing that her parents would ground her for life if they ever knew, she kept Ryan a secret.
She dreamed about him and his beautiful smile for days at a time. She couldn't meet him because he was so far away, but her life was surrounded with thinking of him. Tabby was the only one who knew about Ryan. She kept Clara's secrets and encouraged her to try to win over the cutie completely. She told Clara that what she was doing wasn't wrong, and plus, everyone was doing it. With Tabby's approval, Clara happily sent Ryan pictures.
With Ryan loving her and Tabby's friendship keeping her happy, Clara's life was going great. She was distant from her friends at school, not that they noticed anyway. Her parents were just checking off a box when she stayed at their houses. Without her close friends on social media, Clara's world would surely crumble.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the night came for Clara to meet up with Tabby! Feeling ecstatic, Clara got dressed up and went to the park. Meeting up after dark, because Clara's mom needed to be asleep so that Clara could successfully get out of the house without being caught, the night was perfectly clear.
Running through the streets and finally coming to the park, the trees covered the moon and darkness set in. So excited she could hardly stand it, Clara went to the bench where Tabby was supposed to be. Sure enough, the bright girl came up and gave Clara a huge hug!
But she wasn't alone. Clara turned to see a massive man walk over from behind a tree. The dark sky covered his face, but a menacing look was visible. She had never seen this stranger before. He grabbed Clara's small arm and gripped her with a force so tight, she was sure all circulation had stopped. Grimacing, she whimpered and wanted to go home. He smiled and said, "Hey Clara."
Confused and terrified, she looked at Tabitha. "Well, Clara, meet the real Ryan."
Before she knew what was happening, big arms pulled her behind a bush. Helpless to stop what was happening, Clara tried to scream. Her young body was beaten, her virginity brutally taken, her soul crushed. The big man hit her across the head and Tabitha pulled her hair to keep her head trapped. But she had a phone in one hand... capturing the whole scene.
What felt like forever, finally ended with the two walking away. Leaving the broken and bruised girl alone, the darkness enveloped Clara. Crying in a ball, the little girl was confused and hurt beyond all recognition. Finding the courage, she ran towards her house. Sneaking in through the window, she cried herself to sleep, not understanding what had just happened.
In the morning, Clara looked at her phone. A snap from Tabby. Opening it with complete embarrassment and anger, she was in awe to see the words, "If you don't come back and meet with my pimp tonight, then I'll tell your mom that you snuck out and sent nudes to Ryan. Oh, and I'll put the video online and tag you." Feeling trapped and sickened, she didn't know what to do. Her parents would kill her if they ever found out. Her friends would call her a hoe. Her life would end. All hopes shattered, she wondered what choice she had?
Trying to sort it all out, her mind went into a blur... Ryan was a pimp? He didn't love her? They were tricking her the whole time? But she trusted them and they were her friends! Now her body was completely broken and her soul was beyond crushed. What should she do??
Unaware of what was going on behind the scenes... Clara's story is only one of many. There are tactics used against innocent victims to force them into sex trafficking. For years to come, Clara went on to prostitute out of her own house, meeting up with her new pimp every night. Her parents, unaware of what was happening under their own roof, went on to assume that Clara was just a quiet girl who liked doing her own thing. When in reality, Clara was crying out in her heart with every breath she took. Resigned to what her life had become, she kept the secrets buried deep inside her.
Trust goes so deep into the heart, that once it's imbedded, no matter what happens with that specific person in your life, it will affect you. For the better, or for the worse, once trust is established there becomes a bond. And traffickers use trust against children.
If only Clara was educated on the tactics used by sex traffickers... her life could have changed for the better. Social media is one of the ways to manipulate victims into doing their bidding. Tearing down moral boundaries is a must. Alienating from family and friends is essential. Blackmail is used to continue exploiting. Patience is valued, as it creates a sense of security. Instilling a sense of hopelessness is always used.
Knowing the signs of trafficking can stop the exploitation of our children.
Education can save lives. Become aware.