Getting Out, Not So Easy
By Adrian Walker, Boston Globe Columnist
The Boston Globe, May 8, 2010
Getting Out, Not So Easy
Kiara is a slightly built 18-year-old kid with a soft-spoken, thoughtful manner, a big, winning smile, and a shattering life story she is brave enough to share.
She did just that one morning this week on the 26th floor of a downtown skyscraper, in the conference room of a name-brand national law firm, and this is how she began: “When I got into ‘the life’ I was 14.’’
By “the life’’ she was referring to prostitution; Kiara is the name she was known by when it was her life. To a shocked group of city movers and shakers, she described the sordid reality of child sexual exploitation.
The occasion was a fund-raiser for Roxbury Youthworks, a social services agency that devotes a big chunk of its energy and resources to rescuing young girls from prostitution. But how does a child fall into prostitution to begin with? That was one of the questions Kiara was on hand to answer.
“I never felt like I fit in,’’ she said. “I was never accepted.’’
In junior high, she became a class clown, in a failed bid to win over her peers. She was taken away from her mother, who was a drug addict at the time. She was sent to a state-operated group home and ran away.
Like lots of girls who run away, she discovered she had only one sure way to survive: selling her body. And she met the man who said he could teach her how to do that, her first pimp.
“He looked like he could be in a video,’’ Kiara said. “He told me he could make me a woman. I always wanted to be a woman.’’
Kiara’s story is unusual, but not nearly as unusual as it ought to be. Mia Alvarado, who runs Roxbury Youthworks, estimates that at least 300 Suffolk County teenagers have fallen into prostitution in the past two years.
The vast majority of them have run away, from biological families, foster families, or state care. Some, like Kiara, have run away from a combination of these.
“I just wanted to be normal,’’ she said. “and when I ran away, I would feel somewhat normal.’’
So she ran, to New York, to Atlantic City. She would get arrested, returned to Massachusetts, and eventually run away again.
Kiara realized early on that she wanted out of the life. But getting out didn’t prove nearly as easy as getting in.
First of all, her reunions with her family, the one she had been taken away from, were disastrous. “It was hard to go see my family,’’ she said. “I couldn’t hug the little kids. I was nasty.’’ When she called her mother, begging her family to come to New York and save her, no one returned her call.
Then, there was the matter of her business associates. Pimps don’t really accept letters of resignation.
Even after hers was arrested by the FBI, she wasn’t free.
“I didn’t have any money. But I did know how to work. So I went to Atlantic City and worked.’’
She was arrested there, which was the best thing that could have happened to her.
Because when she was returned to the Department of Children and Families the last time, something clicked.
She saw a way out and finally took it.
She became one of the lucky ones. Kiara is graduating from a suburban Boston high school in a few weeks. Though she remains in a group home, she says she is on much better terms with her family.
She has been accepted at Bridgewater State College for this fall. She told me she wants to study psychology and become a counselor.
“Being in school is a great experience,’’ she said. “It’s new to me, even though it’s average for everyone else. I can’t wait to start college.’’
Needless to say, she doesn’t miss anything about the life she’s left behind.
“I feel like there’s more I can be,’’ she said with that big, big smile.
Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.