IT’S FRONT LINE FRIDAY! Today I want to introduce you to a speaker, writer, abolitionist, and survivor of sex trafficking, Jerome Elam.
When did you get involved in the fight against sex trafficking?
It was after 20+ years of therapy, trying to cope with my own situation. My mother was 15 when she had me. My father was in the military and when he returned from overseas their short marriage fell apart. Alcohol flowed freely through the house which opened the door for domestic abuse. Their marriage didn’t last long after. My mother divorced and married over and over. I never knew about my real father until much later in life.
How did this lifestyle lead to you being trafficked?
My mother met a man who swept her off her feet. He was kind to me, bought me gifts, and gave me the attention I desperately sought. I didn’t know at the time he was grooming me.
How did he go from being your step father to your trafficker?
First, he molested me. Then he took pictures of me nude and threatened to show them to my mother. Not long afterwards he took me to meet a group of his friends. It was really a pedophile ring. I was beaten and raped by all of them. From there I was trafficked regularly. My mother was so deep in the bottom of a bottle, she never noticed.
Why didn’t anyone notice what was happening to you?
To the outside world we looked like a normal family. I would go to school and go home. Sometimes he would pull me out of school to see clients. When I had bruises he would explain them away by telling the school I was accident prone.
How did he keep you from telling someone at school or outside of the home?
He threatened my mother’s life. He also kept me strung out on cocaine and vodka. There were three times I tried to speak up and tell someone. The first time he broke my nose. The second time he broke three of my ribs. The third time he killed my favorite pet in front of me. After that, I stopped telling. His tactics worked.
How did you finally escape?
After seven years of this, I’d had enough. I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt helpless and didn’t know what to do. I got the sleeping pills out of my mother’s medicine cabinet and took them with a bottle of vodka. I remember having a dream, or I thought it was a dream, where God told me I had a purpose and it wasn’t my time yet. I had work to do. I woke up in the hospital. The suicide attempt was a red flag that finally got me removed from the home into a safer environment.
Is it difficult to share your story?
No, because every time I share people contact me and tell me that I’m telling their story. One man contacted me and said,
I’m shaking right now because you’ve just shared my story.”
I have had the opportunity to speak in the United States and abroad. It doesn’t matter the venue, people always approach me. By me sharing it gives others the opportunity to finally self identify and share their story.
Why don’t we hear more about boys being rescued or stories about male victims?
Boys fail to self identify. It’s all about the male ego and masculinity. Men will say it was their choice to protect their ego. There’s a huge stigma that if you’re male and you were trafficked then you must be homosexual. People don’t realize that 40% of the customers male trafficking victims service are female.
I struggled with ego and masculinity myself. It’s why I went into the marines. I needed to reaffirm my masculinity.
How did you finally have the courage to speak out about this?
I was in a co-ed recovery group and a female survivor reached out to me. What she said to me was powerful and something I’ve never forgotten. She said,
You can admit you were vulnerable but it doesn’t mean you were weak.”
It was then I realized trafficking doesn’t rob you of your masculinity. There is a light inside of all of us no one can extinguish. I believe unconditional love gives you the strength to find your way out of this. Unconditional love is the Rosetta Stone for surviving anything. In my life, I received that unconditional love from my great aunt.
Was this the turning point for you?
My turning point was when I realized either I was going to have the nightmares or they were going to have me. I’ve spent the past four years writing and speaking about this issue. It has been helpful in my healing process.
It never goes away but you stop letting it define you.
So how did you get from there to where you are now?
I was a chaos junkie. It took me 20 years to be willing to get into therapy at all. It takes a long time to quit blaming yourself. After going through extensive therapy, I’m in a healthy, happy marriage. I have two beautiful children. I have learned you have to work on your relationships to keep them healthy.
How can people hear more about your story?
They can listen to one of my interviews from Friday May 30,2014 with First Coast News,
If you want to learn more about Jerome, you can connect with him on Facebook here. You can follow him on Twitter at @JeromeElam. You can connect with him on Linkedin here.
Jerome is a full time writer and speaker. He writer for Communities Digital News. You can learn more here. You can read his blog, An End to Silence, here.
If you or someone you know is a trafficking victim or you suspect someone is a trafficking victim, call the National Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text to BeFree (233733).
I have watched you over the years struggle, help others so graciously and move on to find your center. You suffered beyond what is knowable on any conscious level. I am inspired by you and look up to you as one who has thrived, not simply survived. You have so much to teach society. We all look forward to hearing so much more from you.
If I can ever be of help please let me know. Best Wishes to you! MEB
Thank you for this post, Susan. It is very powerful. I appreciate all of the links for further training in awareness. I have shared the link to your post on FB.
Susie, I’m glad it was helpful to you. Mary Elizabeth, thank you for encouraging Jerome in all he does!
Sex trafficking has a FACE,
It’s a life being stolen, being killed, and destroyed by Satan.
I don’t know what to say. I am in awe of this man who survived, overcame evil done to him.
She said this, ‘you can choose to let it destroy you or you can choose to heal. I chose the latter.’
Thanks, Mel, for your continued encouragement and prayers for those caught in the life and fighting for their freedom. Sex Trafficking does have a face and it is as normal as the person next door or even the person under your roof. We like to think of it as something “over there” because it somehow frees us from responsibility, but it’s right here. We must stand up and raise our voice for hope, step into the fight, and become part of the solution. Blessings!
Those of us who are survivors can see through the lies I hope it doesn’t take from true stories.
Katie, what makes you think Jerome isn’t a true survivor?
Thanks for finally talking about >FRONT LINE FRIDAYS with survivor, Jerome Elam!
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