DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps, where people tell their stories to a friend or a loved one. And we have a warning: Today's story contains some pretty graphic language and violent content. It has not been easy for Barbara Amaya to talk about her past. As a child, she was abused at home, and in 1968 she ran away to Washington D.C. where she was picked up by sex traffickers and forced into prostitution.
Barbara recently told her story to her daughter Bianca.
BARBARA AMAYA: The summer I ran away from home, I was 12. I fell into the hands of a woman. I was sitting in the park and she just started talking to me. I was hungry and cold and young, and she took me to an apartment. Before I knew it, they put a wig on me, took me to the corner of 14th and I and they sold me to a trafficker. I remember that day clearly like it was yesterday.
He took me to New York and that was the end of that, pretty much. For the next nine years, from 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, I had a quota that I was supposed to fill every night. And if I didn't have that amount of money, I would get beat, thrown down the stairs. He beat me once with wire coat hangers, the kind you hang up clothes.
He straightened it out and my whole back was bleeding.
BIANCA BELTETON: What was keeping you there? Like, why didn't just run away?
AMAYA: Traffickers drill into your head, look what you've been doing. How would you ever think you could have a family? Nobody's ever going to love you but me. By the time I was 20, I was heavily addicted to heroin, weighed 90 pounds at five foot nine. I probably wouldn't have lasted very much longer, but something inside me wanted to live. I don't know what it was.
And I left New York. I had a sixth-grade education. I had to go back to school carrying all this shame, you know.
BELTETON: Did anybody know about what happened?
AMAYA: No. Nobody knew. It was decades of keeping it all in and not telling anybody. When you got older, you asked me more than once, why did you run away? What did you do when you ran away? And I would never tell you. And I remember one night there was a note that said, I'm leaving now. I'll always be safe. I love you. And you ran away.
And all I could think about was what happened to me when I ran away.
BELTETON: You called a friend that knew where I was.
AMAYA: And when I took you back home, do you remember what I did?
AMAYA: I tied a string on your doorknob and put soda cans on it so I could go to sleep and hear you if you opened the door knob. Once you heard the whole story for the first time, how did you feel?
BELTETON: I mean, I was proud of you at that point, to know that you're OK with talking about it.
AMAYA: Yeah. I'm not ashamed of what happened to me anymore, you know. It wasn't all my fault.
BELTETON: Whenever you're in a bad situation, like, and you've been in a lot of bad situations, you always find a way to fix it. So I think that you're really strong for that.
AMAYA: Thank you.
GREENE: We were listening to Barbara Amaya with her daughter, Bianca Belteton at StoryCorps in Arlington, Virginia. Their conversation will be archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. And if you'd like, you can sign up for the StoryCorps podcast at NPR.org.
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