cheaper than leather shoes

She glances at the man out of the corner of her eye and quickly wipes the stray tear inching down her cheek. Her body aches. With a resigned sigh, she crosses her legs and pulls her jacket closer to her skin. What’s underneath would hardly count for clothing, and she silently hopes she won’t be sent to the streets this evening. The man leaning against the wall taking in his surroundings catches her eye and smiles. Her heart sinks and she braces inwardly for him to come over. “How much for a massage from this one?” he asks, pointing at her with a foreign glint in his eye.

The shop owner glances behind him, following the man’s gaze. Looking the girl up and down, he shrugs. “Twenty. Good price. She’s new here…” catching the man’s eye he whispers just out of earshot, “pretty inexperienced.”

The man’s smile stretches in unnatural ways – barely meeting his eyes. She sees the exchange – his hands shaking as he hands the small wad of bills to the owner. Hiding her grimace, she straightens her back and steels herself against the pounding of her heart. Her friend sitting next to her grabs her hand and gives it a squeeze, tracing her palm with her pinky. Their secret message: hold on. rescue is coming. this nightmare will end. hold on.

Closing her eyes, she breathes deep his scent as he walks up to her. She studies his shoes for awhile. Leather. Expensive. A small scratch on the right foot – almost as if he ran into a twig while running. She refuses the realization he probably paid more for his shoes than he did for a short session with her. His hand wrap around her small arm and she winces at the strength. Her pulse becomes erratic and she lifts up a silent prayer, hoping someone is listening. Please let this be a dream. Please let the pain end.

Someone is listening, right?

The man with the scuffed leather shoes walks heavily into a side room and shoves her into the corner. She stumbles, struggling for footing before collapsing on the makeshift bed. His breathing grows ragged and the slow whoosh of a belt slaps against the straps as it comes undone. She focuses on his shoes, strewn carelessly across the room. The pain comes and she fights for breath under his weight, but she’s in another place. There’s mud on his shoes but something catches her eye. There. In the middle of mud – almost buried by grime – a small flower radiates with color.

Life in the middle of death. Beauty in the middle of devastation. Hope in the middle of despair.

A tiny tear slips unnoticed and she feels a sharp pain as the man slaps her – his ring digging into her cheek.

“Stop crying you whore. You want something to cry about? I’ll show you.”

Her heart threatens the protection of her ribcage – with a cry she begins to fight. Kicking. Screaming. Biting. As long as she’s breathing she will hold on to her humanity. Her innocence. She will not let go. The pain inches its way to every part of who she is but every space of life battles for survival. Her tiny fingers wrap themselves in his hair, pulling the strands from his scalp in small clusters. Her little feet beat rhythms against his legs, creating bruises he’ll have to explain away. For a split second, she thinks she may have won. His weight shifts and she watches as he gets up and turns away, rummaging through his pockets. Her eyes widen and her head starts shaking vehemently, pleading for mercy. He grabs her ankles and wrists, tying them with a rope. The fibers cut into her skin and all hope, all life, all beauty shrinks away. She is no match for his brute force, his laughter reveals this is just a game to him.

She loses strength and collapses against the sheets, pulling herself as far away from him as possible. She will smell his scent forever. She will wake from nightmares with his face inches from hers. She will never get away from his taste. She will never hide from his force.

She is his captive. She lays there. Lifeless. Forgotten. Invisible.

Finally, the man finishes, grunting with satisfaction. Broken again by a man she doesn’t know. she fights the rage, lacking the energy to act out on her impulses. She reacts the only way she knows how. She waits and hopes.

He puts on his leather shoes, the weight of his steps now matching his physical force. Walking over to where she still lay motionless, his eyebrows sink in confusion. She’s hidden her face against the pillow, her shoulders still quivering from the sobs she held back during the session. He places a timid hand on her arm and she turns to look him square in the eyes. It’s the first time she’s forced him to look at her – truly see her. She waits.

One second. He sees life and hopes and dreams. Two seconds. He sees despair and pain and hopelessness. Three seconds. He sees peace and acceptance and waiting. Four seconds. He sees beauty out of ashes and restoration out of destruction.

His destruction.

The man jumps back, his breath skipping a beat before turning and running out of the room. She follows him with her gaze, and only when his steps become distant does she allow herself the dignity of mourning.

Every 60 seconds, 2 children are trafficked into commercial sex exploitation. Over 100,000 US children are forced into pornography or prostitution each year. You can help. Check out She Dances or Love146 for more information on how you can make experiences like this history. Also: Check out Anne Jackson's blog as she exposes this darkness in Moldova and Russia. Her stories will haunt you.