Take a trip back to the year 2004 and meet young Mindy Meadows, 14 years old. (By the way, I’m not using her real name. The United States Department of State has asked members of the media not to use the real names of people who’ve been in Mindy’s situation.)
Back to Mindy’s story. Something neat happened to her that fall, or at least she thought it was something neat.
Mindy was living in Brooklyn, New York, and up to now, her mother had always insisted that someone older accompany her every time she went outside. This was true even if was just walking to school.
But today, her Mom told her, “Mindy, you’re old enough to go out of the house alone now! You can take that volunteer job in the community garden you’ve been wanting!”
Mindy, she told me that at this time she was thinking, “This is so exciting. It’s the first time I’ve ever gone out without a grownup watching me!”
She said that as she walked toward the community garden, she was thinking, “Life is better than I ever dreamed! This is so fun!’”
Then the best thing of all happened to her. When she was at the community garden, learning about how to plant vegetables, she made a new friend! He was this incredibly cool 17-year old guy (at least he told her he was 17) and he told her he liked her!
Over the next couple of weeks, she and Darnell Waters began texting each other 20 times a day. She was happier than she had ever imagined she could be.
There was, however, a problem. Darnell was starting to press her to have sex with him. She was brought up in a strict, socially conservative home, and she and her Mom attended religious services every Sunday. She told him, “I’m a religious person. I love you, but I can’t do this!”
He kept insisting, “If you really loved me, you would!” Mindy was terrified of losing the man she was madly in love with.
And then one-day …she did it.
She knew how much her Mom would disapprove, but this was what was meant to be! Now she was really his and he was really hers.
She told me, “I thought we’d be together forever! I thought this would forever seal the deal!”
But then something went terribly wrong. Out of the blue, he stopped answering her texts.
This was so different from what she was expecting. She kept desperately texting him and he never answered.
Now she was sobbing nonstop, but she couldn’t tell her Mom. She was afraid her Mom would go crazy if she found out what her daughter had done.
Mindy told me she was desperate and lost. She had never even imagined such horrible pain.
Darnell was the one who was responsible for every bit of this pain, but as she told me, “I was only a little girl. I didn’t know anything, and I was desperate. I went back to Darnell’s place and pleaded with him. “Please love me, I’ll do anything, anything if you’ll keep loving me.”
Darnell said he’d take her back, but there were “somethings” she’d need to do.
I bet you can guess what those “somethings” were.
Mindy moved in with Darnell but she soon discovered that she had to earn $500 on the streets each night and hand it over to him. If she didn’t, she’d face a beating. Darnell told her that if she tried to leave, he knew where her Mom lived and he’d kill her Mom.
Four other girls were living there, and one of them, Jazmin, became her roommate. All the girls were each trafficked seven or eight times a night.
Meanwhile, Darnell, living off his five girls had a tax-free income of more than $1 million a year. Mindy had hoped to be the love of Darnell’s life, and now she was nothing more than a terrified slave.
One night, early on, her roommate, stole the $500 that Mindy had earned that night. Jazmin had found the $500 Mindy had hidden under her bed, stored there to turn over to Darnell the next morning.
Mindy was now terrified about what Darnell would do to her when she couldn’t hand over the $500. When Darnell came into the bedroom to collect his money, a sobbing Mindy told him what had happened. Darnell believed Mindy since Jazmin had a drug problem and had done this before to another roommate.
Darnell started pummeling and beating Jazmin until she was a bleeding mass on the floor. When Darnell left the room, Mindy saw bloody spit drooling from her roommate’s jaw. The poor woman was holding onto her belly as if her guts might spill out.
Mindy’s life had become an unending nightmare. One night, five men gang-raped her. She remembers crying and begging them to stop, and then suddenly she went all numb and she couldn’t feel anything at all. She told me she felt so numb it was as if was both alive and dead at the same time.
Mindy hated the life she had been forced into. She was sleep-deprived, terrorized, and Darnell made sure she developed such a low opinion of herself that She. Thought. She. Deserved. This.
After more than a year, Mindy did manage to escape but it was so traumatic that she told me she can’t even remember the details. The first thing she remembers about her escape is that she woke up beaten and bruised somewhere nearby in New Jersey. She had enough money to get a bus ride to the Port Authority in New York City.
A Port Authority policeman saw her and guessed that she was a victim of trafficking. His first effort was to reunite Mindy with her Mom, but Mom wasn’t emotionally equipped to handle what her daughter had become.
Mindy had been so beaten up, so emotionally traumatized, she was now so different, that her mother just couldn’t deal with it. The police officer took her to a home for victims of trafficking. It’s called GEMS, Girls Educating, and Mentoring Services. For the next four years, Mindy was with people who helped her recover.
They helped her medically and psychologically, and they helped her get her GED. She told me one of the most important part of her recovery was she got to see women who were once on the street, trafficked the way she was and who today are living normal lives.
What I’ve been sharing with you is a true story. It may seem distant, like something you read about in the newspapers, but I know Mindy and I’m lost in admiration for how far she’s come.
She’s 28 now, dresses nicely, her hair is smoothly-styled in a ponytail, and she holds a responsible job. If you were to meet Mindy in person, you’d never ever guess her story.
She’s a story of both how evil people can be, and how there’s bright, glorious hope for those who escape from it.
By Mitzi Perdue