“You are worthy of being believed"
I am about to tell you something about my story that, literally, maybe five people know. It will be surprising to most, and may possibly make you see how traffickers really do use any means to get what they want.
It has to do with a Polaroid camera. My 40-year-old trafficker took all of the pictures of me while I was in high school on a Polaroid camera for his “art project.” Keep in mind this was in the early 2000s before smartphones, and when Facebook was just for college students.
Polaroid photos are very rarely used for professional purposes, so it never even crossed my mind that he would be editing these photos at a local printing company and mass-producing them.
I remember when his sister handed me a huge box a few months after his funeral. I didn’t really care about what I left. I just didn’t want his family to see, what I thought, were around 20 little Polaroid pictures of me doing unthinkable things with him.
I opened the box and that is when I saw what he had really been doing. I was shocked when I saw hundreds, if not thousands, of copies of these photos edited to look like a professionally-taken photo.
I went to the printer company to inquire as to what information they had on him. After mentioning just his name they knew exactly who he was. They said they would see him making copies on the instant photocopy machine for his art project. This meant there was no paper trail. The employee also said my trafficker would edit the photos with his friend that worked there to make them look more professional.
I showed them a b-roll, non-sexual picture of me wrapped in a blanket waiting to start taking more pictures. I looked dead and drugged. He freaked out and said, ‘NO, I definitely don’t remember her.’ He asked who she was and I told him the girl was me. He couldn’t even tell who I was. He told me that he had only seen white girls in the photos.
THIS is when I found out about the other girls. This is when I found out that he was most likely running a business and not keeping them for himself. I tracked some of these women down and talked to them. They had similar stories to me.
Do I have legal proof that he was receiving money for them? No. Do I believe you take photos of multiple girls and make thousands of professionally-edited copies to keep them for yourself? No!
I didn’t fully understand what was going on until a few years after he passed, when I learned about human trafficking, and that pornography cases can sometimes be cases of sex trafficking.
My point here is that traffickers are smart. They know exactly what they are doing to prey on boys and girls who simply do not know any better. If my trafficker could have used something as simple as a Polaroid camera, think about what they can do now with smartphones and other commonly used tech equipment?
In the past, when I have told my story, people have asked why I would call my boyfriend a trafficker? This is what I want to convey to you - just because you are in a relationship with someone does not mean that you are immune to sexual abuse. A man posing as a boyfriend who is tricking or forcing you to perform in pornography is a completely different beast. Unlike physical abuse, sexual abuse is easy to hide, but sometimes the invisible chains are the strongest of them all.
Throughout my career as an advocate, various people have tried to tell me that I was not trafficked because I was basing my story on a hunch that he was selling the photos. Despite the fact, I knew about the other girls and my belief that you don’t have hundreds of copies of photos for yourself, was not enough for them. I will probably never have these answers to satisfy these questions, and I’ve come to peace with this knowledge.
I want to remind you that even if you don’t have all of the answers about your story of abuse, that doesn’t minimize the truth of it. If you are an Overcomer or Survivor you never have to prove to anyone what happened. It’s like telling someone who was abused as a child that they weren’t abused because they can’t prove it as an adult, or that it wasn’t real because they don’t have full recollections of it. Are there people who lie about their accounts of sexual abuse? Yes! However, if you aren’t lying and don’t have every single answer you should still be empowered to use your voice. Not being believed can be just as traumatizing as experiencing the abuse itself. I encourage those who are sharing stories to remember that you are worthy of having a safe place to share your story; you are worthy of having a strong support system; you are worthy of being heard and believed.
About the Author
Anna Ptak is currently an international public speaker as well as an Overcomer and policy consultant in the movement to end Human Trafficking. In her spare time, Anna loves spending time with her husband, and their adorable puppy, Liam Alexander.