Surviving Both Human Trafficking & Cancer – Barbara Amaya’s Story


By Barbara Amaya

Child abuse at home sent Barbara Amaya on her way to the streets of New York City, where she endured nine years as a trafficked child. Surviving the routine of rapes, beatings, and drugs she somehow found her way into a new life. But that past did not leave her alone, resurfacing as one medical problem after another, including endometrial cancer. Today, Barbara is a double survivor whose voice carries twice as far.

It Started When I was 12

It has been a little over a year since I broke my silence about having been a sex-trafficked child. I spent decades keeping all of my traumas deep inside. Keeping secrets can sometimes make you sick.

The summer I turned 12, I ran away from home after being abused under that roof. I ran away and was found on the streets of Washington D.C. by a couple that groomed me for prostitution and then sold me to a New York trafficker. I spent my youth growing up while being trafficked on the streets of New York. My pimp controlled every aspect of my life. As I grew older, I attempted to escape his control, but I was never successful.

Being raped, robbed, beaten and jailed became my daily routine. I saw no hope, and at age 15 I was introduced to heroin by another young girl on the streets. The drugs numbed me to the terrible reality of my existence. But because my pimp did not control the drugs, his violence became even more horrific. I would manage to escape from him and hide out for two or three days, only to be tracked down by him and beaten severely. This was my existence, unbeknownst to my clients or exacerbated by them.

At the age of 19, my pimp seemed to magically disappear. I found out only recently he was taken to prison on weapons and drug charges, although I did not know it at the time.

I believe in every person is a will to survive. For me, that spark still remained though I felt and looked like a walking zombie. One day, I walked into a drug clinic on Manhattan’s east side and my life changed. That day was really the day my life began because of a special counselor who took an interest in me. She located my family back in Virginia and I was reunited with them, never to return to the streets of New York. I slowly tried my best to put my life together with a 6th grade education and no job skills. The task was a daunting one.

One evening over a year ago, I watched a newscast about trafficked teens in my neighborhood and realized that I had to help make a difference. I had the classic epiphany moment. Thus began my advocacy work and public speaking. In the last several months, I have shared my story 26 times in various venues from Princeton to youth camps, and the Rotary Club to the Methodist church. I’ve been on a mission to educate the public about what human trafficking is and how they can make a difference against it.

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