This article appeared in the Summer 2014 News from the Village.
Dr. Christine Bartholoma, CV Psychologist
“I just need to love myself more than I love him,” the gregarious 17-year old told me. Ava* was speaking of her desire to end the abusive relationship she had been in since her arrest at the age of 15 for prostitution. As the psychologist for CV’s Safe Harbour program, which works to identify and treat sexually exploited minors, I recognized the gravity of her statement. Being treated as a commodity to be bought and sold had given her the impression that all relationships come at a high cost.
The path that led Ava to my door had been rife with pitfalls. Her mother’s struggles with addictions had compromised her ability to provide Ava adequate care. By the age of 13, Ava, feeling awkward, abandoned, and insecure, was an easy target for predators intent on exploiting her vulnerabilities. She was recruited through a “friend” she met on the streets, groomed, coached, and repeatedly sold by her pimp to “johns” before her arrest. Fortunately, increased awareness and legislative changes allowed Ava to be treated as a victim, not a criminal.
Ava knew she wanted to end the abuse and exploitation, but was uncertain as to how. “I’m a strong black woman,” Ava told me, adding softly, “Do I need help? Yes.” I saw Ava a few weeks later. She was heading into the Safe Harbour support group. She stopped to greet me before excitedly joining the group of other survivors with whom she would participate in life-changing discussions and artistic activities. I smiled, knowing that Ava was getting the help she needed.
If you or someone you know might be the victim of sexual exploitation, reach out to us at 855-690-SAFE for more information.
*name changed to protect privacy