You’re listening to Episode 30 of the Trafficking Dispatch, a biweekly podcast that briefs you on human trafficking issues in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Victoria Erdel. In this season finale, we’ll hear a survivor talk about the challenges of life after trafficking.
Now that we’re at the end of our third season, we’re about to hear from the fifth survivor that we’ve interviewed for this podcast. Esperanza Monroe Pace is a survivor of sex trafficking who currently lives in Texas in with her daughter. She reached out to us a few months ago asking if she could share her story. Because we like to reserve our season finales for survivors, to give them the most airtime, we’re now ready to share her story.
So to start off Esperanza, we usually leave these interviews open-ended and let the interviewee talk about whatever they want to discuss. So how would you like to start?
Esperanza: What I wanted to talk more so about, because I feel like a lot of the programs that I've gone through -- or the one program that I receive services at right now, it's called refugees of Texas. And it's like this "empowering the survivor" program basically. Which, it hasn't done much of anything for me. They basically just offer resources. So you go there, and they basically just do something that you can do yourself. And that's about it. And they kind of leave you out high and dry after that. And, it's an eight-month program, which I didn't know. So my stay is up in like two months. And I asked them, like, "Well, what am I supposed to do after that?" And they're like, "Well, that's all the funding that we have. We're hoping that you'll be on your feet." And I'm like, "On my feet? I'm nowhere! Like, what do you mean, 'On my feet'? I still don't have a job, I don't have a place to like, live." So, it just rubbed me the wrong way. I have had had like two jobs in between through like, Workforce. But the one job that I did have -- there was an employee there, and I he asked me -- you know, of course, everybody wants to know about my story and cry about it -- but he specifically asked me if, you know, "Are you clean now?" And I was like, "Yeah!" And he said, "Well, when was the last time you used?" Harping on it, like, "are you sure that you're clean? Are you sure that --" And I was like, "Yes! But what if I wasn't?" I feel like I have an excuse. I just went through this horrible experience, it just doesn't go away. And more than one person has made me feel like I'm supposed to be this completely fixed person or I'm not supposed to be doing seemingly self-destructive things. Still, even though, I don't know...does that make sense?
Victoria: Yeah, that totally makes sense. And I'm really sorry that people have been treating you that way.
Esperenza: It just, it makes me feel more isolated. And like ostracized from society. I still feel very singled out, and it -- I don't know... I don't know if I'm like covering anything that you want, but --
Victoria: No, no, no! I think you're doing great! You're covering a lot of important things. Because, I think, a lot of people first of all, tend to think that when someone is "rescued", suddenly things get magically better, and they get all the support that they need. But you're pointing out that a lot of these systems have been failing you, and they put this unfair burden on you.
Esperenza: Very, very unfair. And actually, the major thing that I've had the most difficult time processing and -- through this program, which I didn't even want to do this, but it's a requirement for the program. You have to try to prosecute the trafficker. And I was like, "Why you going to put that on me? Like, are you serious?" I don't want him coming after me and my kid. Are you -- what do you mean? Like I can't continue -- what? But you know, after a few months, my case manager, I was like, "You know what. This will be good!" Because, I want to get out of Texas. I want to get away completely away from this whole state. And the only way I can do that is through crime-victim compensation. And the only way I can get crime-victim compensation is if I prosecute my trafficker -- he's in jail. So, I decided to do that with my case manager. I prepared myself. She coached me for about a month. I had my testimony written out, everything. And so, I had to have an interview with detectives that work for the Attorney General. And it was terrible, it was a nightmare. It was very nerve-wracking. It was two of them, a woman and a man. They didn't make me feel validated. They didn't make me feel like they believed me one bit. And that made me even more nervous, and I don't know if you're familiar with -- I guess it's a federal law? Federal law, to prosecute a trafficker, you have to have those elements of force, fraud, and coercion. I can kind of grasp what they're getting at, but it's still not tangible. Force, fraud, and coercion, those are all psychological traumas and aspects. So when they were repeatedly asking me, "Well, did you ever see so-and-so exchange money for, you know..." And I was like, "Exchange money for what? What do you mean? No, I didn't see that right in front of my face because I'm either blacked out, or I'm beat up or I'm shaking. What?" It threw me off completely. And I started crying. They kept asking me the same question in different manners. Because I started getting like hot and panicky. What if, you know, they don't take my case if I don't give them what they want? And I did! I told them everything that had ever happened to me on the streets. From me going to Dallas, and I'm not even from Texas. From him literally beating me into a coma and I'm being sold for sex and raped and cornered and I'm on the streets. And I was like, how does that not say force, fraud, and coercion? It's like they wanted specific times, dates. They asked for that too. They asked for specific people. Are you serious? This was four years ago! Let me go track down everybody that raped me. Yeah, let me get right up on that. It made me feel very distraught because I could sense that they're not gonna believe me. Or I could sense that this is not going in my favor like I had hoped for. It made me feel really -- like nothing, because in order to get crime-victim compensation, that's the only way I can get her [Esperanza's daughter] dad in jail and safety for us.
Victoria: Yeah, and the fact that you said that they were asking you, you know, did you see money exchange hands --
Esperanza: Isn't that so weird?
Victoria: Yeah, and I know I've heard in elements of historical slavery. You know, years -- like centuries ago when it was legal in many countries -- that's something that they would ask former slaves. And it's just -- I'm not necessarily surprised, I'm kind of disappointed but not surprised that they still that ask question to this day like you're always going to know or you're always going to see it happen.
Esperanza: Exactly! Exactly, like it made me feel really freaking weird. I looked up at my case manager like, "This is really what you're getting me into?" Like I could have totally saved a lot of humiliation, more depression and my pride. Because at the end of the day, I'm like, "Okay so you want me to fill in the blanks. You want me to say, 'Okay, John gave my full twenty dollars after having sex with me. Is that what you're wanting to hear? Because that makes no sense." I'm telling you in whole of what I've been through. How does that fit the criteria?
Victoria: And I think the fact that you were even going for the specific crime-victim compensation shows that there very likely was force, fraud or coercion. Otherwise, why would you go through the whole process?
Esperenza: Oh, exactly -- [Sarcastically] You got me. I'm making this all up. I'm making all this up, haha, jokes on me. Like are you serious? Like I bawled my eyes out, and I don't cry. I'm a very tough cookie. Because I'm just like -- first of all, Carlos, I'll never forget his name, was the male detective. He's all packing up his papers and I'm like, "Y'all are leaving?" And I'm wracking my brain to think of things -- like, not lie, but to get them to stay, and like take me seriously. They were both -- it was a bad interview. I don't give up easily, so I reached out to the woman who was a little bit more pleasant. So I'm thinking like, okay, I'm going to try this again. And she's just like writing it down in her notebook, because they asked me to meet them in their car down the street from where I live. And she's just jotting it down, and once again, the male detective is smacking his gum. And I asked him, I'm like, "I'm sorry, am I bothering you?" Or like, "Are you in a rush?" And he's like, "No, no." You know, "Continue." And I continue on, and once again, he's still on that, "But you don't have names?" And, "You don't have dates?" And "You don't have contact information?" And I'm like, Oh my God! Never mind. And so she and the 50-minute interview in the car -- they were asking me like, "Well, how are we supposed to know you're telling the truth?" And they're like, "There's nobody that can attest for you" blah blah blah. And at that time, I'm like, "No, no, there's nobody. Because I'm not from there and no, I can't really think of anybody off the top of my head." But there was a person. So I realized after calming down, I had two corroborating witnesses. And I asked them, and I reached out to them which was very difficult because I thought they were going to say no. Because, it's like dealing with detectives. Nobody wants to do that. But they said that they would. And I'm like, super stoked, this is it. This is my ticket, I got it. And she [female detective] tells me, "Oh well, I'm going out of town." And I was like, "Oh I can have my witness, she'll stay a few more days." And she said, "Oh well, you know, I'll get back to you. 'Cause we're kinda busy and..." And I haven't heard from her since.
Victoria: Well, my initial reaction is to say like, "Oh I can't believe..." But honestly, I can actually believe that, and that's the sad part.
Esperanza: Yeah, it was, it was a lot to deal with emotionally. Just because my lawyer didn't want to ever bring up the trafficking. And I was like, "What do you mean?" And he told me, "Like you have to prove that, and I don't feel like it's going to hold weight in court." And I was like, "Are you kidding me?" He's like, "Yeah, let's just be realistic. You gotta get the evidence, you don't have it. So, I'm not gonna go down that route, because it's not gonna hold up." And I was like, "Thanks" [Sarcastically]. No pride left. So, I was like, "Okay, we'll you're my lawyer so..."
Victoria: I think you bring up a ton of really good points.
Esperanza: I'm sorry, I'm like rambling, I'm sorry.
Victoria: Oh no, no, no. Like, seriously everything you're saying is just so spot-on. I think um, I did an episode once actually about how laws or like the legal system, which is supposed to help survivors of trafficking, often works against them, and it just makes it so hard because it creates all of these loopholes you have to jump through.
Victoria: But I think you're really just driving that point home and showing that we need to change the way that that's set up because it just doesn’t always work.
Esperanza: Yes! It's sickening and I don't understand. Well, first of all, I'm black. I'm black and Hispanic. And her [Esperanza's daughter] is white and Mexican. Which I've never experienced any sort of racism until I moved here. Just to be quite honest, I was raised in a white school. I was raised in a really nice neighborhood. Upper-middle class. Which doesn't mean that I'm better than, but I've always had white boyfriends. I'm white-washed as people say. But when I came here, it's not like that here, for me at least. Because, her father is white and Mexican but he looks white, he's white I guess? And in Dallas, I don't think they even address it as trafficking. They call it "hustling." Prostitution is a thing there. Either you have a job, or you're hustling, robbing, or selling your body for money. But it's normal there. That's the lifestyle. So I think he thought that I was accustomed to that, but he learned really quickly I wasn't, so he had to you know, break me down, beat that into me. I still wasn't, you know, like, normal to that. Somebody brought that to my attention, like, "They're probably not taking your case because they think you're a prostitute just trying to get back at your boyfriend." And it makes a lot of sense to me. You know, I never thought of it that way. Just because, that's what a lot of black women are into in Dallas. And it really dawned on me like, that might be true. That might be why they don't take me seriously, because that's what they do there. But I'm still trying to get help for it, but if race isn't put into the mix...you know what I mean?
Victoria: Yeah, I'm actually really glad that you brought up the element of race and how that plays into the amount of aid and aftercare that you get. Which in this case, seems to be sadly working against you. You mentioned that even though you were raised in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class area, and that’s the world you knew, society overall doesn’t see you that way.
Esperanza: Exactly! So I was born in Brooklyn, but I was raised in a very, very small white town in New Jersey. But the thing is, I'm in Austin now. And Austin is supposed to be super progressive, but y'all are really not progressive. And it just blows my mind.
Victoria: Yeah, so I think you kind of um, pointed to this a lot in what you've been saying already...
Esperanza: Oh, I'm like talking in circles. I'm sorry.
Victoria: Oh, no no no! That's not at all what I meant, I just wanted to transition to the fact that… I think that a lot of the podcast listeners are people who have good intentions in wanting to do something about human trafficking, but you know good intentions aren't always going to --
Esperanza: Thank you! Good intentions is not gonna put me in a house!
Victoria: Yeah, so what is something -- and you can draw from what you've already talked about or introduce something new -- what is something that you wish more people understood about human trafficking? And how would you want them to actually address the issue?
Esperanza: It took me literally last year to find this one program. I was like typing in -- I want my reparations, I was so angry. And I just typed in like, "Housing for domestic violence survivors" or something like that. And then I started seeing like, trafficking. And like, I'd heard of the word before. So I started reading it, and I was like, "Hold on, this kinda sounds like me!" And so I started researching it more, and I was like, "Hold up, this is totally me." And so I called the number, I called the program and I let her know, you know, what was up. And she said that I could start the program. And I realized that there's tons and tons and tons of organizations with the same aspects -- counseling, and survivors-this and survivor--that. And Safe Place, specifically, and they have a shelter here in Austin. So they don't got a lot of resources. So there's a shelter. So I was like, "[Inaudible], get me into that shelter. 'Cause after the shelter I can get my own apartment. There's a six-month waiting list to get into the emergency shelter? That makes no sense to me. So if I'm getting beat up by my boyfriend, like right in front of y'all, like y'all can't put me in the shelter? I have to wait six months? I will be dead. What do you mean, like? That's what people need to understand. But they also need to understand, they can't get mad if they [survivors] go back on the streets. They can't get mad if they call their pimp right in front of your face or something. And they really honestly can't get mad if they call their pimp and their pimp comes to the shelter. What do y'all expect? They don't have a right -- you know what I mean?
Victoria: You can't expect people to have the same linear progression...
Esperanza: Exactly! Or, logic! You know, or common sense, or anything like that, like...at all!
Victoria: Yeah, if you don't provide survivors better long-term resources once they're off the streets, then you know, they're not really any better off.
Esperanza: Exactly! Like, y'all can't be getting mad. Like, I understand the safety concern and all that stuff. But it really makes me mad when if something were to go wrong because that one lady says with her non-profit, you know, the pimps are going up to her nonprofit threatening them and, you know, shooting at the non-profit -- well, it's not a hotel, dude! It's not. They're angry. They want their girls back. It's bad and scary, but you want to do that right? You want to be realistic. You can help, but be realistic. Like, don't try to save the world, no. Be realistic. Simplified version? If they [survivors] want help, just ask them what they need. They'll tell you what they need. Just ask them. Don't do all this stuff, just ask them. That's it.
When we first decided to interview survivors for The Trafficking Dispatch, we had a lot of things to consider. We didn’t expect survivors to open up to us, total strangers, about some of the most troubling parts of their lives, but we also didn’t want to close off our platform to survivors who did want to voice their stories. At the same time, we didn’t want to use survivors as inspirational propaganda -- to make it seem as if life after trafficking is always smooth sailing. We deeply appreciate the initiative Esperanza took, not only to share her story but to honestly show us the challenges that survivors face during and after a trafficking situation. It is because of people like her that we get a better understanding of the continual issue that we’re up against, and we’re reminded of the importance of keeping survivors and their best interests at the center of it all.
As I reflected on this interview, it occurred to me that Esperanza and I both have names that mean something in Spanish. Esperanza means “hope” and Victoria means “victory”. The Trafficking Dispatch team wishes Esperanza and her daughter hope and victory in the new year.
And in speaking of The Trafficking Dispatch team, I wanted to give a special thank you to the members who worked behind the scenes to make this season possible. Though they may not have come to the mic very much if at all, this season, Ariel Niforatos and Anna Erdel both helped immensely in researching and preparing content and interview-based episodes for this third season. Hopefully, we’ll get to hear from them directly in our upcoming fourth season.
But before we sign off on this season and prepare for the next, it’s time for our Audible Audience segment. If you’re interested in being featured in next season’s Audible Audience, just send your 30-second clip to email@example.com. Last episode, we heard a small clip of what a listener in India had to say. Let’s listen to the rest of her submission, in full.
Kritika: Hi, I’m Kritika Pandey and I’m from India. Today I’m going to share with you the experiences I’ve had with being a social work intern in India. I was in high school when I got the opportunity to work with an organization named Robaroo, which linked me to another organization named Synergy in Harda, Madhya Pradesh, a small district in India. I was very lucky to be a part of Synergy which was already working day and night to eradicate child bonded labor in the district. They were planning to conduct a street play and a rally against child bonded labor, which I also took a part in.
This has been the Trafficking Dispatch with Victoria Erdel. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our next season which will premiere on January 13, 2019 at 5 pm. Or, if you would like to interact with us before then, you can visit our website at thetraffickingdispatch.com, follow us on our social media accounts – our handles are below – or email us with any questions or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for tuning into this episode, and we hope you’ll tune in again to join the fight against human trafficking.