We sat in a coffee shop, Shamere and I. We look like two “normal” women catching up. No one would have guessed that the beautiful, intelligent, young woman across from me was once a slave. I, in fact, did not know that Shamere was a liberator until a few weeks after I started working with her. She would come into work with a smile and a kind word for everyone. She is one of the kindest and most uplifting people that I know. She believes that she went through hell and survived to be able to save others who are still enslaved. She told me that she would not be where she is today without God’s help.
Shamere had attended a New York college on an athletic scholarship. When she was 21, she met the man who would forever change her life. He was sweet, nice, and intelligent. They had in-depth conversations and soon began to see each other regularly. Shamere never knew that he was a pimp looking for his next target. She wanted to go back to school and he promised to help her. His idea of help was forcing her into the commercial sex industry for 18 months. 7 nights a week she was forced to work as a prostitute for a man who she had thought loved her. She was trafficked to 5 different states in those 18 months; New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Texas, and Florida. Every night she had a quota before she was able to go back to her pimp’s house. Some nights her quota was as high as $1,500 If she didn’t meet the quota she was punished.
Even during her enslavement Shamere was strong-willed and determined. Many times she resisted the men who bought her. For her disobedience, she was severely beaten. Yet this did not stop her. She tried to run away different times, but would return out of fear that her pimp would find her and kill her and her family, as he threatened he would. Even in her fear, she aided two other women in their escape. Shamere’s determination almost got her killed on one occasion. She refused to drive women across state lines and her pimp asked her to choose between death and driving. Shamere chose death. Her pimp put a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. Surprisingly the gun was not loaded, so he beat her with the gun and then forced her to drive the girls. One was a minor, 12 years old.
Some ask why she didn’t just go to the police. She could not trust them, they had arrested her multiple times, some of the officers were her buyers, and others taunted her, calling her names, as she walked the streets. So Shamere decided that she would stop making her pimp money, if she was unproductive he would no longer need her. Instead of bringing him the quota he asked for she would go back with $2oo, or some times nothing at all. Her pimp angry at her, told Shamere he would give her $5000 and she could leave. But she knew this wasn’t true. She had witnessed him make the same offer to another girl and she had beaten to death for agreeing with his offer. Hearing the clicking of the gun, knowing that this time it would be loaded and she would be killed, Shamere ran.
Many of us believe that we have someone looking out for us, a guardian angel to protect us when life is unbearable. When Shamere ran, she was saved by a man she calls her Guardian Angel. He gave her a place to rest, food, and a way to call her mom. She cannot remember his name or what he looked like but her Angel gave Shamere a way out.
But Shamere’s story does not stop there. Shamere is a liberator, a leader, and an advocate for all who are enslaved in the commercial sex industry. Her voice is her most powerful weapon and she is bent on making sure that our world, our country, our elected leaders, and our communities know about the horrors of human trafficking. Her recovery process was a long journey, one filled with ups and downs. At first she could not come to terms with her past. Why had she been forced into the life, why had she been arrested by the FBI, alongside of her pimp, and charged as a sex offender when she was a victim? What had she done wrong? For a time, Shamere had no hope, she could not pick up the pieces and she could not tell any of her friends what had happened to her. She made up stories about where she had been for 5 years. Until she met Kevin Bales, she had no reason to live.
Kevin Bales, is the Co-Founder of Free the Slaves and author of Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 20 Million People, and The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today. He included Shamere’s story in The Salve Next Door. Shamere was not ready to share her story yet, to have her name attached to human trafficking. Yet after she met with Bales and began to talk to him about her experience, she began to feel better. She began the process of healing. Bales lit the flame, and Shamere knew that she had to share her story more. She began to work on a survivor’s hot line, answering calls and talking to girls who had gone through that same hell as she had.
Shamere is one of the liberating leaders. She is “The voice of those who are still enslaved; those who perished while enslaved; and the voice for those who are free but don’t have the courage to speak.” She declared that she is living only by the grace of God. He saved her and she knows that she must seek Him first and follow His path for her. Because there are still girls enslaved, Shamere believes her purpose is to raise awareness, to talk to as many people as she can, to shout from the highest mountain, about the life of the forgotten; women, girls and young boys, that are being enslaved in the sex industry.
Today, she works as the Program Assistant for Shared Hope International, she is a subject matter expert consultant with Fox Valley Technical College Amber Alert TTA; a member of the DC Human Trafficking Task Force; a member of Who is Stolen performance troupe; a mentor to survivors of sex trafficking; a member of the National Survivor Network and an international speaker on the issue of sex trafficking. She has been on multiple TV, radio, and news interviews. She has worked with Halogen TV to bring about awareness of human trafficking. She has been at the National Association for Attorney General’s winter meeting, spoken with government officials to try to change laws concerning human trafficking and victims, and has been the guest speaker on many college and university campuses to raise awareness on the issue.
Shamere is an incredible women, who despite her past, is empowered and making a difference in the world. She is following God’s call for her. She knows her path; she is part of the solution. Shamere is not a victim of sex trafficking, not a survivor, but a liberator, a voice fighting for the basic rights for every human being.
Pictures were taken by Kay Chernush of ArtWorks for Freedom – www.artworksforfreedom.org.
Shamere’s website: http://survivorsofslavery.org/survivorsspeakers/shamere-mckenzie/