A Teenage Life in the American Sex Trade, Part 1

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The information contained in this blog was obtained from a phone interview with Jes Richardson, conducted on March 13, 2014. Jes has given the Amara Legal Center permission to publish this story, one of a three part series on Jes’ life as a sex worker.

 Jes Richardson has been public with her story for four and a half years about her life as both a sex trafficking survivor and a former sex worker. She has come out publically to share her knowledge, experience, and story with the world to bring light to the issues surrounding the sex trade, her feelings on the decriminalization of the selling and buying of sex, and sex workers’ rights. And though she makes the disclaimer that her story is not necessarily the norm because she is a white female from California, her insights into the industry and her experience gives us an invaluable look into the life of an American sex worker.

 Starting at age four, Jes was sexually abused by the three brothers who lived next door to her and her family. She thought it was normal, their way of showing her love, so there was no abuse intervention. Around the age of five her family moved away from the brothers, but there was still more abuse to come. Her father was killed in a murder-suicide and later her mother married another man who began to emotionally abuse Jes.

 Frustrated, Jes dropped out of high school and joined the Job Corps in Portland, Oregon and then started working as a waitress. During her time there, a man began frequenting her workplace and listened to Jes, let her talk and vent about her frustrations and giving her the attention she craved. During these talks, he began to sow the seeds of manipulation by gaining her trust and becoming her friend. He took advantage of her naivety and her trust and began suggesting that she think about having sex for money. He suggested that, if she was already having sex, why shouldn’t she get paid for it? She thought he was a genius for coming up with this idea, and so at age seventeen Jes turned her first trick.

It only took her about four minutes to make forty dollars and as she was on her way out of the car, her client grabbed her purse and a struggle ensued. He ended up hitting the gas during their fight and Jes fell out of the car and was run over. Her pimp knew whom to prey on and took advantage of Jes’ instability; his control over her was strong.

 Jes spent the next four years in the sex industry. After spending fourteen to fifteen months being trafficked by her pimp, she began to look for ways to escape from his psychological control. She found that chance through the help of another sex worker who helped her leave her pimp and separate herself from his manipulation and influence. At that point, she entered into sex work voluntarily and began working for an escort service in Seattle for the next two to three years.

After escaping from her pimp, Jes did not have any form of real identification, leaving her with little options for employment.

 Given the amount of money she could make, sex work was the only sustainable option she knew. Having only had a formal education through the 10th grade, her job opportunities were limited.  In addition, this had been the first time in her life that she felt empowered and in control of her own life. Jes finally had power over her own body and finally escaped the cycles of abuse and poverty she experienced in childhood. In the end, what brought Jes to the end of her time in the sex trade was the discovery that she was pregnant with her first child. Jes decided that it was time for her to get away from the drugs and violence that come along with a career in the sex industry.

 Jes is one of the most well spoken individuals I have had the pleasure of conversing with. She is well versed on current issues and is a wonderful teacher and storyteller. Self-taught, Jes utilizes a magical resource many of us tend to neglect, the library. Over the years, Jes has taught herself about history and about the world. Jes has become very knowledgeable about current national and international policies and has utilized her own experience to come to her current philosophies and conclusions about the modern sex trade.

 Her personal experience, intelligence, and perspective would make her one of the most interesting highly qualified individuals to teach on this subject. There is more than one way to learn and it does not always have to be through our formal education system. Though unfortunately, because of the stigma attached to sex workers and the lack of confidence some people have in those who lack formal educational credentials, Jes is limited from many opportunities.

 Now married and the mother of six, Jes resides in California assisting complex trauma survivors and training people and organizations to work with members of the commercial sex trade. Although she is truly passionate about and qualified to do her work, because of the stigma associated with her past life as a sex worker, she has had to become very creative in the ways she makes a living and provides for her family. Because she announced publically that she is a former sex worker, even though she began as a victim of sex trafficking, she is currently unable to find a job, even at McDonalds.

 If you are interested about learning more about Jes Richardson and her story, please visit www.jesrichardson.com. She offers online training and is available for consulting; if you are interested in participating in her online training please visit http://sexsellstraining.comand if you are interested hiring Jes Richardson as a consultant please visit www.jesrichardson.com/consutling. Look out for another blog post about Jes Richardson soon.

By Analisa Toma

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