Story of Lily
Like many survivors of sex trafficking who were born in the U.S., Lily* had an unstable and abusive childhood. At the age of 15, she was abandoned by her family completely to live on the streets. Not long after she became homeless, a man approached her and offered a safe place to live and the opportunity to earn money. After she decided to trust him, this man began to sell her for sex multiple times a night against her will.
Years after escaping from her trafficker, Lily’s life was still shadowed by her past. She struggled to cope with the trauma and indignity of her experience, turning to drug use to ease the pain of her depression and anxiety. Lily was eventually arrested on low level drug charges and ordered to appear in court. As a result of being homeless and relying solely on unreliable public transportation, she missed her scheduled court appearance by just a few minutes. Because she failed to appear in court, Lily spent a year dodging warrants for her arrest, while her feelings of hopelessness and depression increased.
With the help of the Amara Legal Center, Lily found a new beginning. The public defender who had previously been assigned to her case advised her to plead guilty, maintaining she had no chance of winning the case due to her failure to appear in court. Nevertheless, we were resolved in our fight to help Lily. We met with her probation officer, who agreed to recommend to the judge that Lily’s probation be reinstated. We spoke with the judge about Lily’s complicated past, including the trauma she experienced as a survivor sex trafficking, and presented a letter from Lily’s case manager detailing how Lily was working to rebuild her life.
Our efforts paid off. The judge not only reinstated Lily’s probation, she also spoke directly to Lily with compassion and kindness, a rare event in criminal court. The judge stated that Lily’s experience was not her fault, that she had value and worth, and that she wanted to do anything in her power to help Lily succeed. Tears streamed down Lily’s face as the judge spoke to her. Lily is now regularly attending her probation visits and will have no criminal record once she successfully completes her probationary period. She is emboldened with a new sense of hope and is excited about what lies ahead. Lily dreams of finishing her high school education and continuing on to higher education, all things that are now within her reach without her past criminal record haunting her.
*Name has been changed to protect confidentiality.
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