real life

'I was trafficked for sex as a minor. I didn't realise until I was 34.'

Content warning: This story includes descriptions of child sexual abuse.

Do you know what a trafficking survivor looks like?

If you'd have asked me that question, the first thing that would come to my mind would be those posters on bus stops and social media. You know, those dark moody ones with the children with sad eyes and stories?

Of course, I knew what trafficking was. I'd seen the A21 campaigns and heard stories about women and children who'd been taken from other far-away countries and sold. Those were the only stories I'd heard or read.

It never occurred to me that trafficking could occur in Australia — let alone in my hometown or even to me. That thought just never entered my reality. Until recently. 

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One day I was on Google doing more of a dive into trafficking and its definition — out of pure curiosity. Turns out Australia is a known trafficking destination and the definition of trafficking is much broader than what I thought.

Although it can be the stereotypical image of people being taken from other countries, it can occur without ever being kidnapped or stolen. In my search, I came across a sentence that stopped me in my tracks. 


Exploitation of a minor for commercial sex is human trafficking, regardless of whether any form of force, fraud, or coercion was used (In Australia, a child is considered anyone under 18 years of age).

Suddenly, I realised that I fit into this category. It left my head spinning. 

@thehungryaustralien Interview with The Journal. #dissociativeidentitydisorder #did ♬ original sound - Tarese Estelle & Co

I was under 18 when I met a guy at least twice my age. I'd met him one night as I was wandering the streets looking for something interesting to do. He pulled up in his blue car, wound down his window and we got talking. He told me he worked within the government, as an advocate of vulnerable populations. 

Eventually I got into the car with him. At first he simply wanted to have sex with me, but then he began to introduce me to other people. Eventually, it led to him organising various men to pay to have sex with me. He took a cut, and I got a cut. 

Part of me felt annoyed that he got paid for me doing most of the work except putting an ad in the paper. However, I thought it was my choice because I agreed to it. I had no idea I was being exploited. I had no idea what that meant. 

I had come from a childhood of trauma and sexual abuse, where men took what they wanted for free. I truly believed that was what I was good for; my body was for the service of men. So when the opportunity came to be paid for it and actually get something for myself in return, it felt like an upgrade — a reward. 

Not realising what was happening, I felt good that I was finally worth something tangible. I thought it was part of growing up. I didn't know my trauma was something that was being exploited to his advantage. It's often those who are already traumatised or vulnerable who are at higher risk of being trafficked. 


Fast forward to the age of 34, and here I was sitting with the realisation that what I had experienced fell into the category of trafficking and exploitation. It felt surreal, and it came with an aftermath of denial.

It's not so much a shock of not knowing the acts of what happened but more a shock of realising the terms it fell under. I knew I'd been involved in prostitution — but I didn't think it was child trafficking. I didn't realise I was being manipulated and exploited. 

I'd also come from a very sheltered background in some ways and that was also used to his advantage. It turns out trafficking can hide in plain sight, right in our very midst. 

It is likely happening right now in your community by someone you thought you could trust and respect. Someone who is an advocate or an elder in a church. It could be your neighbour, it could be your friend, it could be your family. 

Trafficking doesn't just happen to strangers — it can happen to people you know. I've now heard many stories of survivors.

There are many different ways that trafficking can look, but this is how it looked for me. 

The more ways we can learn how trafficking can look, the more we can be aware of the signs of it in the community around us.

If you or someone you know is in, or at risk of human trafficking you can contact the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on 131 237 (131AFP) or go to the AFP website at for help.

Feature Image: Supplied.