By Katherine Lymn
Forum News Service
This is the life of Jenny Gaines. Lured into sex trafficking at age 14, she spent 28 years in a life of prostitution. Throughout the past six months, Forum News Service has spent time getting to know Jenny. This is her story.
After nearly three decades in the life, Jenny Gaines thought she would die a prostitute. She really didn’t think she’d make it much into her 40s.
She had been recruited by a sex trafficker when she was 14, and various pimps exploited her through her youth and young adulthood. She had been to treatment 13 times for drug and alcohol addictions.
She was at times desperate to quit the life of prostitution, but she kept running into what seemed like insurmountable barriers. Sitting in a life skills class, asked to put together a resume, she once again felt overwhelmed.
In frustration, she threw the blank resume across the room.
“I had never had a job in my whole life,” she said recently, recalling the moment. “‘What do you want me to put on there? That I’ve been laying on my back for 28 years?’”
But she stayed with it, encouraged by supporters at Breaking Free, a St. Paul nonprofit she had been referred to as a requirement for getting her driver’s license back. They helped her put together a resume that was honest and included volunteer work she had done.
“It really empowered me,” she said.
“I just fell in love with Breaking Free because for me it was the only place that I could talk about what was really going on with me. Treatment and therapy are great, but as soon as you bring up prostitution in any of those places, there’s social stigma, the judgments happen.
“Sometimes the therapy sessions would turn into, ‘So, how much money did you make? Wow, that’s tax-free?’” she said. “I didn’t know how to get out of prostitution. It wasn’t until I got out of prostitution that I was able to maintain any sort of sobriety.”
Breaking Free helps women and girls escape prostitution. There, where fellow survivors are in charge, Gaines finally was able to talk about prostitution without feeling judged. The program includes a 14-week “Sisters of Survival” curriculum that only women who have been in prostitution can attend.
“There’s all the caring people in the world, but if you’ve never been in prostitution, you don’t understand and you can’t relate to how I think or feel,” Gaines said. “Prostitution makes you crazy. You can’t sleep with that many people a day and not have issues.”