Pave the Way

Pave the Way

pave the way

With your support, we've helped several women with basic expenses impacted by their past experiences.
But we're not done.

We need your help to pave the way for these women at each step of their journeys. We're not human services, but rather a stepping stone on their path to success. Your donations will directly assist women with:

Choose your amount based on the facts:

$10

10 is youngest age of a girl we've worked with

$23

23 is the average age of women we've worked with

$60

60 minutes in the first critical hour of street outreach

$99

$99 billion a year profited from global sexual exploitation

$OTHER

You decide what to give

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The first hour of our Street Outreach is the most critical hour for each girl we encounter.
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Help us expand our team, our resources, and our mission to end sex trafficking where we live.
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By becoming a monthly supporter, you're helping protect, rescue, and advocate for those who are sex trafficked in our streets.

So every girl we encounter can tell the world: I've Got A Name.

If Just One… A Survivor’s Journal

“Telling my story is how I choose to survive... I’m done being silent."

– Carina Leonotti,* a Nebraska survivor

BE THE ONE WHO NOTICES

“We have to stop being afraid to talk about the details. We have to stop it from being a taboo subject so when people do see it, they make that call and they know what to do. Maybe if it was that way back then, I wouldn’t have had to wait so long to escape. Most people tell me they had a feeling something was happening. I truly believe sharing my story will change that ‘feeling’ into knowing.’ When you get that feeling, just go with it. Make the call. Better to be wrong than to be right and do nothing.”

“We have to stop being afraid to talk about the details. We have to stop it from being a taboo subject so when people do see it, they make that call and they know what to do. Maybe if it was that way back then, I wouldn’t have had to wait so long to escape. Most people tell me they had a feeling something was happening. I truly believe sharing my story will change that ‘feeling’ into knowing.’ When you get that feeling, just go with it. Make the call. Better to be wrong than to be right and do nothing.

Somedays are harder than others. Today is a hard day. I keep hearing from people in my past that they thought something was happening but they didn’t know what. And obviously it isn’t their fault. I didn’t tell anyone. Of course, I was too afraid to and probably too ashamed as well. But what bothers me is back then what could have been done? What signs were there to be able to spot a victim? Sex trafficking was barely even spoken about. Not like it is today. There’s a big misconception that you’ll be able to spot it from a child or even a teenager. That they’ll be dressed a certain way or act a certain way. But that isn’t true.

I want you to imagine this. Imagine you’re sitting in the waiting room of a dentist office with your child. And you see a man walk in with his daughter. She is dressed in leggings and a t-shirt. Has cute little pigtails. Looks just like any normal 9 or 10-year-old. She’s holding her dad’s hand as he is checking her in with the lady in the front desk. They sit down and wait for her name to be called. They get up and walk into the back. Totally normal right? But then you hear her screaming and crying. Your only thoughts are that she is scared of dentists and doesn’t like having her teeth cleaned. Or maybe that she is getting a cavity fixed and is scared. That is normal for what you witnessed in the waiting room.

For me it wasn’t normal like that. Yes, we walked in. Yes, we waited in the waiting room. But what happened behind the closed door of the office wasn’t normal. And my screams and crying were from something more sinister. I was being trafficked. I was being sold. And when the client was finished, we checked out and left. Not a soul knew what happened in that room. He wore a mask so I couldn’t even tell you who he was. He could have been a dentist. He could have been anyone. I’ll never know. 

Yes, this is a horrifying story. But I need people to know that it can look normal. It looks like nothing is out of place. But hopefully the next time that you hear a child screaming in the back room you’ll pay more attention to how that child looks when they are walking out. Cuz maybe you’ll notice something. And you can make the call that will save that child’s life. We have to stop being afraid to talk about the details. We have to stop it from being a taboo subject. So, when people see it, they make that call. And they know what to do. Maybe if it was that way back then i wouldn’t have had to wait so long to escape.

Most people tell me they had a feeling something was happening. I truly believe sharing my story will change that “feeling” into “knowing”. So please when you get that feeling just go with it. Make the call. Better to be wrong then to be right and do nothing. And maybe more people will start to notice. And the more people who notice the less these monsters will get away with it. I shared my story at an event last year. A beautiful soul came up to me after words in tears and said words to me that are forever carved in my heart. “I never want to be the one who doesn’t notice”. And I believe my story can help her and so many others never have to be that person.”

WHY WAS I BEING PUNISHED FOR SOMETHING I DIDN’T DO?

“We all dream of the day we will be saved. We all dream of the day we get justice. But for most people, myself included, that day will never come. How do you cope with that? How do you move on? Do you just pick up the pieces that shattered your heart and move on? Every time I was sold by my parents, part of my heart was broken. The amount of damage they did can never be fully understood because it was over two decades of the only people I knew how to trust violating every bit of me.”

“We all dream of the day we will be saved. We all dream of the day we get justice. But for most people, myself included, that day will never come. How do you cope with that? How do you move on? Do you just pick up the pieces that shattered your heart and move on? Every time I was sold by my parents, part of my heart was broken. The amount of damage they did can never be fully understood because it was over two decades of the only people, I knew how to trust violating every bit of me.

  When a child suffers any kind of abuse at the hands of their parents’ people often think they begin to dislike or even hate their parents. And though that can eventually happen it usually doesn’t. Most kids instead begin to hate themselves. I often wondered throughout my childhood what was so wrong with me that I was being punished. The thought of what was wrong with my parents never did seem to cross my mind. People usually don’t think about how children trust their parents. The same way they trust them when they awake on Christmas morning and believe a jolly old man has snuck down their chimneys and left them toys under the tree. And when our parents are the ones inflicting pain, we begin to believe we deserve it.

    I did question things at times throughout the years. I also wondered why I was being punished for something I didn’t even know I did. And it’s so hard to explain how that feels. To have to dig deep into my mind and think of that feeling brings tears to my eyes. I was not a happy child. Maybe on the outside I appeared to be, but deep down inside I thought I was evil. I thought that there was something wrong with me and that is why I experienced so much punishment and pain. This is something I still struggle with as an adult. And i assume many other victims of child sex trafficking do as well. People don’t talk about familia trafficking. They talk about when a woman is being sold by a pimp, or when a teenager runs away and gets caught up in a way of life to make ends meet for themselves. And yes, those victims’ matter. We all do. But why is it no one wants to talk about how a child is more likely to be sold by a blood relative? Or talk about how their own parents sell them for any number of reasons? Why can’t there be awareness for all survivors?

    We all dream of the day we will be saved. We all dream of the day we get justice. But for most people, myself included, that day will never come. So, I spent my entire life being punished for something I never did. And my parents spent their entire lives not being punished for something they did. So how do you cope with that? How do you move on? Do you just pick up the pieces that shattered your heart and move on? How would that even look? Every time I was sold by my parents, part of my heart was broken. Every time my parents came into my room at night and refused to stop when I begged them to, part of my soul was broken. The amount of damage they did can never be fully understood because it was over 2 decades of the only people, I knew how to trust violating every bit of me. 

    It was only 3 years ago that I even knew what had actually happened to me. I didn’t know what sex trafficking was or that i have been a victim of it. All along it never dawned on me that money had been exchanged. I spent many years researching the after effects to see if anyone else had the same “issues” I did, or if they had similar memories in hope that I could get the answer to what had happened. And even after that man took me and trafficked me, I still didn’t wake up to what my parents did. I guess that explains the damage they did was so severe that it took 10 years of being away from them for me to finally be ok with who I am and to look back with fully open eyes and use the word. Sometimes i find myself having to say to the mirror out loud “you were sex trafficked by your parents. You were held captive. It was NOT normal”. I should not have to remind myself of that. But that is something I work through every day. And hopefully in the future I can say those words without the pain. Gluing the pieces of your heart back together seems so easy once you begin to glue the pieces of your soul back together. That is the hardest thing I have had to do in my journey to recovery.”

I MET THE WRONG GUY

“Victims can get caught up in all the promises they make to us that it’s too late when we begin to see what is really happening. We don’t exactly ignore the red flags. But we don’t always see them. The things I didn’t see now seem so obvious. I had to give him my money. Everything I earned went from my hands to his pockets. He held onto my ID. I could only call people from his phone while he was sitting next to me. He would never let me out of his sight. Anywhere I went, I went with him. Everything happened so quickly that before I noticed I was in so deep.”

“Victims can get caught up in all the promises they make to us that it’s too late when we begin to see what is really happening. We don’t exactly ignore the red flags. But we don’t always see them. The things I didn’t see now seem so obvious. I had to give him my money. Everything I earned went from my hands to his pockets. He held onto my ID. I could only call people from his phone while he was sitting next to me. He would never let me out of his sight. Anywhere I went, I went with him. Everything happened so quickly that before I noticed I was in so deep.

After I escaped my parents, I spent a long time trying to recover. I was in and out of the hospital. Sometimes for PTSD. Sometimes for addiction help. I was in way over my head and had no idea how to live my life in what was normal for other people. I had no place to live and no money. I hadn’t worked in so many years and jobs were scarce. So, I did what I was good at. Seducing men. So, I began stripping. I met the wrong customer. Looking back there were so many signs. But I never saw them. This man kidnapped me. Now it seemed like I went willingly but the truth is he groomed me. He promised me everything I needed. Mostly stability. I didn’t know stability for months. My parents weren’t the best of people, obviously, but at least I had stability. 

This man took me from Florida all the way to Baltimore. Got me a job at his friends’ club. Let me live at his mother’s home. I had no idea that I had even been kidnapped or would spend the next month being held captive. I was raped for hours. I was trafficked out of the strip club. One of the friends I made pointed out that it was weird I wasn’t allowed to have a phone or hold onto my id. I had lived that way my entire life so it felt normal to me.

Victims can get caught up in all the promises they make to us that it’s too late when we begin to see what is really happening. We don’t exactly ignore the red flags. But we don’t always see them. The things I didn’t see now seem so obvious. I had to give him my money. Everything I earned went from my hands to his pockets. I had no idea how much money I had. He bought me a wig. I wasn’t allowed to look like me. He had someone teach me how to do my makeup in a way I never would do myself. He held onto my id. I could only call people from his phone while he was sitting next to me. He would never let me out of his sight. Anywhere I went, I went with him. I was forced to go for a jog every morning. I had to stay “fit”. He created an image of what I was supposed to be and I had to keep that image at all times. Everything happened so quickly that before I noticed I was in so deep.

We were driving up I-95 and he agreed to take me to see my family. I hadn’t seen them in so long. He was on the phone with his cousin who warned him not to let me see my family cuz they wouldn’t let me leave their house. And I remember him saying “Carina is never going to leave me. Right babe?”. That’s when it sank in that I was being held captive this entire time. It was happening again. It wasn’t normal. How could this happen again? How could I have missed the signs?

When we got back, I asked a friend to help me escape. I lied and said that she was going to come live with us but I wanted time alone so she didn’t feel threatened and I could really talk. She took me to get a phone and I was able to sneak her money at work. One night we made the great escape. I said something to him I knew would anger him and got him to assault me. The police came out. Now I have a record of me being there. It became helpful later when I tried to press charges. That story is for another day. She took me and the money I had saved and I went to the DC greyhound station and went back to Florida. All those signs were right in front of my face and I didn’t even notice. 

We need to be vigilant. We are so vulnerable and they are so good at what they do. I am so lucky that I was able to get away. I am so lucky that it finally sank in that this perfect guy wasn’t giving me what I needed for me. He was giving me what he needed to keep me under his control. First it was almost romantic. Then it turned to fear. And even after all this time I am terrified of seeing him again. After I escaped, he did try to take me again on numerous occasions and claimed I was his property. But I have kept myself safe. And will continue to fight it every day. So, if you meet the wrong guy like i did please know the signs. If he seems like every dream came true, he isn’t. There is no such thing. Throughout recovery we need to be independent and learn to rely only on ourselves. This will help us stay safe as they can’t use certain tactics to control us. 

If someone offers you a once in a lifetime job say no. If they offer to hold onto your money and identification items to keep them safe, say no. If they offer to give you a free place to stay, say no. If anything requires you to give up control and power, say no. I said yes to the wrong guy. I hope this helps people say no.”

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NEED HELP?

concerned for yourself or someone you know?

If your concern is an emergency
Call 911 or your local law enforcement. Lincoln, Nebraska area
402-441-6000

If this is NOT an emergency and is about YOU or someone you know in the Lincoln area contact us.

If this is NOT an emergency, you live outside the Lincoln, Nebraska area, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at
1-888-373-7888

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Take Her by the Hand

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Saturday, March 7, 2020 • 9AM-12PM
Cornhusker Bank • 8310 O Street Lincoln, NE