Jay — mommy’s lucky charm! This boy right here is my sunshine after the rain. He cures my depression and eases any heartache that tries to disrupt me. My true love! That look in his eyes and the way he lays his little head on me. What more could I truly want? Time with the boys now is so much better, not being so stressed out all the time. Life has slowed down and we are able to bond better and do more. —Cary Stuart
As part of my ongoing work to spotlight survivors of human trafficking, this project profiles Cary, an American sex trafficking survivor, as she reflects on her experience, the way it has impacted her as a mother, and the challenges of reintegration into society.
Trafficked into ‘the life’ at just 23 years old, Cary spent the next 7 years isolated, beaten, drugged, and moved between states, forced to sell herself night after night to meet the quotas set by her pimps. Despite enduring the most difficult of circumstances, Cary emerged from the horrors of trafficking strong and determined to rewrite her story. That’s what I wanted to emphasize in telling her story.
The series takes place over a one-year time frame, and in it, I strive to support Cary in reclaiming her truth, giving a voice to her resilience. The mother of a teen son, and two young boys, 3-year-old Tristin and 1-year-old Jay, Cary’s love and dedication to them are evident and one of the focal points of the project. She says her goal is to model confidence and self-worth, teaching her sons to respect and defend girls and women — and it’s this passion that sets Cary apart.
The reality is that trafficking is far more prevalent in the United States that most people realize, with more than 9,000 illicit massage businesses operating across the country at any given time — part of organized criminal groups that rake in an estimated $2.5 billion every year. Through sharing Cary’s story, I hope to empower other survivors, engage with my audience to challenge common myths about sex trafficking and prostitution and foster a dialogue about the root causes for sexual exploitation, namely the demand for commercial sex in the U.S.
Cary with 14 month old son, Jay, say good-bye to his father before going to daycare, Biddeford, Maine.
Cary Stuart, US advocate and human trafficking survivor in Kennedy Park on East Bayside, Portland ME.
Human trafficking is a very lucrative business, because you can sell a woman over and over again, disturbingly different than drug trafficking. I was often moved from place to place and was isolated. People find it difficult to understand that people caught up in the life of prostitution often times are being victimized and are there against their will because they have no other options.- Cary Stuart
Cary's childhood was spent in DHS custody. Both her parents were alcoholics. At age 14, she was committed to the Maine Youth Center. "I was held there on a tracking program till I was 18. I was the worst kid in there because, I figured, I couldn't go home. I felt like, I wasn't wanted and nobody loved me. I would sit by the window every Sunday for visits and nobody would come. I would go to my room and breakdown. I became very self-destructive and became my own worst enemy there. I would try to escape but that just got me more time. I caused riots and just didn't care anymore. I became hurt, angry, and felt so abandoned. I became suicidal. I tried to hang myself and cut myself often."
Cary bathes her 4-week old son, Jay, in her living room, Biddeford, Maine.
At age 23, Cary met her first trafficker. "I was standing in front a hotel when this man started talking to me. I could not belief that he was interested in me. He was dressed really nice and drove a black Mercedes. I was really impressed and was seriously deceived. Before I knew it, I was in his car going to NYC. He promised he we would travel and he would help me with my modeling career. But none of that happened.” She agrees to go to NYC with him. When she arrives in what she thought was NYC- turns out to be Atlantic City, there she is sold and forced to prostitute herself.
Cary holds her new born baby, Jay, while trying on shoes at Just Love Worldwide, Portland, Maine. "In the life, I went from one monster to the next I was torn apart and stripped of everything. I went days without food. I was locked in rooms, kept in a brothel, had to work casinos, craigslist, back page, and worked the track. At sunrise I would just be getting home, there was no exceptions to answering that phone either. I had no control. I had to ask to eat, ask to go use the bathroom, to smoke. I could not even leave his sight. If there was another man in the room when we went somewhere, I was forced to stare at the floor. It was humiliating. The men buying sex they knew I was not there of my own free will, but they didn't give a shit. I was forced to sell my body to 10-15 men per night. Where was I going to go? I had nobody and no way out. Or at least that's how I felt. It seems like everyone that seemed to care just wanted to hurt me. There was always evil lurking. I fell prey to so much. It seemed like the only people that wanted to help me had bad intentions. Every day is still a struggle to be healthy, but I have my boys. They keep me strong."
Cary and her 1 year old son, Jay, play in the living room, Biddeford, Maine.
At age 30, Cary was arrested for prostitution in New York. "When the Office of Affairs brought me in, I ended up getting extradited to Florida. I got 18 months in prison there. That changed my life forever. I had to do a lot of self-help and as I read more books I wanted to know more and more. It helped me make sense of everything. I started to recover and heal. I had to go way back to childhood and deal with everything. I was able to heal from all my childhood trauma for the most part while I was in prison. While serving time in prison, I was chosen for a new recovery group. While there, I worked on developing integrity, morals, and self-worth. The only thing was I couldn't talk or recover from what I went through in human trafficking. There was too much stigma and people are so ignorant. I would be looked at as a hooker and a whore. For the longest time, I blamed myself and felt dirty and degraded. I had to learn to love myself and forgive myself."
Cary applies her makeup in the living room mirror before leaving to trauma therapy, Biddeford, Maine.
"My life has never been easy. I go to trauma therapy, woman's group once a week, and drug counseling. It's all a lot of work but I make the time because I need to be healthy for my boys. I struggle with mental illness, night terrors, PTSD and dissociative personality disorder. In the life, I was torn apart and stripped of everything. My pride myself worth, dignity, no values no morals, I had lost all hope. Never lose hope that is the worst thing anyone can ever do to themselves. I found my purpose in everything I went through. Helping other women, educating the community, trying to get bills passed at the State House to better help women coming out of the life, advocating, mentoring, and training police to better identify victims with respect has become my purpose." In January 2019, Cary relapsed and began using again. She was admitted to a drug rehabilitation facially for 3 months.
Cary and her son, Tristin, play outdoors at their home, Biddeford, Maine
Two-year-old Tristin is Cary's second child. Tristin was born without a cochlea in his left ear. He is hearing impaired. "I had Tristin when I was 'in the life'. In the back of my mind, I think his disability is from being choked during my pregnancy till I was unconscious more times than I can remember and punched in the stomach. But docs say it's genetics. Tristin is most likely the son of one of my pimps either Ramey or King. King was the worst pimp of all. He tried to kill me a few times by strangulation and was the pimp who started drugging me. King would lock me up in a room and leave me there for days. He had a bottom bitch who came to collect my money each morning. I had a quota of $1000.00 per night. Men came in constantly and I would have to have sex with them any way they wanted." After her 18-month prison sentence, Cary participated in an 8- month recovery program at Hope Rising in Maine. In recovery, she was asked to attend AAA meetings and domestic abuse support groups. At this point, it becomes clear what has happened to her is human trafficking. She then begins reading self-help books about trafficking survivors- one particular book is the Survivor Guide to learning by Racheal Lloyd. Cary quickly realized her clinical therapist, who runs the support groups, had very little experience working with trafficking survivors. Cary took it upon herself to start running the support groups using Rachel Lloyd’s guide book. She finishes the program at Hope Rising 8 months later. " I felt very proud. This felt important to me. It was during this time I could finally see myself – Self-realization. Until this point in my life, I was in constant worry about others. But now I felt I could worry about myself and help myself."
Cary and her son, Tristin, play outdoors at their home, Biddeford, Maine.
Cary and Tristin engage in play therapy during a speech session with a early intervention speech therapist.
Cary and her 4 month old son, Jay, play in the bathroom mirror, Biddeford, Maine.
'Not so sure how I did it myself. Some days were much tougher than others to get to where I am today. I just keep showing up, working on myself, growing, changing for the better, trying to overcome and understand what I've been through and who I am today. I want to live free and know who I am. There's so much of me I don't know. I want a better life and a healthier mind, body, and soul. To build a good life for me and my family. Raise a family like I should have been raised. I don't want chaos dysfunction in my life. My dream is to take what I went through and use it to help others. I have a strong faith and those are other great stories to tell.'
Sex trafficking operations capture an estimated 200 to 300 Maine victims every year, according to a report produced for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MECASA).