In this photo essay, we hear the story of Jason Bridges, an American survivor of forced commercial sexual exploitation, who was coerced by drugs into the world of trafficking by a night club owner. In the series he reflects on his childhood experience, the way he was groomed, and the ongoing challenges of living through the psychological impact. In 2020, boys made up 7% of child sex trafficking victims reported by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
PORTLAND, ME (Nov. 23, 2021) Survivor of forced commercial sex trafficking, Jason Briggs and his daughter share a peaceful moment in their home.
44-year-old Jason Briggs has the rugged good looks of a man in the prime of his life. Yet, his eyes tell another story.
As a child growing up in Portland, Maine, Jason moved from home to home trying to escape alcoholic parents and a home filled with violence, abuse and neglect. His father was mostly absent and his other family members were consumed with their own troubles. At age six, he was routinely tortured by a stepfather who forced him to drink alcohol until he was sick and defenseless and compliant to his sexual advances.
“He didn’t like me because my mother was raped by my grandmother’s brother which is my mother’s uncle…that’s who my father was…so he didn’t like that I was an incest baby…”Jason didn’t learn of his mother’s history and this family secret until he was in his twenties, sitting in a Maine prison for robbery. It was the first time he had gotten into trouble. He attributes his legal troubles to a lengthy addiction to pain medication after suffering a car accident when he was seventeen years old. Jason knew he was addicted but the doctor just kept writing prescriptions.
It was during that difficult time in prison that he learned about an earlier incidence of sexual violence perpetrated on him by a grandmother at age three that caused a deep family rift that was never healed. As a result, he was passed around to other relatives’ homes into his teenage years and experienced multiple incidents of sexual abuse by an uncle who used money to coerce younger relatives into sex. The details of these circumstances remain vivid in Jason’s mind, even today.
At age 16, Jason met a man while hitchhiking that turned his fragile life upside down. Because of his childhood trauma, Jason was vulnerable and didn’t have any strong, healthy male role models. He was also using alcohol to numb his painful childhood. The man groomed Jason with gifts, alcohol and ski trips which ended in drugged, disorienting sexual encounters.
Around this time, Jason dropped out of school and lived on the streets.
“Honestly, I grown up like in the streets pretty much from 16 all the way to prison.”Without a good foundation or healthy family support, Jason felt isolated and without hope or direction.
“When I got out of prison in 2008, I ended up dancing at an underground club…I won a dance contest…and the owner asked me if I wanted to dance there on a regular [basis].”
“I worked sometimes four nights a week and never was paid. I was just getting out of prison. I didn’t know. I didn’t have nothing you know, and…I really felt like I had no choice. I didn’t want to go back, and they said I had to do these private party dances or go back to jail.”
“They give you these drugs…you’re dependent... they exploit you and they’re taking all the money. And, making you do all these ridiculous disgusting painful things.“
Today, Jason is seven years clean and sober and runs his own painting and remodeling business. He was able to complete his GED while in county jail and would like to attend college in the future. He is engaged to another trafficking survivor with whom he has three children. He credits her love and support and strong example of how to overcome adversity as the reason for his newfound hope and stability. She has helped him find his voice and advocate for himself and come to terms with what happened in his childhood.
“I’ve worked extremely hard to overcome my past and continue to overcome the aftermath. I continue to work on myself, seek professional help, maintain my doctor appointments and stay in good health and mental health.”
Every day is a new challenge. For survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking, shame and fear are common and often hold victims and survivors in a type of emotional bondage tied to low self-worth. It can take a lifetime to fully heal and repair the lost connection to the authentic self and to others.
“It’s really hard to talk about, I guess with stuff like that. And…who’s really going to believe you?”
Jason is not alone. Many survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation don’t speak publicly until middle age. Data from the U.S. Department of Justice suggests that 86% of child sexual abuse goes unreported altogether. However, when victims do report, a high percentage delay disclosure well into adulthood. When survivors come forward and bravely share their stories, we must start by believing.