Donna Yates grips her hands and nervously settles into her seat.
She is only now sharing her story but knows it is time to go public. Yates is adamant that what happened to her could happen to any child.
“Oh wow,” she clears her throat. “Where to begin?”
Yates says her first forced sex act was at age five with a ten-year-old family member. It began what she calls as a more than decade-long cycle of abuse by her adoptive parents.
“Basically whatever they wanted, I was to do,” Yates remembers. “Anytime I cried, anytime I said I didn’t want to, I would get beaten.”
The now 39-year-old remembers going to school in the Ohio town where she grew up. After class, she says she was sold to iron workers, neighbors and anyone else who had an appetite for child prostitution and pornography.
“I was pretty good at keeping things quiet, acting like everything was normal, but at the same time my insides were screaming.”
Yates says trafficked children more often than not keep it to themselves, so the community has a responsibility to look for what is visible on the outside.
The group ImPACT Virginia says that may include children who avoid eye contact, especially with authority figures. Trafficked children may also appear to be malnourished or physically abused. They may have scripted responses or none at all.
“They would always talk for me. I was never allowed to say anything for myself,” Yates says about the control her traffickers had over her.
She adds, “It’s important for the community to know these signs because you could be next. My child could be next. It’s sickening, and it’s wrong. It hurts my heart.”
Yates is speaking at Virginia’s 1st Youth Safety Summit on Saturday, April 21.
ImPACT Virginia describes it as an effort to “empower youth and adults to avoid exploitation, including human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.”
The summit is taking place from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at Capital One Town Center, 15075 Capital One Drive. It is free, but registration is required.
Follow this link to register or for more information.