He took away my dignity, but also my hard-earned money

 I grew up in a house with drug addicts as parents. From a young age, I had to learn how take care of myself and others. At home I felt unsafe and life had became a living hell. I saw no other option but to run away. This was the start of my life in the sex industry. To me, sex was not love or lust. To me sex was a means of survival.

According to the law, I wasn’t even allowed to have sex.  But life on the streets did not offer me any other carrier choices. I had to make a living somehow. Roaming from one home to another, with sex as a means of exchange was my livelihood for two full years. My greatest desire in all those years was to feel safe. Growing up safe in a loving, warm family is a given for most children, but it wasn’t for me. Where could I find peace and a roof over my head where I felt safe? Those questions seemed to be the recurring theme time and time again.

Then one day I met Jimmy. He made a big impression on me with his muscular body and determined gaze. He made so much of an “impression” on me that I fell in love. Now when I look back, I would call it grooming.

 He convinced me to put his name on my arm: Strangely it felt like some sort of symbol of the safety that I had been looking for all those years. That’s why it was a surprise when he punched me in the face for the first time. The outbursts of anger were fortunately not daily. But was that any excuse for violence in my own home? Not only did he take away my dignity by beating me, but he also took away all of my hard-earned money that I thought was mine to keep.

Jimmy’s name tattooed on my arm serves as a reminder of the times that I needed external confirmation and reassurance. To me, a cover-up of the tattoo is a symbolic closing of that chapter in my life, a start to standing more on my own two feet.

Vera’s story is one that many more people recognize as their own, and sometimes we forget how many people that really are. With the Branded Free campaign at Share we aim to support survivors, like Vera, move past the memories that are permanently left on their skin in ink.