The face of human trafficking

Woman escapes exploitation, moves on to productive life, career

Sitting at the Jantzen Beach Red Lion last fall for a human trafficking lecture, Gresham businesswoman Jessica Richardson heard the whispers: “That doesn’t happen here.”

But she knew better.

Richardson had been a sex trafficking victim in that same hotel 13 years earlier.

Now 30, married, and the mother of four children, Richardson operates Money Maniac, teaching people how to save money on groceries.

Sitting in her Rockwood office, she recalled how she came to live in the world of tricks and tracks.

She had stable loving parents. But at the age of 4, three neighbors in Texas began to rape her.

“They weren’t brutal, violent or harsh,” she said, recalling her abusers, ages 13, 15 and 19.

“It was like their way of showing me affection and kindness. I know that’s really twisted, and now I know it was rape. But at the time, I had no frame of reference. I mean, who talks to their 4 year old about sex?”

The only hint of something wrong: They threatened to hurt her and her family if she told anyone.

At 5, the abuse stopped when her family moved. They settled in Joseph in northeast Oregon, where her father was murdered when she was 10.

At 12, out of rebellion and to fit in, she started having sex again. By the end of her sophomore year, she was doing drugs and dropped out of school.

Desperate, her mother sent her to Job Corps in Estacada, where her promiscuity continued. She earned her GED and managed a restaurant near Lloyd Center.

One of her customers became her pimp.

Billed as lucrative and glamorous, she saw prostitution as a way to make money off what she was already giving away for free.

She was 17. “My first trick ran me over with his car,” she said.

For 14 months, she worked the tracks, or areas known for prostitution, between Vancouver, B.C., and San Diego. Richardson generated $30,000 to $50,000 a month servicing 10 to 20 men a day.

But her pimp became too controlling. She disappeared, became a partner in a Seattle escort service and settled down with a live-in boyfriend.

Then at 20, she discovered she was pregnant. “It was the biggest moment in my life,” she said.

Richardson sold her business and got a job selling insurance. But she and her boyfriend parted ways. She moved to Idaho with her baby and met her husband. Their six-year anniversary was last Sunday.

Since that lecture at the Red Lion, Richardson has made her story public and is active in the local effort to build a shelter for underage sex-trafficking victims.

Her oldest daughter, now 9, recently made a startling discovery.

“People can be owned?” she asked.

Yes, her mother said. And slavery is still in practice. Then, in very gentle and simple terms, Richardson told her daughter about her past.

“Why can’t we stop this?” her daughter asked.

“Well, I’m working on it,” Richardson replied.


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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Now that is a testament to the human spirit. Thank God for Jessica Richardson!

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