Julia Walsh was forced into sex trafficking when she was 18 by her boyfriend, who needed money for his drug habit.
Then a young Grapevine teen, she trusted him in the dark world of sex trafficking, where half of the victims are children.
“He pretty much took me to an apartment and said, ‘You’re staying here,’ ” Walsh said in a recent afternoon interview with the Star-Telegram. “And then he left me with some men.”
She had a daily revenue quota, earned by having sex with multiple men each day, and at times slept in the trunk of a car.
Walsh also lost a child fathered by a trafficker, who raped her.
Walsh’s life in sex trafficking ended in 2013 when she and one of the traffickers were arrested in Mobile, Ala., By then she had been sold for sex in 20 states and most major cities in Texas.
“I wasn’t one of those who thought this was a way to make money,” Walsh said. “I trusted someone who put me in trafficking.”
Walsh, 25, now an Arlington resident, shares her story with other survivors, law enforcement officials and counselors at sex-trafficking conferences. She has testified before Texas legislators in support of a bill for human trafficking survivors.
One of three homeless youths in the U.S. is likely to be approached by a trafficker within the first 48 hours of running away or being kicked out, according to national statistics.
The average age of recruitment into sex trafficking is 12 to 16, local social workers estimated. Some victims have been as young as 10.
‘My childhood was tough’
Walsh was a little older when she fell to sex traffickers, after a collision of difficult circumstances.
Born in Russia, Walsh and her twin brother were placed in an orphanage and later adopted.
Her family lived in Florida and then moved to Grapevine, where she attended private schools in elementary, middle and high school in Tarrant County. At 18, she left home for college at Angelo State University in San Angelo, but she never finished that first semester.
“My childhood was tough and I had a rocky relationship with my parents,” Walsh said, but she quickly noted that her parents loved her then and do now. “But I was abused in the orphanage and later diagnosed with PTSD. Let’s say I acted out a lot back when I was younger.”
In her teen years, Walsh was depressed, drank on a regular basis and smoked a lot of marijuana.
Walsh said she was forced into sex trafficking her freshman year of college and that was her life for three years, moving from trafficker to trafficker.
“At times, I would talk or text my parents, but it was all monitored by my trafficker,” Walsh said. “Of course, my parents were glad to hear from me, but I couldn’t tell them what really was going on. And because I was an adult by then, my parents just thought I was old enough to decide on what I wanted to do with my life.”
She said her customers included card-carrying sex offenders, doctors, lawyers, police officers and pedophiles.
Walsh and her last trafficker, Donald Ronald Mims, were arrested in June 2013 in Alabama and extradited back to face charges in Texas, where her recovery began. Her trafficker was later sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Charges against Walsh were dropped once investigators determined she was a victim and not a willing prostitute.
‘You are not forgotten’
The help administered to those recovered from traffickers vary in every case, officials with organizations who help survivors say.
“Every victim’s needs are different, so there is never a cookie-cutter answer as to what happens next,” said Lindsey Speed, director of programs at Traffick911 in Addison. “If they have a safe home situation, they may be able to return home, but often the dangers of their exploitation and the people they’ve been in contact with make it an unsafe option for them to return.”
Traffic911 is a nonprofit organization that helps free American youth from the sex trafficking industry.
Survivors are given medical and mental health assessments. Some are placed in safe houses in Texas, others out of state. Some go to drug treatment centers.
Walsh was fortunate because she went to a safe house for three months after she was rescued.
It has been three years since then, and Walsh’s journey toward healing continues. She works as an office manager for a Fort Worth general contractor and is studying for a degree in social work.
Walsh also has joined Arcadia North Texas in Fort Worth to help survivors. The group was recently formed as a long-term residential community for juveniles who are recovered from sex trafficking.
“Arcadia will be a safe haven for girls to reclaim what was unjustly taken from them,” Arcadia’s founder/executive director Christi Bolz said in an email.
Walsh said so many in the community are helping survivors.
“You are not forgotten,” Walsh said, referring to survivors. “There is hope.”