Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Being Rich Is No Insurance Against Sex Trafficking

Traffickers target the vulnerable, and they can be rich, poor, or in between.

Key points

  • A middle-class two-parent household doesn’t guarantee safety from sex traffickers.
  • Devastating emotional loss can set a young person on the path to being trafficked.
  • It takes great affort to escape trafficking and build a life that’s close to normal.

Although sex traffickers prey on the vulnerable, the vulnerable don’t necessarily have to be poor or from a broken family.

Vanda M. came from a solidly middle-class, two-parent family. They lived in a beautiful suburb in central Massachusetts. Her father was a physician who worked for three major hospitals, and her mother was a religious woman who believed extramarital sex was a sin.

How Vanda Ended up in “the Life”

“I was a product of the rebellious 1960s,” Vanda explains. “My father was a domineering patriarch, and when he said, ‘I won’t pay for your college if you date a black guy,’ I immediately looked for a black guy to date.”

Vanda remembers seeing her dad watch the Miss America contest. "He was judging women by their boobs and butts. Like horses. And my mother was sitting right beside him like it was the most wholesome thing in the world. Mom was invested in my being pretty and able to attract a good provider."

How she looked was an important value to her parents. "I became bulimic," she reports.

“I was also influenced by hallucinogens in the 60s. I saw my parents as brainwashed by a culture that dictated 'don't be you because you suck'. "

Then tragedy struck. Vanda was 13 when her adored older brother drowned in the town reservoir while "huffing" aerosol spray. Four years later, her father died in a car accident while drunk.

No Grief Counselors in 1977

The family didn’t have tools for coping with their anguish. For Vanda, the death of her brother and then her father created the perfect emotional storm. In response, she ran away from her private boarding school.

She had $100 in her pocket. Her destination? Times Square, New York.

Vanda quickly found a "boyfriend." As often is the case with traffickers, he was positively brilliant in psychologically manipulating her. He was able emotionally to help fill the hole left by the deaths of her brother and father.

The World of Commercialized Sex

The bond became intense. It was so intense that to please him, she let him lead her into the world of commercialized sex.

“I left him nine times in nine months but I was so needy because of the loss of the men in my life that I kept coming back,” she remembers.

It started when he talked her into getting a job as a stripper. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem like a bad job. At first.

“I was a show-off,” she recalls. “I remember walking out to do my stripping and I saw a man’s jaw drop and heard him say to the guy next to him, ‘Now there’s a woman!’” Given her parents’ emphasis on physical appearance, she was proud.

The stripping led to commercial sex, and finally, she ended up in the hospital on IV antibiotics for a venereal disease. For three weeks, she was in "the poor people's ward" with eight women.

Vanda Gets Her Life Back

They talked late into the night, helping each other. She was off the streets long enough to really think and break loose for good. At the insistence of her ward-mates, she called her mother, asking, “Can I come home and revamp my life?”

The revamping began. She started college, studying criminal justice, but then left to become a full-time stand-up comic. She’s toured clubs and colleges, appearing on Showtime's Comic Strip Live and Lifetime's Girl's Night Out.

Used with permission from Vanda M.
Source: Used with permission from Vanda M.

If someone didn’t know her background, he or she would probably never guess that things had once been so difficult. Vanda comes across as smart, together, likeable, and competent.

Still it took Vanda a lot of effort to become the person she is today.

“I read everything I could find on personal development, philosophy, and quantum physics. I meditated. I took courses.”

Today, Vanda is proof that people can have a life of dignity, respect, and love—even after a seriously dark time.

When asked if she has any tips garnered from her life’s experiences, she says she wishes parents would talk more with their children. “In my case, if I could have talked to my parents about what I was going through in puberty, I might not have gone down that difficult road.”