Elizabeth Quiroz, 33, never thought her life would turn around after spending much of her teenage and young adult years being manipulated and coerced into doing things she didn’t want to do.
She says God saved her and helped her get out of a situation she thought she couldn’t get out of. “God is so good.”
Growing up in Sacramento, California, Quiroz was born into an abusive family where her father was not around and her mother would physically abuse her. She shared that she came from a family of drug addicts, alcoholics, gang members, convicts, and child molesters.
When she was a teen, Quiroz suffered from suicidal ideations. She realized that many of her thoughts stemmed from the need to be loved by others, which she says she never received at home.
When she was 14, she was raped by an older man. “I didn’t know it was rape until later down the road.”
She shared that she kept saying “no,” but that he resisted and kept forcing himself on her until she said she finally gave up.
“I felt frozen. I liked him, but I knew I didn’t want to because it was uncomfortable.”
After being raped, Quiroz remembers coming home and getting into a huge fight with her mom, who lashed out at her and hit her with a leather belt, leaving welts all over her body, she shared.
“When I came home after that situation, she was beating me, and I told her I was pregnant. I was just lying to her so she could stop hitting me. That’s the only thing that came out so she could stop hitting me,” said Quiroz.
Quiroz said she suffered from daily abuse and that every little thing would provoke her mother, who she says was probably drinking at the time.
“There were times when I came home from school and she would be angry for no reason. She was drunk so that could be a trigger on why she was angry and also she had been through so many traumatic events herself growing up.”
When Quiroz realized enough was enough, she called the cops and was referred to a social worker. Quiroz was later placed into the foster care system for a short period of time. When she was in the foster care system, Quiroz had a yearning to get out and find a way to live with her father in San Francisco. She wanted to give her family a second chance.
“I was 15, and he [father] finally took me in. I knew he didn’t want to. He had a girlfriend, he was stable and I got dropped off at his doorstep and he had to take me in. He wasn’t present for me, and I was already suicidal.”
“I was broken by the time I got to him.”
During that time, Quiroz met an older man who promised her many things and lured her into a life of drugs and criminal activity, she said. They initially met each other in San Francisco and exchanged numbers. He told her she was his girl and made her feel special.
“School wasn’t a priority. He wanted to be in my life and gave me compliments. I never got that, so it made me feel good.
When Quiroz turned 16, she decided to tattoo the name of her boyfriend and trafficker on both of her arms because she felt it would prove to him how much she loved him and trusted him.
“He told me, ‘if you love me and you’re my ride and die, if you’re my lady, then get my name on you.’ So I did. I was his girl, and he was mine. What I had to get was degrading. He told me to put property of, his name, and on my arm. He manipulated me to do that.”
Quiroz felt that getting the tattoo with his name was symbolic proof that she was going to be with him forever, and that he must love her because he had asked her to get that permanently etched into her arms.
Today, that tattoo has been covered up with a rose to conceal the name of the man who sold her for sex and trafficked her.
Covering up the tattoo doesn’t erase the pain, but it’s a step towards redemption and hope for Quiroz.
Quiroz thought she was in love, so she decided to drop out of high school and run away with her 27-year-old boyfriend. When she turned 15, she got hooked on crystal meth and other drugs.
“I thought I was in love with him because he was a dad figure, he took care of me, he paid attention to me.” For many years, Quiroz was manipulated into doing what she thought was out of love. Her trafficker eventually made her hold onto his drugs in her mouth while he made transactions to drug addicts, she explained.
Her boyfriend/trafficker sold cocaine, crack, and various other drugs in San Francisco. “I was just broken and I wanted to be loved. I wanted someone to fight for me, I wanted that loyalty.”
Once her boyfriend/trafficker gained Quiroz’s trust, she shared that he and another female began to “groom” her into human trafficking–and that’s when she realized she had no way to escape. She had accepted her fate at the time.
“When he basically had me hold onto his drugs, that’s when he started grooming me into human trafficking because I was holding his drugs and being groomed to sell drugs. So he said, ‘if you love me, you’ll do this.’ He needed me to sell myself to go buy the crack. It was like a cycle. I started selling drugs and my body throughout my adulthood because he trained me to do that.”
At 16, she was sold for sex, and Quiroz said she felt like she had no choice, that it was what she was supposed to do because she knew she couldn’t go back to her mom or her dad.
She didn’t have any place to go, and the only place she knew was with her boyfriend, who manipulated her into being with him and surviving by engaging in illegal activity. “It ended up becoming power and mind control.”
“I knew how to make money. I took it to my adulthood. I was getting money for him, and he was the one taking me to the projects and buying the drugs for us to sell. He brought me clothes just to get by. I didn’t care about the material things. I grew up in a poor environment, so I didn’t care about [fancy] clothes. I just wanted to be loved.”
Quiroz says for about seven years, she became a victim of human trafficking.
“I was exchanging something valuable for money and sex because I was brainwashed thinking that’s the only way I knew how to make money. Drug dealers, traffickers, and gang members groomed me and trained me to do it as survival.”
At 26, Quiroz became pregnant with her child. Throughout the pregnancy, Quiroz continued to use drugs and couldn’t stop.
“When I continued to use I finally gave birth but I got clean the month before I gave birth and when he [my child] was 3 months old I went back and sold drugs.”
But when she went back into selling drugs, she got caught and arrested, she shared. Quiroz says she has been in and out of correctional facilities throughout the years, but during her latest arrest, she had an epiphany to turn her life around.
God came to her to rescue her.
When she phone called family from a holding tank when she was serving time in jail, she heard the sounds of her weeping child in the background and realized she couldn’t put her kid through all of the pain, addiction, and abuse she suffered. She served 18 months in jail and after that, she decided it was important to get sober and clean.
Today Quiroz’s life is very different from the life she lived in her teen through adult years.
Today, she is an advocate for human trafficking survivors, a drug and alcohol counselor, and a wife and mom to five children. She is also on the Human Trafficking Task Force of Sonoma County, often speaking out about human trafficking and sharing her story to help others. She is currently studying full-time to get her AA in human services and social advocacy and behavioral sciences and is hoping to get her master’s in social work. Ultimately, her long-term goal is to be a parole officer.
“I’m also a Christian, I believe in God. I love God and give him the glory for my success.”
Quiroz is hoping to start a nonprofit organization that focuses on temporary housing for survivors of human trafficking.
“When we pull them out [survivors of human trafficking], they go back to what they know. If we have housing where we are teaching education, life skills, teaching them new stuff, they are going to want to turn their life around.”
As a survivor of human trafficking, Quiroz has a message for those who feel they cannot escape their current situation due to manipulation, fear or survival:
“If they’re going through human trafficking right now, they are worth so much more. They have so much potential and beauty, they don’t deserve to go through that.”
“I would encourage other people to just work as a team and work towards ending human trafficking because everybody has a soul and it’s not right to be sold.”
“We aren’t just items to be sold. We are human beings and we deserve to be loved. I want to say to victims or survivors they are not garbage, they are not damaged goods. They can still be redeemed and can give back and empower other people with their stories. Our past does not define who we are today.”
If you would like to contact Elizabeth Quiroz or learn more about her future nonprofit, please email her at email@example.com.
-Written by Monica Luhar for Mornings with Moni. Published October 2, 2018.