Survivor Story: Ursel Hughes

“I knew that if I didn’t leave now, I would not be able to keep my son safe. My life meant nothing to me but his life meant everything.”

I was 20 years old and pregnant by my pimp. The further I got along in my pregnancy, the less I was able to “work” (sell sex) and the more violent he became. At around 7 months, he beat me so severely I was taken to the hospital. It was clear I had experienced violence of some kind. My teeth had been kicked in and my face was bruised and bloody. Despite my visible injuries, I wasn’t sure what to say to the hospital staff when they asked me if I needed help. I knew the consequences of outing my pimp for what he was and I was scared of what would happen if I told them the truth. So instead, dropping my head to avoid eye contact, I just told them that I was fine and didn’t need help.

When the nurse I had spoken to returned, she gave me information on domestic violence shelters and a card that had the National Human Trafficking Hotline number on it. Shortly thereafter, once I was out of the hospital, I called the hotline and told them my story. The advocate I spoke to helped me think about how to keep both myself and my baby safe. She supported me in coming up with a plan to leave my pimp when I was ready. She also gave me a list of direct service providers to call if I needed shelter or other services.

I did not leave right away. After my son was born, I was forced to go back to selling sex. This was the turning point for me. I knew that if I didn’t leave now, I would not be able to keep my son safe. My life meant nothing to me but his life meant everything. Nothing was more important than protecting him. Terrified and brave, I called the numbers the hotline had given me. Because of the hotline, I had already thought through my plan for escaping and I already had somewhere to turn to when I was ready to leave. I am forever grateful to the hotline for this. 

I want other survivors who may be considering leaving but are not sure where to turn or who may be afraid to call the hotline to know this: Making that first call is scary but nothing changes if you don’t change something yourself. I was scared when I made my first call but gratitude is an understatement for my feelings toward the hotline. The hotline didn’t just help me when I needed it. I truly believe that if it wasn’t for the hotline helping me when they did, my son would not be alive today.

– Ursel Hughes

*Please note the image above is not of the survivor in order to protect survivors’ privacy.

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Need help? Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.