Survivor Story – Ursel Hughes

I knew that if I didn’t leave now, I would not be able to keep my son safe.

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.

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Your story is powerful. When survivors share their experiences, people listen and things change. If you are interested in being part of that process, we’d love to hear from you.

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