Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): How were you introduced to prostitution and at what age?
LaToya Richards (LR): I was 18 or 19 years of age and had no idea that what I had just done for money could or would be considered prostitution. I was not on the streets and I was not yet in what could be considered active addiction. I was just sitting at the bus stop, and a man offered me a ride home. Mid-way he propositioned me, and I accepted because I did not see anything wrong with it since I was promiscuous anyway. At 20 years of age I was actually involved in a prostitution ring and did not realize it because it was presented to me as the family I did not have, and the support that I needed.
EM: We spoke about some of the reasons why women and girls get into prostitution as well as what keeps them there. Can you reiterate those reasons?
LR: Some are forced, persuaded, or they lack knowledge as to this lifestyle is non-conducive to their natural lives. There are many different scenarios that can ultimately lead to women being in this industry, and believe it or not they fall under one or all three of these reasons.
EM: What are some of the uncommon circumstances women and girls become prostitutes? We talked a little bit about sex trafficking and women and girls being taken advantage of after natural disasters. Can you expound on that a little more?
LR: The industry is extremely complex and seeing it happen would depend on: (1.) Who you are and if you have the eyes for such activity, and (2.) Where you are, because they are definitely particular areas that are prone to high drug and prostitution activity than others. But you would have to be aware of that.
With that said, there are situations where you can clearly see that it is definitely sexual exploitation. Massage parlors, hotels, motels, chat lines, and as of lately the internet, have been the main place these women prefer to use as a platform, so to speak. There are even women who come from different countries with the promise of a better life only to get here and the person or people who got them here their entire life. Children are taken from different countries to be sex slaves through the means of adoption and even natural disasters, this happens more often than not.
EM: How do these men or women approach/trap/coerce girls into this life? Let’s use runaways as an example. I read that 1 in 6 runaways are more likely to be brought into or forced into sex trafficking.
LR: I would say it is easier to manipulate a woman who does not know any better into this lifestyle. Without a core set of values and principles conducive to the spiritual growth and development, it is quite easy to get caught up in the things of this world. Love, acceptance, drugs and or all three of those motivations can be used to drive a woman into this industry. There is no one way to go about doing this. I made a choice to use my body to get money and get high. There are people, men and women, who will use the promise of their love and affection or a better life to get women to do as they please, and this promise is tailored to the individual they are giving it to at that time.
EM: Looking back, what do you see you were missing, deep within yourself, that allowed the addiction to occur? Sometimes we don’t realize we don’t know our value.
LR: Self-love, self-acceptance as well as other skills like critical thinking, coping and emotional intelligence where a few of the things I found that I lacked. I also did not have the proper guidance or motivation necessary to strive for the absolute best and to see my truest and fullest potential. I did not have any emotional, mental, physical, and most importantly and spiritual support. There was no healthy identity nor belief system I had for myself. It had never been cultivated. I never had the proper foundation to build on.
EM: You mentioned that some of the men you were with would tell you that this wasn’t the life for you. What affect did their words have on you?
LR: The words of those people were a reminder of who I knew myself to be at my core. Those words affected me in a positive manner, but because those people would take advantage of me majority of the time right after those words had been spoken, I found it hard to take them seriously for a long period of time.
EM: How did substance abuse come about? Was it before or after the prostitution, or was it at the same time?
LR: Substance abuse came before the prostitution for me. However, when I left the drugs alone I continued prostituting, because I didn’t see anything wrong with it.
You can let go of the drugs but still be addicted to men; addicted to the approval, the “love” and validation because you are really looking to be told by a man that you are worth something. It’s natural for a woman to want a man. We’re raised from little girls to want a man in our life. We talk about the wedding and the wedding dress, but what happens when you don’t get that or see that happening in your life by the time “they” [society] say you should? If you’re not married or in a relationship by your 20s or 30s…then something is wrong with you? What society says is right isn’t always right.
If you listen to what these men [hip hop artists] are saying in these songs of how to keep a man, I say: “I’m good, I’ll pass”. The things they say to keep them are the same things they talk about you for.
We live in a world and society that tells us how to keep a man, what makes a man happy, and all these Facebook posts with photos of women with their men as if they [the men] are the prize. It’s this insidious way of the world telling us you’re nothing without a man in your life. Where do you go to find resolve for that? If you don’t like going inside of yourself, then there’s a problem.
EM: Do you know of any women and girls who lost their lives while in prostitution? I remember Faye who was in the same transitional home with you…I was devastated hearing about what happened to her.
LR: I don’t know of anyone personally, but I’ve heard of many. When I was in jail, girls I was in with were released and got back into the life and were killed.
When I heard about Faye being killed, it really woke me up and made me re-evaluate myself. I saw myself slipping back into old habits while in Angela House, and when Faye was killed – and I think she was really dealing with the wrong guy that ended up killing her – it made me snap into shape.
EM: How did you begin to feel the emotions such as loneliness, boredom, and anxiety without resorting to numbing out? How did you get to that space in your life where you learned that it was okay to feel those things and then have something healthy to do with those feelings?
LR: Meditation, reading, writing, and talking about my feelings. Getting out of myself and helping others. Setting goals and accomplishing them. I basically had to learn how to live again. I had to re-program myself with new thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that were in alignment with my core. I have to learn myself on a daily basis and incorporate it and/or adjust accordingly. It is truly a lifelong process.
EM: How did you ultimately escape from prostitution? Was it over a period of time or did something traumatic happen?
LR: I went to jail and lost my mom. I have two children whom were one and three years old at this time. It dawned on me that they needed me. I made a decision to change. I really did not want them to be as lost as I was because I was not willing to do what it would take to be there.
EM: I’ve come to know you as a very talented writer and poet. How much did your gifts play in recovery?
LR: Those attributes come from my core. I could always refer back to that being who I was at my most authentic self. That was very comforting, because I truly believe that I am talented and it gave me something to look forward to. I could always start making goals towards those gifts to visualize a better future for myself.
EM: In what ways did the transitional home help you come closer to yourself?
LR: Not all transitional facilities are the same, but Angela House did an amazing job teaching me structure and how to love again. I was introduced to myself there. What I liked and did not like. What to do with my time and how to manage it. How to release thoughts that brought about ugly feeling and unproductive behavior. I did a lot of research on belief systems and self-actualization.
EM: I want to ask about events that could act as an opening to that lifestyle like major sporting events. I was talking to a good friend of mine and he mentioned the Super Bowl and how that is a ground for prostitution and human trafficking. What are your thoughts about that?
LR: Yes ma’am. I think you have to already be in the industry or someone is already leading you in that lifestyle. It is well thought out in cases such as major sporting events.
EM: What are your thoughts about young girls and women going to the parties during these sporting events who aren’t looking to engage in prostitution but are in the wrong place and the wrong time? We see a lot of women chasing athletes because of the “glamorous” lifestyle and some choose parties as their introduction.
LR: I think knowledge of self and spiritual guidance is necessary for anyone who thinks the things of this world will bring them happiness or peace. I mean, at the end of the day, there is a need or needs trying to be met in the wrong way. Chasing the wrong things in the wrong manner. It all goes back to belief systems. We have to start building a nation of women who know and love themselves no matter what.
EM: What is life like for you now? What are your goals and visions? Looking back, what lessons have you learned and what message do you believe you have for others?
LR: Life is awesome. I am currently in the process of becoming a Certified Recovery Coach Specialist. I am in school studying Human Service Technology with the goal of obtaining my AAS in Social Sciences. I am going to write a book based on the things I have gone through and the lessons I learned. Creating a non-profit is definitely something I plan on doing. I want to start a YouTube channel and a blog about the first three years of recovery, because those first three years are critical in the sustaining of you abstinence from not only drugs but old behaviors that could lead back down the wrong path. There are many things that I have set my sights on, and I look forward to being a beacon of hope for women and children.
EM: Is there anything else you would like to add Sis?
LR: The incomprehensible demoralization of the woman makes it very hard for us to put ourselves back on a pedestal. I have to go with the facts about myself and not what other people say to knock me off. There’s one particular phrase that I remember from your [Wounds 2 Wisdom] class that stands out to me to this day, “A Nation can rise no higher than its woman”.
The mind is extremely powerful, and the one thing I continuously reiterate to myself is that I am a spiritual being having a human experience. This sets the day up for me to bless all my experiences as an opportunity for growth, nothing more and nothing less.
EM: All praise is due to Allah! Thank you for sharing so much of your journey on such a heavy and deep subject. I am so proud of you and all you have come through! May Allah continue to bless, strengthen and guide you. May He continue to heal you and show you the divine being that you truly are! Much success to you Sis! Love you!