Jessica's Story

Amara Legal Center

Amara Legal Center provides free legal services to individuals whose rights have been violated while involved in commercial sex, whether involvement was by coercion, necessity, choice, or otherwise, in the D.C. metropolitan area.

Amara’s clients are typically black female-identifying individuals between the ages of 16-24 who met their trafficker either online or in person. Traffickers often target young women who have few or weak family and community connections, enticing them with promises of a romantic relationship, a new family unit, a safe home and basic necessities, or even a glamorous lifestyle. After the target becomes dependent on the trafficker for these things, the trafficker forces or coerces the target into selling sex in hotels or private homes as a means of repayment. For example, traffickers threaten harm against the target’s family members, use violence and sexual assault as a method of control, and make threats to expose the target’s engagement in sex work to their friends and family. Some are even forced to take drugs, often resulting in a lifetime of addiction. These coercive tactics keep their targets from running away or seeking help.

Jessica’s Story: A long-term resident of D.C., Jessica (pseudonym) fled from her abusive family when she was in her late teens. She met an older man, Robert (pseudonym), who had an aura of authority because he was in law enforcement. Jessica began an intimate relationship with Robert, and he invited her to live with him. She discovered he was running an illegal drug operation out of his residence but stayed with him because she didn’t have anywhere else to live. Robert eventually convinced Jessica to begin using drugs, and she quickly became addicted. Robert then began to abuse Jessica physically, sexually and verbally, and forced her to perform sexual acts with other men for money or drugs. Sometimes he got Jessica high before he made her perform the sexual acts because she resisted less when she was high. If she did refuse, he beat her.
Jessica suffered through nearly two years of sex trafficking.

After enduring a particularly violent beating that resulted in two black eyes and a broken nose, Jessica ran away from Robert. However, she was still addicted to drugs and struggled to stop using. Before breaking free from the addiction, she was arrested on drug charges and civil infractions.

Once Jessica overcame her addiction, she found a steady job, where she excelled for many years, receiving honors and awards. But when she lost that job through no fault of her own, she struggled to find new employment. Jessica had not used drugs for more than a decade, but her criminal record haunted her, losing out on multiple job offers. Jessica eventually found out about Amara Legal Center, where she was able to access top notch free legal services that helped her get her criminal record sealed, putting her on the path to a new life.

Thanks to contributions from individuals like you, Amara helps people like Jessica navigate the legal systems in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Depending on the client’s legal needs, Amara helps them secure Civil Protective Orders, pursue expungements and vacatur of criminal records so they can get employment and stable housing, and file for name changes, child custody and divorce. Amara also provides victim-witness advocacy and criminal representation.

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