Particular Report: Survivors within the Streets – Altering Endings


Human trafficking.

It’s a difficult topic to talk about, but it’s also a necessary topic because the reality is that it happens everywhere, even here in Northern Michigan.

Fortunately for the men and women trapped and trafficked, there is Leslie King.

Whitney Amann and chief photojournalist Derrick Larr introduce you to her in Part 1 of their special report Survivors in the Streets: Changing Endings.

Adults and children turn to books as an escape …

“When I read books, I’m in this very different world,” said Leslie. “I am the prince, the frog, I am everything in this fantasy and I tell people I came out.”

For some, turning these pages is an important escape from their reality.

“My father was a chronic alcoholic, my mother was a workaholic,” she said. “As far as I can remember, I can still see and hear my mother’s screams, and you know my father just beat her viciously, I remember that.”

And the trauma Leslie King faced day in and day out didn’t stop at home.

“I was called White Girl, Mutt, Oreo, Heinz 57 because the majority of the kids in my school were African American and I see very few Caucasians and be the smartest thing there,” said Leslie. “I’m afraid to go to school, didn’t want to go to school, children would beat me up.”

Then Leslie’s older cousin moved in.

He would take her and her siblings to the store, buy them things, and play dolls with her in her attic.

“He gained my trust just to harass me.”

She was eight years old.

“Little girls look up to their fathers, they’re daddy’s little princesses … that wasn’t my dad. My mother, we were never told I love you, nor were we ever given a hug, so I didn’t know what it all meant, “she said.

This was just the beginning of years of running.

“I don’t know what I’m running from or where I’m running, I just know I had to go,” said Leslie. “I got pregnant, had an abortion, turned back, got pregnant, I kept my child, so here I am trying to go to school with a child.”

The race went on until one day Leslie was walking down the street.

“Guy held on to me, he said, are you okay, why are you crying, are you okay? I mean, he sounded really empathetic so there was no need for me to be alarmed, I wasn’t scared,” said she said. “Every time I ran away, he was right there.”

He took her out, got to know her, and asked her questions about her family.

“You know that knight and the shining armor I read about in books when I was a little girl who never let anyone harm her?”

What Leslie didn’t know was that this knight in shining armor was going to use all this information against them and lead them straight down these streets.

“We drink, laugh, talk and when I got to his boyfriend’s house, I had sex with myself any way he wanted,” she said. “I looked over at this man who is supposed to love me, take care of me, nobody is going to hurt me blah blah blah and he looks at me like dirt and he told me … his exact words were bitch, get my money.”

She was 15 years old.

“My husband grabbed my hair and threw me in the car and took me to this house where other women were in this house,” she said. “The term for it is stable when you have a pimp with other women.”

There Leslie was dressed, drugged to calm her down, and then taken to the South Division in Grand Rapids.

“I was told if you run when you call the police I will kill your mother, brother, sister and son and when they find you they will find your body parts that are scattered all over the state of Michigan . “

When Leslie was 15 years old, she shot a trick for the first time.

Her life went on like this for over 20 years, inside and outside the prison and in various institutions.

“A lot of people say why don’t you just go? It’s not that easy. Why don’t you just stop It’s not that easy. “

During those years, Leslie had a false sense of self-esteem and self-worth in her mind for remembering …

“As a kid, my getaway was books to go to fantasy land, but now that I’m older, drugs and alcohol so I don’t have to think and feel, I can numb,” she said. “And that’s what I tell people all the time. If jobs don’t kill us. Pimps don’t kill us. We don’t accidentally overdose. We’re killing ourselves. And I was ready for that. No more names. No more pain. No more memories. Nothing more. It is finished.”

Fortunately for Leslie and the hundreds of men and women she has helped over the years, this is not the end of her story.

She has spent the past 20 years saving hundreds of women who have been exactly where she was for more than 20 years.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call Leslie at 616-443-6233.

Click here for the link to Sacred Beginnings, the state’s first survivor-led peer-mentoring group founded by Leslie King.

You can also call 888-3737-888 or visit the state’s website.

Don’t miss the second part of Survivors in the Streets: Changing Endings Tuesday at 11am.