“Breanna”, 16 years old

Breanna, a 16-year-old girl living with bipolar disorder, had a past of running away, would frequently chat with boys online and skip school to meet them. She was also in a relationship with a 19-year-old boy who she was having sex with, and she disclosed that he would not allow her to get involved with other men. Breanna was referred to youthSpark and started attending the youthSpark Voices program in 2013. She was not involved in commercial sexual exploitation, but unknowingly was a victim of sexual exploitation.

After attending Voices sessions for a few weeks, Breanna stopped showing up. Our staff tried calling her at home, but she wasn’t there. Her mom informed us that she had been gone for four days, and that she was concerned because she didn’t take her bipolar medication with her. After returning home, she started attending the Voices sessions again. Breanna had a breakthrough during one of our sessions on healthy relationships and unconditional love, and realized that the 19-year-old was not really her boyfriend. She aspired to have a healthier relationship with boys her age. She began working towards improving her relationship with mom and stopped running away. She graduated Voices and enrolled in Job Corp in Albany, GA.

Two years later, Breanna met a man online who she said seemed “very sweet”. The two communicated all day, every day through email and text. He shared his past with her that included abuse by both of his parents, so she felt connected to him, and felt as though she was his best friend.

Our staff welcomed her back in, and immediately began to work on a plan to get her back on track.

After weeks of messaging, he asked Breanna to go to New Orleans with him for a getaway. She had previously met his other female friends so she thought it would be a fun trip. Her mother asked her not to go, but now 18, she decided to go on the trip. When she arrived in New Orleans, she found herself in a bad situation — in a hotel room with two other females that she'd never met before and was arrested during a law enforcement sting.

Breanna eventually came back to youthSpark, seeking guidance and community. Our staff welcomed her back in, and immediately began to work on a plan to get her back on track. She initially denied being a victim, saying the man treated all of the women there well, that she felt sorry for him, and wanted to help him get money. Feelings of embarrassment, shame, and guilt took over and she realized the reality of her situation. Within two weeks, our staff helped Breanna get a job, start therapy, and allowed her to share her story with new girls to warn them how easy it is be a victim. We continue to engage her as a peer leader and empower her to use her experience to educate other teens.

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