Woman Trafficked By Her Own Mother, Now Spends Her Life Saving Other Victims

A woman who had been trafficked by her own mother has found freedom and purpose in her life and is inspiring thousands of men and women with her amazing story from being a victim to survivor.

Tonya Stafford has a story to share which will shock most of us. No young person should ever have to endure what she had to go through as a teen in the hands of an abusive man.

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Eight years ago, Tonya returned back to Bradshaw Street in southern Dallas, the same area where she lived with her tormentor, and was beaten and raped repeatedly. She says, “It was a lot of emotions that had come back,” she said. “Because I thought of everything that had happened.” She said, “I was sold from the projects… the Turner Courts Projects,” Stafford said.

The abuse didn’t start with that man but much earlier at home when she was staying with her siblings, her mom, and her step-dad. Her mother had been absent from their lives for a while due to her battle with addiction but regained custody of her children when Stafford was just 8-years-old and had been living with her grandmother.

Her mother’s condition wasn’t a secret for Tonya and her siblings but her grandmother always asked them to respect her. Whenever they would see their mom across the street in South Dallas, they respected her. Her mother started doing better as time went on, but her husband was abusive and did drugs too. “He immediately started raping us and molesting us,” Stafford said. “So that’s how our life took a turn for the worse.”

Tonya and her siblings tried to tell their mother about the abuse they received from her husband but he poisoned her ears telling her that they were trying to separate them and so she ignored them. The family was also homeless and lived in motels where he would book a room for both of them, and one for the siblings and another to take them to.

Stafford was still hopeful about having a good future because she was an A student and smart. She wanted to be successful and never look back. But as life would have it, they soon moved to the Turner Courts housing project in southern Dallas, where she and her siblings were allowed to move around freely till it turned dark.

During that time she was friends with a woman in her neighborhood who was in her early 20s, was married, and had kids. She remembers seeing her would-be abuser also around the neighborhood. “I remember seeing him but not really paying attention cause I was playing with my neighbor’s kids,” Stafford said. “I didn’t know he had already started inquiring about us. Who was I? ‘Who’s her momma? What does that look like?’ They told him, ‘Her mom’s on drugs, and they don’t really care about them.’ He found his prey. I was his prey.”

The man ended up spiking 13-year-old Tonya’s drink (she thought was soda) that she was drinking when she was at her neighbor’s house playing with the kids. Only later she realized it was wine coolers she’d been drinking and wasn’t feeling good after that. The man told her that she couldn’t go home drunk that night and raped her. “I got up, I put my clothes on, I went back to our apartment,” Stafford said. “I didn’t say anything.”

She started feeling unwell after that incident and realized that she was pregnant. “My daughter was born in 1988 in Mesquite Community Hospital,” she said. Tonya Stafford was a mother at 14 and her rapist was 10 years older than her. She was interviewed by a caseworker who was investigating her mom and stepdad for child abuse regarding another sibling. It was only mentioned that Tonya was pregnant and that the father of the child was much older than she was. “I knew then that we weren’t going to saved.” Stafford said.

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Stafford was staying at her mother’s place a few months after her daughter was born when one day her mom told her that she would have to go and live with her abuser who was waiting in his car outside their door. She moved into his grandmother’s house on Bradshaw Street where the rape and torture continued. A year later, they moved into another house close by and a few years later they moved to Pleasant Grove.

Tonya desperately tried to contact her mother on the phone but couldn’t do so as she had changed numbers. Although she lived on Bradshaw Street, close to her family and school, she couldn’t leave the house for anything other than to go to church every Sunday and Wednesday. Shockingly, she says that she tried telling someone at church about what happened with her but it was brushed off in a casual way. “I remember telling someone he was raping me, and they told me not to say that,” Stafford said. “The first lady told me I should be glad someone bought me.”

During the 10 years, she lived with her abuser, she had 2 more children of his and says nobody questioned their situation at the hospitals. “I don’t think they wanted to get involved,” Stafford said. But when she was 24, thanks to a nosy neighbor, she was rescued and freed from that life. “She was the nosey neighbor,” Stafford said. “She’d seen something. She said something. And she did something.”

The neighbor had noticed the abuse going on in their house and had spoken to her about it. “Our cue was, if it gets bad, throw something out the window — or just come out and she’ll call the police,” Stafford said. So on that day, when the abuse was really bad and he kept telling her he’d kill her, she went to the bathroom and threw some things out of the window. But while she tried to climb out the window, he heard it and pulled her back and threw her into the hallway.

“I asked him if I could go put my kids up, and I could come back and he could kill me,” Stafford said. “He said no, and he started choking me unconscious. And that’s all I remembered. I woke up. My neighbor was kneeling next to me, and she was crying.” The alert neighbor had called the police, but by the time help arrived, her abuser had escaped. Miraculously, Stafford and her children were rescued and taken to a shelter for domestic violence survivors in Irving.

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Tonya started therapy where she goes every Tuesday. “It’s the first time I couldn’t lie,” Stafford said. “I had to be honest about everything. My kids got therapy too. I think that’s ultimately what saved me. I had never just been around a bunch of women.” She took her abuser to court, where a judge apologized that the healthcare and education system had “failed” her. He told her that he’d fail her too as “The statute of limitations had been reached.”

although she has a protection order due to all the domestic violence, her abuser was never charged for the sexual abuse and infact even has visitation for the children. But the turning point in this came when in 2014, Stafford started It’s Going to Be Okay Inc, through which she helps rescue, house and heal survivors of human trafficking. She has 4 safe houses for survivors across Dallas-Fort Worth. “We’re providing direct services to human trafficking victims of all races and colors, but particularly Black girls,” Stafford said.

Tonya’s efforts have been recognized around the country as works with local, state and federal law enforcement to help victims of trafficking and helps them rebuild their lives. Recently Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appreciated her efforts, and she received an honorary doctorate for her work. “When I come across girls who look like me — the forgotten girls — and they say, ‘Ms. Tonya, thank you for coming, and thank you for providing what probably wouldn’t have been provided,’ that is my why,” Stafford said.

Tonya Stafford is a beacon of hope to all who were in a condition she was in earlier. “I survived for them,” she said. “I survived for me. I survived for my children. And not only am I surviving, I’m thriving.” May this story inspire each of us to be bold and make a difference in this world. Our own life experiences should spur us on to change things around us and make someone else’s life better than before.

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