Imagine a young child, almost 14 years of age, being forced into sex trafficking, meeting a variety of men each day and night because your significant other gave you no choice. Kassandra thought this was her new normal and that sex trafficking and physical abuse was acceptable, because that is all she ever knew.
Kassandra met Lilah in San Diego, California in 2012 when she was just twelve years old and instantly knew she was in love with her. She expressed to her mother that she was bisexual and she did not approve. Her mother thought life would be hard for her because she would be judged harshly.
Kassandra’s father was never in the picture and her mother was in and out of jail, leaving Kassandra to learn to provide for herself. Prostitution was the only way she knew how to make money. Lilah pretended to love Kassandra and being so young and naive, Kassandra started to get attached and believed her feelings were real. Not too long after they both made their relationship official, Lilah started setting Kassandra up for sex with different men in different hotels each day.
“The first week into dating, it felt like a real relationship but then soon after, I realized Lilah just wanted me around so she could pimp me out to make money. Every time a guy gave me the money for sex, Lilah would steal it,” Kassandra said.
Kassandra felt like she never had a choice. Even when she didn’t want to have sex with all these different men in the trafficking ring, Lilah forced her into it because that was their source of money as a couple. She was psychologically stuck, she thought this was normal and even believed Lilah still loved her regardless of the fact that she was giving her body to multiple men a day.
“I couldn’t leave her. I was young, dumb and in love. That lifestyle was just so normal for me. It was all I ever knew so I did what she said because I thought that was the only way to keep her around,” Kassandra said. “I couldn’t get out of this situation either. I was already in too deep.”
Lilah would boast about beating past women up for not doing what she said, but Kassandra thought of Lilah’s stories more like a threat and never thought Lilah would do that to her.
Their relationship soon became physically abusive. Lilah would hit and slap Kassandra in the face, but she still didn’t believe she was trying to hurt her. Finally, after a tip was sent out, the police conducted a sting operation and caught Lilah trying to sell Kassandra on the streets. She was arrested and sentenced to prison for two and a half years. Kassandra, still in love and now of consensual age, married Lilah after she was sentenced.
After Lilah was released, their relationship continued, but they struggled. There was a time during their marriage that they were living out of one car for several months. Kassandra came to the realization she wanted a better life and a life without Lilah. She moved to Texas in 2020. When she arrived, she learned that she was pregnant. Because she was having sex with so many men, the father is unknown. Kassandra, all the way in Texas, was afraid because Lilah’s controlling, manipulative and violent behavior persisted, causing her to fear for her and her child’s life. It got to the point where Lilah would call her wife Kassandra 20 times in one minute or at least 100 times a day.
When Kassandra’s baby was born, Lilah came over and demanded to see the baby. After holding the child for a brief minute, Lilah stole the baby by running to her car. Lilah endangered the 19 day-old child by putting him in the passenger’s seat and drove off, not returning him for an entire day. A second time, Lilah came over to Kassandra’s apartment and tried to steal the child out of his car seat while Kassandra unloaded her groceries. Luckily, she was able to stop Lilah.
“I am scared she is going to come after me again and this time it is going to be worse,” Kassandra said. “I have thought about her coming to find me and my child and locking us up.”
Lone Star Legal Aid’s Legal Aid to Survivors of Sexual Assault Project took Kassandra’s case. Attorney Brittany Hightower got a lifetime protective order for her and her child. She also got her a divorce from her trafficker and abuser. Attorney Hightower was also able to update vital statistic records for Kassandra’s son, declaring that Lilah had no blood, marriage, or adopted relation to him. This was necessary as Lilah declared herself his co-parent at the hospital and was using that as an excuse to remain in contact with them. Once all of this was done, Kassandra could finally exhale and live in peace.
All Kassandra can do now is tell others who are being trafficked, or are in an abusive relationship, to leave. “Being in a violent relationship is not worth it. You may feel like the process of getting out of your situation may be stressful, but it is worth it in the end,” Kassandra said.
* Names were changed to protect the identity of the individual(s).