Perhaps the low point of Toni Rivera’s life as a sex slave happened when she was forced to have intercourse with 23 men back-to-back to pay off her pimp’s Super Bowl bet. Perhaps her breaking point happened when she begged a Miami cop to free her from violent bondage, only to have that police officer say that he’d love to take her home and have sex with her himself.
Or maybe Rivera’s low point came when she became a sex pimp herself and she began recruiting young girls out of churches every week. Or maybe it was the time when a known national sex trafficker tried to grab Rivera’s 6-year-old daughter off the famously crowded 6 Train in New York City, and no one would step in to help her.
Today, Rivera travels the country sharing without shame her incredible story of an often-traumatic, frequently brutal and extremely inhumane existence in the sex trafficking business.
Most of it can be found in her gripping book, Toni Rivera Presents Silent Screams on the Frontlines. It is a captivating but heart-wrenching recap of how Rivera went from being a naive, small-town South Carolina teen with big dreams of being a singer who wound up being a piece of property that was bought and sold with impunity on the streets of Atlanta.
Today, Rivera, 42, is the founder of Helping Hand Youth and Adult Services, which works to help young people who were caught up in this ruthless, soul-sucking enterprise. She will be featured on the Power Panel on human trafficking at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema on Monroe Drive in Midtown Atlanta on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2018 from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The panel discussion will follow the viewing of the critically acclaimed film Traffik starring Paula Patton, Omar Epps and Laz Alonzo, which is based partially on Rivera’s tortured existence in the sex trafficking business.
She explains that sex trafficking is much more prevalent than we ever imagined. While the country remains fixated on catching the stereotypical pimp who’s drenched in jewelry or wearing bright tailored suits, Rivera explains it could be happening right next door or even down the street from the police station, and you wouldn’t know it. She said it could be the person who hosts the neighborhood block party or the innocent-looking woman who always walks her dog in the morning.
“They think that it’s only men who are trafficking and it’s not. Because at one time, I was a trafficker,” she said bluntly. “I was once the victim of sex trafficking, but then I became a trafficker. So while everyone is looking for men and say ‘we ought to watch out for this guy or that guy’ … no, it’s women, too.”
Rivera explains how, after being treated so horribly by men as a sex slave, she would become a trafficker of sex herself.
“Because it was done to me,” she deadpanned. “And I saw the money he could make. And I said I want to dive into some of that. And I figured I’m gonna get less time than being out on the corner selling drugs and guns.”
Sadly, Rivera said churches were among the best places to recruit new sex workers. “She’s going to the altar every Sunday. You see her crying out in church every Sunday. There’s something she wants, there’s something she’s lacking. So I’m going to ask her, ‘What it is that you’re lack?’ I’m going to give her the gift of gab and give her what she wants and then she’s gonna come with me.”
After she nearly lost her sanity and her life to this unforgiving profession, Rivera believes that God saved her in order to rescue more of His children from bondage.
“As long as you stay prayed up and keep your mind focused on what you want to do and got to do, you can get through it,” she said. “I’ve been through the worst. I’ve been on drugs. I’ve been raped. I’ve been sold. I did it all. There’s nothing that you can name on this earth that I haven’t done. I’ve been homeless, I’ve eaten out of trash cans, I’ve lived under a bridge, and I still walk around with a smile on my face because it was nobody but God that saved me.”
Log onto Instagram/tonidrivera for more information about Rivera and to purchase her book.