AngelaMarie Pacley’s daughter Sadé had been missing for four months, and the nightmares about her being burned and left in a trash can to die had become more frequent.
Pacley was sick with worry, and she had good reason to be.
All over the world, in urban and suburban communities, children and adolescents are being sold into a $150 billion annual market for sex and labor. And according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Atlanta is the No. 1 hub of human and sex trafficking in the United States.
In the months since Sadé and a group of friends had gone couch surfing, Pacley had received nearly a half-dozen telephone calls and messages from Sadé with no clear indication of where she might be. What was clear, however, was the 16-year-old had been caught in a sex trafficking ring operating in downtown Atlanta.
By then, Sadé had seen the error of her ways and wanted desperately to come home but couldn’t see her way out. If she ran, she’d pay with her mother’s and young sisters’ life.
And so the pimp and his girls were her family. Her new life was all she deserved. That much her pimp must have figured out, saw it in her as she walked toward a MARTA station that summer in 2006 en route home.
The way the mother and daughter described it to me the other night, Sadé was the female version of the prodigal son who’d wasted his inheritance on riotous living and was forced to eat with the pigs before he realized he needed to go home.
After moving from place to place that summer with her friends, Sadé got tired and decided to go home. She was en route there when a man pulled alongside her and asked if she wanted a ride.
As he passed the MARTA station that day, he pulled a gun from his glove compartment and laid down the law. You will call your mother and tell her you’re OK but you won’t be coming home, he told her.
Scared, she placed the call, but her mother didn’t answer. Sadé left a message, hoping her mother heard the fear in her voice.
For the next few months, she would move between the street and hotel rooms where she was forced to have sex with men for money.
One night while working the street near downtown, she got lucky. Sadé was arrested.
She used her one phone call to reach out to her mother, but again there was no answer. She left another message.
Sadé was soon released back onto the street.
In November, AngelaMarie was watching televangelist T.D. Jakes.
“I know it sounds crazy, but he said, ‘God said that there is a woman watching television whose daughter is missing and she’ll be home before Christmas,’” Pacley said. “I jumped up and said if you be my God, then she comes home tonight.”
Just as she was asking God what to do, Pacley said she remembered the last message from her daughter and dialed the number in her phone.
Pacley then called Marc House, a resident at the apartment complex where she worked and the only Atlanta police officer she knew.
House, now chaplain for the department, worked in Zone 4 but said Pacley’s story tugged at his heart.
After two months of working the street on his own time, House told me he got a tip Sadé was at a local bonding company. When House arrived that night, he said the pimp was about to walk the teen around the corner to the Greyhound Bus Station and ship her to New York.
Sadé finally made it home that night. Her pimp was arrested and sentenced to prison. House was awarded the Victim Assistance Program’s Helping Hand Award.
Sadé struggled to readjust. For four months, life on the street was her new normal. The pimp and the girls who worked for him made her believe they were family. When they weren’t working, we went places, she said. We went shopping.
“Sometimes you can find yourself feeling like that’s the only way you can live,” Sadé said. “It took me a long time to get to the other side of that.”
She returned to school and in 2007 graduated from the Youth Challenge Academy. Every chance she and her mother get, they share their story so that other girls don’t make the same mistake.
Three years ago, Pacley founded Fashion 4 Life in honor of Sadé, and is partnering with the nonprofits Wellspring Living and Dream Girlz Inc. Saturday to host Queens & Kings “Traffic Stop” Gala: A Night of Fashion, Entertainment, and Awareness at the Metropolitan Club in Alpharetta.
It’s Pacley’s way of merging a passion for fashion with a will to undress human trafficking.
Queens & Kings “Traffic Stop” Gala: A Night of Fashion, Entertainment, and Awareness
7 p.m. Jan. 16. Tickets: $45 in advance, $60 at the door. Metropolitan Club, 5895 Windward Parkway, Alpharetta. www.eventbrite.com.